It’s Friday again! This week flew by, as is usually the case when the first day of the week is a holiday. Since I posted last week’s Reading 4 Success post on Tuesday it feels as though this post comes even quicker this week. As such I apologize if you feel inundated with book reviews and recommendations. My intent is never to overwhelm you with yet another summary of a book. Rather, I strive to add value to the summaries I share and bring some semblance of a “takeaway thought” to each in order to help put your mind in a favorable disposition towards one or more of the author’s works I’ve uncovered.

Bottom Line: I want to encourage you to explore the world of literature in greater detail and to make the art of reading something you include in your daily habits. I promise you it changes everything.

Reaffirming my thinking and purpose behind these review articles is also a way to ensure my writing stays meaningful as I share with you the various books I’ve read in the previous 7 days. This week in particular the theme of the books I read are an excellent case-in-point for this purpose.

I’m labeling this week the “Self-Help Series”

As I shared last week I like to find some common theme that runs through the books I read each week and in retrospect I found this week to have a theme of self-help or personal growth or self-improvement. I recognize this particular topic or theme could be applied to any number of books and personal stories but this week in particular I found the label to be apropos.

Without further delay, let’s explore three different author’s views on the subject of personal growth.

Failing Up

Finding success in failures take risks, aim higher, never stop learning

Leslie Odom’s book, Failing Up, takes us on a very personal approach to self-improvement outlining how to find success in failures by studying his own journey of successes (or should I say failures) in his life. Leslie discusses the ways he was forced to grow and improve in his journey as an actor and facing difficult choices along the way. (Just as a brief background, Leslie is most well known for his role as Alexander Burr in the Broadway show Hamilton). He includes various life lessons including the power in saying "no". A few memorable highlights of mine include:

“Everything changed in an instant the first time I really gave myself the room and the permission to fail spectacularly.”

I think this quote sums up one of the major takeaways Leslie hopes to leave you with after reading his book. He also shares the idea that “Preparation is the sign of your intention.” (This one is a personal favorite of mine from the book). The encouragement that Leslie seeks to leave you with is the concept that constant self-improvement comes from being willing to set yourself free, to take chances, but all of this happening with a dedication to being prepared. This isn’t wild, unfounded risk-taking; this is planned, prepared, intentional striving after success without fear of failure.


Finding freedom from addictions and something more, something deeper

The second book I want to share with you this week was Recovery, Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand. I have to admit I have a personal like and dislike for Russell due to his somewhat inflammatory manner of dialogue and his personal penchant for lewd language in his somewhat pedantic diatribes. I dislike the use of strong language as the main vehicle to communicate a point, but at the same time recognize the value in pushing my own thinking to look past conventional differences and explore the concepts shared instead. Even in this way I suppose Russell is forcing my furthered self-improvement.

In Recovery the writing centers around the concept of a 12 step process or journey that Russell underwent. His tendency to verbosity and superfluity of language which he tends to employ to enhance the writing at some points distracts too much from the point he wishes to communicate. But, in spite of this flowery approach Russell does a fantastic job communicating his thoughts (as I have always found him to do).

As I filter through his words a few striking concepts surfaced for me. Russell alludes to his initial desire to seek help from his addictions slowly evolving into a deeper and more meaningful acknowledgement of personal realizations and his own ‘depravity’. He acknowledges perfection may be something unattainable and perhaps a better and more reasonable aspiration would be a manageable and then beautiful life.

Mad Genius

Mad Genius Book and thinking differently

There are some books that I pick up and instantly recognize a style of writing, of thinking, or just general philosophy I immediately resonate with on a personal level. Randy writes very much with a type of ideology that I personally advocate for frequently. Unlike the previous book which pushed me to think differently, Mad Genius by Randy Gage is very much the opposite. Randy’s approach, thinking, and suggestions were all easy to digest and I found myself frequently nodding in agreement as I read. (Truthfully it was probably more of a soft under-my-breath grunt of agreement, but that just sounds far less intelligent don’t you agree?)

Randy’s book focuses on what lives inside each of us but is rarely tapped into by most people. The idea of thinking through things, questioning reasons, and tackling problems. When Randy speaks about questioning things what he really refers to is the notion of discovering the “why” behind the way things are done. (I’m sure you can see now the reason I found this book particularly enjoyable. Exhibit A, Exhibit B)

This book is far more prescriptive than the other two and speak to very specific challenges or “tasks” that the reader might endeavor to improve themselves and find their hidden “Mad Genius” as the author likes to label it. Overall, I found myself in agreement with most of the book and while the concepts were not new to me I found them to be a fresh approach to thinking bout some of the same interesting topics I spend a good deal of time thinking and writing about. I would definitely recommend reading this book. But…

Reading about self-help is only the beginning

Why are self-help topics so popular? This is a question I see asked frequently and the bookstores attest to the validity of such a question with the overabundance of books and tutorials and guides on how to “be a better you”. Clearly humans have a deep-seated desire to be better than they are. While I don’t necessarily suggest this to be a bad subject or one that should be avoided I don’t believe simply reading books on the topic will make the difference.

Rather, the reading of various self-help principles only provide the first step towards change and personal growth. After the reading comes the application. I believe this is where the struggle becomes more evident for most people. Breaking old habits; forming new habits; the changing of what has become part of our daily lives and person is much more challenging. Everyone has probably heard the concept regarding forming habits. Quotes, such as the following, overrun the internet:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
— Aristotle

Indeed, studies have shown it takes 21 days to form a habit (at least the easy habits). So while we recognize the work required to form a new habit, the amount of effort to improve oneself is not without its challenges.

I am always glad to read a new book on the topic of self-improvement and find great value in the different outlooks and opinions shared by the various authors. I appreciate the sometimes contradictory viewpoints and the encouragement to expand my own thinking. Beyond the simple reading of new ideas I hope the application of what I read becomes more a part of my daily life and informs my habits.

Similarly I hope you will find these book review posts to provide you direction as you seek out new material to consume and new topics to stretch your mind. But this is only the first step in the journey and I would encourage you to continue your growth beyond simple reading or review of others opinions. Take the more challenging path of self-improvement and start forming new habits!