There is a highly disturbing realization when you go from being a college student to becoming a young professional: It’s the realization that no matter how much you prepared, what your GPA was, or how talented or determined you might be, you’re starting at the bottom. You have little or no knowledge of that organization’s products and services, let alone their corporate culture, co-worker’s personalities, or even where the bathroom is.
So much to learn in so little time. And the “training program” (if they have one), is centered on what you need to produce, manage or sell—not a lot of time for all those other things that can make-or-break your career. I’m talking about things such as how to effectively participate in meetings, how to deal with difficult people, how to master your organization’s technology, how to manage your time efficiently, how to deal with office politics or just how to be “likeable.” All of these examples and many more fall under the header of “Professional Development.”
I know what you’re thinking—investing in all that sounds like extra work. But professional development does not have to be the type of work you dread, primarily because you control how you invest in yourself. Moreover, while there are many ways to develop yourself professionally, such as joining an organization, taking a night class at the university, enrolling in a free online seminar or attending a conference, the method of professional development I’m recommending doesn’t require you to even leave the house:
No, I’m not talking about the latest young adult fiction novel. I’m talking about books that help you grow by developing your time-management, leadership, and interpersonal skills. Reading books can be an immensely useful resource as you transition from academia to the workforce and prepare yourself to advance to the next level, whether that be in your current company or your future employer.
It’s been postulated that we are evolving to a post-text world, one in which symbols, images, digital video and virtual reality replace books, magazines and other forms of the written word.
Don’t believe it. These technologies have their place, but they will augment and co-exist with the written word. Since the time Gutenberg’s Bible first left the press, the world has embraced books as the primary technique for knowledge transfer, storytelling, entertainment and archiving. They may be on paper, on an iPad, or exist as an .MP3 file, but books will continue to hold their rightful place in modern society as the medium from which most human advancements will be chronicled and shared.
This year, I decided to develop myself through reading. I reached out to my professional resources through the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) and the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), as well as through LinkedIn. I simply stated that I was looking for “non-fiction books on any topic (personal finance, leadership, culture, biographies, etc.).” Within hours of each query, the recommendations for books came flooding in and I started to explore my new options.
The first thing that hit me was the importance of seeking a variety of topics. My entire reading life up until this point has focused on fictional novels. Although novels can enhance empathy and improve your story telling ability, professional self-help books, autobiographies, historical studies, and technical how-to books are what really drive home lessons lived and learned from others that will be relevant to your own experiences or aspirations.
Plus, a variety of topics and types of books can, at the very least, make you a more interesting and informed conversationalist during interviews or with your coworkers and bosses. No matter what, this approach will give you a broader, deeper and better perspective on management, leadership, markets and organizations and provide you with a method of self-reflection. (And who couldn’t use more of that?)
Finally, if you’re just one of those people who does not have the patience for reading anymore, I have great news—just listen. Listen to your books that is! I listen to books on my commute, while working out at the gym or just walking my dog.
At some point in my career, I intend to be a very good leader. To become that person, I intend to be a voracious reader.
Below are several categories and the books I recommend, many of which came from the recommendations of other young and seasoned professionals in my network. This is not an exhaustive list nor is it in any way final, but these are a few books I recommend for when you’re feeling that fire to better yourself, expand your worldview and advance your professional prospects.
Professional Development Book Recommendations
For when you’re feeling philosophical:
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – A young woman walks into a laboratory. Over the past two years, she has transformed almost every aspect of her life. She has quit smoking, run a marathon and been promoted at work. The patterns inside her brain, neurologists discover, have fundamentally changed.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion– Influence, the classic book on persuasion, explains the psychology of why people say “yes” – and how to apply these understandings.
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t – Built to Last, the defining management study of the ’90s, showed how great companies triumph over time and how long-term, sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the very beginning.
For when you need inspiration:
- Buck: A Memoir – A rebellious boy’s journey through the wilds of urban America and the shrapnel of a self-destructing family – this is the riveting story of a generation told through one dazzlingly poetic new voice.
- Educated: A Memoir– Growing up in rural Idaho, Tara Westover had no birth certificate, never saw a doctor and didn’t go to school. But Westover defied her family’s expectations when she enrolled in Brigham Young University at 17 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University.
For when you wonder how we got here:
- A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America – Bruce Cannon Gibney shows how America was hijacked by the boomers, a generation whose reckless self-indulgence degraded the foundations of American prosperity.
- Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History – Kurt Andersen demonstrates that what’s happening in our country today – this strange, post-factual, “fake news” moment we’re all living through – is not something entirely new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character and path.
For when you crave some Girl Power:
- I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World – When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.
- My Own Words – A selection of writings and speeches by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on wide-ranging topics, including gender equality, the workways of the Supreme Court, being Jewish, law and lawyers in opera, and the value of looking beyond U.S. shores when interpreting the U.S. Constitution.