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Following T H E Leader
Images by Trey Staff/ @treyshotz

Images by Trey Staff/ @treyshotz

Like many people, I’ve read multiple books on leadership. I’ve held and hold leadership positions.

I’ve pondered what makes a truly great, effective leader. Why some are effective and others aren’t.

One of my earliest and lasting impressions has been that not all leaders and situations are the same. What works for one leader may not work for another. What yields success in one circumstance may cause catastrophe in another.

I seemed to be the only one thinking this, as book after book I read offered checklists/attributes/traits/steps/formulas/characteristics/formulas/steps exhibited/adopted by all “true” and “great” and “effective” leaders.

Until I found General Stanley McChrystal’s new book he wrote with Jeff Eggers and Jason Mangone titled, Leaders: Myth and Reality.

FINALLY.


Note: If you’re not familiar with Stan McChrystal and don’t know why the hell you should take advice from him, TRUST ME - bro knows his stuff. He served for 34 years in the US Army, rising through the ranks to ultimately command all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan as a four-star general. Those four stars aren’t the gold stars they give out for just participating. He’s a leader through and through, and I highly HIGHLY recommend the book. He profiles 13 famous leaders from a wide range of eras and fields (Walt Disney, Coco Chanel, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, etc) to explore how leadership actually works in practice, and to challenge the myths complicating and clouding our thinking on this key topic. It’s actually a fun, interesting, and engaging read and is brilliantly and clearly written.


First of all, let’s talk about timing.

It’s often overlooked. What we call “leadership“ is often some combination of the leader’s actions, along with serendipity or other contextual factors that make for a positive result.

Leaders are separated not only by time and place, but also by what kind of leadership style would make them effective in their specific roles and place in time, moment, and framework. Yet too often we revert to vague assessments of “strong“ or “moral“ leaders, as though those things consist of formulas to be replicated in diverse contexts.

Spoiler alert: THERE IS NO FORMULA, y’all. Context matters!

This totally echoes my thoughts and observations over the years that never seemed supported by literature and guidance on the topic.

Moreover…

Leadership is never about the capacity and impact of a single person. We typically attribute far too much to an individual, the figurehead, the one with visibility, whom we can see and idolize, and ignore/dismiss/overlook the system as a whole and its contributing parts. (And as Stan the Man acknowledges, there are multiple reasons for the idolizing.) Yes, there are some phenomenal people out there, but none so amazing they singlehandedly drive a movement/achieve results/make it all happen. Turns out Coach was right: teamwork makes the dream work. There are many contributing factors to any event/movement/force/etc.

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And to be judged fairly, leadership styles must be viewed not just at a specific time but also in a particular framework. The context of an enabling institution is often necessary to substantiate leadership.

The culture, the environment, the location, etc must all be examined. Consider the presence/degree of such factors as hostility, resistance, acceptance, apathy, sympathy, motivation, momentum, etc. The quality and quantity of resources.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of hero worship. It’s fun and energizing and helpful to cheer for a hero. Having someone to look up to and aspire to emulate.

We intentionally live with the gap between myth and reality [in part] because we like to do so.

Really think about that. Think about why we do that, and how it could benefit us.

The truth is that when we look closely, we see leadership as much in what our leaders symbolize as in what they actually accomplish.

A hero’s particular actions take on broader significance because the results they achieve resonate with group values.

It’s less about the tangible results they achieve and more about the expectations they defy and symbolism they uphold.

It’s for what they stand for, not just for what they do. Some leaders ride waves more than they cause them.

It is simpler and more satisfying to see the power contained within a single person. Do you relate to this, that it’s easier and more satisfying to have just one person represent all you strive for and admire and respect?

Rather than ask “ How do/did they lead” ask: “Why did they emerge as a leader?” and more specifically, “What was it about the situation that made this style of leadership effective?” These are questions I constantly ponder when studying leaders and their impact.

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Beyond a taste for narrative and belief in our own causality (basically meaning we love a good story, and we love knowing we can have an effect on our lives), we also have a preference for simplicity. Boiling things down to distinct actions by a specific cast of prime actors is more relatable, and makes attributing success and blame easier. And most people prefer easier, right?

Reductionist explanations are somehow more satisfying than the complex, estranging, but usually more accurate accounts. Reality is complicated and even boring, and the mundane messiness can be unsatisfying. It can leave us craving the feel-good feeling. Life is more interesting and pleasing either when it is simplified or, in the other direction, sensational. And we’ll sooner accept the simple or sensational explanation over the accurate one.


Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.
— Seth Godin


Leaders are made powerful not so much by what they do, or even by, what they say, but by what their followers perceive they have to gain either individually or collectively by buying into what their leader is asking.



Great leaders believe they work for their team. Average leaders believe their team works for them.
— Alexander den Heijer

Those who emerge as successful leaders are not necessarily those with the best values, or the most comprehensive record of results, but those who align with sources of human motivation (political leaders are great examples of this!). If a leader can tap into fear or any of its derivatives, GAME OVER. Just add a “villian” and it’s a done deal. That leader instantly has devotees.


A boss has the title. A leader has the people.
— Simon Sinek

Fear is powerful and overrides reason/values/empathy/etc and activates people’s primal survival instincts. Just ask Hitler. He targeted people’s fear of marginalization/poverty/survival and vilified Jews, offering a group to blame. So just as the first line of the previous paragraph asserts, it’s all about connecting with human motivation. Did Hitler have the best values? I’mma go with NO. But he undoubtedly aligned with human motivation: Germans’ desire to survive and prosper.

Same with Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Even upon losing battles, his homies still rolled with him. Not because he had the best values (slavery is NOT COOL) or the best record (he lost key battles and eventually the war) but because he was tapped into the southerners’ motivation to maintain their way of live, human slaves and all.

This explains why followers might turn their attention to the hollow optimistic leader, or people dig the leader who talks a big game but who holds a weak record. Just as we look to heroes as a symbol of what could be, we look to leaders more generally because we hold out hope for an alternative future, or because we fear a coming threat, and the leader becomes the repository of that hope or the guardian against that fear. This is compelling, and even necessary, since hope and fear are both essential to pulling human society forward.

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Leaders should understand leadership as a system, see themselves as the enablers of that system, and learn how to adjust their approach based on the needs of that system. It is the function of leadership to improve the overall progress of humanity. We should see our leaders as part of us, and ourselves as part of the solution. As I’ve said many times before, we’re all in this together.

xx,

-w-

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L A B E L S
Model: Byron Hunt; Photography by me

Model: Byron Hunt; Photography by me


When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief or nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.
— Jiddu Krishnamurti

Would you agree with me that we typically feel compelled to label: people, items, emotions, experiences, ideas…pretty much everything!

Sure, there’s value in labeling. That’s how we’re able to know what the hell we’re referencing. Otherwise, our convos would take twice as long trying to describe what we’re referring to, and it’d all be one continuous scene of The Little Mermaid (“Whozits and whatzits galore. You want thingamabobs? I’ve got 20!”). Obnoxious and frustrating to the max.

Labels are part of our culture - in every sense of the word (personal, professional, legislative, judicial, pop culture, music, etc). They contribute to the infrastructure upon which society is built, upon which laws are passed, upon which food is sorted and Netflix is categorized. When I’m browsing for new jams, I don’t want to have to scroll through a shi* ton of random opera ballads to get to my preferred music.

Labels make our lives easier and more efficient. They allow our brains and bodies to navigate through life more effectively amid the onslaught of information we’re blasted with every second of every day. They help us make sense of the world, with all of its complexities.

They also can bestow us with a common purpose. It can offer a sense of belonging/pride/commonality/community, particularly in the case of nationality/cultural identity/etc. It can provide a cause/entity to cheer for, a common point to rally around. They give us traditions, and opportunities to connect with other similar people.

However…

These benefits (efficiency, simplicity, community, pride, etc), can come at a price.

It can become problematic/limiting/divisive/misleading/self-defeating when we apply this labeling compulsion with no consciousness, awareness, flexibility, or fluidity. When we tattoo those labels, so to speak, making them costly, painful, and time-intensive to remove (I really took that tattoo metaphor and ran with it, didn’t I?). Labels can also mask our universal commonalities and pit us against the “outsiders.”

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Society values clarity and decisiveness. We’re prompted to label people as good or bad, right or wrong, successful or non; same goes for ideas, etc.

This dichotomous and limited way of thinking doesn’t account for complexities: within individuals, within groups, within the world in general. People do good things. People do bad things. Life isn’t always black and white.

And I want to live in a world where people’s gender/race/skin color are irrelevant. Just because I may be regarded as a privileged white woman doesn’t mean I’m not allowed an opinion or a say or a hope for a more inclusive world.

Furthermore, it limits our growth and happiness, and clouds our view, when we apply labels to ourselves! Particularly regarding our identities. We’re conditioned to establish our identities on factors such as our skin color, our profession, our IQ level, our prevailing temperament, our body type, our gender, our music taste, our religion, our political affiliation. Lawd help us if we step outside our established identity: a straight male shaking it at Zumba, a Republican voting for a Democrat, a bodybuilder loving the ballet, a grandma digging Metallica.

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It’s easy to feel locked into a label and feel pressured to maintain that image. For example, men in certain cultures (looking at you, ‘Murica) are typically discouraged from expressing emotion - especially in the military. To cry is considered weak and “sissy la la.” What kind of bullshit is that?! Think about it: They are discouraged from expressing HUMAN EMOTION.

I’ve previously discussed the dangers of emotion repression, and the takeaway is: it ain’t good. Those emotions don’t just disappear into the ether - they fester and make their way out eventually and demand to be addressed.

Former Army Special Forces Green Beret Greg Stube acknowledges this in his stellar book, Conquer Anything: A Green Beret’s Guide to Building Your A-Team. He was fully indoctrinated in the masculine military, “rub some dirt on it” (he actually uses those words) mentality…until he almost died in Operation Medusa in Afghanistan in 2006. He was finally forced to grapple with what it means to be human, to be complete, and to be truly strong: mentally, physically, and emotionally. Having repressed that facet of being human for so long, he was knocked for a total loop when he was blown to smithereens by an IED (improvised explosive device) and forced to accept a very different reality, one in which he couldn’t just rub some dirt on it and soldier on. Through soul searching, reflection, and personal “come to Jesus” talks, he came out on top - and acknowledged the importance of transcending certain labels to embrace and cultivate what it means to be human, and what it means to be truly strong.

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So what happens when something happens and the label no longer fits?

We get fired. We go bankrupt. We get voted out. We get sick. We flunk a test. We gain/lose weight. We experience an existential criss that triggers re-evaluation of our priorities/affiliations/beliefs.

Like Greg Stube experienced, it can be devastating, if your identity is tethered to that label. Suddenly you start wondering who you really are, if not your label(s). If I’m not a high-powered lawyer/straight-A brainiac/size 0/Christian/president/husband/etc, who am I? What’s my place in the world? What do I have to offer? Am I still worth loving? So many of us feel conditionally loved, whether we realize it or not. We’re led to think (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally) that we are accepted/loved because of those labels: doctor/Mormon/star athlete/parent/do-it-yourselfer/subject matte expert.

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This also applies to emotions. Let’s say you’re known as the carefree, happy, optimistic one. The one who sprinkles sunshine wherever you go and elevates the mood in any situation. You’ve learned to effectively play this role. But what happens when you have a bad day? Or even a bad year? Are you supposed to deny yourself feeling those “negative” emotions?


When you welcome your emotions as teachers, every emotion brings good news, even the ones that are painful.
— Gary Zukav

What you resist, persists.


Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.
— Pema Chodron

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Which leads us to emotion labeling. Emotions aren’t positive or negative; emotions are emotions. Emotions are natural and wide-ranging, and most importantly: emotions are messengers. They come and they go, so we should let them move through us, view them with curiosity and no attachment, and discern their message. By denying/ignoring/repressing them, you are stunting your growth, preventing your freedom, and blocking true happiness.


Feel the feeling but don’t become the emotion. Witness it. Allow it. Release it.
— Crystal Andrus

Ultimately, as the opening quote indicates, labels separate: us from each other, us from ourselves (our true essences). While they do serve a purpose, it is crucial for us to be aware of them and fluid in our allegiance to them. As long as we interpret them loosely and keep an open mind, we’ll all be better off.

xx,

-w-


Once you label me, you negate me.
— Soren Kierkegaard

C U R I O U S
Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images by Brooke Richardson Photography


The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it, and turn it inside out.

Curiosity is a superpower.


More than intelligence or persistence or connections, curiosity has allowed me to live the life I wanted.
— Brian Grazer
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It opens doors, keeps you engaged, keeps you learning, keeps you growing, keeps you evolving…

I personally have an INSATIABLE curiosity. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. And the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know! (It’s a total kick in the pants)


Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.
— Leo Burnett

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Curiosity manifests in multiple ways: reading, asking, exploring, experimenting.

I read basically anything I can get my hands on, usually nonfiction (though fiction can be just as insightful!). The topics I read about range from international relations to economics to finance to psychology to history to spiritual enlightenment to personal development to health/fitness to government/politics to leadership to business to…yeah, you get the idea. The more you do it, the more fun it becomes - you start making connections not only in your current reading, but in other areas: past readings, past experiences, current experiences, current situations.

The world starts to come together and make more sense (note I said more sense, not complete sense! There will always be mysteries and unknowns - part of the ride, my friend).

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Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.
— Socrates

Not only do you start to see how things fit together, but you are better equipped to make wiser decisions: with your money, your career, your personal life. Knowledge is P O W E R, baby.

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And if reading isn’t enjoyable/feasible for you, then try podcasts and audiobooks! After you’re all caught up on The Nativist Podcast (shameless plug!), there are countless fantastic and informational podcasts out there in practically every genre/format/vibe imaginable.


I have no special talents. I am just passionately curious.
— Albert Einstein

Need more motivation to become more curious?

In her book Dare to Lead on page 171, Brené Brown notes researchers are finding evidence that curiosity is correlated with creativity, intelligence, improved learning and memory, and problem-solving. A study published in the October 22, 2014 issue of the journal Neuron suggests the brain’s chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information. H O L L A!

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Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.
— Samuel Johnson

My curiosity also manifests in the questions I’m always throwing at people. I want to know DETAILS: background, wants, fears, ambitions, experiences, insights, philosophies, jobs, worldviews. I’m endlessly fascinated by people, social dynamics, psychology, motivations, and just LIFE in general.

Interestingly enough, I’m NOT a pryer - I respect boundaries and privacy, and play off the information the person provides me. I stay on the surface unless I either confirm willingness from the person or I sense their transparency.

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Be curious, not judgmental.

And not only is curiosity better for you, it’s better for EVERYONE. It opens your mind and helps you co-exist more peacefully. Ignorance breeds fear and contempt. Illumination and knowledge punches fear and contempt in the face. We fear what we don’t know, whether it’s the stock market or a religion certain politicians like to tell us promotes terrorism.


Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common but it is essential for right thinking.
— Leo Tolstoy
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It’s OUR responsibility to educate ourselves. To not rely on hearsay and rumors and news pundits. That’s when it gets dangerous (Nazi Germany, anyone?!). It’s on us to get out and explore and keep an open and curious mind.

Try not to just automatically accept information you receive, even if from an expert/trusted source. Identify possible biases/knowledge gaps; try to separate the facts from the underlying agenda. Let’s think for ourselves. Interact with foreign cultures, foreign ideas, foreign methods - so we can assess them ourselves and reach our own conclusions. It’s our civic duty, our personal duty, our moral duty.

Closed-mindedness is the enemy. Not only does it start wars and cultivate hate crimes, it fuels hatred and just makes life friggin’ MISERABLE for everyone. Everyyyyone. Not just the hated - those low vibing haters ain’t happy, either. Plus, it just limits everyone’s lives! It stunts innovation, rejects bliss, prevents growth. No bueno.

In his book Tribes, Seth Godin distinguishes between fundamentalism and curiosity.

  • Fundamentalist: considers whether a concept is acceptable to their worldview before exploring it.

  • Curious person: explores first and then either accepts or rejects the new idea.








This applies not only to religion, but life in general. Which are you? IMPORTANT QUESTION: Do you embrace the tension between your current framework and a new idea, or do you filter for what fits your current outlook?

As Godin states, curiosity has nothing to do with income, education, or organized religion. It has to do with a desire to try, a desire to push boundaries.

As I see it, curiosity is a weapon against mediocrity. It keeps us striving and evolving and innovating and ENGAGING IN LIFE. It helps us maximize our potential. Unlike stress and pressure which can be destructive and counter-productive, curiosity is a positive but powerful force propelling us forward. It illuminates the dark, reveals opportunities, generates ideas, yields solutions, smashes barriers, obliterates hatred, and nurtures self awareness.


Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.
— James Stephens
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Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.

When we look at life through a lens of curiosity, the world automatically feels safer, better, cooler. It feels more interesting, more fun, more awe-inspiring. It feels less threatening, less dangerous, less baffling, less negative.


There are those much more rare people who never lose their curiosity, their almost childlike wonder at the world; those people who continue to learn and to grow intellectually until the day they die. And these usually are the people who make contributions, who leave some part of the world a little better off than it was before they entered it.
— William Herbert Sheldon

The mundane suddenly becomes A W E S O M E. Curiosity has a way of reinvigorating your life. I mean, think about it: We live in an incredible world, with all of its intricacies and connections and features: in nature, in societies, in EVERYTHING. Once you start paying attention and WONDERING - the world becomes and infinite wonderland.

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Don’t think about why you question, simply don’t stop questioning. Don’t worry about what you can’t answer, and don’t try to explain what you can’t know. Curiosity is its own reason, aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life of the marvelous structure behind reality?

And this is the miracle of the human mind - to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches. Try to comprehend a little more each day. Have holy curiosity.
— Albert Einstein
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That’s one of the reasons I absolutely love kids: they’re constantly asking why, trying to make sense of the world (you parents constantly bombarded with questions may find them less charming!). Why do some people say yes when they mean no? Why do we do what we do and say what we say? Why is the sky blue and why is steel strong and why can’t we just write checks to pay for everything?

Bottom line: Curiosity rules. Don’t think so?

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xx,

-w-

Ya F E E L me?

Now on to the second Great Untruth, as outlined in The Coddling of the American Mind (an amazing book I read and first mentioned in an earlier post):

Always trust your feelings.

[Note: This relates to your emotions, not your intuition.]

Don’t get me wrong, emotions are helpful. Emotions are valuable messengers, revealing what’s going on below the surface, in your subconscious. They illuminate unhealed/repressed/insecure/etc parts of your being.

However, it’s imperative you view them through the right mindset: tools to increase your self awareness and heal yourself. Means to make you even more of a BAMF (bad ass motha you know what). Doing so requires willingness and discipline. It can be all too easy to give in to your initial feelings of anger/envy/contempt/fear/etc. But nope - be stronger than that.

If someone says something says something that rubs you the wrong way, or triggers feelings as resentment or rage, ask yourself:

  • Could I possibly have misperceived their words/intent?

    • Maybe I misheard them, or misunderstood them. Maybe they misspoke, thereby concealing their true [pure!] intent. Did they offend you unintentionally? [Have come across the wrong way? I know I have!] Try not to assume!

  • What can you glean from your emotional reaction?

    • Why did it affect you so strongly, in that way? Did it hit a nerve with you based on some past slight, of which the person is unaware? If so, this is a great opportunity to resolve the issue(s) within yourself

Do yourself - and others - a favor by going that extra step to check your automatic emotional reaction. If you operate off pure [initial] emotion, you’re limiting your self/interactions/connections and dooming yourself to a life of victimization, hurt, anxiety, and ostracism - regardless if these emotions are justified.

And so what if they are justified?

What if the person actually was intending offense? By reacting hostilely and lashing out (as tempting as it can be), you only deepen the divide and nurture the status quo.

Again, try to avoid assumption. If something rubs you the wrong way, respectfully acknowledge your possible misperception. This allows them: 1. an opportunity to clarify; 2. an opportunity to learn and see how their words/reasoning could be misconstrued and negatively impact others. (Wouldn’t you appreciate the same opportunity, if roles were reversed?) This likely heightens their awareness, thereby hopefully bridging the gap, lessening those divisive lines, and decreasing the likelihood of it happening again, to you or someone else. And maybe they stand by their assertion and maintain their racist/sexist/homophobic/ etc intent and view. It is what it is.

At least by responding with love and respect you can rest assured you’re not contributing to the problem. You can hold your head high knowing that by choosing to respond with love, you’re doing your part to soften the divide. And don’t get me wrong - sometimes you need to show a little fire to emphasize your point; but if you’re all flame and fury, you’re only exacerbating the situation.

A great principle to live your life by is the principle of charity: interpret others’ statements in their best, most reasonable form, not in the worst or most offensive way possible. The ease with which you do this shows how solid within yourself you are. If it’s still challenging - time for some self reflection, amigo.

And while you’re self assessing, try not to label emotions as negative or positive - they’re just emotions! Like, I said, they’re tools to help you become happier, healthier, and stronger. Means by which to become S O L I D.



Choose not to be harmed - and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed - and you haven’t been.
— Marcus Aurelius

I’m a big fan of stoicism and Marcus Aurelius.

Don’t let others control your mind and cortisol levels. There will ALWAYS be offenses and offensive content (especially online!). Good news! It’s not up to you to right every [perceived] wrong, and school those with whom you disagree. (How easy would it be for them to change your mind? It’d likely be just as tough to change theirs.) As we strive to lessen hatred and heal divisions, we must all pick our battles and ignore some of what we see, and just carry on with our day - if only for your own sanity’s sake!

Shine on, babes.

xx,

-w-





B O O K ing IT
I am part of everything that I have read.
— Theodore Roosevelt

Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images by Brooke Richardson Photography



To me, reading is life. Reading and learning and growing.

I’ve always been a book enthusiast. The library has always been my wonderland. Book stores make me giddy. They still give me such a rush. As a kid, I lived for summers when I could load up on library books (I’m talking multiple overflowing baskets), devour them, then repeat. I would read all day, then scramble to finish my chores before Mom and Dad came home.

I managed to read almost wherever I went. On WalMart outings , I’d head straight to the books and grab the one I’d started on my last visit. I’d follow my parents around the store with my nose stuck in a book, maintaining enough external awareness to know where they were walking. I soaked up as much as I could before having to put the book down and wait for the next trip. I don’t know how many books I finished this way.

Books give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.
— Plato

I remember appreciating how awesome and uncomplicated life was as a kid, and not wanting to grow up. Growing up meant I’d have to get a job, and getting a job meant I wouldn’t have unlimited time to lose myself in books. Adulting - who has time for that?!

I personally love book recommendations (I have a couple of must-read lists) - and I’ve had a few people requesting I share books I’ve read - so here’s my latest list! Here are books I’ve read within the last 12 months, in no particular order. I’ll bold those I highly recommend:


  • The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

    • Excellent read on fragility of today’s youth. See my last blog post: What doesn’t K I L L you makes you STRONGER for a snippet.

  • Be Like a Fox: Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom by Erica Benner

    • Fascinating read outlining Machiavelli’s life and work and presenting him as actually anti-Machiavellian! Benner submits Machiavelli was actually a good-hearted, profound ethical thinker who fought to uphold high moral standards and restore the democratic freedoms of his beloved Florence. His writings, such as in The Prince, actually critiqued princely power, but had to be veiled due to the politics of the time.

  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

    • Thought provoking. Eye opening. Fascinating.

  • The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

    • It outlines a powerful model and actionable steps to overcome common hurdles teams face, and advises on building a cohesive, effective team.

  • 101 Secrets for a Successful Retirement: Practical, Inspirational, and Fun Ideas for the Best Years of Your Life!

    • As you can imagine, not a riveting read, but not bad. Though I don’t plan to retire for a loooong time, I still like to educate myself on what’s ahead, so I can make good decisions now to set me up for later success.

  • 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days by Dean Karnazes

    • The man is an animal. ‘Nuff said. I love endurance challenges and constantly seeks ways to strengthen my mind and discipline, but I didn’t necessarily derive that from this book.

  • Learn More Now: 10 Simple Steps to Learning Better, Smarter, and Faster by Marcia L. Conner

    • Strategies, exercises, and stories to maximize learning. It provides tips and tricks to identify your methods and styles best suited for you. The guidance applies to all aspects of life: work, home, school, and society.

  • Red Sparrow

    • Quite a bit different from the movie. I rarely read fiction anymore, and so this was a fun change of pace.

  • The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein

    • MUST READ. I wish I could gift this to every single person. Gabby is a total goddess. In this book, she guides you through transforming your fear to faith, and releasing the blocks to what you desire: happiness, security, and clear direction. She shows you how to cede control so you can relax into a sense of certainty and f r e e d o m. She advises on how to reclaim your power so you can life so you can truly LIVE.

  • How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollen

    • Just WOW. What an eye opener and paradigm shifter. Having always been taught that “just saying no” to drugs includes passing on psychedelics, I was shocked to learn the true history and value of them. In an engaging way, Pollan describes how significantly successful LSD and ‘shrooms are in not only mitigating difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction, and anxiety, but how they also remarkably improve the lives healthy people making sense of life. Having never partaken of such substances (alcohol is as rock’n’roll as I’ve gotten), I was essentially a newbie going into this book. Interweaving science, personal experience, history, and medicine, Pollan debunks the myths surrounding psychedelics since the 1960s, when psychedelic evangelists triggered a powerful backlash against what was then a promising field of research. Now that the therapy is re-surfacing on the conventional scene, it’s interesting to consider what it has to offer.

  • How Full Is Your Bucket: Positive Strategies for Work and Life by Tom Rath

    • This book reveals how even the briefest interactions affect our relationships, productivity, health, and longevity. Grounded in 50 years of research, this book shows how to significantly increase the positive moments in our work and personal lives -- while reducing the negative.

  • Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence by James R. Clapper with Trey Brown

    • Clapper (former US director of national intelligence and Obama’s senior intelligence adviser) explores such controversial questions as the ethics of intelligence, the morality of intercepted communications, the limits of surveillance, etc. This subject matter affects all of us. I appreciated Clapper staying apolitical and focusing on the issues themselves. He offers valuable insight into the evolution of intelligence and its increasing value and relevance today, particularly in the current political climate.

  • Agent Storm: My Life Inside Al-Qaeda and the CIA by Morten Storm

    • In his captivating autobiography, Storm shares his journey from troublemaking teen in Europe to Muslim convert to jihadist to double agent for the western intelligence (CIA, as well as British and Danish intelligence).

  • The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies by Michael V. Hayden

    • General Hayden’s book provides a snapshot of senior professional opinion during difficult times. It offers insights from an intelligence professional who held some of the US intelligence community’s highest positions, including director of CIA and NSA.

  • All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Wealth by Laura Vanderkam

    • Useful read. Vanderkam advises the key is to change your perspective. Instead of regarding money as a scarce resource, consider it a tool to creatively build a better life for yourself and your loved ones.

  • Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level by Mark Divine

    • I’ve always been intrigued by the Navy SEALs, and the mental and physical mastery they embody and represent. I’ve always loved pushing myself to the max, to see just how much I can do. I enjoy reading about Hell Week and their rigorous training, to glean methods to apply to my own life. Commander Mark Divine, a retired Navy SEAL and founder of SEALFIT, and the popular Unbeatable Mind Academy, shares his insights on how to forge mental toughness, develop mental clarity, and cultivate a true warrior’s spirit - lessons that are applicable on the battlefield, in the gym, and in daily life.

  • Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Productivity in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

    • Duhigg demonstrates how genuine productivity - rather than mere busyness - relies on certain choices: how we frame daily decisions; the big ambitions we embrace and the easy goals we ignore; the cultures we establish as leaders to drive innovation; how we interact with data. Duhigg outlines eye key concepts - from motivation and goal setting to focus and decision making - that explain why some individuals and companies accomplish so much. Drawing from the latest discoveries in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics - as well as the experiences of elite and accomplished people - this meticulously-researched book explains the most productive people/entities don’t merely act differently - they view the world, and their choices, in profoundly different ways.

  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

    • Duhigg explores the science behind habit creation and reformation.

  • Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Tim Ferriss

    • I am a major Tim Ferriss fan (author of The 4-Hour Workweek), and am an avid listener of his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. In Tribe of Mentors, Ferriss compiles wisdom and tools from multiple kick ass people. The book has 623 pages and I blew through them in two days; not because I’m a speedy reader, but because I couldn’t put the book down. Not into reading that many pages? Check it out in podcast form: The Tribe of Mentors Podcast (I listen on Spotify).

  • The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter Drucker

    • This is one of THE most highly recommended books on leadership, productivity, and business.

  • The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins

    • If you hold yourself back due to laziness/fear/doubt/etc, this could be a game changer. Robbins explains the power of a “push moment” and how you only need five seconds to break through barriers to live a productive, fulfilling, empowering, healthy, accomplished life.

  • The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

    • This book details the evolution of Islamic terrorism, particularly in the modern day. It provides valuable insights into the interaction among various governmental/military/intelligence/law enforcement agencies, identifying not only their accomplishments, but their mistakes.

  • The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by don Miguel Ruiz

    • Ruiz uncovers the source of self-limiting beliefs that steal our joy and create unnecessary suffering.

  • You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

    • Sincero is a BAMF. Bottom line. This book is not only hilarious, but enlightening, refreshing, and helpful. She shows you how to identify and change self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that stand in your way. After reading it, you’ll be ready to take on the world.

  • Out of the Maze: An A-Mazing Way to Get Unstuck by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

    • A short story on the benefit of thinking outside of the box.

  • Confronting Iran by Ali Ansari

    • Having read previous books on Iran, this book enhanced my knowledge, particularly regarding Iran-U.S. relations, as well as Iran’s relations with other Western nations. Ansari outlines the history of these relations which leads us to our current situation, particularly regarding the nuclear issue. It identifies perpetuated misconceptions and misperceptions that continue to affect our interactions today.

  • Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking by Christopher Hadnagy

    • Hadnagy provides valuable insight into identifying and defending against various human hacking techniques. He advises on protecting sensitive information - both personal and professional - by explaining various methods and exploits ill-meaning actors employ.

  • Fierce Enigmas: A History of the United States in South Asia by Srinath Raghavan

    • South Asia is an integral part of American foreign policy, and understanding its history directly informs understanding of past and current international relations and global dynamics and strategies (which affect our lives).

  • Saudi, Inc. by Ellen R. Wald

    • Wald offers useful insight into geopolitics not only in the Middle East, but worldwide. She details the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry and its partnership with the U.S. She explains the oil industry’s impact on regional and global politics and economies. She outlines the genesis and succession of Saudi Arabia and its leaders.

  • America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East by Hugh Wilford

    • Wilford writes an interesting account of the evolution of the United States’ relationship with the Middle East, as well as the establishment of the CIA.

  • 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars by Kurt Eichenwald

    • This was an insightful, in-depth look at the government and military response (of the U.S. and its allies) to 9/11. It highlights such divisive issues as suspect detention and interrogation, wiretapping, Middle East invasions (specifically Iraq), and it chronicles the logic and thought processes of decision-makers grappling with those daunting decisions.

  • Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic by Ray Takeyh

    • Takeyh demystifies the Iranian regime and shows how its internal conflicts shaped its current posture toward the U.S.

  • Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government by Paul Volcker

    • Volcker is the former chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and the former Undersecretary of the Treasury for Monetary Affairs and president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Volcker chronicles his career, during which he confronted multiple financial crises and issues. He extols the virtue of stable prices, sound finance, and good government. It wasn’t as dry of a read as you’d expect.

  • AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee

    • I referenced this book in my recent post: Being H U M A N in the age of AI. An essential read as we face the reality of artificial technology and its potential impact on our lives.

  • Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad by Peter Bergen

    • Bergen, a subject matter expert, delivers an absorbing account of the hunt and demise of bin Laden. It outlines the counterterrorism strategy landscape and the evolution of Al Qaeda.

  • Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown

    • Brown shows how to find power within, and how to live a truly courageous and resilient life by rumbling with your vulnerability. Brown is a straight shooter who is also relatable and RAW. She’s an allstar.

  • High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way by Brendon Burchard

    • After extensive original research and a decade as a leading high performance coach in the world, Burchard teaches six deliberate habits that give you the edge in not only your work life, but your personal life.

  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

    • This book was just the kick in the pants I needed to apply what I already knew to be true: having too many balls in the air prevents us from progressing on what we truly value. Read this book if you: have ever felt compelled to declutter your life; find yourself stretched too thin; feel overworked and underutilized; are frequently busy but not productive; feel like your time is hijacked by others’ agendas. This book will help your reclaim your time and power so you can do less but better.

  • Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin

    • This book highlights the power of connecting with your people and provides the inspo for finding and leading your tribe: as an entrepreneur/as an activist/as a person/as an employee.

  • Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

    • In the same vein as Tribes, this book advocates speaking up and leading. It advises on overcoming the resistance holding you back from becoming invested, successful, and indispensable.

  • Witness: Lessons from Elie Weasel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger

    • This book is pure soul food. Wiesel, author of Night, was a well-known Holocaust survivor and human rights activist. All the feels with this book.


Happy reading!

xx,

-w-

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