2019 has definitely been a year of self-reflection, change and contemplation. This is the year I turned 60, embraced care for my own mental health, began my “slow down” at work to focus more time with family, writing, traveling, and healing. My father’s continued endurance of Parkinson’s Disease has deepened my awareness of both my own mortality and the allure of learning more through bucket-list life experiences.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on the people who have, in some way, profoundly influenced me during my working career. I’ve held 19 different jobs in my nearly 38 year working career. This includes 11 jobs in the U.S. Navy, 4 at public corporations, and 4 industrial real estate brokerage firms. I’ve been promoted to jobs, fired from jobs, and left jobs for better jobs. While I’m currently coming up on my 9 year anniversary (my longest stint) of what will likely be my last gig, I’ve had stints as short as 4 months, plus a combined 7 months “between jobs”. Each stop gave me the opportunity to work with people who have showed me lessons of personal and organizational leadership that have impacted me meaningfully.
One of my immediate goals for 2020 is to write 100 “Thank You!” notes to some of those people. Although I clearly understand the impact of receiving a handwritten note, the fact is my handwriting is so terrible and generally illegible (should have been a doctor, but I still blame Sister Rose from St Anthony’s for rapping my fingers with a wooden pointer in the 8th Grade!) that I’ll end up using a keyboard. After all the spiritual maxim, “Gratitude begets Grace” works because of how gratitude makes the sender feel, not necessarily how the receiver reacts.
One of those notes will be to Gary Nalbandian, who was co-owner of my first real estate brokerage firm. There are a host of life-lessons and eternal truths I picked up from Gary. One is, on speaking of maintaining healthy work-life balance, it is important to have a support team that includes a therapist, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, a spiritual guide, a meditation practice, Tarot card reader, and an overflowing library of inspiring books. Well, maybe I threw in the Tarot cards, but his point is simply that it takes a village if you want to keep your sanity and achieve your desired level of success.
The specific comment Gary made on books was, “If you get only one new idea out of every book you read, and you read 1 book per week, you will get 52 new ideas every year to help you become the person you want to be.”
One book a week? My reading goals have been a bit more modest, say 1 book per month (hey 12 new ideas ain’t bad, right?), but I have, more often than not, even fallen short of that abbreviated goal.
2019 has been a good year for me in this regard. Here are the 17 books I read this year and one of the ideas (each gave me multiple ideas, by the way).
- The Fields- Sammi Leigh Melville. Science fiction is not my go-to genre, but Sammi is a friend I met through the improv community here in Harrisburg. She had invited feedback from people to review her work in process. When the book was published (her first) I ordered and found myself delightfully sucked in while my toes were stuck in the sand in January. I later read in the Acknowledgements where she had listed those of us who had in some way contributed. It was a profoundly beautiful way to start of the year!
- Origin – Dan Brown. Dan Brown’s balance of informed irreverence and great plot writing has never disappointed. Artificial Intelligence is clearly here and affecting the way we live, and the way I think about “What is my purpose?”
- Her Christmas Protector-Geri Krotow. Reading Harlequinesque romance novels is not my go-to (although I have been known to get sucked into the Bachelor/Bachelorette vortex from time to time.) Geri is a friend and fellow Naval Academy alum who uses her Naval Service as an Intelligence Officer as a backdrop for her military influenced romantic reads. She’s written over 20 books and they are fun (plus, it’s never bad to learn some new romantic ideas to keep the fires lit at home!)
- Peaks and Horizons- Charles Carroll. This was a gift, from our daughter Caity, to read prior to our trip that included visits to Tibet and Nepal. Aside from the silly things humans of all cultures will do in the name of love (i.e. cross the Himalayas) it was a superb primer on what we would experience with the China-tization of Tibet. It’s really good when paired with the film “Seven Years in Tibet”.
- Can’t Hurt Me – David Goggins. A solid autobiography by a special warfare operator. No matter what the pain is, you can keep moving through it.
- The Tao of Pooh- Benjamin Hoff. Another primer for our big trip this year. Buddha, Confucious and Laozi were pretty deep thinkers; I found it helpful to have it broken down in more simplistic terms by Pooh and friends
- Sixty- Ian Brown. Sent to me by my Plebe Summer roommate, Guy Williams, this is an exceptional accounting of the year that he turned 60. A terrific read as you hit this milestone. “When we close our eyes, we’re all the ages we used to be.”
- Everything is F*cked. A book about Hope- Mark Manson. This follow on to his “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” is ingenious, and genuinely gave me hope.
- Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens. A great story on prejudice, hope, friendship and survival.
- Rules of Civility – Amor Towles. A phenomenally well written fictional period piece recommended to Leigh by the authors’ cousin. I can not emphasize how great the writing is in Towles’ books. Fabulous!
- The Great Alone- Kristin Hannah. A heart-pounding story of love, survival, commitment, and the very real impact of post Viet Nam War PTSD on the families and friends.
- My Life & The Principles for Success- Ross Perot. With this year’s passing of fellow Naval Academy graduate Mr. Perot, his real estate company, Hillwood, passed these out to its business associates/partners. The greatest professional honor of my civilian career has been to represent Hillwood in several real estate projects in Central Pennsylvania. His treatise on the core values that led him to such great success is really good.
- A Gentleman in Moscow -Amor Towles. Much like his Rules of Civility, the story-telling and word-smithing is absolutely delightful.
- They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us – Hanif Abdurraqib. Recommended by my friend Melissa Ford, this is a collection of writings by a black Muslim from Ohio who, as a college freshman, sat in his dorm watching the twin towers fall on 9/11. Much like the book “The Hate U Give”, this reminded me how little I know about racism, sexism, religious intolerance and white privilege. A really great read.
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – Lori Gottlieb. A great read on psychotherapy through a therapist’s eyes (they are humans too, you know!).
- Impeach- Neal Katyal. An interesting read by a constitutional lawyer. Politics aside, its very good for me to read about the founding fathers and the U.S. Constitution I had sworn to protect and defend.
- This: Becoming Free – Michael Gungor. My therapist recommended it and I really am enjoying the circuitous route of his spiritual journey of Mega-Church Pastor’s son turned Mega-Church Pastor turned agnostic with more turns unfolding. I’m halfway through and it reminds me of the old saying, “The longest way round is the shortest way home.” Also, on his suggestion, I tried my first “flotation therapy”. I’ll be going back.
Like Gary said, taking just one idea from each book has made 2019 infinitely more fulfilling; I’ve been exposed to ideas, cultures, circumstances that I otherwise would not have.
I hope you have picked something up to help with your journey as well. There are some good books out there!
And Gary, thank you very much for the opportunity you have afforded me; your leadership and life lessons continue to have a profound on me and my family.