The BHB’s Top 5 Personal Development Books

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

“I really think that reading is just as important as writing when you’re trying to be a writer because it’s the only apprenticeship we have, it’s the only way of learning how to write a story.” – John Green

Back when I was in high school, one of my English teachers used a similar quote that I can’t remember the source of- “I’ve known many readers who don’t write, but I don’t know a single writer that doesn’t read.”

The logic then follows:
If you want to write stories, read a LOT of stories…
and if you want to write books that will help people, read a LOT of good personal development books.

PictureHunter S. Thompson pointing a gun. Caption reads

Great life lesson… maybe a bad role model.

Growing up, my mother had a veritable library of these- mostly about dieting, exercise, keeping calm, and personal empowerment.
I mean, she WAS a stay-at-home mom with three kids and a busy spouse for most of my childhood. So it kinda makes sense.

For a long time, I didn’t really give a hoot about “self-help” books. They had, and to a degree still do, have a stigma about getting them-

  • “Just a cash-grab.”
  • “…for people that can’t handle reality.”
  • “Common sense s***, put in a pretty cover and sold.”

Well I can say that, since growing up a bit, paying bills, and working in blue-collar field where you’d swear common sense was a friggin’ superpower sometimes:

  • If someone is honestly trying to help folks, nothing wrong with making a little money from it.
  • Reality SUCKS, and people who “handle” it maybe aren’t handling it so well.
  • and as distracted as we can get, sometimes a slap to the back of the head- “DUDE, FOCUS”- is needed.

In the last few months, my sister Stephanie Cansian has been on a bit of a personal development book-bender. Between trying to get her own business as a wellness coach going, being a barista, and keeping house, Steph tries to get in at least one hour of quality reading each day. Her husband Kevin, another side-hustler in progress, does the same. Personal development reading in the morning, and leisure reading at night before bed.

With me trying desperately to be a writer, the bug didn’t take long to jump over to me, so here’s a little list of my favorites so far!

1. “Born for This” and “The $100 Startup” by Chris Guillebeau

Chris Guillebeau is no stranger to this blog. I’ve referenced him and his works many times before, and he has the distinction of writing the first development works I ever bought for myself. These were them, and that’s why this is a two-fer:
The $100 Startup is business-minded, and offers the philosophy, concepts, and inspiration you might need if you want to kickstart your own small business. While perhaps a bit light on actionable steps (something he corrected in “Side Hustle”,) Startup  plants the seeds for you, and gets you to ask that all-important question- “Why not?” This is the book that inspired me to start The BHB. What happened afterward, I’ll say was a flaw in execution rather than intent.Born For This is a bit more focused on the personal. Perhaps you don’t want to be an entrepreneur, but you DO want to be more satisfied with your work and life in general. In this book, Guillebeau outlines his “Joy-Money-Flow” philosophy that he finds practiced by people who won the “job lottery”- folks that always seem excited to work, do it well, and make a happy living. You won’t get rich, possibly- but if you’re living a good life you love, who needs to be?

2. “Creative Struggle” by Gavin Aung Than

Gavin is also no stranger to this blog. I’ve loved and followed his main project “Zen Pencils” for years now, and always take joy and inspiration from his depictions of famous quotes.
In this, his third book, Gavin compiles cartoons he’s done about some of the great artists and thinkers of history- Leonardo DaVinci, Stephen King, John Coltrane, Mary Shelley, and more.
His cartoons are on-point, of course- but the additional histories he offers give them even more impact. For example- did you know Tchaikovsky HATED writing “The Nutcracker?” It was a total pot-boiler for him. He hated the story and the work itself, but it was a royal commission. However he “mastered his disinclination” and turned it in. Every Christmas, theaters fill around the world to watch it be performed.
If you just can’t womp up the will and inspiration to get your projects done, this might be what you need.

3. Endless Light: The Ancient Path of the Kabbalah” by David Aaron

I’ve written about my fraught relationship with my faith before, and about other texts on Judaism and Kabbalah. So throw the celebrity, red-string-bracelet, woogie-woogie crap out the door for a minute and get this:
Sometimes what you don’t need is “ANSWERS” per say, or “INSPIRATION”- but a RESTRUCTURING. What helps isn’t specific advice, but more a realignment in how you look at the world that lets you see answers in yourself that were hidden before.
In this book, Aaron offers that realignment through the lens of Kabbalah- Jewish mystical philosophy that bucks some of the staid, moralized lectures we are used to.
With amazing insights into Judeo-Christian thought, and helpful self-reflection questions for each chapter, you can start piecing things together- by removing yourself from the center.
Case in point- in Hebrew, the word “het” is translated as “sin.” In reality though, it literally means “miss”- as in “to miss a bullseye.” Crime, or mistake?

4. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero

Stephanie SWEARS by this book, and this author. Sincere makes no bones about her personal journey, and doesn’t shy away from the real, weird, and looney moments along the way- going into debt doing self-help programs, jobhunting, impostor syndrome, the works.
With an acerbic wit, engaging voice, and enough of an understanding for the negatives of life that it’s hard to lump in with “positivity culture,” Sincero’s advice- if it doesn’t immediately inspire you- will at least encourage you to look at your stressors in a different way.

Also, Loincloth Man.

5. Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, MD

Remember 20 years ago or so when EVERY businessman and CEO was reading this book, and “well, SOMEONE doesn’t like their cheese being moved” was a decent burn?

Well, there’s a reason for that. The book is THAT simple, and THAT good

A simple fable about mice, tiny humans and track suits, a big maze, and dealing with change- personal, professional, economic, etc.

The power of this book comes from the ease of its parable- and the starkness of the lessons. A reminder to keep on top of things, not to get too comfy with anything, and prepare to move on rather than wishing change wouldn’t happen.

That’s what I’ve got for you right now- what books do you all turn to? Think you’ll read some of these?

Stay Classy,

Evolving Priorities

Good morning, friends and neighbors.
It had been a trying few days.
Emily and I were living in our first apartment here in Oregon. We’d barely been here a year.
My first shot at going into business for myself wasn’t doing so well, and I was back on the job hunt again.  

Emily’s job was feeling somewhat bumpy at the time. Her first performance review hadn’t been great, and her teaching hours were temporarily cut. The apartment we’d chosen- though convenient for Em’s job- was expensive. We’d picked it out in the same hurry that precipitated the move itself.

We were living off of our dwindling savings and the distant charity of our parents.

On top of all of that, winter was coming. It was going to be a rainy season, in a part of the city we still don’t like hanging around in too much. Not because it’s dangerous or anything- far from it. It’s very… suburban. It reminded us of all the things and places we DIDN’T like spending time in on the East Coast. Strip malls, highways, nothing decent in walking distance, and barely anywhere to walk anyway.

As we were doing laundry, Emily started crying.
She didn’t like this place. This wasn’t working out. She was stressed out and unhappy. She knew I was struggling. She knew I was essentially trying to start my career from scratch, without any of the connections that had helped me previously.

She was scared that I’d given up my dream of Vienna for her, and she couldn’t abide that.

​A little context here:

The Me That Was

I’ve spoken before about the person I was before culinary school- physically, emotionally, and such.
In short, I really wasn’t a happy guy.
After my first year in culinary school, I had an idea of what this career would demand of me- and I was okay with it.

Then.

Matt Back Then was overweight, sad, lonely, and generally felt unloved and unlovable.
So… what the hell, right?

Long work days meant more money for ME.
Never see loved ones? WHAT loved ones- I don’t have a girlfriend, and couldn’t really see a grand future for myself beyond some romantic dreams.
No holidays? Well, I’d call my family, but I figured I’d never have ANYONE to rush home to.

My life was mine and mine alone, and I was going to give it over to baking and the restaurant life- I simply never imagined I’d be sharing it with anything or anyone else, and all my decisions, for better or worse, would be on me to deal with.

Starting off, I didn’t especially have a goal I wanted to bend my career toward either. I knew I wanted to bake, and I wanted to travel and learn. After a few rewatches of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” I figured that Vienna would be an amazing place to live and work for a while.

Vienna- historically famous for being a crossroads of East and West, for music and composers like Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, and for viennoiseriea specific sort of a pastry work- as well as it’s chocolatiers.
I decided that would be my goal- somehow, someway, I’d live abroad in Vienna for at least a few months, work at a bakery, and learn viennoiserie from the masters.

“Change is the Only Constant”

Humans are not static, though. We change. We evolve and we grow, and our priorities and dreams shift.
I’m sure it sounds inspirational when someone claims to have had the exact same goal in life since they were a child and never wavered. It sounds wonderful… but to me, it’s also very suspicious.

When I was a child, I dreamt of being:

  • A doctor
  • An engineer
  • A rabbi
  • Indiana Jones
  • He-Man
  • A chef
  • A baker

and a few others I’ve probably forgotten.

Life has a way of doing that- it changes your priorities, and your goals can change too.

Emily and I on our 4th date

Sometimes it’s people too

It’s not weakness of will or character for a person to stop and say, “Why am I still here?”

“Do I still want this?”
Do I still care?”

It can be hard. It can be terrifying, even- especially if you’ve already invested so much of your life into that thing, or achieving that goal, just to find that- eh… you’re just not feeling it anymore.

Matt Back Then was pleased to work long days, no holidays, sweat his bones out, and come home each night wired out the a** on caffeine and whiskey because what the hell- it was his life.

Now, Matt just wants good pay to work a 40 hour week. I want a job that I can feel good about doing, and that will give me time and space to NOT do it, and where I can spend time with like-minded people who don’t wanna just black out each night after work- they go out and live.

I can honestly say I want that now because I know there is someone in my life that loves me.
She wants to see me happy with my work. She wants me to come home alive each night, and wake up next to me each morning.
She wants me to look out for myself, and demand the things I need to make my life and energy worth it.
She makes me want to be a better person than I was.

I have responsibilities and priorities now that I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have.

“Well, That Didn’t Go As Planned…”- catchphrase of young professionals everywhere

So yes… plans changed a lot. I have no idea how I’ll get to Vienna, what I need to do to get there, or who I need to talk to. I haven’t forgotten it, nor can I say I’ve given up.

It’s simply not a priority right now.

My priority now is giving Emily and Cleo a life worth living.
It means keeping back enough of myself at work so I still have something to give them when I come home.

In a way, yes- I did drop my dream of getting to Vienna for Emily… for starting a life with her, I had to direct energy from other places in my life.

I’ll tell you this, though- if someone were to take me back in time, and show me every thing and task I’d have to complete to make that dream come true- every letter to write, every hand to shake- and tell me I could have it all, but I’d lose the life I have here with Emily in Oregon, and maybe never have Emily in my life at all?

I’d tell them to f*** off out of my bakery and let me get back to work.

I’ve never exactly done things the easy way anyway.
I’ll get to Vienna somehow.

And Emily is gonna be there with me.

Life is not always an either/or game. You have to make choices, yes-
but if you don’t like the choices offered, no one said you couldn’t create your own.

Animated GIF of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones demanding trial by combat

Like this… I will seriously roshambo someone for a plane ticket.
Stay Classy,

Making Yourself A Priority

Good evening, friends and neighbors! I apologize for the silence on here as of late, and for the lightness of this evening’s post.

Over the last two weeks or so, I’ve been reorganizing and tidying up this blog, and it’s kinda gotten in the way of researching and writing. Between that and working on the upcoming book, most of my creative energies have been pulled away.

The good news, however, is that not only will this blog be a bit easier and more enjoyable to read, it will also be better to write. Here’s why:

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To Be Of Service

 Good morning, friends and neighbors!

The night before last, I had discovered Overdrive and Libby– apps for Kindle/iPad/etc that let you borrow ebooks and audiobooks from any library you have a library card for, and download them straight to your device.
So after running through the catalog like a kid in a candy store, I decided to go ahead and borrow a recipe book by a famous pastry chef I’d never heard of. If that sounds odd in your head, don’t worry- there’s a lot of famous people you’ve never heard of.

I honestly do like a good, well-written, lovingly photographed or illustrated cookbook. One thing that does sometimes happen, though- and this is no one’s fault but my own- is that really beautiful work and food can make me utterly depressed.

Picture of a road in a forest. Text reads,

From TheNakedMystic.com

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Picking a Finish Line- Setting Goals

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

When you’re down as low as you can go, there’s nowhere else to go but up, right?

It’s not that going “up” is never possible EXCEPT when you’re face-down in a gutter- it just becomes the best of very few other options, and less distraction… or that your survival depends on your ability NOT to be distracted.

In the last few months, I went to some REALLY low places in my mind. Not “rock bottom” in any real sense- I still had a home, I still had food, my wife still loves me- but in my mind, none of that made a lick of difference. In some ways, it even made it worse- “Who am I to deserve all this? I’m an idiot, and I’ll lose it all eventually.”
“Why did I get out of bed today?”
“I’m disappointed in myself for going to work.”
“When did I give up dreaming? When did I stop wanting more?”

A job change, a slight mental break, and a new routine later, things are thankfully starting to balance out. My new job has me working evenings, so that means my mornings- and my best energies- can be spent on doing what makes me happy: exercising, reading, cuddling Miss Cleo, and of course, writing.

It’s a new kind of routine, so now is as good a time as any for me to start thinking again-

I feel more free than I used too… so what am I going to do with it?”

Sign post in tropical background, naming world cities

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pexels

It’s kind of weird for me to actually be writing about goals or goalsetting simply because, while I’ve absolutely HAD goals before… I never really thought of them as “goals,” or at least not structured as such.

I always saw them as “objectives,” or “missions,” or some other semantic dodge to make it feel less “self-help-bookish” and more “I’m doing this thing because I want to do it-”

LOSING WEIGHT
Goal:
 Get down to 165 lbs, what I was told is the heaviest I could be in the “healthy range” I could be.
What I Told Myself:  “Lose weight because otherwise you’ll die fat, sad, and in pain. 165 lbs sounds about right.”

BECOMING A CHEF
Goal: Graduate culinary school, find a job baking, and eventually become a pastry chef.
What I Told Myself:  “I like baking. This is what I’d have to do to make that my job.” *cue years of hard work, saying “yes” or “no” as felt appropriate, and letting things happen.*

WRITING
Goal: Write a blog, make it popular, and make it a career.
What I Told Myself: “I like writing, and people seem to like to read what I write. I should do that more often. Once a week sounds good… maybe more later.”

 Obviously, there was a little more to it than that- finding resources for how to lose weight, for example. Working hard in my vocations, and keep my eye open for opportunities. I never really laid anything out on PAPER though, or really thought “How will this help achieve ___ ends?” I can only imagine what it would be like if I had any kind of plan worked out.

That said, it’s not like I NEVER thought about what I wanted in life or how to get it.

Portrait of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”- General Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
Ever since I first found a quote by him in comic form on ZenPencils.com, I’ve been a pretty big fan of writer, traveler, and entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau. His website, “The Art of Non-Conformity” and his manifesto “A Brief Guide to World Domination” (which you can download for free through that link) got me thinking very hard about what kind of life I actually wanted to live, and how I wanted to live it. I strongly recommend everyone reading the whole thing, but I’ll sum it up with three big points Chris makes:

1. You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.

 

2. What can you offer the world that no one else can?

Ultimately, doing what you want is just fine. Living your life and accomplish your goals is great- but eventually, it’ll feel empty. You can rule the world- but that means you need to think about the world, and what you can give back.

In the manifesto, Guillebeau also linked to an interesting Goals Brainstorming exercise and workbook by Paul Myers, also available for free. It’s a pretty extensive exercise, and if you sit down and just decide to knock it out, it’ll probably take you a couple hours to do completely.

It’s absolutely worth the time though- consider it an investment in yourself. When was the last time you did that?
The beauty of the exercise is that it asks you first to visualize what your ideal life would be like- in gratuitous detail. Do you work? Doing what? Where do you live? How do you spend your day? What do you do with your downtime? And so on and so on…

Then it makes you write down what you have going for you now– and not just material and financial matters, though those are absolutely included. It makes you write down all of your skills and interests- ANYTHING you have knowledge in. All the people that you know, what they do, and if they can help you (seriously, I’d forgotten how many friends I actually have until I did this exercise.) Then with all of this in mind, you pull apart the elements of what you want:

What do you actually NEED to make this happen?
What steps do you need to take?
Is this something you actually want? Or is it a symbol of something else?

The last time I sat down and did it, I was living in New Jersey, burning myself out in the medical field and culinary school. I was miserable in life, and felt rudderless.

After the exercise, I made a few VERY strong insights about myself:
1. I already had everything I needed to do what I wanted.
2. I had people around that would help me if I needed it.
3. I needed to start making MYSELF more of a priority than I had.

Soon after, I decided to start up the original Black Hat Bakery. I started to lose weight, get healthier, and save money.

Seriously, give this a shot. You’re worth it.
While you’re at it, I strongly recommend Chris’s books as well:

The $100 Startup : This is the first book of his I picked up, shortly before being fired for the first time. It inspired me to relaunch as The Black Hat Baker here in Portland, and to try actually making a living out of this crazy thing I love.

Born For This:  Even if entrepreneurship isn’t for you (and it’s not for everyone!) that’s no reason you can’t have a life you love AND work for someone else. This book describes how you can mold your life and work to be something that excites you, rather than exhausts you.

Side Hustle- From Idea to Income in 27 Days: His most recent book, and one I’m currently reading. Because there’s nothing wrong with figuring out how to earn a little scratch on the side.

That’s all from me for now- I’ve got a worksheet to do, a beer to drink, and some emails to write.

What do you think? Are you gonna give this a try?
What kind of goals do you want to reach?

Stay Classy,

Side Work and Dishpan Hands: The Unglamorous Side of Self-Care

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors! It’s good to be back behind the keyboard. Emily and I had a great time down in Florida, despite a few hiccups along the way- a bit of motion sickness, misplaced forms of ID, you know… the usual. Right?

As I hoped, or possibly feared, Florida gave me a lot of quiet time to think. Of course, my wife, mother, and in-laws were present to streamline things and make sure I didn’t spend the entire time sleeping or lost in thought- but there were plenty of moments when I knew I had to get my head in order, and more than a little worried about what that order might mean.

It’s a very frustrating and disconcerting thing to be afraid of your own thought processes. Here I was, trying to take a vacation that I sorely needed, and I couldn’t even do THAT right. My parents-in-law- who were putting us up in their house in the Lakeland area of Florida- gave us a blank ticket for whatever we wanted to do. “Treat yourself!” they said. “Whatever it is you want to do, do it because you can. You need to relax!”

A wonderful invitation, and certainly something Emily and I availed ourselves of- but self-care is not the same as “treating yourself.” Self-care is often doing things you don’t want to do- or are afraid to do- because they need to be done to make yourself better.

 

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Tapping The Breaks- Dealing With Burnout

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

This week’s entry is going to be a little light, and next week’s is gonna be… well, non-existent, because I’m finally getting to go on vacation. Emily and I will be heading down to Florida for a few days to see her folks. It’ll be our first chance to ACTUALLY get away in nearly two and a half years, and frankly, it couldn’t have come sooner.

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