The 100 Book Challenge

How two years of daily reading changed my life.

By Amy Thomasson

FRM 005 Online Exclusive 100 Books

Is your career exactly where you want it to be? Have you achieved all of your professional goals? While I’m pleased with the personal progress I’ve made towards achieving my full potential, I know I still have a long way to go.Which is why, when I learned in a survey from Fast Company that the average CEO reads 50 books per year, I decided to hit the books and challenge myself to read 100 books on business, professional development, and personal growth. In the hope of inspiring you to start your own reading challenge, here’s how a two-year, self-paced reading challenge changed my life.

Increased My Productivity

There’s no sentence in the English language that frustrates me more than, “I wish I had time to do that.” Insert any activity in place of “that” and you’ve almost certainly either said it or had it said to you. Here’s the thing about that phrase—it’s BS. Whenever I hear someone say this, I immediately think of the oft-quoted and oft-attributed, “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way: if not, you’ll find an excuse.”

I completed my reading challenge while interviewing for and securing a new job, completing university course work for two certificate programs, serving in a variety of volunteer roles, and parenting a toddler. I certainly don’t have any more time than the average multi-hyphenate role-bearer, so if I can find the time, so can you. In fact, reading has made me more productive. I travel with a book in my purse or work bag, and use spare time in waiting rooms, lobbies, and train cars to engage with learning rather than disengage by scrolling through my phone. Reading has transformed these daily minutes from squandered to significant.

Exercised My Mind

We’ve all heard the adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” and it turns out that it couldn’t be more wrong. Advances in neuroscience have discovered that through skill development and repetition, we can create new neural pathways in the brain. “Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding,” said Bill Gates. If Microsoft co-founder, billionaire, and intellectual powerhouse Bill Gates learns primarily through reading, you can likely pick up a few insights by grabbing a book.

I chose to organize my reading journey by selecting broad categories within business, professional development, and personal growth. I selected a few “stretch” categories that I’m less familiar with, like business technology, to challenge myself. And I added a few “personal passion” categories, like women in business, to keep me inspired and motivated along with way.

Boosted My Confidence

I love a good personality test or strength-finding assessment, and for those familiar with the Enneagram, it is probably abundantly clear by now that I’m a Type Three: The Achiever. Therefore, it’s easy for me to say that there is nothing more personally fulfilling than setting and conquering a goal. While you may not share my particular intensity for goal smashing, you still likely get an endorphin hit from crossing something off your list.

Although I don’t think I’ll ever consider my reading journey complete, each book finished and each insight gained gave me additional sparks of confidence. It turns out that wave of good feelings isn’t unique to my experience. A survey by the U.K. organization, BookTrust, found that 76% of adult readers felt reading improved their lives and made them happier. Gaining new perspectives and ideas, and making a concerted effort to improve our knowledge is the ultimate form of self-care.

Helped Me Connect with My Community

I began my reading journey by soliciting recommendations online through my LinkedIn connections, and in-person through coworkers and fellow volunteers. My father also retired a few years ago after a hugely successful career, and I combed his and my husband’s bookshelves. If you take one piece of advice from this article, make it this one: ask for reading recommendations and make sure you read them and follow up with the recommenders.

These recommendations have served as glimpses into the minds and hearts of my closest family and friends, as well as newer-to-me colleagues and peers. I loved learning what they’re passionate about through their recommendations, and making sure I read those recommendations and shared my thoughts let them know I heard them, I value their opinions, and I’ve invested the time in their recommendations. Sharing my own recommendations has also been a great way to build my personal brand and provide value to the association management community.

Broke Through Preconceived Notions

A preconception is a notion, opinion, or idea you have formed before understanding the subject matter. I’ll admit that some of the titles and descriptions of books that were recommended to me, or that I picked up off the shelf, initially made me cringe. That was my mistake, because some of the books I thought I would enjoy the least ended up entertaining, challenging, or inspiring me. A reading challenge is about the discoveries made throughout the journey. My personal mantra when I’m feeling uncomfortable is to repeat to myself, “This is what growth feels like.” If at least some of your reading materials aren’t challenging you, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

For me, one of the best compliments you can give about a book is, “I wish I had read this sooner!” There were several of my 100 books that elicited that thought, including Carol Dweck’s research on fixed versus growth mindsets in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success; Kim Scott’s practical suggestions for providing open and honest feedback in Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity; and Angela Duckworth’s science-backed insights on the myth of talent in Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance.

As entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, “Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.” Join me on the challenge, and let’s share recommendations.

Books Read During Amy’s 100 Book Challenge

Titles in red = Amy’s favorites

Association and Nonprofit Management
The Art of Membership: How to Attract, Retain, and Cement Member Loyalty Sheri Jacobs
I Found My Niche: A Lifetime Journey of Lobbying and Association Leadership Lowell R. Beck
Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer Jim Collins
Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership: Because Nonprofits Are Messy Joan Garry
Pivot Point: Reshaping Your Business When It Matters Most Sheri Jacobs
The ROI of Membership: Today’s Missing Link for Explosive Growth Ed Rigsbee, CAE
Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference Kathleen Kelly Janus


Business Technology
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup John Carryrou
Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier
The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Scott Galloway
Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy George Glider
Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media Brittany Hennessy
Swipe to Unlock: The Primer on Technology and Business Strategy Neel Mehta, Aditya Agashe, and Parth Detroja


Career Purpose and Transition
5 Day Weekend! Freedom to Make Your Life and Work Rich with Purpose Nik Halik
The Art of Work: A Proven Path in Discovering What You Were Meant To Do Jeff Goins
The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter Michael D. Watkins
The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change Adam Braun
What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual For Job-Hunters and Career-Changers Richard N. Bolles


On Communication Harvard Business Review
Taking the Work Out of Networking: Your Guide to Making and Keeping Great Connections Karen Wickre
The Leader As Communicator: Strategies and Tactics to Build Loyalty, Focus Effort, and Spark Creativity Robert Mai and Alan Akerson
We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter Celeste Headlee
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship At A Time Keith Ferrazzi


Creativity and Innovation
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Innovation Ed Catmull
Hustle and Float: Reclaim Your Creativity and Thrive in a World Obsessed with Work Rahaf Harfoush
The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses Eric Ries
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World Adam Grant
Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative Austin Kleon


Folding Time: How to Achieve Twice as Much in Half the Time Neen James
Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed Paula Rizzo
Meeting Design: For Managers, Makers, and Everyone Kevin M. Hoffman
Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done Josh Davis, PhD
You Can Manage Your Time Better: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life Lucy MacDonald


Emotional Intelligence and Resilience
13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain For Happiness and Success Amy Morin
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone Brené Brown
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy Sheryl Sandberg
On Emotional Intelligence Harvard Business Review
The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph Ryan Holiday


General Business
Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It Michael E. Gerber
Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy Raghuram G. Rajan
The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business Josh Kaufman
Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change Marc Benioff


Goal Achievement and Measurement
The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure Grant Cardone
The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done Peter F. Drucker
Goals! How to Get Everything You Want — Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible Brian Tracy
Measuring What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs John Doerr
On Managing Yourself Harvard Business Review
Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan For Achieving Your Most Important Goals Michael Hyatt


Human Resources
The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace Ron Friedman, PhD
Bring Your Human to Work: 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Design a Workplace That’s Good for People, Great for Business and Just Might Change the World Erica Keswin
Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer
Jerks At Work: How to Deal with People Problems and Problem People Ken Lloyd, PhD
The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t Robert I. Sutton, PhD


Leadership Principles
From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr.
Leadership: In Turbulent Times Doris Kearns Goodwin
Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
The Serving Leader: 5 Powerful Actions That Will Transform Your Team, Your Business, and Your Community Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert
Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us Seth Godin


Leading Teams and Developing Talent
Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts Brené Brown
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t Simon Sinek
Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter Liz Wiseman
On Leadership Lessons from Sports Harvard Business Review
Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity Kim Scott
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action Simon Sinek


Memoirs and Profiles
Becoming Michelle Obama
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose Tony Hsieh
From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America Howard Schultz
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE Phil Knight
The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company Robert Iger


Mindset and Intelligence
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Malcolm Gladwell
Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One Dr. Joe Dispenza
Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness Ingrid Fetell Lee
Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges Amy Cuddy
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Carol S. Dweck
Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman
This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking John Brockman


Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us Daniel H. Pink
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Angela Duckworth
High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way Brendon Burchard
The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control Walter Mischel


Presentations and Storytelling
Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter Joel Schwartzberg
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience Carmine Gallo
Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds Carmine Gallo
Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results Rob Biesenbach


Psychology and Personal Growth
12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos Jordan B. Peterson
The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential John C. Maxwell
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst Robert M. Sapolsky
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom Don Miguel Ruiz
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life Mark Manson


Sales and Marketing
Contagious: Why Things Catch On Jonah Berger
Hug Your Customers: STILL the Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results Jack Mitchell
Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade Robert Cialdini
This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See Seth Godin


Women in Business
How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back From Your Next Raise, Promotion, Or Job Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead Sheryl Sandberg
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World Melinda Gates
The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate Fran Hauser
She Means Business: Turn Ideas Into Reality and Become a Wildly Successful Entrepreneur Carrie Green
WorkParty: How to Create & Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams Jaclyn Johnson

About the Author

Amy Thomasson is the Director of Marketing for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

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