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Reading Books for Enjoyment Will Enhance Your Career
Bentley’s PreparedU Project is dedicated to helping prepare millennials for success in business and in life. This is the last is a series designed to provide insights into ways that objective can be accomplished.
Get to know, or even love, a good book on a regular basis. Make the space and time for it. Just you and the book. Your business career, along with your inner life, will benefit enormously.
“The first step is getting yourself to sit down apart from technology and truly engage with the printed page,” says Joan Atlas, adjunct assistant professor of English and Media Studies at Bentley University. “You cannot be fully engaged with what’s going on if your mind is divided.”
Most of us understand that reading is mind expanding and growth enhancing and, in short, really good for us. And for businesspeople, there’s even more to it.
Today’s world is fraught with complexity and constant change — environmental, economic, technological, and social — and companies are looking for more from their hires, says Atlas.
Employers want you to be curious and knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects beyond your area of expertise. Readers are all of these things and more, she says.
And, these days, a good reader is hard to come by. Consider a National Endowment for the Arts report that found nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure. And 15- to 24-year-olds spend only seven to 10 minutes per day on voluntary reading, which is about 60 percent less time than the average American. And, according to the report, when young people do read, they primarily do so while using other media.
“The screen time is out of control,” says Atlas.
What’s even more alarming, she says, is that online skimming habits may be altering our reading ability. In media reports, she says, cognitive neuroscientists have warned that we appear to be developing digital brains with new circuits for processing the torrents of information online. And this way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.
But we’re talking about more than staving off the possibility of superficial brain wiring. Reading for pleasure is related to better reading and writing skills, and that translates to higher grades and academic achievement — which, in turn, relates to higher personal, professional, and social outcomes. Deficient readers run higher risks of failure in all three areas, according to the National Endowment for the Arts report.
Here are three ways, says Atlas, that reading literature, including nonfiction, enhances your life and business career:
1. You learn to make connections.
Atlas says reading is about making connections: text to text, text to self, and text to world. This fluidity of mind is priceless in life, and most definitely in the workplace.
When you immerse yourself in a book, she has written, you start to think: This book reminds me of another book, or movie, or play that also took place in Afghanistan, that also dealt with the Civil Rights Movement, that also involves a character who was treated unfairly by the justice system. Or this book reminds me of myself at age 10, when I also felt innocent and protected in a suburban neighborhood, or the woman in this book is similar to me because we are both frustrated by the glass ceiling. And this book shows me what it was like to be herded into a ghetto and then taken away on a train to Auschwitz or to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
“Reading good books widens our perspective on ourselves and others,” she says. “We take off our blinders and learn about other times and places. Because of these connections, which resonate on an emotional level, we see more than we can possibly see in our own little corners of the world.”
Employers want you to make those leaps — it’s a coveted ability, and reading makes it yours.
2. You learn to handle conflict.
Immerse yourself in conflicts in good literature, and you’ll come away with a new understanding of issues that you’ll confront in your own life, and in the business world, she says.
Consider, for instance, the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is told through the eyes of an 8-year-old child, she says. As a reader, you experience the harsh injustices and prejudices in a small Southern town. You see what life was like in the South in the 1940s. You learn along with Scout to empathize with the reclusive character of Boo Radley, and with the black residents of Maycomb.
You are drawn into the conflict between Atticus Finch and the town’s prejudiced white community, says Atlas. You see Atticus calmly proceed to do what is right regardless of what those around him think and the pressure of the town’s powerful political forces. And you see Scout struggle internally in an attempt to comprehend what is going on around her and ultimately come to an understanding of good and evil.
By spending a few hours with a book, you’ve learned about handling complex conflicts both internal and external in your life and at work.
3. You learn to think critically.
It may be that critical thinking is more important in the business arena than in any other profession, says Atlas. Consider the multiple levels on which businesspeople must operate within the company, locally, nationally, globally, and with the employees, shareholders, customers, and the public at large.
You must know how to pose and answer questions by taking different perspectives into account — and a good book is a great teacher on that front.
Atlas likes to use a quote by pithy U.S. Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to capture the concept of critical thinking.
“There are one-story intellects, two-story intellects, and three-story intellects with skylights,” he says. “All fact collectors with no aim beyond their facts are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, and generalize, using labors of the fact collectors. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict — their best illumination comes from above the skylight.”
Give yourself up to a good book because it’ll pay personal and professional dividends and, aside from all that, it’s fun. And, says Atlas, the old saying is trite but true: “You can travel everywhere just by reading a book.”
Meg Murphy is a freelance writer.