My Life in Books: Victoria Chardon
7 min read
We are delighted to welcome Victoria Chardon - a manager at Google and founder of Rising Star Leadership - for the latest installment in our My Life in Books series.
We asked Victoria to tell us about the non-fiction books (and fiction in this case!) that have had a major impact on her life, and we now have even more books on our ever-growing reading list!
Into Thin Air - John Krakauer
John Krakauer’s haunting bestseller provides an insider account of what happened during the fateful Everest expedition in May 1996, in which 8 climbers lost their lives.
As well as providing fascinating detail on what an Everest expedition is really like, it explores the fallibility of mankind against the power of nature. Something about this book really got under my skin.
I found myself thinking about how the decisions we make, whether selfish or selfless, often have unforeseen consequences. I was also captivated by the stories of men and women who are willing to push themselves to the absolute limits of their physical and mental capacity in order to reach the top of the world. I have reflected so much on this book since I read it, I’ve even reread parts of it again.
It sparked a fascination with both Nepal and mountaineering, and led me down a deep rabbit hole reading similar stories. Would I be so willing to gamble my life to see what I’m capable of? I’m not sure, but I do know one thing - after reading Krakauer’s descriptions of Nepal, trekking in the Himalayas to Everest Base Camp is top of my bucket list.
Daring Greatly - Brené Brown
As a female leader in Tech, I always thought I wasn’t allowed to be vulnerable. I would put on my armour and show up with my game face on. I thought this was bravery.
Brené Brown is a researcher in shame. Shame is the thing that has us putting on the armour every day, distancing ourselves from vulnerability. We’re so afraid of someone noticing a chink in our armour that we build a wall to protect ourselves from shame, and cut off our access to feeling pure joy and creativity. I realised at some point last year that I was never able to truly feel joy or tap fully into my creativity, because I didn’t want to be vulnerable.
I also realised that being afraid of vulnerability was holding me back from being the powerful leader I could be. This book really helped me on my journey to reclaiming vulnerability. Since I let go of the fear, I have felt a shift in how I show up across all areas of my life, and especially in my professional life. It’s a book I find myself recommending often to clients.
Positive Intelligence - Shirzad Chamine
As both a professional coach and a business leader, I often work with people struggling with their confidence, or holding themselves back from what they’re truly capable of. Much of what holds us back revolves around our inner critics, or saboteurs. Shirzad Chamine, a Stanford lecturer with a background in neuroscience, has gifted the world with this brilliantly accessible work on saboteur mindsets and how to overcome them.
The psyche of the human mind is a complex and fascinating thing; much of what our inner critic tells us comes from childhood and learned behaviours. In the book, Shirzad examines each of the classic saboteurs with compassion, but points out how they’re also detrimental to success.
He also argues that as well as IQ and EQ, there’s a third pillar we need to truly be successful - PQ, or positive intelligence. Not only has this book been fundamental to my understanding of my own saboteurs and how they hold me back (hello, high-achieving perfectionist!), I’ve used a lot of his theories and methods with clients in my coaching practice to great effect. I even went on to complete his 6-week PQ programme, which uses daily exercises via an app to build mental fitness. It’s a work I return to again and again, and a concept that I truly believe is really important.
An Elephant in My Kitchen - Francoise Malby Anthony
I have had a lifelong obsession with Africa, ever since I had a penfriend from Kenya as a young child. We used to send each other drawings via my aunt, who visited her village frequently. I especially love the nature and wildlife that can be found throughout the continent. The first time I went on safari and saw elephants roaming in the bush, I was so overwhelmed I cried!
Like many animal lovers, I worry about the effects that poaching and climate change will have on all of these remarkable creatures. This book, written by the wife of famed late conservationist Lawrence Anthony, is as heart-warming as it is heart-breaking. Lawrence Anthony, who wrote The Elephant Whisperer, did a phenomenal amount of work to protect elephants and rhinos via his lodge, Thula Thula, as well as creating job opportunities for the local tribespeople in KwaZulu-Natal. Sadly he died of a heart attack aged just 61.
An Elephant in My Kitchen is his wife’s story of what happened next. Left with little money, a safari lodge and little knowledge on conservation, not to mention the fact she was a foreign woman in a somewhat hostile environment, Francoise Malby Anthony could have been forgiven for packing up and going home to France. Her story of how she fought through grief to continue Lawrence’s work is truly inspirational.
If I could leave my life behind tomorrow and do anything at all, I would go and volunteer at Thula Thula or somewhere similar. There’s so much work to be done to protect these animals and create livelihoods for the local population to reduce poaching. It’s an effort I donate to frequently and one day I hope to donate my time, too.
Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts
I’m sneaking a fiction book in, but it’s loosely rooted in a true story, so presumably there’s some fact in it! Shantaram is a book that did the rounds some years ago. The story of a convicted robber who escaped prison and fled to India, where he lived in the slums of Bombay, joined the mafia, founded a medical centre, acted in Bollywood and several other incredible things besides, is definitely an adventure.
There’s also a love story at its heart. Roberts’ rich descriptions really bring India alive and as someone who is obsessed with travel, I enjoy armchair travelling when I can’t do the real thing. But although I found Shantaram entertaining, I’m including this book on my list for a very personal reason.
In 2015, I was in Mexico with my then-boyfriend, where he was planning to propose to me. However the pressure of planning a proposal and saying the right thing was making him nervous, and he kept putting it off. He was reading Shantaram whilst we were there, and Gregory David Roberts finally gave him the inspiration he needed.
On the last night of the trip, he borrowed some beautiful words from the book to propose to me. Sometimes books impact our lives in unexpected ways, and not because we loved them for their content. Shantaram is one of those books, and it will always be special to me!
Victoria is a manager at Google, where she leads an international team of technical specialists. She is also an ICF-accredited coach and is the co-founder of Rising Star Leadership, a coaching consultancy offering tailored 1:1 coaching programmes as well as group workshops. Although she’s British by birth and culture - her favourite thing is tea! - she currently lives in the north of Germany. She’s always happy to talk about books and coaching, so feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.
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