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Andra Zaharia - A Content Marketer's Reading List & Lessons Learned

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I’m warning you in advance that this introduction’s going to be full of praises. That’s because today’s interviewee is one of my best friends and mentors – we’ve known each other for 10 years or so, a friendship that only grew stronger with each passing day. We had the opportunity to work, learn and grow together, but also supported each other through the lowest (and most painful) points in our lives. And, as it happens with most of the people I’ve surrounded myself with, she’s an avid reader herself. Ladies and gents, please meet Andra Zaharia!

With 10+ years of experience in digital marketing and communications, Andra’s now a Freelance Content Marketer at The Content Habit (that’s her company’s name).

She has a soft spot for cyber security and startups. In the past year, she worked as the Marketing & Communications Manager at CyberGhost, the VPN provider used by more than 15 million users all around the world. Previously, Andra ran the Marketing and Online sales team of Heimdal Security, a Copenhagen-based cybersecurity startup.

She’s the host of a podcast called “How do you know?“, where she interviews great decision-makers on the thought-process behind some of the toughest choices they’ve made.

Besides her excellent professional skills and impeccable work ethic, Andra’s also a huge book devourer. Just a friendly advice: never try to compete with her reading amount, you don’t stand a chance! That’s why I asked her if she’s willing to be part of our series of interviews and share her lessons with us.

You’ll notice that most of the books she recommends are not directly related to digital marketing. Instead, Andra’s must-read books are mostly about psychology and human behavior – that’s because she believes that the best marketers are ones who empathize and understand human nature deeply.

Keep on reading if you want to steal a little bit of Andra’s wisdom. We all have a lot to learn from her.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

Deciding for one favorite against the other would be as impossible as asking a mother to choose which child she loves most. My favorite books are a fundamental part of me because they helped me grow and keep shaping me, page by page.

Gun to my head, I’d choose these as a top 3 for each category:

These books and their core ideas have stuck with me the most and continue to guide me when I hit crossroads along the way.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

I’ve gone through quite a few experiences brought on or shaped by what I’ve learned from books.

A particularly unexpected one happened in college when our public relations teacher asked us to read a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn.

As a humanities student, you can imagine that I wasn’t thrilled I’d have to read a book on science, but what followed blew my mind at the time. In the book, Kuhn argues that human knowledge does not accumulate incrementally, but increases in leaps, through paradigm shifts which are brought on by crises and scientific revolutions.

This was one of the first books that prompted me to think about how I want to evolve in the context of all the fast-paced changes happening around me.

Another example is If Only I’d Listen To Myself: Resolving The Conflicts That Sabotage Our Lives. I read it in a moment in my life when my closest personal relationships were going through a crisis and I was trying to figure out what I really wanted from myself and others.

This book forced me to step outside my own mind and see myself as a stranger, so I could better separate between what was real and my interpretations of it. It helped me cultivate my empathy towards others, but myself as well. Mind you, it’s not an easy read and it takes a lot of emotional labor to get the most out of it.

And a more frivolous example is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I read this one when moving apartments a few years ago and it made me throw or give away ⅓ of my stuff. The result: freeing up space, both physical and mental, and acquiring some home organizing skills that have stuck with me ever since. My home is tidier and my mind is clearer because of this book.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

A book that taught me deeply about understanding and managing my emotions, as well as others’, is Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health by Daniel Goleman.

The book is a record of a series of encounters that the Dalai Lama had with acclaimed Western psychologists, physicians, and other specialists. Their purpose was to explore the mind-body connection and how one can heal the other. This book is just one of an entire series and one of my goals is to read them all!

Another truly wonderful book is The Art of Possibility, which I’ve mentioned previously. This was part of the reading recommendations of Seth Godin’s altMBA program that I went through earlier this year. Reading it brought me pure joy and helped me understand the concept of framing and utilize its power in my day to day life.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

While I was thinking of the best books to add to this short list, I realized that not even half of them are directly related to digital marketing. This is because I believe that the best marketers are people who understand human nature deeply and aim to bring out the best in it. Call me naive, but that’s how I see it.

If I were to want to pursue a career in marketing, I’d read:

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

Not as often as I’d wish (aka all the time), unfortunately. I read a few times a week and a lot more during weekend mornings when the house is quiet and I can immerse myself fully in the pages.

I’ll always love physical books more than everything, but I’m pretty good friends with my Kindle as well. I’ve tried listening to a book once, but I’m just not that kind of girl. 🙂

How do you make time for reading?

I wake up earlier in the morning or go to bed later at night and, as you can tell, I’m pretty much behind on sleeping. I try to have a book on me all the time and read while I wait, while traveling (I love reading on trains!) or while the people around me do something else that I don’t have to be involved in. Contrary to what you may imagine, I’m fun at parties. :))

I also do my best to replace binge-watching Netflix shows with binge-reading. I don’t always make the right choice, but it’s work in progress.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

Taking notes is still the best way for me to learn, as scholarly as it may sound. I use bookmarks for physical books and the highlighting feature on Kindle and then write down these quotes in a dedicated notebook. Writing them down leads to keeping just the truly actionable and valuable thoughts and ideas, so I can go back to them and be energized and inspired to act.

How do you choose what books to read next?

The pile on my nightstand is usually enough to keep me going for months. Books end up in that pile from recommendations from friends, mentors, from other books, but also articles and blog posts.

I’ve put work into refining my information sources, so I consider this inflow of quality recommendations a rewarding result.

Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

I would lie if I said that I don’t. Cristina and Alin Vlad are two of the people whose reading habits inspire and energize me! Their book recommendations are always on point and have helped me tremendously. They’re also some of the biggest book geeks I know!

I am hooked on Seth Godin’s recommendations and I also look up to Ryan Holiday’s suggestions and Benji Hyam’s.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

I am currently reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and I’ve already experienced subtle changes in mindset that can help me do more with the resources I have, so I’m closely following my goal.

This book is a revelation! I’ve seen it be recommended so many times that I was almost sure it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. Contrary to my expectations, it did and quite brilliantly.

Links where you can follow Andra Zaharia or find out more about her projects:

Books mentioned by Andra in this interview:

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