How to rev up without the burnout

What We're Reading: October 2019

After a fluid, high-energy summer, many of us find ourselves feeling the need to land and get back into a routine. This month's readings embrace the tension between the desire to get things done and our right to rest and recharge.

Welcome to What We’re Reading. Each month, we’ll curate a list of books―from perennial classics to new releases―chat with authors, and review titles with the hope of co-creating a community of well-read makers. Discussions around work, creativity, and entrepreneurship are constantly evolving; here, we aim to create a space for different ideas and approaches to be in conversation with one another. Whether you’re already an avid reader or wish you read more, we hope you’ll feel inspired to read along with us.

This month, we’re reading two books that focus on building a strong foundation and sustainable habits for reaching the goals we have set for ourselves. We’re also flipping through two other books that focus on a different, but equally important, aspect of life: how to recharge and take care of ourselves so that, once we’ve done what we need to, we’re able to savor our lives outside of work.


There’s a perceptible energy shift that happens each year as the summer months wind down: As the days become shorter and the heat starts to dissipate, it often feels like it’s time to get back to “real” life. Whether you view this as a welcome change or are mourning the loss of long, carefree days, there are ways to harness the shift, and treat it as a catalyst that gets you where you want to go over the next few months.

Perhaps it’s a remnant from school days past, but autumn tends to bring with it a desire for organization, learning, and productivity. After a fluid, high-energy summer, many of us find ourselves feeling the need to land and get back into a routine. But the colder weather and darker days can also sometimes feel challenging, particularly when it comes to staying energized. Some days, curling up with a good book and a cup of hot tea sounds more appealing than ticking off items on a to-do list.

This month, we’re embracing the tension between these two opposing forces: The desire to get things done and the inherent right each of us has to rest and recharge. We’re reading four books that offer different perspectives on how to be productive and build strong habits that allow us to excel in our work and lives. But we’re also honing in on what it means to be full participants in our lives outside of work, whether that means embracing the Danish art of hygge or expanding our understandings of pleasure. After all, it’s by striking the right delicate balance between work and rest that we’re able to build full and rewarding lives.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

When I first picked up this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It sort of looked like your typical self-help how-to, and I was wary. But after reading countless shining reviews, I decided to give it a try, and I’m so glad that I did.

James Clear is a fantastic writer whose conversational prose sucks you in from the first page. His story starts by recounting a traumatic physical accident he experienced as a child, and how the aftermath of this incident—namely, a debilitating brain injury—derailed his life and forced him to reforge his understanding of himself and his capacity.

Clear outlines how building a strong foundation of tiny, easy-to-incorporate habits helped him not only to get his life back on track, but allowed him to build an incredibly successful career.

The whole thesis around “atomic habits” is the idea that seemingly insignificant tweaks can make you incrementally better, stronger, smarter, more efficient—insert whichever adjective suits you best—every single day. Instead of focusing on life-shattering leaps, Clear instead encourages readers to imagine what it would look like to commit to trying to do a little better each day.

This book is a must-read for anyone wanting to develop stronger habits and build a sustainable foundation for themselves, whether personal, professional, or both. It’s a salient reminder of the fact that the little things we do every day are what counts, and that’s where we should place our focus.

The Courage Habit: How to Accept Your Fears, Release the Past, and Live Your Courageous Life by Kate Swoboda

What would your life look like if you weren't afraid of failure—or success? What would it mean to be able to move forward with courage and trust that your highest aspirations are absolutely possible? These questions form the central argument of Kate Swoboda’s book The Courage Habit, a thought-provoking introspection into what it means to let go of fear.

We live in a culture of automation; with so many of our daily interactions happening on our phones and computers, it's easy to fall into auto-pilot mode and forget the ways in which we're constantly reinforcing problematic ways of thinking, acting, and seeing ourselves.

Not just that, but humans today experience chronic anxiety and stress to a degree that would have been of medical concern just a few decades back. Given this context, The Courage Habit is a proactive and accessible tool for addressing how fearful habits may be controlling your life, and how to release them and live more courageously.

Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by Adrianne Maree Brown

Imagine a life where things just feel good. These days, for so many of us, life can feel a bit like a hamster wheel. Whether we’re overwhelmed by racial, gender, or social inequality, have got a mountain of student debt on our minds, are trying to excel in our careers, or just get through the day as a person in this world, what would it actually feel like to find deep pleasure in life?

When I first heard the concept of “pleasure activism,” I was immediately curious: What the hell did that mean—and how could I participate?

From the author of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (another absolute must-read), comes this new book that interrogates what it means to tap into a pleasure-filled human existence, particularly as historically oppressed people or individuals from marginalized groups. For people who have more social privilege, the book encourages individuals to consider whether any of their pleasures currently come at the expense of others and, if so, to consider how to change that.

In Pleasure Activism, Brown asks readers to question how they might awaken within themselves new desires and ways of seeing that would make it difficult, if not impossible, to settle for anything less than an absolutely fulfilling, pleasurable life—even if that currently seems inaccessible.

The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well by Louisa Thomsen Brits

In North America, hygge is a relatively new, hard-to-pronounce term. But in its native Denmark, the concept dates back to the 20th century, denoting a feeling of cozy contentment that comes from enjoying the simple things in life.

It’s no secret that many cultures know how to enjoy themselves in ways that seem indulgent or even excessive to many Americans. Whether it’s long, August vacations, 30+ vacation days, or universal health care, many of us living stateside could use a bit of expansion when it comes to understanding what it means to really relish the good things in life.

In this beautiful guide, Louisa Thomsen Brits dives into the philosophy of better living. Specifically, Brits encourages readers to find coziness, comfort, and contentment in their lives, and embrace it every day. In a culture of hyper-productivity, rampant capitalism, and obsessive work and technology habits, the Danish concept of hygge is a refreshing look at what life can look like if we intentionally carve out more space every day to explore what it means to really live well.

Hello, bookworms! 📚

What books or podcasts have had your attention this month?

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-Jaime Schmidt, Supermaker Co-founder