2019 Year in Review: Our Journey of Professional Development

The ability to look internally and find areas of improvement is essential in developing both intrapersonal and professional skills. The road to personal and professional development is never really over.    

At TPG, one of our main core values is continuous learning, which includes challenging oneself to grow and expand upon knowledge at all stages of life. At the beginning of 2019, a group of employees embraced this value as we challenged ourselves to read one book per month for the entire year with a focus on personal and professional development.

With everyone’s busy schedules, this was challenging, however the real challenge was not in just reading the books but understanding how they fit into our lives and critically applying the lessons learned to our lives continuously. It can be easy to read something and agree with it, but reading something that requires you to take a brutally honest look at your life and take action for change is where the real work comes in. What made it more challenging was that we were each held accountable to each other for our commitments of what we would implement from each book from month to month.


We found that while the books varied in topic and theme, everyone was able to take away something different for each book and apply lessons learned to something they are working on personally or professionally. Summarized below are some of the key takeaways from the books of 2019.

January – The Slight Edge

The Slight Edge was written by Jeff Olson and reveals the secret to success lies within our daily habits. This book breaks down how small, seemingly insignificant actions lead to either our success or failure, when multiplied over time. This can apply to anything from finances, to health, fitness, education, business or any other aspect of your life.

Time will truly show the results of our daily habits: whether they are positive and focused towards success or negative and moving us away from success and towards failure.

Essentially, the slight edge is your philosophy of life and your driving force. Your philosophy creates your attitudes, which creates your actions, which creates your results, which create your life. You should live your philosophy each day. By performing tasks which are located on the path to your goals, you can achieve anything, all you have to do is start and take small steps each day that will lead you in the direction of your goals.  

February— The Coaching Habit

The coaching habit outlined 7 key coaching questions to lead conversations for efficiency and effectiveness, with a focus on workplace coaching, although these questions can be applied to any coaching situation. Michael Bungay Stainer spoke of the difference between coaching for performance vs coaching for development. Performance is important, but you won’t empower your team if you’re constantly putting out small fires and forgetting the larger goals. Look for areas in which an employee can grow. Guide your team to becoming better and more effective at what they do as a group.

Effective coaching is about empowering a team and improving its long-term performance. Coaching should be a regular and consistent part of life in the office, not just a one-off training session. This habit will help guide teams towards self-sufficiency and reconnects the team to the work that matters the most

The framework to choose what to focus on in a coaching conversation is the 3P model:

  • Projects (challenges around the content)
  • People (issues with team members, clients, customer, boss, etc), or
  • Patterns (patterns of behaviour or ways of working that they’d like to change)

The 7 key coaching questions are outlined below:

  1. The Kickstart Question: What’s on your mind?
  2. The AWE Question: And what else?
  • The AWE question prevents a conversation from becoming stuck on a single topic when it’s clear there’s more the employee wants to say, but perhaps can’t find a way.
  1. The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge for you here?
  • The Focus question helps you narrow down the problem so you can tackle it together. In short, it helps you determine which challenge you need to work on first.
  1. The Foundation Question: What do you want?
  • An effective coach knows how to determine an employee’s needs in any given situation. People are always driven by wants or needs and asking the Foundation question can help when a conversation starts going in circles and you need to get to the heart of the matter.
  1. The Lazy Question: How can I help?
  • Asking this question helps you check if an employee is asking you for something or just wants to let off steam. It also clarifies the issue by pushing your employee to get to the point.
  1. The Strategic Question: If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
  • When you take on something new, you drop something else. Yet you shouldn’t waste resources or neglect important projects. Use the Strategic question when you need to focus your energy on the projects that matter to you and the company.
  1. The Learning Question: What was most useful to you?
  • Asking the Learning question helps to guide your employee to reflect on the session so they can keep building his skills and learning daily.

Practice these 7 questions as often as possible to develop an effective coaching habit.

A good coach doesn’t just spout advice to a team. A good coach instead guides employees toward self-sufficiency in a positive, caring way. Use key coaching questions and truly listen to your employees to figure out what they need and want. Empower them daily so they can lead themselves.

March – The Subtle Art of not giving a F*%k

In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, author Mark Manson argues that our consumer culture and social media have us chasing the wrong things in pursuit of happiness and a meaningful life. We are caring about too many things that don’t matter and don’t make us happy in the long run.

Manson speaks of the importance of being vigilant with what we choose to worry about and how we can learn to deal with the issues effectively and productively.

Some hurdles one may encounter when trying to re-prioritize what thy care about include:

  1. Misunderstanding happiness as an achievement attained when we do the right things. Happiness comes from solving problems and challenges. It’s an action or ongoing activity because there are constant problems to solve; each problem you solve plants the seed of another problem.
  2. Overemphasizing emotions. The purpose of emotions is simply to give us feedback, telling us that something is good of bad for us. But many people over-identify with how they feel, and that becomes a justification for what they do. In reality, you need to make decisions on what to care about based on your chosen values, not on your emotions
  3. Believing everyone is special when in fact, you are not special: Your experiences and problems are shared by millions of others. When you believe you’re special, you feel entitled to feel good and have a problem-free life, which gets in the way of choosing constructive values.
  4. Trying to avoid pain prevents us from learning and acting differently in the future. You can’t have a painless life. You must choose what kind of pain or struggle is meaningful to you.
  5. Adopting destructive values such as pleasure, material success, always being right and staying positive. These values can get in the way of developing relationships with others, make us become shallow and make us avoid problems vs. solving them

Beneficial counter-intuitive values that you can adopt:

  • Assuming responsibility for everything that occurs in your life
  • Acknowledging your own ignorance and constantly questioning your own beliefs
  • The willingness to discover your own flaws and mistakes in order to improve
  • The ability to both say and hear no, thus clearly defining what you will and will not except in your life
  • The contemplation of one’s own mortality

April – Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama has become recognized as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America – the first African-American to serve in that role – she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world. She led an initiative that changed the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, all while standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.

Not as much of a traditional self-help book, this memoir provides real life experiences of triumphs and struggles, where her strength and resilience inspire us to take action and refuse to take “no” for an answer. Becoming takes us through Michelle’s life as a child growing up in Chicago, through her education at Princeton and Harvard Law school, to the struggles of being a working mother and through her time spent as First Lady in the White House. She describes her successes and disappointments, both public and private, with unwavering wit and honesty and provides a humbly transparent and humanistic perspective of the previous President of the United States. Throughout the book, her soul and passion shines through, where her stories inspire readers to defy expectations and remain strong in the face of adversity.

May – You are a Badass

Jen Sincero helps us understand why you are how you are, how to love what you can’t change, how to change what you don’t love, and how to start living the kind of life you used to be jealous of. Some of the main lessons learned include:

  1. Stop caring about what people think about you and what you do and how you feel about something, and only focus on how YOU feel, the sooner you realize and practice this, the higher chances you have of accomplishing your dreams and living purposefully
  2. Find the motivation that best works for you to get things done; spend more time on thinking how you’ll get what you want done and on the actions required to get it done, rather than spending time on coming up with excuses and justifications on why you can’t/shouldn’t do it. As Nike puts it, Just Do It. As a wise person once said, ‘The hardest part of doing something, is starting it’, so just initiate and the rest will fall into place
  3. Surround and spend time with people who emanate positive thoughts and energy, and you’ll find yourself doing the same; ‘Man knows by the company which he keeps’ so if you’re going to create a positive and bright support system, people who are working hard to do the things they love and conquer their dreams and desires, then you’ll find yourself doing the same thing
  4. There is power in gratitude. Good things reciprocate when one is thankful. Have faith and be grateful for what is to come
  5. Live the life you’re jealous of!
  6. LOVE YOUR SELF! The author attempts to drive this message into every reader by incorporating it into the end of each chapter. Loving yourself means taking care of yourself (mentally and physically), spending time with the people you love and who love you and spending time on activities that make you happy and give you a strong sense of purpose. Finding that purpose, loving that purpose and pursuing that purpose, using the techniques mentioned above, will truly bring out the Badass in you (Badass is not in reference to living destructively and unempathetically, but pursuing what you love and having therefore amassed little to no regrets)

June – Daring Greatly

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.…”

Brene Brown takes us through the importance and power of embracing vulnerability to achieve what she coins as “Wholehearted Living”. She dispels various myths that are associated with vulnerability and reinforces that we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen.

Myth #1 Vulnerability as Weakness – Vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

Myth # 2 I don’t do vulnerability – We can’t opt out of the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure that’s woven through our daily experiences. Life is vulnerable.

Myth # 3 Vulnerability is letting it all hang out – Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process. Sharing appropriately, with boundaries, means sharing with people with whom we’ve developed relationships that can bear the weight of our story.

Myth #4 We can go it alone – “Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands”. Our culture holds people who are independent in high regard, but We need bravery to ask for support – and that means we need to be vulnerable.

10 Guide Posts for Wholehearted Living

  1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
  2. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
  3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
  4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
  5. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
  6. Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
  7. Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
  8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
  9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”
  10. Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

July – Start with Why

Simon Sinek presents the idea that great leaders inspire others by putting the Why (the purpose) before the How (the process), or the What (the product). Our emotions trump logic and reasoning every time, so connecting to employees, customers or anyone else through emotion — or “Why” — renders better results every time.  

He believes that true leadership means having the ability to inspire people, to provide them with a purpose outside of any benefits or incentives. He claims that the best businesses are built by excited employees. Building your business around a cause, and then assembling people who share your why will make your business successful, and your employees passionate about what they do because they are motivated by something beyond a paycheck. 

His famous quote from this book is “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”, and this is proven throughout the book with the many examples he provides of successful companies such as Apple.

August – The Alchemist

This book was also more of a story-based lesson, where a young shepherd called Santiago lives in an island just off the coast of Spain with his many sheep but seems to have a recurring dream that he believes is prophetic. A local gypsy interprets the dream to be a prophesy telling the boy to go to Egypt to fulfill his destiny or “Personal Legend.”

The story follows his journey to Egypt where he encounters many characters and lessons along the way, ultimately learning to pursue his dreams by following what his heart desired. Some other powerful lessons include:

  1. Fear is bigger than the obstacle itself
  2. What is “true” will always endure
  3. Break the monotony
  4. Embrace the Present
  5. Your Success has a ripple effect
  6. Make the decision
  7. Be unrealistic
  8. Keep getting back up over and over again
  9. Focus on your own journey
  10. Always take action

September –The Power of Habit

“All our life, for far as it has definite form is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be”

Charles Duhigg explains that habits are the unthinking choices and invisible decisions that surround us every day and which, just by looking at them, become visible again. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

The habit process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually, a habit is born

Habits can be ignored, changed, or replaced. But the reason the discovery of the habit loop is so important is that it reveals a basic truth: When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard or diverts focus to other tasks. So, unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you make new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically. However, simply understanding how habits work—learning the structure of the habit loop—makes them easier to control. We can then begin to recognize the unproductive habits in our own lives and replace them with alternative habits to reach our goals.

Some key takeaways from this book:

  • More than just recognizing a habit and changing behaviour, people need to believe they can change. That belief often only emerges with the help of a group- even if its only as much as two people or as big as an organization
  • Willpower is a muscle – it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left for other things, but as willpower muscles get strengthened, good habits seem to spill over into other parts of their lives
  • No matter how strong our willpower, we are guaranteed to fail back to our old ways once in a while. But if we plan those relapses and take steps to ensure they don’t become a habit, its easier to get back on track. The most important thing is that you get back on track.

October— The Success Principles

Jack Canfield outlined 65 principles to achieve success, however they can be distilled down to a few major ideas.

  • “If you want to be successful, you have to take 100% responsibility for everything that you experience in your life.”
  • “Everything you think, say, and do needs to become intentional and aligned with your highest purpose, your values, and your goals.”
  • “To achieve desired outcomes, one must replace complaining with making requests and taking action.”

5 big Ideas that came out of this book:

  1. “You have control over only three things in your life—the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take (your behavior).”
  2. “Stated in its most basic form, the Law of Attraction says, what you think about, talk about, believe strongly about, and feel intensely about, you will bring about.”
  3. “You can lose the material things, but you can never lose your mastery—what you learn and who you become in the process of achieving your goals.”
  4. “One of the great strategies for success is to act as if you already are where you want to be.”
  5. “The world doesn’t pay you for what you know; it pays you for what you do.”

November – Unf*ck Yourself

John Bishop tells the painful truth when he says you don’t have to be in the right mood to get things done, you just have to do it. He uses a few assertations that the reader is supposed to repeat and apply to their life:

  1. I am willing: What are you willing to do above anything? What would you make sacrifices for? Also, what are you unwilling to do? Are you willing to work 100 hours to make Partner at a firm? Are you willing to pack a healthy lunch everyday and go to the gym to lose weight? Recognize what you are and aren’t willing to do and have your actions reflect this.
  2. I am wired to win: You always win at the game you’re playing. Your mental processes and mindset become a habit. If you always think things always don’t go your way, you will be right. However, you have a choice to change the game
  3. I got this: There is a solution for everything if you put it into perspective. You can do this.
  4. I embrace the uncertainty: Certainty does not exist, but you still have to make a decision or an action and accept what comes next. There is no sense in planning for something you cannot predict.
  5. I am not my thoughts, I am what I do: nobody cares about your thoughts, they care about your actions. You don’t have to feel like doing it, but you must take action
  6. I am relentless: Nothing worth having comes easy, but stay focused and tackle obstacles one after another
  7. I expect nothing and accept everything: Disappointment is unmet expectation. The trick is to accept reality as it comes, and deal with it without emotional bias. Love what you already have.