As professionals, many of us spend our days reading. The morning news. An endless stream of emails and text messages. Social media updates. Online magazines and reports. The latest business books. Without question, these sources provide us with much-needed information to be more effective on the job and in our lives. But we can also get into a major reading rut, which could become detrimental to our careers.
This point became very clear to me on a recent vacation, when I read “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green (@johngreen). This sweet yet tragic novel captivated my head and my heart in a way that just doesn’t happen with the daily news or a white paper on management tips. I’ve always loved reading fiction, but this latest experience really reminded me why it’s so important.
When I read my usual line-up (anything but fiction), I automatically frame and reframe the information in my head: What can I learn from this? How can I apply it? When can I get started? In many ways, that’s a valuable process. On the other hand, it can become a mental burden. Suddenly I feel compelled to do something with the information. It becomes an action item that needs my attention. When can I try that new recipe? When can I do more research on that promising stock? When can I pick up that amazing health food everyone is raving about? It’s just not possible to implement every great idea, and it can start to feel overwhelming.
The solution is to break out of your reading rut with an entertaining or thought-provoking work of fiction. Especially when the writing is great (as the John Green novel was), you can become immersed in a fascinating story and get totally swept away in someone else’s world. The best part? It’s not about you. It’s not mission critical. It’s not time critical. It’s not adding anything to your to-do list. Reading a great work of fiction is a free pass to escape from your reality and step away from “your own stuff.”
Surprisingly, adding fiction to your reading list has real business benefits. Our brains need a break from the barrage of functional information we pour in non-stop. After reading a wonderful story that transports us to another place and time, we return from the mental vacation more creative and rested. We gain a fresh perspective. We can attack nagging challenges with renewed energy.
If you’ve been stuck in non-fiction overload, I encourage you to break out of your reading rut and then pay close attention to the impact. As for me, you can bet I won’t be waiting for another plane trip to dive in to the next intriguing novel.
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