6 Books and Podcasts for a Successful Year Ahead

Up-and coming leaders, innovators and trailblazers reveal what’s on their bookshelves and playlists.

Written by Chantelle Sonnleitner

Ever wonder what highly successful people are reading or listening to? What inspired, motivated or taught them that helped them on their achievement path? Members of the University of Calgary community who are among Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 honourees reflected on the contents of their bookshelves and playlists and told us what has encouraged them along the way.

Some give these a read or listen time and time again to remind them of the ideas and strategies that resonate with them most; for some, once was enough to inspire. From recognizing your bias and understanding your own limitations, to a method for following your heart, here are six reading, listening — even video recommendations that will influence the way you approach your career and your life.


The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet by Robert M. Hazen

“Although I have a PhD in geology, I have actually taken embarrassingly few geology classes (my undergraduate degree is in engineering). Towards the end of my PhD studies, I got quite frustrated when I realized that I couldn’t “keep up” with other geologists in conversations about important events in Earth history. So, I asked a professor friend of mine for some suggested reading and he handed me The Story of Earth by Bob Hazen. This book is incredibly fascinating throughout, and pitched at just the right level for scientists interested in the intertwined stories of life and environments through Earth’s history. Since the first time I read it, my research has grown to focus on the history of Earth as well as Mars, and I even had the opportunity to co-author a couple of papers with Dr. Hazen himself earlier this year. I can definitely say this book changed the trajectory of my career!”

Dr. Benjamin Tutolo, PhD, associate professor and associate head (research), Department of Earth, Energy and Environment, Faculty of Science


Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant

“I have learned many things from this book. It taught me the significance of intellectual humility and encouraging a mindset that learns from failure and turns setbacks into opportunities for personal growth. I have learned that success often lies not in stubbornly sticking to our beliefs, but in the willingness to adapt and rethink. The book emphasizes the importance of believing in oneself while remaining aware of cognitive biases. Furthermore, it highlights the role of curiosity and continuous learning in staying relevant in a dynamic professional landscape. Overall, it prompted me to be skeptical of my own assumptions or knowledge, fostering a mindset that recognizes the wisdom in understanding one’s own limitations and embracing diverse perspectives for a more holistic approach to success.”

Dr. Hadis Karimipour, PhD, Canada Research Chair and associate professor, Department of Electrical and Software Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering


People I (Mostly) Admire by Steve Levitt

“This podcast has a wonderful selection of guests and exposes me to many interesting ideas from diverse fields. I love the host’s genuine curiosity and interview style. Each episode teaches me something new and leaves me with interesting thoughts to consider. One piece of life advice that really stuck with me was that people tend to have a bias for the status quo; so, if you feel on the fence, you’re probably not actually on the fence due to this bias. And so, you should choose the option that results in the most change. Now, whenever I’m faced with a decision and feel on the fence, I think about this episode and that advice!”

Dr. Lauren DeDieu, PhD, associate professor (teaching), Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science


‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!’: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman

“I must have reread this book at least 30 times over the course of my life, starting at age 16 or so. It is a beautiful, light-hearted and hilarious collection of life anecdotes from one of the great minds of the 20th century, 1965 Nobel Physics Laureate Richard Feynman. While some are loosely related to science, most aren’t, and this is definitely not a science book. Among the lessons I take away from this book are how to learn (which, in turn, influences how I teach), how to continue learning throughout life and trying to care less what other people think.”

Dr. Nauzer Forbes, MSc’18, MD, interventional endoscopist and associate professor, Cumming School of Medicine


We Regret to Inform You: The Rejection Podcast by The Apostrophe Podcast Company

“I love hearing about successful people, whether business leaders, entertainers, creatives, athletes — how they all overcame adversity to achieve their dreams. Especially when it comes to the songwriters and performers! There’s often so much behind the scenes — emotional, mental, financial investment — that most people wouldn’t know about! Each episode inspires me to be a stronger ally and supporter to those in our community that strive to make an impact through their craft.”

Stephanie Hutchinson, BComm’07, president and program director, YYC Music Awards; vice-president and co-owner, Chronograph Records; director of programs, National Music Centre


Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address posted to YouTube by Stanford University

“I do make a habit of watching the 2005 Steve Jobs Stanford University commencement speech a few times a year. The message of following your heart and not worrying about where the path might take you is something I can really resonate with. My favourite quote from the speech is about finding and doing work that you love and knowing that you have the power to change things until you get there. Steve Jobs says: ‘I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: if today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.’”

Adam Martinson, MEDes’09, MBA’14, president and founder, AJM Environmental

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