It’s safe to say we’ve gone digital. It’s around us every moment of every day. Internet, smartphones, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Zoom videoconferences, Siri and Alexa, Google Chromecast, Big Data, Internet-of-Things, Cloud Computing, Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Chatbots. You name it.
This is a highly fast-paced era we live in, both at home and at work. I, for once, find it hard to stop for a while and remember that we are all still just human, with all our flaws and fears, and a desperate need for feeling like we belong, we’re loved and that our lives have a purpose.
I happened to start developing a reading habit around January 2019. To be honest, I just thought it was about time I spent less time scrolling my Instagram and Facebook feeds, as that was wasting a huge amount of my time in the morning and in the evenings, as I woke up or went to bed, and start using that time to actually do something my future Me would thank me for. I just had this urge to make use of my time, with no special intention beyond that.
Funny enough, a couple of months later, I found that not only my future Me would thank me for it, but also noticed changes in the way I lived my life, related to my friends, family and colleagues, and in the way I looked at myself and at the world around me, around us, today.
With this in mind, I would like to share with you a list of books that really had an impact on me, and that felt somehow humane, covering topics ranging from fear, empathy and vulnerability, to the meaning of life and the inevitability of death, and even hope.
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Cal Newport’s new Digital Minimalism explores the concept of Attention Engineering that lurks behind this ever-growing digital world, with artefacts such as Social Media, Netflix and Smartphones, explaining how these gadgets, apps and websites are designed to grab and hijack our attention. Acknowledging this, Newport offers a philosophy aiming at technology use, along with a set of practical and beyond common-sense tips, so we can rethink the way we look at technology and start consuming it instead of being consumed by it.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
I must confess that it took me quite a while to finally pick up this book, largely due to its somewhat controversial title. However, it is by far one of the best books I have read and I will surely read it again and again. Carnegie’s book is largely based on his courses on business education and human relations. Based on the principles of human nature, human psychology and empathy, the premise is simple: the way we convey a message can lead to extremely different results, even if the content of the message is exactly the same. Lots of real-life examples are provided, making it more interesting!
Give and Take by Adam Grant
This incredible book focuses on our social interactions, defending that our success in life, in its different dimensions, has a lot to do with how we interact with others. Grant believes there are mainly three types of people: the takers, which strive to get as much as possible out of everyone; the matchers, who look at every interaction as a trade of favors, and the givers, who are willing to give and contribute without worrying about receiving something in return, creating a psychologically safe climate and a chain of goodwill that spreads across our networks.
What type would you rather be?
The Servant by James C. Hunter
The Servant tackles the concept of servant leadership and, hence, is a book on leadership, plain and simple. However, it is neither a technical nor an academic approach to the topic. If you’re looking for those, I would suggest you choose a different book. Nevertheless, based on a really simple fiction story about a businessman whose world and life – both business and family-wise, as a husband and a father – are upside down, this book makes us question and rethink a series of concepts we take for granted, and proposes a model of leadership based on relationships, service and sacrifice, instead of power.
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
This one was a game-changer for me. Brené Brown is a research professor who has spent the past two decades studying topics such as courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Brené also gave one of the most watched TEDTalks ever, which goes by the name of The Power of Vulnerability. Daring Greatly addresses these topics to the core, with a simple and perceptible tone, opening with a wonderful quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech in 1910 (which gave birth to the book’s title).
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.“
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
This book is written by an American surgeon and, based on Gawande’s personal stories as a doctor and son, consists of a reflection on how people perceive being mortal and how people feel about aging and dying. The book explores this from three different perspectives: how one perceives death in himself/herself, in others and, also, how medicine perceives it. The author criticizes how medicine and medical professionals understand life and death and how they play their role in it, usually striving for the extension of a patients’ lives at all costs, at the expense of palliative care, and often ignoring the final wishes of their patients, who are, after all, fragile human beings who just want to live their last days with dignity. Overall, a beautiful book.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Written in 1946, this is a story about neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Emil Frankl and his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Man’s Search for Meaning points out the three psychological stages all inmates experience, from the moment they arrive at a concentration camp, from the initial shock to the apathy and then to the bitterness and moral deformity, exploring how Viktor held on to the purpose of life in the face of such atrocity, suffering and death.
Factfulness by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund
Apparently, we have absolutely no clue about the state of the world and we tend to see it as poorer, less educated, more dangerous and far less healthy than it actually is. And, according to the author, this is not due to random chains of events, but rather due to misinformation; to the fact that the media and news, which are our main window to the world, focus on the catastrophic side of things. Based on statistics, Rosling provides a new refreshing perspective on the world, filling us with a renewed sense of hope.
There are probably tons of interesting books covering the above topics, but these were the books, from those I have read since January 2019, that had the most impact on my daily routine, how I feel about myself and others, and how I perceive the world.
By creating the habit of reading every day, taking one to maybe three hours a day, I now use time in a more conscious and intentional way. And I must tell you: it feels great to understand that you can have time, for yourself or for whatever you want most, as long as you are willing to pay attention to where you are spending it and willing to manage it accordingly. Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism has really helped me out on that.
Having my daily routine established and having time for myself, every day, I have embarked on a journey of self-discovery and continuous learning, digesting a huge amount of ideas, reflections and personal experiences from these books, and others, often comparing them to how I used to understand and think of people, family, work, and the world we live in.
You know what? It all changed.