My Year in Books – Renee Tan (Young Worker Edition)

In 2019, I found myself learning to balance various responsibilities across university, work and church. There were several occasions throughout the year when I experienced the tension of wearing so many different hats. However, as I look back further into previous years, I see that these episodes are increasingly few and far between. I can sincerely thank God for maturing me in wisdom and increasing my ability (and willingness) to remain faithful in whatever role He has called me.

The books (and podcast) that I list below have served as useful guides in 2019 as I navigate the challenges of living a busy life. I distinctly recall them either encouraging my heart or sharpening my mind as I reflected upon my priorities and prayed over how to use my whole life to glorify Christ. I hope these recommendations will serve as a blessing to you too!

What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Thing Done, Matthew Perman

I’m thankful that this was the first book I picked up in 2019. This book provided me a framework to determine my priorities for the rest of 2019 and to construct a daily schedule that reflected them. Perman does the difficult task of scrutinizing productivity and effectiveness through the framework of Scripture and offers helpful suggestions to Christians wanting to lead a meaningful and effective life.

Additionally, Perman’s strategies on productivity and the art of ‘getting things done’ are borrowed from renowned secular thinkers in the productivity space such as David Allen and Peter Drucker, so I can read assured that his suggestions have been trialed, tested and  proven to be effective.

My takeaway from reading this book was learning how to craft a mission statement for my life, an exercise I found helpful in revealing and distilling my core values. I would recommend this book to any Christian interested in:

  • Learning how to create a daily schedule that reflects their priorities;
  • Living a missional and principle-driven life; or
  • Understanding how the Gospel should shape everything we do, including every task on our to-do list.

The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs, Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert

Having started working this year, I found this book instrumental in shaping my understanding of the Gospel’s influence over my day job. This book is divided into two halves. The first half dives into the theological framework behind work and our calling. The second half applies this framework into difficult questions Christian workers often have about their jobs, including:

  • Is full-time Christian work more valuable than my job?
  • What factors should matter most in choosing a job?
  • How do you prioritize—or balance—work, family and church responsibilities?

This book proposes that Christian workers can fall into traps on either ends of a ‘faithfulness’ spectrum: they are either too idle at work or make an idol out of work. I found the reflective questions at the end of each chapter incredibly helpful for immediate application. Additionally, due to its practical focus, it is also easy to read, making it a fitting option for group discussions: My copy has passed through multiple hands in my church congregation (which consists primarily of young workers) and it has encouraged us to seriously consider how serving Jesus ought to influence the way we work.

Faithful is Successful: Notes to the Driven Pilgrim, Nathan Grills, David E. Lewis and Joshua Swamidass (editors)

Along a similar theme as above, this book is an assortment of essays written by Christian professionals working around the world. The topics centre around what these professionals believe it means to integrate their Christian faith in their work lives. The vocations selected include bankers, lawyers, academics and artists. Blue-collared types of work were not included as the authors were selected through a graduate-school scholarship program known as the Harvey Fellowship Program. 

Whilst The Gospel at Work focuses on explaining the theoretical framework of work and suggesting various applications, this book addresses the questions of faith and work through the authors’ own testimonies of being Christians in their workplaces. A common theme that emerged from the authors’ articulation is the underlying belief that to the Christian, faithfulness to God and Kingdom priorities ought to be the metrics of success (a concept which eventually became the title of this compilation).

I found this collection helpful in providing perspective on several issues: Firstly, perspective on how some Christians integrate their faith into jobs that they clearly loved. Secondly, on how their faith influences a range of their career-related decisions, including which jobs to take and give up. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in gaining unique perspectives on how Christians working in a diverse range of vocations live out their faith.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport

This book shaped how I now approach much of my writing tasks, primarily on the TGCA platform and at University. Newport—a computer science professor at Georgetown University in the United States—argues that the ability to focus on a single task for an extended period of time is becoming simultaneously rarer and more valuable amongst knowledge workers today.

The premise of this book is that focusing on cognitively demanding work without giving in to distractions such as emails, Twitter or impromptu approaches by colleagues is increasingly essential for anyone interested in creating valuable and unique work. The second half of the book focuses on practical strategies to cultivate this single-minded discipline. I found Newport’s strategies particularly helpful in sharpening my writing and editing skills, and it has helped me improve the quality of my written work, especially those that come with strict deadlines. I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to set aside distraction-free time to hone a particular craft or skill.

P/S: Newport’s latest book Digital Minimalism was reviewed by our American counterpart earlier in the year and can be read here.

“The Australian Finance Podcast,” Owen Raszkiewicz and Kate Campbell (hosts)

I thought I would throw a fun podcast of choice into the mix! As a University student transitioning into working life, the idea (and excitement) of getting paid for my time is a new one. This podcast has been particularly insightful in helping me manage a newfound income. It has greatly increased my financial literacy by teaching me the basic building blocks of money-management. If you’re interested in being a little more savvy with your money, you will enjoy the diverse range of topics covered, as well as the hosts’ beginner-friendly approach. The content is also tailored to the Australian context, which means it is immediately applicable and highly relevant. It’s available for free on most podcast streaming services! (I listen to mine on Spotify, but it is also available on the likes of iTunes or Castbox.)

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