Shake Up Your Reading List, Join Our Book Club

Shake Up Your Reading List, Join Our Book Club

Are you looking to shake up your reading list? It’s your lucky day! My friend Diana and I are launching a book club and we want you to join us.

Over the last year, you have been an amazing reading buddy. You’ve graciously accepted my reading recommendations, shared some of your own, and engaged with me in light yet educated discussion on the themes covered therein. Diana and I want to start a book club with you to build on our current momentum and give it a more formal structure.

The idea is simple. We will be releasing a new reading list once a quarter focused on professional, personal, and/or spiritual development. These are the themes we have already been covering in my seasonal reading lists. In fact, some of your favorites from past lists span the full range of topics: Who Moved My Cheese covers professional development, Option B covers personal development, and Why Buddhism Is True covers spiritual development.


We want this book club to transcend borders, both literary and geographic. Diana and I are based in Miami but we want you to participate no matter where you are located. For that reason, we will be creating an online group, called “Crossing Borders Book Club,” where we will be releasing the quarterly reading list and moderating discussions. (We need your help figuring out which platform works best. Is it a Facebook group? Is it a WhatsApp group? Is it something we haven’t considered yet? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.)

We also want to see you in person! We are planning to organize one quarterly in-person meeting at a local coffee shop or bookstore so we can talk books over drinks and nibbles. Think quaint spots with yummy food like the Bookstore in the Grove and Books & Books. We promise to vary the meeting location throughout the Miami area to give everyone a chance to join us.

For our very first quarterly reading list (“The Summer Edition” if you will), Diana and I joined forces to bring you the following three selections:

  1. The Power of the Other by Dr. Henry Cloud
  2. Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin
  3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

We will be reading them in the order in which they are listed at a rate of one book per month through the first day of Fall (September 22) when we will release a new list. Feel free to skip around and to read them at your own pace. We purposefully picked books with minimal spoiler potential and in the online group, we’ll be working to separate discussions by title.

Please reach out to us—personally or in the comments below—if you are interested in joining. We’re excited to have you and to build future reading lists on your suggestions! Don’t forget to start compiling a list of books on your wish list. At our in-person meeting, each member will be putting a suggestion into a hat from which we will be drawing the titles for our next reading list. Until then, happy reading!


Three Books You Need To Read This Spring

Three Books You Need To Read This Spring

Folks, we’ve officially come full circle. As of this post, we have shared the joy of reading for four seasons: Summer, Fall, Winter and with today’s list, Spring!

This season has been about women-focused narratives for me. I traveled to Paris with The Dud Avocado, a gift from my friend Betsy who gave it to me for its Paris-based story—she makes a habit of reading novels that correspond with where she is traveling—and because the main character reminded her of me. She was right. The mischievous and adventure-loving Sally Jay is my spirit animal!

The last few weeks I’ve been reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. It’s not a book I would have picked up on my own. My colleague Juliany lent it to me unprompted and after reading the synopsis, I decided to try it as a means of broadening my perspective. I had a hard time getting past the first seven chapters because they paint women as victims and I don’t share that opinion. But, I powered through and made it to the second half which, except for the chapter on abortion, is full of insightful and hilarious anecdotes about the woman experience.

While I have enjoyed both books, I haven’t stopped my pursuit of knowledge on personal and professional development. In fact my library has quadrupled since my last reading list post. Below are the three books at the top of my Spring reading list:

1. Conspiracy

Author Ryan Holiday—you may remember him from Four Newsletters You Need In Your Inbox—breaks down the fall of Gawker Media as a case study of how power works in the 21st Century. In a time when we question everything we hear on the news or from the government, I am hoping this book on conspiracy, patience, strategy and revenge can help us be more judicious about what we believe and don’t believe.

2. Thinking, Fast and Slow

I first encountered the intellectual beast that is this book on human psychology and the human brain at 4 a.m. when Betsy and I were walking through the hallowed halls of Miami International Airport after our redeye from Utah. She asked, “If a ball and a bat costs $1.10 and the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?” Tired and fully aware of my challenge with math, I nearly killed her for asking such a question. However, when I had my “Eureka!” moment after a few cups of coffee, I was fully committed to reading the whole book.

3. Creativity: Unleashing the Forces Within

This year I finally stopped mooching off of other people’s Netflix accounts and thank the lord because they are offering better shows and movies (or at a minimum, I got better at finding them amidst all the crap). One of the mini-series I have most enjoyed recently was Wild Wild Country which documents the Rajneesh’s controversial arrival to Oregon. Regardless of what you think of the Osho from the events recounted in the series, he is one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century and I want to learn from his wisdom. He published his teaching across numerous books. I started with creativity because it is a skill I am working to improve.

The Most Important Lesson Of The “Yanny” or “Laurel” Debate

The Most Important Lesson Of The “Yanny” or “Laurel” Debate

The last two days all the internet can talk about is the “yanny” or “laurel” debate, the audio equivalent of 2015’s “The Dress”. (Remember the debate about whether it was black and blue or white and gold?) Friendships and families stand divided over whether an audio clip says one versus the other. Science says what you hear depends on what frequencies you are capable of hearing—people who can hear higher frequencies hear “yanny,” people who cannot hear “laurel”—and several outlets, like the New York Times, have manipulated the frequencies of the clip to help you hear both.

To my surprise, I hear “yanny.” I expected to hear “laurel” because I have a track record of listening to music really loudly at FlyWheel, when I use my headphones, and when I’m in the car. From time to time, I hear the telltale high-pitched “eeeeeeeeeh” indicative of hearing loss so I did not count on having much high-frequency hearing left. I consider my place on the “yanny” side of the debate to be a personal win. Ironically, the original recording—the one circling the web was made by a student who recorded the clip from his computer speakers so it varies slightly—comes from the page for “laurel”. (P.S. When I listen to the original recording, it is much easier to hear both.)

Regardless of whether you hear “yanny” or “laurel,” there is an important lesson we can learn from this debate about how we communicate with others. Think about it. We’re all listening to the same audio clip and hearing two very different things. (Heck! During “The Dress” debate, we were looking at the same dress and seeing two very different things.) It brings to light the high variability between people’s interpretations of the same input and how easily it is for us to miscommunicate.

There are a billion factors that affect how we interpret our surroundings beyond what frequencies we can hear (or, what pixels we can see) like where we grew up, what we studied in school (if we studied in school), what religion we practice, and past experiences. The way we communicate, the words we choose have to account for or overcome each of these to get us on the same page. That is why I am so fascinated by psychology in my pursuit as a communicator and why I read books like “The Rhetoric of Rhetoric” and “How To Win Friends And Influence People.” They help me understand what variables exist and how they change the way I need to communicate with different audiences to improve understanding. It has helped me build better relationships with others, achieve better outcomes, and reduce my conflicts with others…except in this case, where the answer is unequivocally “yanny.” Fight me.

Four Insightful Articles That Changed My Perspective (Updated)

Four Insightful Articles That Changed My Perspective (Updated)

In December I underwent a professional transition—one which I will share in the future, along with my long overdue spring reading list—and I have been busy recalibrating ever since. Part of finding my bearings amidst the changes has involved a lot of soul searching and a lot of reading. While the soul searching process is still in progress, it has benefitted greatly from all of the reading.

I have poured over every topic, ranging from how to become more assertive and more focused to key life lessons. Each article offers a new perspective to help define my new path. There are four articles in particular that have been impactful in changing my personal outlook. As I tend to do with insightful articles, I have shared them separately on my Twitter account over the last few days but they are so valuable that I am consolidating them here for your reading pleasure.

  1. “Tell Me What You Say ‘Yes’ To, And I’ll Tell You Who You Are” — A solid argument about why we need to say “no” more often.
  2. “How To Be More Assertive At Work When That’s Just Not Your Personality” — Valuable tips on how to be more comfortable getting what you want.
  3. “How To Stay Motivated in Life and Work Using the Goldilocks Rule” — An interesting read on how we are most motivated when we face tasks of “just manageable difficulty.”
  4. “You’re Too Busy. You Need A ‘Shultz Hour.'” — An opinion piece that argues for disconnecting to allow for creativity and bigger picture insight on our day-to-day tasks.

Do you agree or disagree with their points of view? What other impactful articles have you read recently?

Update (4/13/2018, 1:30 p.m.): It is a great week for insightful reads. After posting this morning, I came across two other relevant articles that I just HAD to add to this list. They are too good not to share immediately. Alas, I give you not four, but six insightful articles that changed my perspective:

5. “Three Power Moves That Are Better Than A Shrug” — A discussion on how shrugging your shoulders communicates uncertainty, with three alternatives to improve your body language.

6. “How To Pick A Career (That Actually Fits You)” — A satirical piece that discusses the importance of stopping to reflect on your career path and provides a framework for helping you evaluate its fit.

Four Newsletters You Need In Your Inbox

Four Newsletters You Need In Your Inbox

My e-mail inbox is an absolute disaster. Between my personal e-mail accounts and the e-mail accounts for my three blogs, I average around 300 e-mails per day. I try to keep it organized, but the volume is difficult to manage and gives me so much anxiety. Over the years the unmanageable amount of communications that bombard me on a daily basis not only fail to get my attention, but also have fostered an antagonistic relationship between me and e-communication.

There are a handful of exceptions to this rule. More specifically, there are four newsletters that brighten my day when they pop up amongst the chaos even if I can’t read them right away. For these select few, I make a “inbox zero” exception, leaving them unread until I find a few rare minutes of spare time to savor them. These are the five newsletters I can’t live without and that you desperately need in your inbox:

1. Harvey McKay’s Weekly Tips and Inspiration

Parent e-mail spam is the worst. My mom is guilty, like many moms, of forwarding those pesky chain e-mails about scams at the gas pump and Nigerian princes wanting to send us money. On the other hand, my dad forwards professional development gold. The newsletter that I love getting from him (although I could subscribe on my own like an adult) is Harvey MacKay’s weekly newsletter with tips and inspiration. If you follow me on twitter, you’ve seen me quote him like a madwoman because he gives seriously sage advice about business and life.

2. The “Wait But Why” Newsletter

“Wait But Why” was the first newsletter I ever subscribed to. (The stick figures that accompany each post caught my eye.) The messages are serious but, between the stick figures and heavy sarcasm, approachable. Take these spot on posts about how we approach marriage as a society or how life is fleeting. The writer is making some very intelligent, albeit depressing observations about the human experience but the way he delivers them is not overwhelming. Instead, I listen and apply his good advice toward improving my outlook. My only complaint? His posts are infrequent and sporadically scheduled.

3. The Daily “PRSUIT” Newsletter

I recently discovered PRSUIT’s daily e-mail “dedicated to helping you become the badass human you really are.” I can’t remember where I found it—it was a day where I was sucked deeply into the black hole that is the internets—but I am forever grateful to whoever/whatever introduced me to it. I’m drawn to its tongue-in-cheek tone and its solid life advice, like today’s article on how to deal with embarrassment. You can catch me on twitter, frequently reposting their opening blurbs which are intended to summarize the day’s theme but often carry nuggets of wisdom in and of themselves.

4. Ryan Holiday’s “The Reading List” Newsletter

It’s no mystery I love to read, which is probably why my friend Matt recommended I sign up for author Ryan Holiday’s “The Reading List”. It arrives once a month and includes a hodgepodge of fiction and non-fiction suggestions across a wide variety of topics. I don’t read them all—Heck! Sometimes none of the books he recommends interest me whatsoever—but it is a good way for me to keep up with what’s out there and he sneaks updates on his writing in there. If you haven’t heard of Ryan Holiday, start by watching his December 2017 interview with behavioral investigator Vanessa Van Edwards.

What are some of your favorite newsletters? Leave them in the comments below or send me a tweet @margaritakwells because what’s a few more e-mails in my overcrowded inbox…

The Year of Living Dangerously

The Year of Living Dangerously

I am risk averse. Or, as Jeff Bezos told 60 Minutes, “I don’t go for ‘Carpe Diem’. I go for regret minimization framework.” My conservative strategy has served me well—it has kept me alive in one piece and in good financial standing thus far—but it can also hold me back from trying new things. My body reacts to new experiences like it would an approaching black bear: my sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear, flooding my veins with adrenaline and my stomach with hyperactive butterflies. It’s safe to say that stepping out of my comfort zone doesn’t come easy.

Throughout my life I have taken calculated risks. In 2009, under the guidance of an experienced instructor, I got scuba certified. In 2011, after seriously researching companies, I went skydiving with my sisters for their 18th birthday. And in 2012, after weighing the pros and cons for weeks, I made the career jump that led to where I am today. I have experienced the benefit of taking risks, but it hasn’t made it easier to take them.


In 2017 I resolved to saying “Yes!” more, to step out of my comfort zone and take more risks. I call it my year of living dangerously. I said “Yes!” to leading my department as acting director. I said “Yes!” to training for my first marathon: the 2018 Paris marathon. As an airsoft newbie, I said “Yes!” to Operation Overwatch 4, a two-day MilSim event. Along the way, I found new talents, new friends, and new hobbies that make my life more fulfilled. (At a minimum, they make it more exciting…I mean, I got to shoot an Airsoft Junkiez Bingo from a helicopter for Pete’s sake!)

The more I say “Yes!”, the more natural it becomes. With each passing experience, I become a little less fearful of the unknown and become more confident in my ability to face new challenges. It’s incredible what we are capable of handling, of accomplishing when we choose to take a risk. And, it’s eye opening how much we miss when we stay where we feel safe out of fear.


In 2018, I am going to keep saying “Yes!” and I hope that you will join me. What are some risks you can take this coming year? As you countdown tonight, promise yourself you will take at least one of them, no matter how small. I promise that, no matter the outcome, you will look back and be glad you did.

I wish you nothing but health, happiness and success in the new year! And now, for your quote of the day:

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” —“Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” by Baz Luhrmann. (I listen to it on New Year’s Day every year for its invaluable advice.)

Three Books You Need To Read This Winter

Three Books You Need To Read This Winter

Welcome to the first day of winter. As with past seasons, it is time for your friendly reminder to freshen up your personal library. (Here are my book suggestions from this past summer and fall, in case you missed them.)

This series of posts is my favorite to write because I love reading/sharing quality books. I also love that you’ve responded so positively to my suggestions and that a lot of you take this opportunity to give me your own. Some of you have gone so far as to send me books. Apparently you’ve realized sending me books is the quickest way to get me to like you. Kudos.

Unfortunately, it seems my library is expanding at a quicker rate than I can find time to read. The last time I counted, I was actively reading four books at once: 1. The Comic Toolbox, 2. Los Presidenciables, 3. The Ecstatic, and 4. What The Dog Saw. So in this season’s list, rather than include books I have read or am reading, I have decided to include the books I will be reading next. Proceed with caution.

Here are the three books you need to read this winter:

1. What The Dog Saw

I know I said this list includes only books I haven’t read and that I said I am actively reading this. The reason it qualifies as both is because I haven’t even finished the first chapter. I picked it up at a friend’s house a few weeks ago when I was waiting for him to finish a phone call. (Malcolm Gladwell’s name called to me amidst the hundreds of books in his library. It’s a compilation of 19 articles Gladwell published in The New Yorker focused on psychological and sociological topics.) I had just enough time to read the first few pages and am excited to keep going once I have the chance to order myself a copy.

2. The Swamp

As a Floridian and environmental professional, I am shocked I haven’t yet read this book. According to David Lawrence Jr., a former Miami Herald editor that sent me a copy after I joined him on a tour of the Everglades, it is the best book he knows for basic Everglades understanding. I consider it my right of passage into full Miamihood and also a critical part of my preparation into becoming a South Florida National Parks Trust ambassador in 2018. (I received word last week that I was selected into their inaugural class! I’ll share more about what it means in a future post.)

3. Why Buddhism Is True

The moment my friend Victor realized I am more high strung than he initially anticipated, he sent me this book about the transformative practice of meditation. He hasn’t read it but he has read other works by Robert Wright and was impressed by his intellect. Both Victor and I are huge fans of analyzing the human experience—he’s a philosophy major, I’m an aspiring psychology major—so there is no question that Wright’s New York Times Best Selling assessment of the “human predicament” is going to be right up our alley.

And now, for your quote of the day:

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what book he reads.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m Going On A Diet—A Mental Diet

I’m Going On A Diet—A Mental Diet

Back in May, I committed to reading one chapter of How To Win Friends & Influence People and applying the chapter’s principle every week until I completed all 30 chapters. I made it to chapter four of the Dale Carnegie book and then I took a sharp left turn into discussing other topics on this blog. That said, I didn’t stop applying personal/professional development principles IRL.

The past few days I have been working on the art of getting to the point. I was extremely surprised to find that most of us have a hard time staying focused, particularly when we are asked a question. It seems we are intent on answering every question under the sun before we answer the one that was asked of us. (Seriously, pay attention for 24 hours and tell me it’s not true.) But worry not—like a good millennial I took to Twitter to share this observation with advice to help us get past this:


My next goal is to go on a mental diet. The concept, which originated from Emmet Fox’s The 7 Day Mental Diet and was popularized by Tony Robbins’ book Awaken The Giant Within, consists of eliminating negative thoughts and “consuming” only productive, positive thinking. If all goes well, I will be taking control of my mental and emotional states, improving my life by simply changing my outlook.

Most of us are naturally wired to see things from a “glass half empty” perspective first. (Remember how hard it was for me to go a week without criticizing, condemning or complaining?) It takes a conscious effort on our behalf to look at the positive side of a situation. Furthermore, it takes practice and repetition to rewire our brains toward defaulting to positive language. The good news is that the more we do it, the easier it becomes to be more positive and the more positive we are, the happier we feel. It’s a win-win.

This week listen for negative phrases. (They usually come with words like “no” and “not”.) As you hear one or when you catch yourself about to say one, find the positive way of conveying that same message and use that instead. Take a look at these 11 everyday phrases that have been reworked from negative to positive for inspiration.

Have a good example? Leave it in the comments below or send me a tweet @margaritakwells. And now, for your quote of the day:

“It’s not knowing what to do, but doing what you know.” —Tony Robbins

Why Having Hobbies Makes Us Better Employees

Why Having Hobbies Makes Us Better Employees

Do you have a life outside of work? You should. The hobbies we pursue on our own time teach us skills that make us better, more well-rounded employees. For example, running has taught me to be disciplined, mentally tough, and patient—three valuable tools for excelling in the workforce. Writing a top Miami lifestyle blog has helped me develop advanced communication skills that are critical for the presentations and media interviews I give as part of my “day job”.

Our hobbies can also make us into more open-minded employees by working different parts of our brains and exposing us to new perspectives. “When your job defines you, your world becomes very narrow,” asserts Ray Williams, author of Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces. Each hat we wear broadens the way we see the world. I know I am a more efficient problem solver and connect better with others because I see the world from different angles: as an environmental professional, as a writer, as a runner, as a scuba diver, as a dancer (thanks, Vixen Workout!), as an amateur photographer, and so on and so forth.

Last but not least, hobbies make us happier employees. Beyond their ability to calm our minds—I turn to running and Vixen when I need to burn off stress—they offer us a sense of fulfillment, of belonging, of purpose. Yes, we can get these from our jobs but as the saying goes, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. It is good to diversify where we get our happiness so when one source goes awry (a bad day at the office, a subpar workout, whatever), we have other sources of happiness on which we can depend.

Whether our hobbies make us more well-rounded, more open-minded, happier or all three, fostering a life outside of the office has a resounding impact in the office. Think of your hobbies. What are they? How does each one make you a better person, a better employee?

And now, for your quote of the day:

“Find three hobbies you love: one to make you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to keep you creative.” —Anonymous

Three Books You Need To Read This Fall

Three Books You Need To Read This Fall

I’ve gone book crazy. It’s been building since the summer (see my summer reading list), but it has recently reached a fever pitch. It hasn’t helped that in the last few weeks I have found myself in actual brick-and-mortar bookstores—yea, they still exist—starting with the West Kendall Barnes and Nobles last month and ending with the Books and Books in Coral Gables last weekend. To add fuel to the fire, I took an incredible storytelling workshop with Miami writer Anjanette “Anja” Delgado which resulted in no less than 10 book recommendations curated just for me. Alas, all of my money has been invested in knowledge, imagination, and stacks of paper of varying heights neatly glued together.

My library has tripled in a few short weeks. When I moved in April, I kept a paltry 15 books including a 200-page manual for using my Canon. Today I am the proud owner of 45 books, with a couple more on their way. My apartment looks like a bomb went off with half-started books on every surface: the two nightstands, the coffee table, the dining table, even the floor is not safe. I couldn’t wait to get to them so I started and am reading several at the same time.

Here are the three you need to read this Fall:

1. The Comic Toolbox
This is the last book I started and my favorite one on my fall reading list by far. It arrived on my doorstep yesterday so I’ve only made it through the introduction and it has made me laugh nonstop. Plus, the concepts that the writer discusses made me think completely differently about writing. I am a person that loves rules. In only four pages this book has convinced me to toss them out the window when it comes to writing. Read the passive voice excerpt on pages xiii and xiv and see if you don’t feel the exact same way.

2. How To Read Literature Like A Professor
While I love literature, I have had a hard time since middle school getting all heady about the deeper literary meaning of a text. In fact, as recently as my storytelling class this past weekend, that type of banter makes me roll my eyes so hard they hurt. I am hoping that this book, which on its back cover claims to be “lively and entertaining”, will open my eyes to what other people see or experience when they are engaging in those types of discussions. I’ve got nothing to lose.

3. Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe
Poetry is another subject popular with literary types with which I have never connected. During elementary school, I participated annually in poetry reading contests and I only remember Margarita, está linda la mar by Rubén Darío, most likely because it includes my name. Then, Anja read us The Book of Genesis According to St. Miguelito on pages 349 through 351 of this collection of poems. It was so powerful, so captivating, so approachable, so memorable that it completely changed my opinion of what poetry can be. I’m excited to see what else is hidden between its covers.

P.S. If you don’t feel like committing to a book but you want to exercise your brain, I occasionally take breaks from reading to do the daily workout on the brain training app, Peak. It probably comes as no surprise given how much I love writing that my favorite game is called “Word Fresh”. And now, for your quote of the day:

“You’ll only get out of this book what you put in. Or to put it another way, the more you pay, the more it’s worth.” —John Vorhaus on The Comic Toolbox