I like reading books that beg to be used for self-exploration. It’s not enough to be a prurient bystander when I read. As a child, books carried me to other worlds in my imagination. Now, books carry me deeper into my own self-exploration.

It was no surprise to me that starting my year of reading launched a torrential flow of books that caught my attention, begging to be read this month. As a result, while I started many more, I finished but four.

This month’s reading recommendations (books 4–7 for the year): Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, A Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes, The Goal by Eliyahu (Eli) M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox, and One Simple Idea by Mitch Horowitz.

(To see my January 2019 book reviews, visit this link)

4. Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. There’s a voyeuristic pull to reading a book by the long-unacknowledged oldest daughter of the late Steve Jobs. After reading this book, though, you’ll be hard pressed to think of that fact as being her defining feature.

What’s most revealing in this memoir is the humanity in the disconnect that governs the distance between a parent who is unable to meet a child’s need for love, and a child’s longing for the validation and acceptance that provides a stabilizing tether for navigating the world.

This universal theme is held together by Brennan-Jobs’ strong writing. She manages to walk a delicate tightrope between sharing her personal observations and sharing her father’s personal quirks. The two mesh together well, building a compelling context for her life’s experiences, without veering off into victimhood.

This book highlights the torment, arrogance and insecurity of Jobs creativity, along with the impatience that comes from being a thinker of big, fast ideas, and the inability to connect on so-called ‘normal’ social levels.

From this context, Brennan-Jobs explores how being parented by someone in this manner influences our own consciousness. She also answers the question as to what it would take to heal those wounds, regardless of whether or not you achieve resolution or reconciliation.

This book appeals to the transformative mediator in me. I revel most in those mediations where the outcome may not resolve the issue, but the parties involved come away with a transformed awareness of how to approach future situations in a different manner.

It’s said that madness is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. I’m a firm believer that the opposite is also true.

Madness is doing something different in a new situation and expecting the same results. This trend toward ‘anticipated expectations’ governs every bit of worry and fear we carry forward from the past into the present — and also project into the future.

Brennan-Jobs navigates not only her childhood but also her adolescence and emerging adulthood in a steady tiptoeing quest to determine her role in her father’s behavior toward her. Realization unfolds slowly and fully until she reaches a point of truths:

· We’re not responsible for how anyone else feels or acts.

· Our overarching desire to have someone apologize for their actions or inactions can be put to rest.

· By changing our perspective on those ‘hurt’ parts of our past, we ultimately have the power to transform all the limitations that have controlled our lives.

5. A Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes. This memoir by the creator of television hits such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal”, is perhaps the most authentic book I’ve read in years. Many people have shared with me that they’ve taken on the challenge of “A Year of Yes” — but haven’t read the book. Without cracking open the spine of this book, you’re guaranteed to miss the fullness of what such a year truly means for you.

Rimes’ writing style is both humorous and insightful. The impetus for Rimes writing this book occurred when she was at the pinnacle of her success. Shondaland, her production company, is a huge enterprise and she already has four hit shows. So why does her life seem meaningless to her before she ever begins to explore the year of ‘yes’ in her life?

The book is not about saying ‘yes’ in order to catapult yourself to external success. Which is where most people’s assumptions veer off immediately from this book’s eye-opening path. Rimes already has achieved wild success in the outer world.

Instead, Rimes embarks on a personal exploration of all those places in our lives — regardless of our outward circumstances — where we limit ourselves. Where we hold ourselves back. Where we are not saying yes to our authentic, inner greatness. Or, more importantly, to ourselves.

Rimes launches into a no-holds barred debridement of all the damaged tissue and foreign objects that overlay the wounds in our lives. All those places where we have created stories and “laid track” as Shonda would say. Those places where we are projecting a storybook life, rather than living a real, authentic one. Those places where we say YES when we mean NO, and where we say NO when we mean YES.

You’ll encounter and uncover your own personal takeaways in this book, depending on your wounds and your favorite ways of laying track over, around and through them. Our fears for both acts of personal betrayal — wherever your ‘no’ doesn’t mean no and your ‘yes’ doesn’t mean yes — govern and guide us in so many intricate ways. Putting Rimes’ strategies into action in your own life will reveal what is yours to do.

For instance, saying YES whenever a child asks you to play. Even if you’re just saying yes to giving your child your undivided attention for 15 minutes. By then the vital connection your child desires has been well established. They are then perfectly content to go on to their next thing, while you go on to yours.

I put this into practice just last night — saying yes to a rowdy game of foosball and a game of pool, followed by practicing trick shots and then some show-and-tell of the latest creations in my son’s art studio. It truly didn’t last more than 15–20 minutes. We were laughing hysterically by the end.

Other areas of saying YES include saying yes to yourself, rather than to societal norms. Saying YES to the hard conversations in order to honor the truth of who you are and what your dreams are. (Even if standing in your authenticity means you risk dashing the dreams of someone else and giving yourself permission to say YES to feeling that heartbreak.)

Rimes unwittingly serves as part therapist, part personal life coach. By revealing her own journey, she leads you through the process of healing those places where we have all betrayed ourselves — in ways I’ve never seen another memoir accomplish. She touches all six of the core beliefs I talk about in my own work. If you have abandonment issues, trust issues, unworthiness issues, powerlessness issues, or are plagued by guilt or feel drained in some area of your life, this book is a must read.

6. The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox. If we were at a party and I told you I’d just read an exciting book about applying the Theory of Constraints, you’d be likely to stifle a yawn or excuse yourself to go find another puff pastry or drink. I know I would have, before I took the time to read this timeless classic.

Written as a ‘business novel’ the book has a subtitle that hints at ways this material could be used in our personal lives. So let me create an initial impression as if I’m introducing you to royalty. The book is formally known as The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement.

On the surface, this book is a wonderful tool for improving a manufacturing business, focusing on throughput, inventory and operational expenses to achieve your primary goal (making a profit). Let’s break it down on a personal level, though and see what we get.

‘Throughput’ is any money coming in to your life.

‘Inventory’ is the money already in your life in another form — anything that could be used to generate cash. Everything from your knowledge to the contents of your shoe closet and from your car or tools is inventory.

‘Operational expense’ is any money that goes out in order to keep your life running.

By changing different elements in one area — starting with your obvious bottlenecks — you can move yourself closer to your overreaching goal. Which indeed makes the Theory of Constraints very exciting — because it can be used for various aspects of your personal life and professional life.

I don’t usually tell people how to read a book. This time, though, I’m going to suggest you explore this book the same way I did. I started by making a conscious decision to read the book all the way through once without marking it up or making any notes.

I simply turned down the corner of pages that explored important concepts. I paused long enough to walk myself through those concepts until I fully understood them — using any place in my business, my clients’ businesses or my personal life as examples for myself.

Once you’ve read the book through, sit with its ideas. Wander around your universe for a few months and look for opportunities for exploration. Where can you put this information into practice? Where are the constraints in your throughput, your inventory or your operational expenses? Where are the bottlenecks? What effect would changes you make have in these areas?

Your impulse will likely be to dive right in, changing random things. I encourage you to refrain. Taking that pause will give you time to thoroughly examine what truly is getting in the way of you creating the life you truly desire. The obvious changes aren’t always the most effective ones.

Once you’ve marinated in all the ways the Theory of Constraints could be used in your life, return to the book again. Set an intention to take notes that are thoroughly applicable to different areas in your life. Not just pithy statements that seem important, but truly actionable items. Move through your turned down pages and write up the strategies and steps the book generates within you. Then start implementing your plan and modifying that plan based on new information generated by your results. This will create profound, measurable improvement in your life.

As my friend Mitch Horowitz likes to say, “the profundity is in its application.”

7. One Simple Idea by Mitch Horowitz. Re-reading my January 2019 books, and my closing statement for book #6, it’s clear I’ve got a serious writer crush on Mitch Horowitz. I mention him and his writing in two of last month’s three book reviews.

As with many of Horowitz’ books, it took me a long time to read One Simple Idea; I started reading it in mid-2018. The book is an exploration of the power that positive thinking has had in shaping our modern world. His arguments and his premises, of themselves, were intriguing. Horowitz is an outstanding historian and his rigorous research was brought to life through an engaging, thoughtful narration that was a supremely easy read.

So what caused me to take so long to read the book? Reading this book was reminiscent of my experience reading Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. With Eco, I had to stop on each page and break out my dictionary to look up obscure words. Horowitz’ One Simple Idea sent me scrambling time and again to www.archive.org and other such sources to look for historical books. Nearly every page of One Simple Idea brought me into contact with either an obscure author of positive literature, or obscure works by familiar authors.

This book was an epitome of an ADD wet dream for book junkies like myself. Every new author, every new mention of an heretofore unknown-to-me book, evoked a “squirrel” response. I stopped to write them all down, I highlighted names and titles, browsed online stacks and bookstores, and trolled the internet seeking downloadable copies of books I couldn’t find anywhere else.

As a lifelong student of New Thought writings, I was amazed to discover the gaps in my knowledge. There were lands I’ve yet to explore that rekindled my desire to plunge deeper into the earliest, purest teachings, including little know home study courses and original English translations of foreign language works.

I am intrigued by the explorations Mitch undertakes. I do not always agree 100% with his conclusions. But I am forever grateful for the dialogue his writings create in my mind. I think you will be, too.