Do you remember shopping for Christmas as a kid? Everything in the store is screaming at you, “Pick me! Please, pick me!” If you’ve ever been to those crowded stores, you will agree that choosing a dress is not an easy task at all. Well, the decision paralysis ends when one of your parents intervenes, “Esther, pick this dress. It looks good on you.”
I was like a restless kid shopping for Christmas wear as I hunted for the top three reads of 2020. As I reflected on my journey in 2020, the voices of some authors stayed with me. The works of these authors moved me and their words found a space in my heart. It was either their stories that influenced my thoughts or their counsel that made my light shine brighter.
Brene Brown showed me how to lead from the heart as a leader. Clark’s Writing Tools helped me to become a better writer while Austin Kleon revealed ten ways to share my creativity with the world. These books made it into my top three because they made me become a better version of myself.
My Top Three Reads of 2020
1. Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, Ph.D.
Brene Brown is a research professor with over two decades studying courage, shame, vulnerability, and empathy. Her TED talk — “The Power of Vulnerability” — is one of the top five most-viewed TED talks in the world, with more than fifty million views.
Dr. Brown’s book, “Dare to Lead” is a treasury of abstract ideas in concrete form, capable of making daring leaders. I learnt how to embrace tough conversations within and outside the workplace. I loved how she defined courage, empathy, shame, resilience, trust, vulnerability, and transformational leadership. While defining courage, Dr. Brown wrote:
“The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”
This definition resonated deeply with me — an offshoot of Theodore Roosevelt’s iconic quote popularly tagged “Man in the Arena.” It’s been a long time since a book tugged to my soul and gripped my heart. I could see myself on the pages of the book and ultimately, the path from my struggles into the light. Stories and insights from her research work with outstanding organizations provided varied perspectives on the subject of courage, fear, and vulnerability.
I picked up new tools: giving permission slips, delegating duties with clarity because to be “unclear is unkind,” asking my co-workers what help or support on a project means to them, and admitting the stories I make up in my head about people and situations. I also did a personal reflection and selected my top two values — faith and excellence — that serve as drivers for everything I do.
This is a book that every daring leader passionate about transformation should read. It will help you lead with grounded confidence.
2. Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
Roy Peter Clark is a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, one of the most prestigious schools for journalists in the world. He has taught writing at every level — to high school students and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors — for more than thirty years.
I have always believed that writing is a craft which means that it can be learnt. Clark’s book offers tools, not rules. This paradigm shift made the book highly engaging and easy to use for all classes of writers. The book addressed writing in different genres — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays, and technical reports. Clark shared more than 200 examples from diverse writers to reinforce the explanation of how the tools are used.
From the book, I learnt new techniques for making my writing pop and also got name tags for my favourite writing styles. I became more confident critiquing my work and offer advice to young writers. The tools taught me the art of X-Ray reading which is needed to understand the structure used by some of my favourite authors.
In Writing Tools, Clark shares decades of experience through fifty-five tools that writers can use daily. He advised against using all the tools at a time. Start with one and move to the other. In no time, you will have a full workbench and your writing will become more polished and effective.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss
3. Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
Austin Kleon is the author of the bestselling book, “Steal Like an Artist.” Kleon in “Show Your Work,” unleashed ten revolutionary ideas that every artist can use to share their creativity with the world. It’s a concise book that you can finish easily in two days, but the ideas are so powerful that I kept coming back for more inspiration. Artist is a broad word used for writers, singers, actors, poets, graphic illustrators, sculptors and other creators of art.
Artists struggle to share their works because of the expectations from fans and admirers; everything must be perfect. But Kleon advises artists not to wait until they are experts before they start sharing. It’s encouraging to know that amateur artists can share their imperfect works with the world, so they can find their voice in the process. Kleon drops the bomb:
“You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it.”
I totally agree with this quote. As a budding writer, you need to be fearless when sharing your flawed works with readers regardless of their expectations. That constant sharing spurs you to stay productive and receive feedback on your work.
Kleon advised artists to share their works but to refrain from oversharing. Kleon wrote:
“The act of sharing is one of generosity — you’re putting something out there because you think it might be helpful or entertaining to someone on the other side of the screen.”
The rule of thumb is to ask if what you are about to share is useful or interesting. If you have your doubts, just toss it into the trash can or hit “save as draft.” If you are scared of sharing your works with the world, this is the book you need for that push towards action.