Four books to guide your career

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A friend of mine recently asked if I could recommend any books on planning a career. I didn't have any career planning-specific books to recommend, but I shared with her a few books that have been useful in guiding how I think about my career. Here's what I shared.

Tim Ferriss's The 4-Hour Workweek was, to me, an incomparable introduction to working life. In particular, it helped me rethink the idea that "working 9-5 for someone else's business is all there is". I'm still here years later working for Big Business, so it may not live up to the title's promise — yet the knowledge of alternative ways of working has been invaluable.

Two other books have helped me with career planning in a similar way: Simon Sinek's Start With Why and Daniel H. Pink's Drive. They both present ideas on what makes work (and your career) meaningful, each focusing on different aspects of meaning.

Start With Why discusses "inspirational leadership" and successful organisations, which aren't entirely connected to career planning — but the underlying message of "finding your why" is broadly applicable. For a shorter and more immediately accessible introduction, you can watch Sinek's TED talk on which the book is based.

The key takeaway from Drive is that most people — knowledge workers especially — are motivated by three factors: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The book won't tell you your purpose or what you should master, but it at least provides a framework around which you can ask yourself those questions.

I'd also recommend David Epstein's Range. The author's thesis is "being passably good at lots of different disciplines, and combining those in novel ways, leads to a more successful career than focusing on just one." Range is an argument for generalisation over specialisation — and for someone like me who changes job titles almost every year, this argument was reaffirming.

Lastly, and most importantly, I'd recommend reading well-regarded books in the fields that interest you. You'll find out a lot quicker whether a field is right for you by reading a few books on the subject than by spending a few years on the job. I've read books about leadership and entrepreneurship, engineering and design thinking, psychology and philosophy, and more (including a shameful detour into day trading) — and have used these experiences to direct me away from or towards certain roles. The selection of relevant books is left as an exercise for the reader.

As author Cormac McCarthy wrote, "books are made out of books." You can build your career out of books, too, if you know where to look.

© Braden Moore.RSS