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Reading Patterns: What I Read, When, and Why

Some of the books on my to-read shelves. October 19, 2014.Typically, I alternate between fiction and nonfiction books in my reading. My fiction selections tend toward the literary in genre; my nonfiction reads run the gamut from science to business to essays and history.

I find truth in both types of books.

In fiction, I discover more truth about the human condition and relationships. In nonfiction, I uncover insights into the past and present, business and economic realities, best practices for living, and the wonder of the natural world. Alternating types of reads makes me feel better rounded than I would feel if I read in gluts of one or the other.

And sometimes, just reading fiction feels overly self-indulgent.

Yet when I went to my bookshelf today to select my next read, I had no interest in any of the fantastic nonfiction prospects on my shelf. I didn’t want edification on business or life hacking or the history and current affairs of science—to name a few examples. These books didn’t call to me even though I find them interesting and look forward to reading them (at some point).

I just wanted another novel.

Given that year-end always turns into a busy time in my work life, I could likely benefit from reading some of the business options. Yet right now I spend the overwhelming portion of my day—an even vaster majority than usual—puzzling through business problems and reading business materials.

I’ve reached my capacity for business thinking at this particular moment. I could read one of the great business books on my shelf, but I wouldn’t do it justice right now. I wouldn’t read it as actively as I should read it. In a way, I need to read business books when I have calm in my work life—when I’d have more receptivity to absorb their wisdom.

The other nonfiction reads?

I love science, but it doesn’t pull me today. I don’t feel open to its wisdom. History? Same. I don’t feel like nonfiction can fulfill my intellectual and spiritual needs right now. No matter the book’s topic.

Novels might. In this very moment, I crave the insights and knowledge that fiction provides about human interactions, emotions, and conditions. I need to sense a commonality of feeling and thought—and to see where perspectives differ from mine.

And yes, I seek the comforting cradle of characters, settings, plotlines, stories.

Call me self-indulgent. After all, sometimes self-indulgence serves a deeper purpose. Sometimes we know what we need.

How do you decide what to read and when to read it? And why?


Friday Links #4: Great Stuff Worth a Read

Assorted reading material on my coffee table. October 2014.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, each Friday post will feature fantastic articles, books, and blog posts that I’ve read since the Friday post before. The more good writing gets spread around the world, the better.


  • Atul Gawande writes beautifully. His articles in The New Yorker make me wish every profession had someone so insightful and eloquent. (Gawande is a surgeon.) Anything he writes, you should read. And his essay in the New York Times about how society—and medicine—could improve treatment for people in the final stages of life resonated for me. How can we do better by the people we love who face the end? How do we make their exits as peaceful and positive as possible?
  • Another article in the New York Times, a reflection on work by Danial Adkison, made me wonder about our expectations of the workplace. Do we all want it to feel like family? Or do we seek this type of work environment and these types of office relationships only when we lack a supportive, cohesive family outside the workplace?
  • I empathize with my friend Rebecca’s uncertainty about how to best deal with compliments. Everyone likes to receive praise, but so few of us know how to graciously take it. I’ve meant to comment on her post for a while, but I don’t have any truly solid advice. Do you?
  • In the New York Times, Ian McGugan wrote about the NFL’s lack of any strong incentive to change when it comes to cracking down on inappropriate player behavior to preventing concussions. Over years of crafty marketing, the sport has rooted thoroughly in our national consciousness, plays into the comfort of the familiar when it comes to rules and customs, and thrives through our natural human tendencies for brand loyalty—all of which weaken the winds that could turn over new leaves.

Do tell:

What have you read recently that I should read?


Firing from the Firer's Perspective

People don’t have much sympathy for people who fire other people. Certainly, as someone who has had to fire others, I don’t expect any sympathy. Not from the person in question, not from anyone they know, and not even from the general public.

I don’t need to explain why.

First, even if the decision came via general consensus, everyone shoots the messenger. When something hurts, you lash out at the closest possible outlet to deflect the hurt. Further, fewer people have firing authority than the general population, so anyone who fires has the wrath of the masses against him. After all, if you haven’t had to fire someone, you don’t have the full picture. (And you may feel quite glad that you don't. I wouldn't wish the experience on anyone.)

I’ve had new managers preparing for their first firings come to me to discuss the big events. I’ve had people ask me about the firing experience out of curiosity.

Clearly, the world out there wonders: What happens? What’s it like?

Firing Someone Feels Awful, No Matter the Reason

Dismissing someone from his job feels like murder even if he’s done something so egregious that the firing is “for cause”—which means, basically, that he’s broken a very clear ethical or legal rule.

And even when you’ve talked to the person numerous times about performance issues—making the dismissal not for cause but due to poor job fit—firing someone feels like a drive-by shooting.

The Dismissal Lead-up

Often, when you’ve finally admitted that you need to fire someone, you’ve avoided the decision for a long time—too long.

The decision feels so awful and you feel so badly about it that you’ve either tried to help the person even when he shows no sign of performance improvement or you’ve given up on coaching and simply continued to put off the final decision, thinking that more pressing matters take priority. (And perhaps they do. But personnel issues should never take too far a back seat to other workplace agendas.)

Once you’ve made the decision, you’ll lose sleep.

You won’t have anyone within the company who has the full picture to talk to about the decision or the coming action, as you shouldn’t gossip about such serious matters. You’ll fret it over in your mind nearly constantly, wondering what to say, how to say it, and how the person in question will respond.

You’ll have trouble functioning normally. You should move as quickly as possible in carrying through the firing, because the person still directly reporting to you will sense trouble.

Besides, you can’t give him anything to do.

Making the Cut

Ever made plans to meet a significant other to end the relationship?

In the hours before the dismissal, just as you felt before the breakup, you’ll feel pervasive anxiety. During the firing, you’ll feel the same clenched, nauseated gut. Later that day, still shaken, you will drive the wrong way down a one-way street that you’ve navigated successfully daily for over a decade, as I did the last time I had to fire someone.

Firing Someone Never Gets Easier

Likely, you’ve worked alongside this person for a long time. You know him, his life, and the consequences of his dismissal to his existence beyond the office. You wish he hadn’t done whatever he's done—or that he'd do whatever you need him to do in terms of performance—to remove the need for his dismissal.

You wish you didn't have to fire him.

If you can fire someone easily, without a qualm or even a moment of fleeting emotion, you’ve become too desensitized. You’ve become the police officer who has seen too much wrong in the world, making everything look suspect. You’ve turned into the physician who has seen too much death, making patients not people, but charts and numbers.

I try to minimize the need for firing. I’d rather never, ever do it. But into every manager’s life, a firing will fall. And it will hurt.

And perhaps knowing that it hurts us, the firers, will make the people who’ve gotten dismissed feel just a slight bit better.

Have you ever fired someone? Share your experience.


How We See Ourselves—and How it Hurts Us

A confessional blogger who has frequently written funny stories about her dating experiences for XO Jane stated she’d never write another article about her single status because she wanted to find a relationship. She felt that the more people see her as “the single woman” or “the woman with the funny dating stories,” the longer she’ll stay solo.

If you identify as a single person, she wrote, you’ll stay that way.

The post reminded me of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, a book it took some convincing for me to read. (A book intended for adults written from a dog’s point of view? No, thank you. But count me highly glad someone convinced me otherwise.) In the book, the protagonist—a race-car driver—states that if you think about the racetrack wall, you’ll hit the racetrack wall. Look in your desired direction over the feared outcome.

In other words, he wrote, we manifest what’s before us.

If you think of the worst, you’ll realize the worst. You’ll manifest it. Likewise, we become what we think of ourselves. If you consider yourself shy, you’ll stay a wallflower—or turn into one. If you think of yourself as unattractive, you’ll come across that way.

And in the XO Jane author’s vein, perhaps the way you think of your relationship status—single or paired—accounts for the recently divorced’s tendency to hook up again so quickly: They don’t see themselves as single. Whereas people who have stayed single for a long time, who think of themselves as single and talk about their singlehood, tend to stay that way.

Positive, willful thinking can’t overcome all obstacles. But certainly it can prevent quite a number of pitfalls and a passel of trouble.

After I read the XO Jane author’s post earlier this year, I stopped writing about my relationship status, thinking about myself as single, and talking about my dating experiences. I may have made brief mention of singlehood and dating, but only in context of another subject and only when necessary to making a point.

Further, I reviewed other life intentions to think through ways I could think and act differently to avoid self-sabotage. I’ve got some work to do.

Don’t we all?

What about your life would you like to change? What should you change about your self-concept that would help that change happen?

What do you think?


Stop Overthinking: Give Life a Try

I’ve written about the crippling business challenge posed by analysis paralysis. Fortunately, I don’t tend to get stuck in never-ending decision cycles, either at work or at play.

At work, I feel reasonably confident in assessing all the parameters of a decision, looking at the possibilities from multiple angles, getting trusted advice when needed, and moving forward.

In my personal life, I don’t endlessly mull decisions, either. Instead, I have a problem with what I’ll call “the knee-jerk no.”

In other words, when it comes to personal-life options, I can reason my way out of any given new area of interest, potential activity, or dating prospect:

  • Interest: I wouldn’t have any talent in that. I have too much on my plate to try something new. Focus, Leslie, focus. I’ve never liked that type of activity before, so why would I like it now?
  • Activity: When? Tuesday looks exhausting. I won’t have the energy that night. And I won’t know anyone there. I don’t want to go by myself to something where I don’t know a soul.
  • Romance: I can’t date him. It would never work. We don’t have enough in common. His life complicates my own far too much. He won’t understand my world, my goals, my passions.

Yet sometimes you have to leap outside your comfort zone. Try something.

So what if you don’t like the new interest? You tried it. And if you don’t enjoy an event, don’t stay. No one forces you, after all. What’s risking an hour if it could turn into a really fun few hours? And so what if dating him doesn’t work? You only live once—and you’ll never know for certain if you don’t chance it.

Have faith.

Don’t throw all reasonable concern and caution to the wind, but don’t overthink things, either. If you do, you stop living.

How do I do better?

  • Take small steps. See how they go. If it feels right, take a few more steps. If it doesn’t feel right, stop or change direction.
  • Change the thinking. Instead of mulling over all the things that won’t go well, refocus the lens on what could go right and what life will look like if it does. Get over the fear of change and remember the excitement of something new.
  • Phone a friend. Someone you truly trust can provide a sounding board and outside perspective—especially if you let her know you’re working on taking reasonable chances. I have a couple friends with whom I can talk through anything, from improving my eating habits to fears and sadnesses to dating.

How else can we avoid overthinking and take reasonable chances?