The gist: Breaking workaholic thought patterns takes more than just therapy and mindset work, it also takes reading. Here are my favorite self-care books that helped.
From reading my more recent content (and ignoring the older stories they include), you might not guess that as recently as three years ago, I was such a workaholic it was killing me.
But that’s the reason I speak out so fiercely against obsessive productivity and Hustle Culture. Because I was so deep in it.
It was at its peak from 2015-2017.
I was trying to accumulate as many jobs and side hustles as possible. To make as much money as possible. And rack up as many accolades as possible. I had:
- A day job in content marketing at a hypergrowth startup that demanded 50+ fast-paced hours per week
- A book blog that required reading and reviewing multiple full-length books per week. Along with everything else running a blog requires, like marketing and admin.
- The beginnings of a freelance content marketing career, taking on projects and content outside of the similar projects at my day job.
- A blog, newsletter, and online course about productivity and “working smarter.” (This was the beginnings of Work Brighter, although only the newsletter was called that back then.)
You know what I did when I realized I was getting 5 hours of sleep per night? Started blogging more, because I was convinced I could get by on 4. 🙈
And it’s important to note my privilege here. Despite my illness/disability, I had a great day job that paid me and gave me insurance. Along with a significant other I shared finances with (although not as much back then).
I didn’t really NEED any of the other jobs for financial means. I wanted them or thought they would prove my worth or value or hustle or whatever. 🙄
But even for a healthy person, that lifestyle is not sustainable.
And I’m not a healthy person. I have a heavy smattering of physical disabilities, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses, and behavior disorders.
And it took several years of work, but I no longer feel like I’m a workaholic anymore. 🎉
Along with (lots of) therapy, here are some of the books that helped me the most with making that shift.
5 of My Favorite Self-Care Books
(Some of these links are affiliate links. So if you decide to buy anything, I’ll receive a commission. Most creators say something like “100% of this goes back into the business,” but I’m not most creators. Some months it goes into the business, others it’s used for inappropriate amounts of chocolate. Remember, working brighter is about balance!)
Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less
I read Rest for the first time during my “self-care sabbatical” when I first left full-time work. And it’s when I finally accepted that rest 👏 is 👏 work!
Once I read this, I stopped feeling guilty for time I spent away from work. Especially when I was doing things that made me better at work.
And I understood what I previously misdiagnosed as “laziness” in myself.
In reality, as this book says, “You cannot work well without resting well.”
And this book backs up those claims with science & stories going back hundreds of years. You really see how many of the world’s most creative and innovative people prioritized rest in their work routines.
The most compelling claim for me? 🤔
Lin-Manuel Miranda came up with the idea for Hamilton while reading on vacay and forcing himself to unplug from work.
Aka without breaks and time off from work, THE HAMILTON MUSICAL WOULD NOT EXIST. 🤯
CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW AWFUL?! 😂
I have no desire to live in that world, and you shouldn’t either.
But really, this book convinces you that rest is a skill, and a crucial one for any sustained success.
Favorite quote from Rest:
“Creative people don’t engage in deep play despite their high levels of activity and productivity; they’re active and productive because of deep play.”
Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle
Burnout takes a lot of the similar principles about rest, exhaustion, and burnout discussed in Rest. But it looks at them through the specific lens of women in the US in the 21st century, especially leading up to and right after the 2016 Presidential Election.
It does something most self-help books for women are afraid to do: acknowledge the patriarchy (ugh). (That’s an inside joke you’ll get once you read the book).
And it makes ALL the difference.
Burnout is an amazing combination of self-help and political analysis.
It’s not focused on how women can be better (blech). It looks at why so many women think they need to be. And how they can shake that (achieving a new definition of better in the process).
The Nagoski sisters also strike the perfect balance (for me, at least 🙃) of serious and sarcastic, making the topics of patriarchy and oppression less depressing and more hopeful to read about.
Overall, reading it is like a huge, long sigh of relief.
Favorite quote from Burnout:
“Your body, with its instinct for self-preservation, knows, on some level, that Human Giver Syndrome is slowly killing you. That’s why you keep trying mindfulness and green smoothies and self-care trend after self-care trend.”
Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time
I first found this book through a seriously shame-busting blog post from Kelly Diels, and immediately went to learn more.
And I’ll be honest, it’s not an easy read…maybe queue up something light for afterward. But it was definitely interesting and important to learn so much about overwhelm as a global epidemic. And it helps to put the political and social stuff in Burnout into a larger context.
But most importantly, for me the book helped prove that I wasn’t alone in feeling so much endless overwhelm.
That helped me fully understand, not just on the surface but deep down, that my previous approach to just work harder and more productively than everyone else would never pay off and never be worth it.
The system was built to make sure of it.
This book combined with Burnout helped me fully realize how burnout was a societal failure, not an individual one.
Favorite quote from Overwhelmed:
“When women began working in a man’s world, their lives changed completely. Yet workplace cultures, government policies, and cultural attitudes, by and large, still act as though it is, or it should be, 1950 in Middle America.”
The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love
Workaholism has a different cause for everyone. For me, it turned out most of my workaholism and Trying Too Hard in general came from the same place. Trying to overcompensate for my disability, chronic illness, and neurodivergence.
So while this book isn’t specifically about overwhelm or burnout, it address that root cause of it. It helped me accept that my body and brain are not broken. And I didn’t need to spend so much time, effort, and energy trying to hide or “fix” them.
This might be your case, too, if your body or brain isn’t what society views as a “normal” one. Whether you’re fat, visibly disabled, invisibly ill, nonwhite, or in any way have been societally “othered” because of your body, this will help you forgive and move to accept it.
This book isn’t just about feeling good about your body or body positivity. It helps you ACTUALLY understand why it’s made you feel bad, why that was wrong, and how to practice self-love instead.
Favorite quote from The Body is Not an Apology:
“Many of us have oriented our entire lives around an effort to be “normal,” never realizing that “normal” is not a stationary goal. It keeps moving while we dance a perpetual foxtrot.”
How to Do Nothing
This book looks at rest as a form of resisting, or at least taking a break from, the attention economy and capitalism. And dear God, do we need that.
There’s a reason this book keeps coming up in talks about business and productivity during COVID-19.
One of the main points is that the internet has made the weight of capitalism, productivity, colonialism, consumerism, and more so much heavier on each of us.
And while we can’t just shrug it off and run off to live in the woods, we can take moments to pause and opt out of it momentarily. Like walking in the woods rather than running off to live in it.
What it proposes is not a life of doing nothing. It’s about finding moments of doing nothing so that when you DO do something, you’re ready and rested.
It’s also about questioning what “nothing” and “something” are in the first place. And this is what actually inspired the “rest is work” rule of working brighter. 😀
Favorite quote from How to Do Nothing:
“The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive.”