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If you’re an avid reader like me, there’ll have been so many books that they begin to merge and mesh. It’s a magical thing when you read a book, and it not only stands out and sticks with you, but it changes your entire trajectory. That’s what these four books did for me – they shaped my professional life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron
This book found its way to me when I was in the midst of severe depression. Life was a grey nothingness of mental pain, and I couldn’t see a life past it. A friend suggested I buy this book, and I was reluctant to – it didn’t appeal to me – I didn’t see myself as a ‘creative’ back then on the back of an accountancy career. (I’m chuckling as I type this as so much great stuff came from me reluctantly buying and reading this book.)
With ‘The Artists’ Way‘, I wouldn’t have an almost-daily habit of journalling. It introduced me to it, and it’s how I continue to work through things, to process and heal. Biggest of all, without ‘The Artist’s Way‘, there wouldn’t ever have been The Blurt Foundation – the work central to my professional life for the past 12 years. Work that helped millions of people during its existence.
There’s something about Julia Cameron’s gentle, hand-holding tone which met me where I was. The encouragement to experiment and explore my creativity opened up a whole new world – quite literally, when I think about it. At a time when I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t think for the brain fog; it was almost a relief to be guided and instructed. A palpable sense of achievement came with finishing both the book and the 12-week journalling.
I’ve since completed this book twice, and both times, it unblocked and unlocked something different.
‘Be A Free Range Human’ by Marianne Cantwell
Having worked in an office, doing the 9-5, before I became unwell with depression, there was something about that environment that I wasn’t in a hurry to return to. Thank goodness I read this book when I did! It was the first time I’d ever heard of remote working, the notion that with access to a computer and wifi, we don’t necessarily have to be in the office to be productive or to have a job. I remember reading this book and being all, ‘huh?’.
Marianne Cantwell writes in a personable way that feels like you’re getting a 1 on 1 coaching session. She encourages this concept of ‘life design’ – working out what you want and need and then building a life around that.
There was something about the flexibility that excited me. My previous office experience had been all timesheets, open-plan working, and 9-5. It had felt stifling. Here was a book that offered me a different way. A way, with hindsight, that’s worked so well for me and so many.
Being a ‘free-range human’ became a non-negotiable. I’ve never returned to a working environment that’s location-specific. This book was influential in creating a remote working and flexible working set-up with The Blurt Foundation.The 4 Books That Shaped My Professional Life Click To Tweet
‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
There’s something about this book that pulls me back to it repeatedly. Every time I’ve read it, it’s met me differently; teasing new ideas, stoking courage, and changing how I view mistakes.
Elizabeth Gilbert peppers personal anecdotes throughout, which is inspiring and reassuring. Most recently, the part of the book where she talks about tinkering with ideas resonated. The idea that not everything needs to be a polished, perfect product for consumption by others. We can play, experiment, and give things a go. If they don’t work out nor are right for us, then there’s a whole heap of lessons to be learned from within that space and energy.
This book entices us to relieve the pressure we put upon ourselves, and I’m here for it. Within the past 12 months, I’ve enjoyed testing and trialling ideas, many of which haven’t amounted to much other than to direct me away from them. I’d rather know that than always wonder. The agility and freedom to do so is something I’m grateful for because there’s a swiftness in learning and confidence that comes with ‘failing’ fast and often.
‘Four Thousand Weeks’ by Oliver Burkeman
This is one of those sobering books which grounded you back to yourself with a resounding thump – especially if you’re always lamenting how time-poor you are. It’s all a matter of time; the time we have left to live, where we choose to spend our time, exploring how we view it. A book abound with encouragement about the non-worky stuff, the value in it, the importance of it, etc. Because that *is* so easily forgotten in a world that seems to say ‘chop-chop’ nonstop.
It’s an understatement to say this book gave me the sharp jolt I needed. It elicited a career pivot and made me ultra-conscious of the what’s, when’s, who’s and what’s of what’s left for me. When I calculated how much time I was spending on my phone and worked out how much of my remaining (fingers and toes crossed) two thousand weeks I’ve got left would be spent on it – it came to 7.5 years! Yup, I had to lift my jaw off the floor, too. This prompted me to leave Facebook, then Twitter, and then Instagram.
The way this book is written isn’t in a way that’ll make you feel ashamed nor guilty, though. It’s inspiring and empowering and mind-bending, in all the best ways.
The overriding theme of these books is permitting ourselves to be true to who we are. There’s wisdom in taking our time to figure things out but equally in not worrying if we don’t have a linear timeline to work towards. So, play, create, and don’t be afraid to try and fail. There’s always success to be found in failure – clarity and certainty of how things will play out that only comes when things have played out. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I did.
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