Below is a list of the books I’ve read in 2021. I thought it would be a fun way to remember which books I’ve read, my genuine thoughts about them, and parts that stood out to me or resonated with me. I’ll continue to update this post regularly throughout the year and am excited to be able to look back on all the great reads of the year!
01 / So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport
The central concept in this book is that “follow your passion” is bad career advice. Cal deconstructs this idea and builds a compelling case for what does actually matter in creating work you love. There are lots of nuggets of wisdom in this book helpful to those interested in learning more about crafting a career you love.
“Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”
You’ll want to have a notebook and pen ready while reading this book. You are a Badass at Making Money is loaded with tips + exercises and made me laugh out loud. Not all of Jen’s advice or anecdotes resonated with me, but if you’re open to challenging your current mindset and relationship with money, this book is a worthwhile read.
“When you don’t investigate what’s going on with your words, thoughts, and beliefs, you risk stumbling through life on autopilot.“
“We use money every single day of our lives. Certainly people do horrible things to make money. We see it all the time: the power-mongering and the horror that happens because people are greedy and out of balance. But every day we experience awesome things that happen because of money. We use it every day to enhance our lives, yet we always seem to focus on the negative about it.”
One of the most powerful, relatable books I’ve ever read. Glennon writes in a way that makes you feel seen, yet also challenges you to ask yourself questions you’ve maybe never thought to ask before. I found myself underlining something every couple of pages— Glennon’s words just resonate. I’m glad I have a hard copy of this book so that I can go back to see what I underlined on any random page and soak in more of Glennon’s wisdom on days I need it most.
“I will not stay, not ever again – in a room or conversation or relationship or institution that requires me to abandon myself.”
“We weren’t born distrusting and fearing ourselves. That was part of our taming. We were taught to believe that who we are in our natural state is bad and dangerous. They convinced us to be afraid of ourselves. So we do not honor our own bodies, curiosity, hunger, judgment, experience, or ambition. Instead, we lock away our true selves. Women who are best at this disappearing act earn the highest praise: She is so selfless. Can you imagine? The epitome of womanhood is to lose one’s self completely. That is the end goal of every patriarchal culture. Because a very effective way to control women is to convince women to control themselves.”
“I think we are only bitter about other people’s joy in direct proportion to our commitment to keep joy from ourselves. The more often I do things I want to do, the less bitter I am at people for doing what they want to do.”
Do you ever feel like you were busy all day but hardly got anything done? Like the hours slipped away because of emails, meetings, and random tasks? This kind of busyness is often mistaken for productivity, but is more accurately defined as shallow work. To avoid this trap, it’s important to cultivate an intentional work strategy focused on creating real value in an increasingly distracted world. This book provides the steps, strategies, and tips to perform deep work— something that is rare, valuable, fulfilling, and makes for a good life. It inspired me to write a blog post, Deep Work: A Guide to Meaningful Productivity, to highlight tangible takeaways from this book and provide action steps to integrate deep work into our lives.
“The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”
“What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life.”
“Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”
This book is an easy, enjoyable read filled with practical strategies, interesting research findings, and inspiring stories. Clear breaks down the complexity of habit formation in a way that not only makes sense, but in a way that inspires change. One of my biggest takeaways from the book is that a lack of clarity is what prevents us from implementing new habits and sticking with them (not motivation!)
“Being specific about what you want and how you will achieve it helps you say no to things that derail progress, distract your attention, and pull you off course. We often say yes to little requests because we are not clear enough about what we need to be doing instead. When your dreams are vague, it’s easy to rationalize little exceptions all day long and never get around to the specific things you need to do to succeed.”
I also loved the way Clear emphasized that habits should be easy. We get bogged down trying to figure out the *best* approach, that we forego the chance to simply be *good*. I think this is such a good tip.
“If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it.”
The best piece of fiction I’ve read in a long time. I didn’t read a synopsis or have any idea what this book was about before I dove in, and I’m so glad— sometimes I find it more enjoyable to read a book without having any idea where it’s headed or what genre it’s supposed to be. This book made me feel so deeply. The character development and way the author paints such a vivid scene is what made me love this book so much. Owens is an incredible storyteller. Where the Crawdads Sing has earned a place in my favorite books of all time list.
“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”
A sobering book that challenges common narratives in society today that revolve around success, self-promotion, confidence, and ambition. For me, this book was filled with many aha moments. One of my favorite ideas in the book is about euthymia— a greek word that refers to the sense of our own path and how to stay on it without getting distracted by all the others that intersect it. It’s critical to answer the question, why do you do what you do? We all want to be happy and fulfilled, but the ego can cause us to lose track of our own path, and we end up somewhere we never intended.
“You must practice seeing yourself with a little distance, cultivating the ability to get out of your own head. Detachment is a sort of natural ego antidote. It’s easy to be emotionally invested and infatuated with your own work. Any and every narcissist can do that. What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness.”
“There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.”
A quick read that is helping me reframe how I view setbacks and obstacles. Less of a history or philosophy book, and more of a book on how to apply stoic principles to your everyday life. Irvine provides lots of tangible tips and strategies that I’ve been integrating into my life every day since. One of my favorite ideas from the book is that setbacks are merely unfortunate events that we can turn into vehicles for self-transformation.
“When the number of options available is limited, it is foolish to fuss and fret. We should instead simply choose the best of them and get on with life. To behave otherwise is to waste precious time and energy.”
“Anger is incompatible with joy.”
This book is broken into three sections, the three domains where we can cultivate stillness— mind, body, and soul. Ryan Holiday offers simple ideas + inspiration to live a more centered, grounded life. One of the key concepts I will carry with me is that I am a human *being*, not a human doing.
“What do we want more of in life? That’s the question. It’s not accomplishments. It’s not popularity. It’s moments when we feel like we are enough. More presence. More clarity. More insight. More truth. More stillness.”
“We are restless because deep in our hearts we know now that our happiness is found elsewhere, and our work, no matter how valuable it is to us or to others, cannot take its place. But we hurry on anyway, and attend to our business because we need to matter, and we don’t always realize we already do.”
“To have an impulse and to resist it, to sit with it and examine it, to let it pass by like a bad smell—this is how we develop spiritual strength. This is how we become who we want to be in this world.”
This book is for any woman who has ever felt like her life is in a constant state of busyness, achievement, pushing, and pleasing. Shauna’s words are so validating; they reminded me that I’m not the only one who has felt the pressure to live a life of perfection + constant effort to prove my worth. But her words also gave me a sense of peace + calm that the path I’ve been on more recently in my life—a path of contentment, slowing down, and intentionality—is truly the path to a richer, more beautiful existence.
“But you can’t have yes without no. Another way to say it: if you’re not careful with your yeses, you start to say no to some very important things without even realizing it. In my rampant yes-yes-yes-ing, I said no, without intending to, to rest, to peace, to groundedness, to listening, to deep and slow connection, built over years instead of moments.”
“Many of us, myself, included, considered our souls necessary collateral damage to get done the things we felt we simply had to get get done – because of other people’s expectations, because we want to be know as highly capable, because we’re trying to outrun an inner emptiness. And for a while we don’t even realize the compromise we’ve made. We’re on autopilot, chugging through the day on fear and caffeine, checking things off the list, falling into bed without even a real thought or feeling or connection all day long, just a sense of having made it through.”
Clearly I’m into Ryan Holiday this year. This book is all about turning adversity + challenges into something positive. Whether that’s strength, perspective, wisdom, or bettering ourselves in some way, obstacles can shape our lives + actually turn into our greatest advantage.
“We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.”
“The only guarantee, ever, is that things will go wrong. The only thing we can use to mitigate this is anticipation. Because the only variable we control completely is ourselves.”
“Failure really can be an asset if what you’re trying to do is improve, learn, or do something new.”
This book took me longer to finish than I’d like to admit… I was into it at first but quickly lost interest. In my opinion, the main characters were super unlikable which made it hard for me to get into the story. The book is described as “a thrilling, sexy coming-of-age story exploring toxic love, ruthless ambition, and shocking betrayal”.
This book is filled with interesting anecdotes and philosophies surrounding money. It helped me see how damaging and insidious scarcity is in our lives. And how living from a place of sufficiency and enough creates a better world. This book has also encouraged me to re-evaluate how I currently spend money and whether it is aligned with my soul. I’m more conscious now than ever before on creating spending habits that reflect my values and intentions.
“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of… Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack… This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.”
“True abundance flows from enough; never from more. Money carries our intention. If we use it with integrity, then it carries integrity forward. Know the flow—take responsibility for the way your money moves in the world. Let your soul inform your money and your money express your soul.”
14 / The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown
An inspiring guide to wholehearted living— which according to Brené is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness and inherent enough-ness. With interesting research, storytelling, and encouragement, this book explores the psychology of releasing our definitions of an imperfect life and embracing living authentically.
“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.”
“Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?”
“To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards. It means learning to forget myself on a regular basis in order to attend to the other selves in my vicinity. It means living so that “I’m only human” does not become an excuse for anything. It means receiving the human condition as blessing and not curse, in all its achingly frail and redemptive reality.”
I get random bouts of intense interest in the enneagram. This might be my favorite book I’ve read yet on the subject— the author breaks each type down in a very easy-to-understand way. The Road Back to You is witty, filled with stories, and kept me intrigued beyond just reading the chapter about my own enneagram type. This book is such a helpful tool to learn more about yourself and those around you— it helped me gain a better understanding of how and why people think, feel, and act the way they do.
“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
“The Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box. It shows you the box you’re already in and how to get out of it.”
“Human beings are wired for survival. As little kids we instinctually place a mask called personality over parts of our authentic self to protect us from harm and make our way in the world. Made up of innate qualities, coping strategies, conditioned reflexes and defense mechanisms, among lots of other things, our personality helps us know and do what we sense is required to please our parents, to fit in and relate well to our friends, to satisfy the expectations of our culture and to get our basic needs met.”
This book is written by one of my all-time favorite podcasts, On Purpose. Jay Shetty is a former monk who decided to leave the ashram to share the wisdom that he learned (and continues to learn) with the world. This is an inspiring and empowering book that gives practical advice to living a more calm, purposeful life— one with less stress, negativity, overthinking, fear, and much more.
“When we accept the temporary nature of everything in our lives, we can feel gratitude for the good fortune of getting to borrow them for a time.”
“There is toxicity everywhere around us. In the environment, in the political atmosphere, but the origin is in people’s hearts. Unless we clean the ecology of our own heart and inspire others to do the same, we will be an instrument of polluting the environment. But if we create purity in our own heart, then we can contribute great purity to the world around us.”
“Here’s the life hack: Service is always the answer. It fixes a bad day. It tempers the burdens we bear. Service helps other people and helps us. We don’t expect anything in return, but what we get is the joy of service. It’s an exchange of love. When you’re living in service, you don’t have time to complain and criticize. When you’re living in service, your fears go away. When you’re living in service, you feel grateful. Your material attachments diminish.”
A unique, beautiful, moving read. Wintering shed light on what it means to accept and embrace difficult times in our lives and maybe even find nourishment, encouragement, and joy at the same time. This book is a powerful reminder that life is cyclical, not linear.
“If happiness is a skill, then sadness is, too. Perhaps through all those years at school, or perhaps through other terrors, we are taught to ignore sadness, to stuff it down into our satchels and pretend it isn’t there. As adults, we often have to learn to hear the clarity of its call. That is wintering. It is the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.”
“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”
“Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.”
Forgiving What You Can’t Forget is about freeing yourself from past hurts and wrestling with the tough concept of forgiveness. This is certainly more of a memoir than a self-help book, but there were lots of bits + pieces that really resonated with me.
“My ability to heal cannot depend on anyone’s choices but my own.”
“Maturity is the evidence that a person allowed the hard stuff to work for them rather than against them.”
“We are either carrying healthy perspectives or files of proof from our past— evidence of how we’ve been wronged. This turns into grudges and resentments that weigh us down and skew our perspectives.”