5 great guidebooks for Plan B Nation

Compass Inlay

When ven­tur­ing into ter­ri­to­ries unknown, the more knowl­edge, the bet­ter. We need to under­stand the ter­rain, the weather, and likely dan­gers. We need to equip our­selves with maps, proper cloth­ing, and medications.

Just as I’ve relied on guide­books to nav­i­gate for­eign coun­tries, I’ve also turned to expert guid­ance for my Plan B Nation trav­els. While every jour­ney is unique, it helps to be pre­pared. In this spirit, here are five guide­books I rec­om­mend stash­ing away.

Find­ing Your Own North Star: Claim­ing the Life You Were Meant to Live, by Martha Beck (Crown 2001)

There’s lots to love about this book by Oprah dar­ling Martha Beck, which has the advan­tage of being super funny as well as super smart. Beck writes a lot about resolv­ing the con­flict between what she refers to as our social and essen­tial selves, but to my mind, the aspect of the book most use­ful to us Plan B Nation voy­agers is her elab­o­ra­tion of the so-called Change Cycle, a struc­ture that under­lies every life tran­si­tion. While Beck’s isn’t the first pop­u­lar book about adult life tran­si­tions — William Bridges’ mod­ern clas­sic Tran­si­tions came out in 1980 – I’ve found her model espe­cially help­ful and, even more, reassuring.

Nudge: Improv­ing Deci­sions About Health, Wealth, and Hap­pi­ness, by Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sun­stein (Yale 2008)

In this book, pro­fes­sors Thaler and Sun­stein – pio­neers in the field of behav­ioral eco­nom­ics – start with the idea that human beings are not ratio­nal. We make deci­sions for a whole bunch of rea­sons, many of which have lit­tle to do with our real best inter­ests. This is why we need to pay close atten­tion to the “choice archi­tec­ture” of our lives – the exter­nal con­di­tions that nudge us to behave in cer­tain ways. For exam­ple, if I don’t buy ice cream, the choice archi­tec­ture now in place makes it far less likely that I’ll  devour a pint of Ben & Jerry’s while watch­ing “The Bach­e­lorette.”  Make sense?  Like many pro­foundly impor­tant ideas, the con­cept of choice archi­tec­ture is at heart a sim­ple one, but pay­ing atten­tion to it day by day can be transformative.

Mind­set: The New Psy­chol­ogy of Suc­cess, by Carol S. Dweck (Ran­dom House 2007)

For those of us accus­tomed to a world where effort brings results, Plan B Nation can be enor­mously demor­al­iz­ing. How to sur­mount the dan­ger of learned help­less­ness, the ten­dency to give up when our best efforts fall short, some­times again and again?  I found part of the answer to this ques­tion in Stan­ford psy­chol­o­gist Dweck’s dis­tinc­tion between “fixed” and “growth” mind­sets.  As Dweck explains it, if we have a fixed mind­set, we tend to believe that our suc­cesses and fail­ures reflect some­thing absolute about who we are. On the other hand, if we have the health­ier “growth mind­set,” we are able to view chal­lenges as oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn, improve, and trans­form. “This is the mind­set that allows peo­ple to thrive dur­ing some of the most chal­leng­ing times in their lives,” says Dweck – under­scor­ing why it’s such a crit­i­cal asset in Plan B Nation.

Rad­i­cal Accep­tance, by Tara Brach (Ban­tam 2003)

If you want to drive your­self nuts, start think­ing about how things (most notably, your­self) should be dif­fer­ent from how they are. You should have made dif­fer­ent choices. You should have said dif­fer­ent things. You should have mar­ried (or not mar­ried) that guy/girl you didn’t (or did).  Brach’s Buddhist-infused psy­chol­ogy is a per­fect anti­dote to such self-imposed suf­fer­ing, offer­ing tech­niques for break­ing out of what she calls our “trance of unwor­thi­ness” in the con­text of illu­mi­nat­ing per­sonal sto­ries. “Rad­i­cal Accep­tance means bring­ing a clear, kind atten­tion to our capac­i­ties and lim­i­ta­tions with­out giv­ing our fear-based sto­ries the power to shut down our lives,” she writes. Over the years, I’ve rec­om­mended this book count­less times, and if you haven’t read it yet, you have a treat in store.

Work­ing Iden­tity: Uncon­ven­tional Strate­gies for Rein­vent­ing Your Career, by Her­minia Ibarra (Har­vard Busi­ness School 2003)

This is, with­out a doubt, my all-time favorite career book. Its mes­sage: The idea that you can (and should) fig­ure out what you want to do then sim­ply go out and do it is hog­wash.  Rather, research shows that suc­cess­ful mid-career chang­ers – the research demo­graphic that informs the book — live their way into new lives through a process of trial-and-error exper­i­men­ta­tion. Ibarra, a pro­fes­sor of orga­ni­za­tional behav­ior, illus­trates her points with com­pelling case stud­ies and con­cludes with a series of nine “uncon­ven­tional strate­gies” employed by suc­cess­ful career chang­ers. I go back to this book again and again and can’t rec­om­mend it more highly.

Do you have titles to add to this list?  Please share them in the com­ment section.

© 2012, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

11 thoughts on “5 great guidebooks for Plan B Nation

  1. Hello, I am a lawyer who returned to grad­u­ate school and obtained a degree and licen­sure in men­tal health coun­sel­ing. I offer men­tal health coun­sel­ing to peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing grief and other life tran­si­tions, includ­ing lawyers.

    Here are some addi­tional book sug­ges­tions for tran­si­tions:
    — Becom­ing a Life Change Artist: 7 Cre­ative Skills to Rein­vent Your­self at Any Stage of Life, by Fred Man­dell and Kath­leen Jordan

    - any of the books on tran­si­tions by William Bridges

  2. Detrac­tors of ‘Work­ing Iden­tity’ on Ama­zon say that Ibarra’s pri­mary advice is “take a sab­bat­i­cal.” They point out that for many peo­ple, and many rea­sons, that is just not an option. How to live into a new life when the cur­rent one has you pretty well pinned down is a fair ques­tion. Thoughts?

    • That’s so strange, Matthew — I don’t remem­ber any­thing along those lines, and I’m gen­er­ally pretty sen­si­tive to such things. Not to say it isn’t there, but it’s cer­tainly not what’s stayed with me (& much has). I’d really urge you to give it a shot–and let me know what you think. I’m curi­ous!
      amy gut­man recently posted…5 great guide­books for Plan B NationMy Profile

  3. Nudge” took me longer to read that is rea­son­able for a book of its length or the clear style it is writ­ten in. I mean, such a sim­ply writ­ten text of 250 pages ought to have fin­ished in no time. The prob­lem was that I don’t live in the US and so many of the exam­ples made the book a strug­gle for me. All the same, there are ideas in this book that are impor­tant no mat­ter where you live.
    Cristin Cogen recently posted…hard disk repairMy Profile

  4. I recently read Mind­set. It was a real eye-opener for me. Suc­ceed, by Heidi Grant Halvorsen, a for­mer stu­dent of Carol Dweck’s, has also been illuminating–talking about set­ting goals, our uncon­scious moti­va­tions and how to work with them. She takes Mind­set and parses it. I’ll have to check out the oth­ers on your list.
    Hope recently posted…Highly Effec­tive To The EndMy Profile

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