3 Unconventional Must-Read Books This Summer

Here are 3 books that will help make you a better pharmacist.

Since childhood, I've always been an avid reader. My grandmother was a retired elementary school teacher, and I vividly remember her taking me to the library every week to check out a new stack of books. She had a rule she enforced that required me to always take home at least one non-fiction book. My grandmother had nothing against fiction books; she loved them, in fact. But she also believed that books were the cheapest and most effective way to grow and improve yourself.

As pharmacists, we often think of "improvement" in only the clinical sense. We keep up on new guidelines and other developments in our field. It's obviously important to keep up your clinical skill set, but focusing exclusively on it can leave you lacking in other areas. You might know everything there is to know about oncology pharmacotherapy, but if you can't communicate it to your patients or to providers what sort of impact do you think you'll have?

So here are 3 books that will help make you a better pharmacist. Each is accompanied by a short summary as well as a key insight that I learned from it. This list is not ranked in any particular order. Just consider it a list of 3 books that I think you'd benefit from reading.

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie

This book is so popular and so much of a classic (it was first published in 1936!) that I almost didn't want to include it on this list. It should be required reading for basically everyone, no matter what their profession. The title makes the book seem a little manipulative, but don't let that throw you; this could not be further from the truth.

What you'll get out of How to Win Friends and Influence People is a "how to" guide for interacting with people and enhancing your communication skills. You'll learn how to put yourself in another person's shoes and how to align what they want with what you want. You'll learn how to be more likable and how to be more persuasive. You'll become a more caring and empathetic person.

The biggest takeaway for me was the positive impact of developing a genuine interest in other people. It's not that I was never "interested" in other people. But on reflection after reading this book, I realized that I spent a lot of my time in conversations waiting for what I was going to say next (instead of actually listening to the other person). But now by being genuinely interested, I learn a lot more from everyone that I talk to. And I find that most of my conversations are much more fulfilling.

2. What Got You Here Won't Get You There - Marshall Goldsmith

What do you get when one of the business world's most respected Executive Coaches writes a book about the behaviors and mindsets that hold back young professionals from achieving that "Next Level" of success? You get this book. What Got You Here Won't Get You There is a very insightful book that I found surprisingly relevant to the pharmacy world.

The subtitle of the book is: "How Successful People Become Even More Successful." So how is that accomplished? And how does it apply to the pharmacy world? In short, the message of this book is that behavioral problems (not technical skills) are what separates the "great" from the "almost great." In the pharmacy world, this means that no matter how much clinical knowledge you possess, if you can't effectively communicate it to a wide range of people (with varying degrees of health literacy), then you will never achieve your full potential.

This book made me return to practicing the basic "soft skills." Things like listening with focus, genuinely saying thank you, apologizing for my mistakes, and thinking very carefully before saying anything negative. Soft skills are often thought of as innate. You either have them or you don't. But that's just not true. As Seth Godin argues in this essay, babies are not born with soft skills. Just because they're more difficult to measure than vocational skills are, doesn't mean they can't be improved. What Got You Here Won't Get You There helped improve my social skills and left me as a better and more rounded person.

3. The Start-Up of You - Reid Hoffman and Ben Panocha

I was surprised by how much I liked this book. The central argument in The Start-Up of You is that you should manage your career as if you were managing a start-up business. It provides lessons from entrepreneurs and start-up founders and shows you how to apply them to your own career.

After reading this, you'll develop a personal "Start-Up of You Skillset." These are the traits that set you apart from other pharmacists and will lead to your professional success. For example, you'll first identify your competitive advantage. You begin this process by answering the question: "A company hires me over other pharmacists because...."

I walked away with a ton of lessons from this book. I hate the phrase "networking" because it brings to my mind uncomfortable social events at professional conferences. The motives of a lot of us (maybe even most of us) in that setting are selfish and often one-sided. Establishing a "network," according to The Start-Up of You is more about establishing genuine relationships with other professionals. Relationships where you provide value to someone else without expecting anything in return. Establishing these synergistic relationships will take you much further professionally than anything that's selfishly-motivated.

Another excellent insight I learned from this book was what the authors call "ABZ Planning." Simply put, your Plan A is what you're currently working on. Plan B is where you pivot (either because Plan A isn't working, or because you discovered a new opportunity). Of course, this means you have to maintain enough flexibility in your Plan A to pivot if the opportunity arises. Finally, Plan Z is your fallback plan. This is your doomsday scenario in which everything in your professional life vanishes. It's your "What will I do if I get laid off tomorrow" plan. ABZ Planning is effective because it gives you the focus to do work that is important to you (Plan A) while providing you an "out" or a pivot point to explore potentially better opportunities (Plan B). And it provides a life boat failsafe plan should the whole house of cards come tumbling down (Plan Z).

Conclusion

My grandmother was right. Books are one of the cheapest (and best) sources of personal development available. You can read just about any book for free if you have access to a public library. But even if you purchase them, books are usually less than $20. If you pick up even one insight from a book, you've just learned something that will positively impact the rest of your life for less than the cost of a forgettable meal at a mid-level restaurant. I can say with confidence that if your read (and take notes!) on the 3 books above, you will reap benefits in all areas of your personal and professional life.