About Catherine Cheng, MD

I am a general internist in Chicago, Illinois, mother of two, almost native Coloradan, and Northwestern alum. I want to leave the world better for my having lived, by cultivating the best possible relationships between all who know me, and all whom I influence. Join me on this crazy, idealistic, fascinating journey! Look for new posts on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of each month. Opinions posted here are entirely my own, and in no way reflect the opinions or policies of my employer.

Friendsourcing Motivation

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Sunrise, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anne Dixon

Greetings, friends!  How goes it, halfway through January of the New Year?  How are you doing with those resolutions?  I always feel conflicted about announcing such commitments, preferring to call them ‘intentions’ (see here, here, here, and here!).  I’ve read too many articles dismissing resolutions as mindless, unhelpful, and ultimately a waste of energy.  And yet, the start of a new year naturally prompts reflection and renewed motivation for self-improvement, which are good things.

Once again, taking a more nuanced view helps here.  It’s not that resolutions are bad.  It’s that we need to be thoughtful and realistic about them, as the linked article above suggests.  Whatever we call them, commitments to behavior change can lead us to transformation.  But it’s anything but simple or easy!

My post on experimental questions got a boost in views this past week.  I wonder what prompted that?  I wish I knew who was reading it and why, what they think, and what it means to them?  Since that post was published, I have continued to ask my 4 newest questions, of both patients and myself.  The recent traffic on that post parallels the evolution in my own reflections and answers:

In the coming year, what do you see as the biggest threat to your health?

My hedonist impulses, no question:  Ice cream and office sweets, mostly, but also online washi tape sales and paper, clothing, and shoe stores.

What is the biggest asset?

My friends, also no question, my pit crew.  They encourage me, keep me honest, and lend perspective.  They teach me and inspire me.  They hold me up.

One year from now, what do you want to look back and be able to say about what’s important to you?

In January 2021, I want to look back and say that I got fit again, that I regained the exercise discipline I lost in 2019.  I got control of my eating, decreased my sugar intake by at least half.  I put my phone down and was more present with my kids.  I was more intentional and executed better on how I spend my time and energy overall.  I exercised agency over my life better than ever before.

What support (external to yourself) do you already have and/or may still need to recruit, in order to make that vision a reality?

On November 10 when I posted these questions, I honestly had not answered this one yet.  It was harder than I had anticipated.  Since then, as I continue to ask patients, I see that I’m not the only one stymied.  My first response resembled my patients’, something akin to, “Well, I just have to do it.”  We type-A, independent peeps often rely first and foremost on ourselves.  We don’t ask for help.  And even though I have written and spoken ad nauseum about the importance of support, I found it difficult to identify my own need for it.  This is why I have added the ‘external to yourself’ clarification to the question.  Support comes from somewhere or someone else.  And we all do better when we have it.

***

Friendsourcing Motivation

The whole time, the answer was right there in front of me.  The biggest asset to my health is my friends.  We know that social support (sometimes in the form of peer pressure) can be the key to success in behavior change.  Why else would people attend Weight Watchers meetings, or to go AA?  I need a workout buddy and a healthy eating buddy, I realized—I can tap my assets!  Eureka!

Easier said than done, however.  Who should I ask?  What should it look like?  Over a month or so, I worked out my specifications:

  • I need support from friends, not strangers (thus fitness classes will probably not be my jam)
  • I don’t want to be constrained by schedules with my buddies—flexibility is key
  • I need a two-way arrangement—someone who also has a goal that I can support them in
  • The arrangement must be concrete and accountable, but not feel oppressive

Tadaaaaah—Habit Share*!

On our sunrise walks in Loveland last weekend, two friends from LOH and I agreed to be one another’s buddies.  It was perfect—we all wanted the same things; we just needed an easy way to connect.  One of us, the youngest, most tech-savvy one, found the Habit Share app.  It’s free and perfect.  We each define our own goals, and simply share them with each other online.  We receive notifications when our friends check in, and we send messages of encouragement and solidarity.  It’s perfect!  I have already shared the app with patients and other friends, and am now connected to two more friends.  Our habits range from exercise to reading, to flossing.

Holy COW, what a difference!  Just knowing that I’m tracking my goals, and that my friends are seeing and supporting me, it’s been exponentially easier to motivate and execute these seven days than the entire past year.  It’s easy, aesthetically pleasing, costs no money, and connects me with people I love.  It is–wait for it–PERFECT!

I know, I know, it’s only been a week.  Who knows what all of our app screens will look like in another week, a month, or three months from now?  Will we all still be connected and holding each other up in a year?  Who can say?  But what’s the utility of thinking that far ahead?  Yesterday I set the new goal of getting up early once a week to write.  Today I can check it off.  I still have a chance to say no to ice cream, work out, turn off my phone apps by 10pm, and floss!  My friends will know when I do it, and they won’t judge me if I don’t.  It’s all good, and we can all take it one day at a time.

So, what support (external to yourself) do you have, or may still need to recruit, to make your best-self vision a reality?

*I have no financial or other interests in this business.  In fact, I want to contact them to give them feedback about how to make it better, but I cannot find a ‘contact’ page on their website…

All Good Things Must End

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Setting moon, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Karen Cornell

Friends, Leading Organizations to Health has graduated Cohort 11, the Class of 2020.

Ten months ago I started at my Hogwarts, the leadership training program that has definitely made me a better leader.  But more importantly, it made me nine amazing new friends and a much better person.  Today, on the last day of the last retreat, it all came together in the most beautiful way, and I am beyond grateful.

These ten months were the best elective educational experience of my life—they really gave college and med school a run for their money.  We immersed in a curriculum dense with abstract concepts of interpersonal communication and organizational change management.  We then translated the theories into tangible skills in an experiential learning lab, applied to specific challenges brought by my 7 cohort mates and me.  Over four in-person retreats and monthly Zoom calls, we shared, supported, and coached one another in the tenets of relationship-centered leadership.

We bonded in a similar way to residents on call:  Gathered for training, bringing different backgrounds and perspectives, participating in a common curriculum but each with a unique learning path, eventually to disperse and practice in different settings across the country.  We eight now share a connection of stories and struggle that nobody else can know.  We are a tribe.

Thus, I grieved the goodbyes long before we arrived in Loveland this last time.  But I also trusted our master facilitators to help me manage this, by both their loving and authentic presence and the very structure of the program, which is founded on contemplation and self-awareness.  I also felt an abiding faith in the friendships we all grew this past year.  As with my best friends from college and medical school, I knew we would maintain contact and connection, just in a different way.  We can’t stay in the nest forever—now is the time to fly.

In thoughtfully constructed journaling exercises and discussion groups, we reflected, consolidated, and synthesized ten months of learning.  We also examined our personal and professional evolution over this time, growth and movement in fluidity and complexity.  We explored aspirations and imagined the future state of this work in our natural habitats.  Finally, we sat in a closing circle.   Having each shared our own reflections, the group offered each friend observations, affirmations, and well wishes in what I can only describe as the most loving communion.  Each person’s strengths were articulated and amplified.  We acknowledged one another’s challenges.  We celebrated each other’s engagement, perseverance, contributions and triumphs.  Finally, sustained mutual support was extended around the circle, wholeheartedly and without qualification.

In my opinion, we formed the kind of community that we all want to lead.  Tony and Diane led us all by example, deliberately, artfully, and mindfully.  They live the principles they teach; they lovingly and patiently showed us the way.  In the end we discovered our own capacity to each write our own next chapter(s).  By making us feel seen, heard, understood, accepted and loved these ten months, our teachers inspired us to do the same for others.  And that is the strongest foundation for building our houses of positive change agency.

Now we go forth.  We’ got this.

Better Angels:  Clarifying the Commitment

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Dear Friends,

Happy New Year!

What have you committed to?  What will define a good or great year when you look back on December 31?

Better Angels Illinois chapter leaders held a potluck brunch today.  Over a mouthwatering international selection of food, we reviewed activities and growth in 2019, and set our sights on 2020 with enthusiasm and camaraderie.  We found encouragement, inspiration, and connection in one another on a remarkably mild January day in Evanston.

We spent a long time today discussing negative media coverage about BA (read in the Washington Post here and the New York Times here).  Basically they say the work is futile at best, and harmful to a progressive agenda at worst.  We queried ourselves for how these articles make us feel, where we think they’re coming from, and how we might approach and respond, both individually and collectively.  I felt so gratified when we agreed that probably we should call forth the communication skills we teach in our workshops:  stay curious and respectful, acknowledge our detractors’ valid points, and stand in our core values, our WHY for doing this work.  I shared my two most recent posts on why I committed to Better Angels and my Fierce Optimism about the value we add to the greater political conversation.

I’m also gratified to read this long article in The Atlantic by Andrew Ferguson.  He attended BA workshops and interviewed the organization’s leaders, took the time to really understand BA’s Why and How, and then summarized it eloquently.  He addressed Julie Kohler’s objections in the WaPo article with respect, humor, and almost defiant hope.  If you’re up for reading another couple thousand words after this, check it out; I highly recommend it.

Finally, I share with you below a letter to members from John Wood Jr., Director of Public Outreach for Better Angels.  I’m satisfied, for now, to let his words speak for me (especially the parts I bolded).

Onward, friends.  We will always be in this together, and I pledge to continue figuring out a better way forward.

***

January 5th, 2020

A Call to Courage

Dear Catherine,

Better Angels began with a kernel of faith.

After the election in 2016 was over, you wouldn’t have found many people who would have told you that it would be easy to bring together 20 or so Clinton and Trump supporters to spend a weekend together discovering their “better angels” when the wounds of the election were so raw. This happened though, and our belief that it could was the beginning of what became an enterprise of goodwill that spread across America. Here at the start of 2020, Better Angels finds itself at the center of a small, but nationwide, movement of Americans from across the divide to reestablish charitable understanding as the foundation of our national conversation.

But our work is deeper than that. And it needs to go deeper.

(I sought to cast a vision of what it looks like to go deeper than ‘merely’ empathy in reforming the fraught social culture of our country in an address to the Visionaries Summit, a gathering of New Age social entrepreneurs, last autumn in California. See it here: Social Transformation Through Self-Transformation: John Wood, Jr. at Visionaries🙂

Building understanding between Americans is not something that we do merely because it feels good.

It does feel good. That is true. There are so many amazing moments in the work that we do that we could never count them.

It does not feel good, however, to have people attack you (from your own ‘side’ no less) for “fraternizing with the enemy.” It does not feel good to put yourself in the line of fire of someone whom you are trying to show kindness to, only to receive contempt from them in return.

We do not do this work simply because it feels good. The work we do is hard. Sometimes, it even hurts.

We do it because the future of the United States of America depends on it.

America’s future rests not first and foremost necessarily on who the president of the United States is or who controls the houses of congress. The future of our nation depends on our own willingness, and our own ability, to maintain the bonds of civic friendship that allow us to behave honorably towards each other as a people.

We do not oppose the two party system at Better Angels. Indeed, we are Republicans and Democrats, alongside Independents and members of third parties, striving together in a working alliance for a deeper good in this country. We seek in essence what you might call Dr. King’s “Beloved Community,” or the “more perfect union” set forth as the aspiration of the Constitution of the United States.

Yet while not challenging the legitimacy of our political parties, we recognize that much in the way of the incentives that are guiding our major political and politically affiliated institutions, including and beyond the parties, are predicated on a willingness to divide the American people for short-sighted political gain.

The means by which some forces in politics, the media, and elsewhere do so often times include intellectual dishonesty – and a striking lack of humility and empathy.

Perhaps one side is more guilty of this than the other. Most of our members, leaders and volunteers feel this way, even if we disagree on which side that actually is. The true balance of error in our politics between the two parties matters. It is a subject that is fit for debate.

Yet, as Republicans and Democrats (and all others) here is what we say matters more:

What matters more is that we set an example for how Americans ought to treat one another – both for the ‘other side’ but more importantly for our own.

What matters more is that we discover and rediscover the power of those ideals that transcend and salvage our politics – the ideals that make us one American people – beyond race, religion or party.

What matters more is that we create the structures, the environment and the resources that allow Americans to engage, to organize and to rebuild community around these ideals – and in opposition to the ways of thinking that would prevent this.

The bases for this work are patriotism and empathy.  But it is also courage.

We believe in the decency of the American people. We believe in the decency of you. We also believe in the bravery of the American people.

We believe you have the courage to meet dishonesty with integrity. We believe you have the courage to meet demagoguery with dignity. We believe you have the bravery to return love for hatred and the tenacity to return understanding for fear.

That is the stand we take in 2020. We are sending out a call to courage. We are grateful that you have the courage to stand with us.

Much, much more to come. Just as America faces a great test this year, our organization and our movement must rise to the challenge of the preserving the heart of our civic conscience. Together, we are equal to the task.

-John Wood, Jr.

National leader & Director of Public Outreach

Better Angels

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If you’re not a member, please consider supporting Better Angels and media that informs rather than inflames by joining Better Angels today.

Onward from 2019: Learnings and Intentions

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Friends!  WHAT a year, no?  How are you feeling here at the end?

In this post:  3 key learnings, 3 high intentions, and my 6 recommended life readings.

What resonates with you?

What would you add?

For a thoughtful and inspiring look on the coming year, check out Donna Cameron’s post from yesterday.

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3 Key Learnings of 2019

Complexity

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”  –John Muir

“All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, changes you.” –Octavia Butler

We all live in inextricable connection, like it or not, know it or not, want it or not.  Every interaction has potential for benefit and harm, and the scale is exponential.  Some may find this idea daunting, overwhelming, or untenable.  I find it reassuring.  The idea that some cosmic life thread connects us all, that we are made of the same stuff today as that which existed at the dawn of the universe—this gives me peace.  It encourages me that everything I do in good faith could make a difference.  You really never know how far a small gesture or sharing will reach for good.

The 3 Tenets of Relationship-Centered Leadership

Not so much learnings as a synthesis from LOH training, these are the current foundation statements of my personal and aspirational leadership tenets (iterations likely to evolve over time):

  1. Founded on curiosity, connection, and fidelity to a people-centered mission
  2. Attendant to the relational impacts of all decisions, local and global
  3. Respectful of norms and also agile and adaptive to the changing needs of the system

Having defined these ideals for myself, I am now fully accountable to them.  And I hold them as a standard for those who lead me.

Being >> Saying or Doing

Saying and doing compassionate, empathic, and kind things are necessary and noble.  And they are not enough.  These actions ring hollow without honest sincerity behind them.  People feel us before they hear our words.  Our authentic presence, positive or negative, originates from within.  It manifests in posture, facial expression (overt and subtle, intentional and subconscious), movement, and tone and cadence of voice.  Fake it ‘til you make it—saying and doing things because we know we ‘should’—only gets us so far.  We humans possess a keen sense of genuineness—it’s a survival instinct.  If we accept that a meaningful, productive life and effective leadership in particular, require strong, trusting relationships, then we must cultivate true compassion, empathy, and kindness.  That means suspending judgment, managing assumptions, and holding openness to having our perspective changed by all that we encounter (see first key learning above), among other things.  This may be life’s penultimate challenge—our role models include Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama.

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3 High Intentions for 2020

  1. Continue to ask more and listen better for people’s personal and unique meaning making—not just patients but all people—attend to souls
  2. Let go perfection
    1. All relationships are not great, and it’s not all my fault
    2. Some people/relationships and circumstances challenge my best self and skills more than others
    3. It’s the honest, sincere, good faith effort, and the learning from imperfection and failed attempts that matter
    4. Some relationships are better ended
  3. Guard against judgment, arrogance, and cynicism

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6 Recommended Life Readings—the 6 most personally impactful books I have read in the last decade:

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.  Scarcity thinking, competition, and looking out for number one hold us all back.  Stepping fully into our central selves, claiming our full collective agency for creativity and collaboration, and manifesting all the good we are capable of—that is the discovery of this book for me.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  In my opinion, the most eloquent and resonant writing on the purpose-driven life.  The freedom and creativity that flows forth therefrom—it all just gives me goosebumps.  Sinek’s The Infinite Game may eventually make this list too, once I have integrated its content and learnings more fully.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown.  Strength and vulnerability, confidence and shame, individuality and belonging—these are the essential human paradoxes that Sister Brené reconciles with gritty aplomb through real life stories as well as grounded theory research.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Be you, all you, all in.  Love thyself—flaws, failures, and falls all included.  Make things.  Because that is what we are put here to do, for ourselves and for one another.

Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute.  Perhaps no book explains the profound importance of being better in order to do better, better than this.  And it took me almost all year to really comprehend, and then begin to apprehend, the concept.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, MD.  I started and finished this one on vacation this past week.  Dr. Gawande is my favorite physician writer.  I consider this book required reading for all physicians for sure, but really for all people .  “The death rate from life is 100%,” a wise patient once told me.  In modern western society and culture, multiple intertwined and complex forces hamstring our ability to live and die well and at peace.  This book is a brilliant compilation of heartrending personal and professional stories, neatly folded with history, research, and practical information for improving this sad state of things.  It is also a guide to the hard conversations that we all should really have—now.  It has both validated what I already do in my practice, and profoundly changed how I will do things hereafter.  Thank you, Dr. Gawande.

*****

Best wishes for Peace, Joy, Love, and Connection to all.

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We Must Go Together

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How will you celebrate this week, friends?

What do you leave behind, and what do you look forward to?

The sentiments on the front of this Christmas card, created in 2017, align with my core values and my Why:  to cultivate the most meaningful, heart-connected relationships between all people.  The last four years have taught me much on this journey—about American political geography, economic and tribal dynamics, and my personal trigger patterns.  2020 feels daunting and high risk to me; I approach it with caution, and also with Fierce Optimism.

I feel prepared and trained for whatever lies ahead, as I know I have my strong social and emotional ties to lean on.  They may prove tested and strained in the months ahead, and I feel confident they will hold.  Because in the end, however divergent our political or economic leanings, I firmly believe that what unites us infinitely outweighs what divides us.  I keep coming back to our shared humanity—that we all love our children, wish to hand down to them a world in peace; that we all want all of us to live in happiness and security.  This belief is what keeps me going, what makes me continue to reach out and attempt to connect.

We have much work to do my friends, many frayed patches of social fabric to mend.  And I honestly believe we can only do it—we can do anything—if we go together.  Just think of that time when you thought something was impossible—and somehow you pulled it out.  I bet you had help, no?

The road will be long and arduous.  We will stumble and fall, we will argue.  We will fight.  We will also share breathtakingly beautiful vistas, and numerous moments of sublime love and communion.  Let us meditate on the latter—on all that is good—let us seek it and acknowledge it in one another with eyes, hearts, and voices wide open and out loud.  Let us harness that energy and put it in front, guiding our attitudes, words and actions, toward ourselves and all those we encounter.

May this holiday season, this time of reflection and preparation, reconnect us with the whole human family.  Connect on every plain, every mountain, every island; in every school, (church), and statehouse; in every city, village, community, and home of our little blue planet.

May we do better in 2020 and beyond.

A Laser, the Sun, and a Lightbulb:  A Story of Self

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Friends, how do you decide to spend your time and energy?

Multiple times this year, friends, colleagues and I expressed the idea, “Either Hell Yes or No,” meaning we came into stark view of our core values and primary objectives.  We then let them lead the way to confidently making important decisions, such as what work and which clients to engage, candidates to interview and hire, and projects to pursue.

Three friends have read and recommended Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and one kindly gifted me a copy many years ago.  A quick summary:

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?
Do you sometimes feel overworked and underutilized?
Do you feel motion sickness instead of momentum?
Does your day sometimes get hijacked by someone else’s agenda?
Have you ever said “yes” simply to please and then resented it?

If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist.

I have started and restarted the book over the years, and have yet to finish.  It makes me feel bad about myself, as if being divergent in my attention and activities is somehow a personal deficiency and failure.  A few years ago I listened to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson, and liked it a lot.  The message seems similar to me, and yet I did not feel diminished by it.  As I discussed with my friends this summer, once again I remembered Start With Why, one of my favorite books which, arguably, also posits a similar thesis.  What follows here is the record of a stream of consciousness I had the day after my birthday.   Much credit is owed to my friends, who help me keep the conversation and learning going over these many years.

A Laser

First, there is absolutely value in focus.  I see it as akin to knowing and living my Why—my core values, purpose, and mission.  But there is a shadow to this virtue:  narrowed vision and rigidity.  Singular focus on an exclusive goal risks missing a wider context of experience, missing possibility.  Maybe that’s how I see the message of Essentialism—like a LASER—straight, focused, one wavelength only, directed, landing on one point, unbending, predetermined.  This is not me, I thought, the day after turning 46.

The Sun

So what’s the opposite of a laser, then?  The SUN, I thought joyfully.  Full spectrum light, generative, warming, inviting, invigorating.  It reaches everywhere.  It is intrinsically energized, self-sustaining, BIG.  But it can also be damaging.  It should be taken in measured doses or it’s not safe.  It can also be harnessed; we can absorb and store its energy for later use.  It is a paradox—so powerful, and yet blocked by a thin sheet of paper.  It is celestial, mystical.  Oh yes, I love the Sun.

At first I thought I would much rather be like the sun than a laser.  But… really?  Could I seriously compare myself to the source of all light and life on our planet, the center of our solar system around which all other heavenly bodies orbit, the gravitational focus of our universe?

[Insert googly eye, open mouth, hanging tongue emoji here]

A Lightbulb

Teeheeheeee, yes, this feels much better.

A lightbulb can brighten, enlighten.  It warms.  It sheds light where there may otherwise be darkness.

There are different kinds of lightbulbs, all for different contexts, serving various needs—but their essential Why is the same.  It’s their How that varies.  They are adaptable.

A lightbulb requires an energy source.  I must be connected to that which sustains me, where I can recharge.  And a bulb can get electricity from anything that generates it—solar, wind, hydro, a human on a bike, fire, steam—I can derive my power from any of a myriad of sources.

A bulb must be seated in a socket, in constant contact with its energy source—a reliable circuit must always be present in order to maintain its light.  I cannot think of a more perfect metaphor for my deep, thick web of friends who hold me up every day.  Disconnected, I go dark.

Lightbulbs can also burn out.  Hmmm.

I have decided that I am a shape-shifting, metamorphosing lightbulb.  I change myself in my socket, or change sockets, giving different kinds of light, depending on the room I’m in and what the room needs.  I can be incandescent, fluorescent, LED.  I can be your flashlight, your headlamp, your night light, or your reading light. Hey, it’s my life analogy, I can invent it however I want!

All of that said, I think I’ve tried to be too many bulbs lately.  My light flickers a bit today.  In 2020 I intend to look a little harder at my all of my bulb selves, and perhaps shelve one or two for a while.  Or rotate myself more slowly, intentionally, and mindfully.  Sit in my sockets good and long, serving those around me with deeper presence, brighter light, a fuller spectrum of myself at a time.  Yes, that feels better.

Onward.

 

The Books of 2019

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Friends, what books did you read this year?

Which ones did you love?  Which could you not get through?  Why?  What will you read next?

Tonight I share my 2019 list (in the order that I read or heard them; favorites denoted with an asterisk).  Please share your own recommendations in the comments!

*Curious by Ian Leslie.  I will definitely listen to this one again.  I like the distinction between diversive, epistemic, and empathic curiosity.

The Outward Mindset by The Arbinger Institute.  This is the third in a series; the first one, Leadership and Self-Deception, was the most impactful for me.  That one introduces the framework of being as the foundation of relationships, rather than doing.

The Empathy Effect by Helen Riess, MD.  A kind, evidence-based book of practical and compassionate strategies to increase our empathy, so as to make the world better.  I met Dr. Riess at the Harvard Writers conference in 2015, and I have heard her speak at conferences on clinician well-being.  Anyone could benefit from this book.

*Legacy by James Kerr.  Sweep the sheds.  No dickheads.  Basically, check your ego, make a contribution, and play for the team.  In the context of the winningest rugby team in the world, this leadership book is both humorous and humbling.

On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt.  Brené Brown quoted one line from this book, and it’s short, so I decided to listen.  I can’t remember anything from it, and I remember disagreeing with much, but that may be because I didn’t really understand what I was hearing.

*Changing on the Job by Jennifer Garvey Berger.  Highly recommend this one for anyone on the journey of self-discovery and –actualization.  Hard to swallow the idea that a more advanced form of mind (from self-sovereign to self-authored, to self-transforming ) is not better than a less advanced one—so I have more work to do!

Pathways to Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander.  Follow up to The Art of Possibility, my favorite book ever, which she co-authored with Ben Zander.  A more spiritual, deeper exploration of meaning making and personal development.  I will likely listen again in 2020.

Atomic Habits by James Clear.  Another gem.  Written confidently, and filled with both abstract concepts and concrete, practical tips on habit formation and change.  You can also sign up for his weekly email with pearls and resources.

The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Muller.  LOVED this one.  In medicine, education, law enforcement and other fields, we all need to measure our performance.  But it’s too easy to oversimplify and overgeneralize the things we choose to measure, and lose sight of the big picture.  Everybody in a leadership role should read this book.

Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett.  Bennett is an editor on gender and culture at the New York Times.  This book is humorous and hard core.  She calls out sexist macro- and micro-aggressions without mercy and seeks to empower women to stick and stand up together.  I thought it was fun; my male friend could not get through it.  Sometime I’ll ask him more about why.

The Warrior Within by John Little.  I highly recommend this book, if you’re at all interested in the life and philosophy of Bruce Lee.  He was such an enigma, so mysterious, and yet so magnetic.  Growing up I thought he was just weird, seeing him in movies with almost no dialogue and only strange, high pitched grunts.  John Little was his close friend, and describes Lee’s unified life philosophy.  In 2020 I may look for Lee’s own words to read and contemplate.

Men, Women and Worthiness by Brené Brown.  I recommended this one to my friend who could not tolerate Fight Club.  It’s much more empathic to humanity in general, while still pointing out gender biases, their origins (so far as we understand them), and ways forward to minimize their negative impact on relationships and society, so we may all, men and women alike, fulfill our highest potential.

*Insight by Tasha Eurich.  One of my favorites for 2019.  Self-awareness has two components:  awareness of our own patterns, and also awareness of how we are perceived by, and therefore impact, others.  This book is full of stories, interviews, and also practices and exercises for improving our skills in both realms.  Another must-read for leaders.

The Second Mountain by David Brooks.  I have liked David Brooks ever since I read The Social Animal many years ago.  In this one he gets personal, and I loved it.  It’s one of my favorite things to read something and feel a kinship with the author.

*My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD.  I picked this one up again, I thought for a friend, but it was really for myself.  How cosmic.  So grateful to have read it this year; looking back, I think I needed it more than I realized, and I will probably reach for Kitchen Table Wisdom again in 2020.

Braving the Wildnerness by Brené Brown.  Like Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, I read/listen to this one when I need a little encouragement and empowerment before starting something unique, different, or scary-exciting.  Like all of Brown’s books there are personal stories, but this one is the most raw to date, in my opinion.  Again, that kinship warms me.

The Thin Book of Trust by Tom Feltman.  Also referenced by Brown in Braving, this one was worth the short listen.  There is also an excellent PDF summary, so you don’t actually have to read/listen to the whole thing.

Complex Adaptive Leadership by Nick Obolensky.  Not gotten all the way through this one, as it has all kinds of references to math, physics, and a multitude of other works in many genres (the footnotes can be a quarter of the page).  But I continue to read it, and will likely try one of its team exercises in 2020.

Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown.  I believe the lower case author’s name is intentional.  Poems, stories, philosophy—it’s all in here.  It’s a bit all over the place, but no question, this woman has a purpose on Earth and she is working it.  I think it’s about inclusion, respect, and striving for the highest calling of shared humanity.  I pick it up off and on, still enjoying it.

*To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue.  LOVED this one.  Poems and reflections on aspects of life that we too easily take for granted.  Bought copies and sent to friends.  Flagged my favorites and look forward to rereading lifelong in times of tumult as well as peace.

Consolations by David Whyte.  “The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words,” says the subtitle.  At least one word for every letter of the alphabet.  Dipping in and out since late summer.  Gotta take my time with this one, contemplate.

The Will to Change by bell hooks.  Another lower case author name.  I recommend this one—another feminist piece, this time discussing the patriarchy.  On the surface, coming at it defensively, it could feel attacking, adversarial.  But from another perspective, it’s written with deep love and empathy for men and the constraints of patriarchal masculinity.  So, she proposes feminist masculinity as the antidote, with which I fully concur and actively advocate.  Highly recommend this one.

*Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cathilda Jetha.  Another of my favorites for this year.  A hilariously written, evidence-based takedown of all the sociological theories and writings purporting that humans are physiologically or otherwise built to be monogamous.  It does not attack monogamy itself, just our collective, delusional insistence that that is our one natural state.  A contrarian piece, no doubt—deliciously so.  You’ gotta read it.

*The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp.  Another one I will reference often hereafter.  They draw on work by people I already admire, like Byron Katie and Oto Scharmer.  Practical and easy to read, but make no mistake—these commitments are not easy and require much work.  A handbook for the lifelong-learning leader.

Anam Cara by John O’Donohue.  Aaaarrrrgh I only have one chapter left, why do I procrastinate?  Maybe because it’s on aging??  I started this one at the same time as the next book, found fun and cosmic parallels between them, and wrote about them.  Another one to keep and pull out to get cozy with sometimes.

*Self-Renewal by John W. Gardner.  Recommended to me by a patient.  I love this book, but it’s another one that requires time and some cognitive effort.  So it’s slow-going, and the learning is well worth the energy expended.  I’m about 2/3 through.

The Essentials of Theory U by Oto Scharmer.  Recommended to me by one of my fellow cosmic journeyers, the same friend who recommended Changing on the Job.  It’s about individual attitude and how it intersects with group dynamic—sort of.  It’s a self-exploration as well as a leadership book.  Hard to explain, and likely not everybody’s cup of tea.  Been listening on and off since April, always getting something out of it.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan.  My first novel in years, and the first book chosen by my first ever book club (I don’t count the Junior Great Books group in third grade because I never actually read the books).  I liked it, but will not read it again.

*Range by David Epstein.  This one will hang on my consciousness for a long while.  I will remember it in patient encounters, watching TV, reading other books.  Highly recommend.

*The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.  I have followed Simon Sinek for many years now, and his thesis of Why has basically become the framework on which I construct much of my professional and paraprofessional activities.  Suffice it to say, within the first hour, this audiobook altered again, in a way consistent with my existing values and Why, how I see and will do leadership.  You don’t have to read his previous books, Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, to read this one.  But if you do, you might become a disciple, too.

*Educated by Tara Westover.  I read this one for book club—we will discuss next week, I cannot wait.  The writing is masterful, and that much more impressive because the author never attended school, was not home-schooled, and educated herself to take the ACT and enroll in college, going on to get her PhD at Cambridge and complete a fellowship at Harvard.  Her family story is tragic, unf*ingbelievable, wrenching and, ultimately, quintessentially human(e).  I recommended it to all of my friends, many of whom have already read and loved it.

*Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.  My anti-Fight Club friend told me about this one last week, when I told him about Educated.  It’s over 12 hours long to hear, and I finished it today.  The co-founder of Nike tells the company’s 18 year start-up story in this riveting memoir, in which I find so many connections to Epstein and Sinek.  Highly recommend this one.

In the next few weeks I will read Mrs. Bridge by Evan S Connell and James Salter for book club, and continue Ozan’s book, Think Like a Rocket Scientist.  Oh and I just picked up tidy the f*ck up by messie condo, loving it already.  Maybe I’ll listen to Collaborating with the Enemy by Adam Kahane.  Also got two books, one by and one on John Muir, to stoke my love of hiking and nature.

So looking forward to another year of reading and learning, friends!  And happy to do it together!

Onward!!