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In my role as a career counselor to some of the brightest students and alums in the Country, I’m often surprised to encounter talented clients who feel stuck. Highly intelligent people that feel they’re on a predestined track rather than empowered; unable to see the all the potential possibilities their skills, network, and experience afford them.

One client I recently spoke to, “Julie”, secured an assistant role at a major television studio shortly after graduating.  As someone aspiring to work in the entertainment industry, paying her dues in an entry-level position seemed like the right place to start her ascension up the corporate ladder. 

Julie quickly found, however, that her days were consumed up with administrative tasks.  Moreover, her role did nothing to engage her intellect or creativity, and led her to question both her skill set and overall value.  Though she’s likely to be promoted in the next few months, she’s dreading it and feels fixed to her role – unable to identify or explore other potential opportunities, despite the fact she has an impressive network and credentials. 

When I’m working with clients like Julie that feel powerless, I gently recommend they upgrade their “personal operating system” – their mindset, perspective and thinking, so as to better prepare them to think deeply and tackle challenges.  

Just like your computer won’t be at peak performance if it’s using Windows 95, your ability to make things happen for yourself will be compromised if you’re not willing to get out of your comfort zone, challenge your most deeply held assumptions, or let the negative voice in your head run unchecked.

Below is a small cross-section of books I recommend to people who need help upgrading their mindset.   While each serves slightly different purposes, I’ve found they’ve all helped me expand my ability to think objectively, see new possibilities, and live in the present.     

·       “The 4 Hour Workweek”- The title of this book is misleading, but the content is great.  Tim Ferriss challenges long held assumptions regarding productivity, and provides a lot of tangible suggestions for reducing email dependence, automating systems, and increasing productivity with minimal bandwidth.  I've found this book has informed my approach to creating sustainable productivity systems that have maximum return on investment – particularly time.  It’s also helped me rethink my approach to work life balance and assessing productivity. 

·       “Zero to One” - This book is written by Peter Thiel, a legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, who discusses how to build a world-class company from the ground up.  Thiel discusses the importance of, and processes behind, innovating, and how to structure a new organization capable of meeting its goals – no matter how lofty.  I find this book reinforces how to think for oneself, ask difficult questions, challenge assumptions, and iterate your approach so as to self-evolve in new and novel ways. 

·       “The Art of Learning” - I find this author, Josh Waitzkin, particularly fascinating, as he ascended to world-class status in a variety of very different fields, including Chess, Tai Chi, and Brazilian jiu jitsu.  In “The Art of Learning” ,Waitzkin deconstructs how he harnesses his intuition to internalize complex knowledge systems, and highlights how he utilizes routines to cultivate a deep sense of presence and maximize performance.  Waitzkin also provides really tangible suggestions for tapping the power of the unconscious mind in creative pursuits. Among other things, I've found the systems highlighted have helped me harness my creativity and perform well during high-stress situations. 

·       “The Intelligent Investor” - This is Warren Buffett's favorite book and I can see why.   Benjamin Graham provides a really thoughtful and detailed analysis of how to identify and invest in stocks and bonds that are undervalued. However, I find the transferable skills emphasized - learning to recognize and detach from emotional biases, improving analytical skills through thoughtful analysis of fact-based systems, and not chasing trends at the expense of one's core goal - are directly transferable to my work.  There is a surprising overlap with mindfulness here, too, as the book’s principals underscore the importance of clear thinking.    

Other titles I’d recommend – “Rebirth” by Kamal Ravikant takes readers on a journey of self-discovery, as the main character struggles with his father’s death, the loss of a woman he loved, and an uncertain future as he walks the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  “Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb discusses the frailties around human predictions and our tendency to construct narratives, and how “Black Swan” type events ultimately shape our lives.  “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans discuss how to use the process of Design Thinking to create a meaningful and fulfilling life. 

This is just a small cross-section of book I’ve found helpful.  What books have you found most useful in upgrading your personal operating system?      

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