6 Must Read Books for Professional Development in 2021

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Like many people, maybe you committed to reading more this year and you’re wondering what books would be worth your time. You might be a bit like me with stacks of books piling up around you that you’re eager to read and you’re having a hard time figuring out where to start. Or maybe you got an Amazon gift card for Christmas last year and purposed to get a book or two and haven’t got a clue where to begin.

Whatever your situation, I’d like to offer a few recommendations of some of the best books to read as you invest in yourself in 2021. Each book I’m recommending holds a place of honor on my personal bookshelf and is consistently at the top of my “self-development book recommendations” list.

1. Atomic Habits by James Clear

Admittedly, the book is a sort of successor to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which I also highly recommend. Clear presents a simple framework for breaking negative habits and building new, positive ones. By exploring four “laws” of habit formation, the book provides sophisticated guidance into healthy habit formation without resorting to becoming a psychology textbook.

There are numerous examples and personal stories from the author that serve to illustrate the principles and take them from merely theoretical concepts to ideas that are easy enough to implement. As with any book like this, you may be overwhelmed with the wealth of ideas and I always encourage picking one or two ideas that stand out the most and taking action on them.

2. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

I view this next book as an absolute must-read. While this is now one of the books I recommend most frequently, I admittedly avoided reading it for years because I didn’t care for the title. I (mistakenly) viewed the book as a guide for people who didn’t know how to talk to other people or make friends.

Several years ago, when I was working in a sales role, I decided to give it a chance and I’m so glad that I did! The book has now been in print for 85 years and the principles that it shares are as useful today as the day they were written.

While many of the examples in the original copy reference business environments of the early 20th century, there is a revised edition titled How to Win Friends & Influence People In The Digital Age that brings the concepts to our current era of technologically-driven interactions. If you haven’t given this book a read before now, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

3.  Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

4.  Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

I often recommend these two in tandem. Both books emphasize different aspects of mental toughness and resilience that are necessary to grow and make positive change in your life. Having a willingness to look at setbacks as learning opportunities rather than failures is a transformative concept.

While both works take a different look at having resilience through “failure,” both ultimately share the premise that growth can only occur when we keep going. Understanding these ideas has helped me learn to shift away from perfectionist tendencies I’ve had in the past and lean more into being patient with the learning process. My prayer is that someone reading this will read these books and experience the same freedom that comes from shifting this way of thinking.

5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

It’s almost impossible to go through a list of the top books to read without recommending this one. Whether you have read this book before or not, you are likely familiar with many of the concepts in it. It’s not only one of the best business books available, it’s useful for personal development or investing in your family as well.

One of my favorite concepts from the book is how we grow through the process of following these seven habits and move from being dependent on others to exercising our own independence and finally grow to a point where we see ourselves as interdependent on one another.

As an individual who has spent years working in leadership development, I believe this is one of the most important principles related to personal growth. As we mature to the point that we can not only acknowledge our strengths but also admit our areas of weakness and welcome the help of others, it is then that we become truly strong. Pick this book up, whether it’s for the first time or for the 10th time, and you’ll see some actionable ways to grow.

6. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

My final recommendation is one of my personal favorites. It’s definitely the deepest book on this list and walks an interesting line between philosophy, psychology, and old-fashioned common sense.

This is a work that requires a certain level of spiritual maturity to digest, as Peterson does reference a variety of religious world views in his writing. It’s valuable to reflect on the ideas he presents in the light of Scripture. Ultimately, the book explores a dozen powerful statements that act as a guiding framework for how to lead a purposeful life. Whether you agree with all of his ideas or not, this one will leave you thinking about it for a long time after you finish reading it.

I hope this list gives you some good ideas of where you could take your personal reading journey. Whether you agree with all the ideas in a book or not, if it gets you thinking and challenges you, then you’ve had the opportunity to learn from the process.

I always recommend using the Bible as the plumb line against which all ideas are measured, which is why that Book tops this and all other book lists that I could recommend.

If you are interested in other insights about business and professional development, feel free to check out other articles by clicking here. 

Whether it’s a work from this list or something else from your personal collection, go read a book and grow from it! 

About the Author:

Patrick Smith is the Director of Training & Development at Christian Care Ministry / Medi-Share and has been with the ministry for seven years. He is an International Coach Federation (ICF) certified coach who specializes in leadership development, personal strategy, and career coaching. 

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