How I Read 52 Books in a Year

Ready to read 52 books in the next 52 weeks? Yes?!? Alrighty.

Let's begin with two more compelling reasons for why you should read 52 books in a year. 

Numero Uno: You'll develop more interesting and deeper connections. One of my favorite things about this challenge was meeting others who shared my love of books. As I searched for good stories I made new friends and connected more deeply with existing relationships. My favorite question now is, "What's your favorite book and why?" The answers are sometimes surprising and always enlightening.

And Deux: Reading 52 books in a year is a big but achievable goal. While this challenge is not tiny it's fairly achievable if you work at it consistently. You just have to keep reading. For me, reaching a goal that stretched over a year built confidence. Consistent effort demonstrated that I also had the willpower and focus to reach important goals in my business. I learned that I really was able to let go of short-term gratification for something that was more meaningful. 

I know you can do it too. 

So let's talk about how YOU can read 52 books in a year.

Don't wait for the New Year
I'm not really a New Year's resolutions kind of gal. I often get inspired to take on a new challenge like meditating daily or reading 52 books in a year on some random Tuesday night in September. Remembering what Tara told me about the Reading Challenge on GoodReads I almost waited for the year to flip. Honestly I was afraid I'd chicken out if I didn't start that minute. And so I began. Like most things there isn't a perfect moment. Don't wait for the New Year to make the resolution to begin changing your life today. Stop waiting. Start today.

Do it one book at a time
When you begin your quest that number -- 52 -- is pretty daunting. Use Anne Lamott's wise advice from Bird by Bird to help you get started. Focusing only on the next book allows you to succumb to its secret world and enjoy it more. And when you have your face stuffed in the words you'll stop worrying about your goal and begin to truly enjoy the process. This challenge is also much easier when reading only one book at time. For someone who used to have 4 books going at once, this was a difficult but important new habit to form. My mantra? This moment, this book.

Don't shout about it from the skyscrapers 
I used to be a executive coach. During my training we were taught that we needed to "claim" a goal that we were going to achieve. The idea was that by loudly proclaiming it you made yourself accountable for acheiving your goal. But for me shouting out something I wanted to achieve felt strange. I hadn't done it yet. What if it wasn't the right goal? What if I changed my mind for something even better? It turns out there's something to my concerns. In this short little Ted talk, Derek Sivers explains that sharing your goals fools your brain into thinking that you've already done, which means you're less likely to actually go through with it.

I told a few close friends but otherwise kept my mouth shut even to the librarians who saw me every week. It was only at 4 books and 9 weeks to go that I felt confident to share my goal more widely. Even then, I was loathe to talk about it much and definitely didn't blog about it.

Change your reading habits
My dear friend Tara encouraged me to vary what I read in order to be successful. This was the best piece of advice I received. She gave me permission to read what made me happy rather than trying to be a book snob by reading intellectually challenging or epic books. Tara's may have been the best piece of reading advice I received. My advice? Don't pick long reads like Shanatram (944 pages!) when doing a 52 books in a year challenge. If you do pick one longer book be sure to offset it with shorter, easier reads.

Don't slog through a book just because of sunk reading cost
If a book isn't giving you that reading mojo, drop it. There's no sense in giving yourself brain damage if you're not into a book. If you find yourself yelling at the book or rereading a sentence over and over again just say "I'm not that into you" drop it and find a new one that you are into.

Get on GoodReads
This is the best way to track what you want to read as well as what you've read. The last 2 years GoodReads has sponsored a Reading Challenge. While not everyone challenges themselves to read 52 books, it's a great way to discover good books and find camaraderie in your challenge. Although my challenge was spread over two calendar years I was still able to use their system to help me track my progress. Come look me up on GoodReads. You can find me under um, my name. I can't wait to see what you read. And? What you learn.

You Will Never Be Good Enough For At Least One Person

I've been on a stage in one form or another for most of my life. Which means I've been evaluated--both formally and informally--by big crowds of people for a long time. While getting feedback is a part of all of our lives, taking it while maintaining healthy perspective isn't always easy. Recently an entrepreneur asked for my support in marketing his work. The trigger was a small piece of feedback which was negative. While 99% of his feedback had been positive, glowing even, he was stuck on this one point. I understood his dilemma, while it was only one person, the feedback went directly against the mission of the project. At the same time, it was clear that this feedback was eating him up, a situation that wasn't good.

I can relate with this entrepreneur. For the most part I get very high marks on my talks. I remember the time when I got all 5's on a talk I gave to a very tough crowd. There was only one little note about something that I could improve. And you know what? It was that little comment that I focused all of my attention on rather than the 40 stellar scores that I received. It was clear that I cared way too much about every stinking little opinion out there and was a devout perfectionist. This was a massive turning point for me. Though I curbed the people pleasing demon long ago, it's something that I still think about from time to time.

If you want to accomplish your dreams, you're probably going to be in the public eye. And even if you don't, social media these days will make you feel like you are. All of this means that you need to develop that later of epidermis covering your body so that the comments of others don't sway you off your course.  Here are the realizations I had about this whole business of giving and receiving feedback when you choose to put yourself and your ideas out in public.

Other People's Opinions (OPO) are none of your business

Getting everuone to love you or Wanting everyone to love you is a tiny precipice upon which to put yourself. One person doesn't wholly approve and you're shoved off into the abyss of perfection.  For the control freaks OPO is utter torture. Yes, you can try to influence their opinion but you aren't in control. And their opinion of you is probably much more about them rather than about you. OPO is similar to Other People's Problems (OPP)  You have no control over either and so your only the sane choice is to let them go. Now the rule of OPO and OPP doesn't give you license to act like a 2 year old with  a perpetual tantrum. One of the best tests to ensure that you're not abusing this rule is another one: the Mirror Rule. (Yes, I'm full of rules today). If you can honestly look at yourself in the mirror, in the deepest part of your heart, all that your mama taught you and be ok with your behavior then you're good.

When you're daring to put yourself out in the public view, there's bound to be some negative feedback and this is bound to bring out scary emotions in you. When attacked the ugly emotions of being defensive, vulnerability and perfectionism will rear up from the recesses of your brain. When they show up on your emotional doorstep just welcome them in for a nice cup of tea while you calm them down. When I get caught off guard by an anonymous comment that invokes these emotions I just think to myself, "What the ef are you doing Suzan Bond letting some anonymous person get in the way of your dreams?" and I let them go so I can move forward.

What you invoke in other people is none of your business
File this under the Other People's Problems (OPP) rule. Again, it starts with the Mirror Rule. If you can easily pass the Mirror Rule knowing that you weren't honestly trying to upset someone else then you must move along. Often when we're out in public speaking on a topic we can accidentally stumble upon people's internal land mines. When you dare to stand up in front of a room, write an intriguing blog post or work on an innovative project here are a few of the emotions you're likely to invoke in others:

The diss. Inevitably for me it's the person who sees themselves as an expert in whatever it is that I'm talking about that day. In this case I think it's a matter of somehow threatening them as I hit too close to home. Perhaps they feel they should be up there on stage. While I certainly take their opinion into considerable I try not to lose sleep over their comments especially since they're usually not my main audience.

Negativity. The other person who won't like your talk is the person who is always negative, the one who always sees something wrong what you're talking about or the way you're saying it. Negative people can't be turned around and just aren't worth your energy.

Fear. Sometimes your topic or the way you phrase it is going to change the status quo, at least for one person. And this will strike fear in their little heart. So they must criticize you so that they can stay tightly wrapped in that little cocoon of theirs. You know as well as I do that there are just some people who will kick and scream into that dark night of change. When someone is gripped in fear the kindest thing you can do is to handle them like your grandma: with kindness and respect. Even if they're growling at you like a wolf, be sure to look past that into the scared little kid on the inside.

End game? You will never be good enough, smart enough or anything enough for at least one person. Succumbing to people pleasing is a creativity killer.

So. How do you keep your creativity intact in the face of criticism? How do you get feedback and improve without being lured to the people pleasing demons like a ship to the rocks?

Going Lean in Everyday Life (Or How to Write a Blog Post in 10 Minutes)

I’m a creative type. There I said it. If you know anything about this type you know that they love to be left alone for long hours huddled in their creative den, perfectly their art whether it be a painting, website or in my case--writing. Like the stereotype often goes--my work area can become super messy and even though it bugs me I just dive deeper into my work. Lately my work has been off the charts busy with a full-time client and two part-time ones. Pretty sure that doesn’t equal a balanced life. But it does equal a messy house, a neglected personal blog and too many thing too do.

I am ready to try new things--not because a big number ticked over a few weeks ago but because I have been trying to do things different since I got sick this past summer. This sickness was an indication that the way I was doing things just wasn’t working and since I’m not insane that meant that I needed to do things a different way.

So, for the past few weeks I’ve been trying something a bit different. Rather than allocating a full day to a project like I’d like to I am now getting work in very small micro bursts. I’ve started with 10 minutes on a timer for each iteration. 10 minutes to clean off my desk. 10 minutes to plow through my email. I even did it for this blog post. I didn't futz over it or spend hours trying to get the perfect phrasing. I published. a.k.a. Committing or Shipping in the tech world. I largely think it worked.  (Though I did add 5 minutes for the actual posting because wordpress can be a rascal sometimes) Sometimes I need to add another 10 minutes because I’ve gotten into the task and I want to get just a bit more done. I did this last night. I cleaned off my desk (which meant sorting my bills and receipts and other nonsense) and then in the last 3 minutes of the second iteration I paid off 3 bills and took care of another billing issue. I went to bed feeling quite pleased. I got the inspiration from the world of lean startups and small iterations and my mom who has done a similar approach which she probably got from a woman's magazine.

What I love about my lean approach

1) Feels very doable

2) I get something done which is better than nothing

3) I get very focused on the task at hand

4) I feel good about it so I inch up a few notches on happiness meter.

Now certainly everything may not fit into this lean approach and that quality doesn't matter because it does and there are times I will certainly want to luxuriate in a project. That said, so far it's really helping me to stay focused and get an enormous amount done especially in things I dread because I don't think I have time. Wondering how you might be able to put this concept into your life and what you discover.

Joan Didion on Why I Write took me some years to discover what I was.

Which was a writer.

By which I mean not a ‘good’ writer or a ‘bad’ writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper.

Joan Didion


Thanks to Brain Pickings for reminding me of this quote. It's such a delicious quote about a topic I care deeply about. I too am a writer, compelled to pick up pencil and put to paper or to furiously type on a keyboard daily. Since I was a kid I've enjoyed many hours enamored with words on paper. While I've held a number of titles throughout my life--project manager, executive coach, CMO-for-Hire, buying assistant--being a writer is something that I am everyday regardless of my title. It's just a part of my genetic makeup. I simply can't help myself.

I have this notion that each of us have something that is so endemic to who we are that we are compelled to do it; a compulsion that comes within the deepest part of who you are. For me arranging words on paper is my compulsion. It helps me process my thoughts and to understand the world around me. When I am in my deepest despair you'll often find me curled into a corner of a library or bookstore. Once I've sorted through my thoughts I feel much more at ease. I suddenly know how to approach a problem or take a creative approach to a project. If I don't write for a day I just don't quite feel like myself.

Writing? It's just a part of who I am.

What is your compulsion? And what compels you to do it?