I made one single resolution for 2016 – READ MORE.
Specifically, to read 1 book per month. I know, that’s not a lot. I am far from breaking land-speed reading records. I get distracted easily when reading, I day-dream, I read 4 or 5 pages and have to go back, realizing I absorbed nary a word on the page. However, I am not comparing my habits to anyone but yester-me. Through this point last year, I may have read one or two books. So far, 4 months into 2016 I have read 10 books. I tried 11, but I only finished 10, one of which nearly killed me. That’s hyperbolic, of course, but some were easier to read than others.
So whether you like to read or hate it or fall somewhere in the middle, here are 10 of the many lessons I have learned from reading in 2016. They are more than enough to convince me I made the right resolution and will continue my efforts:
1) The Fear of Failure is the most Paralyzing
Book – The Passage of Power
Author – Robert Caro
Lesson: All Lyndon Johnson wanted to be from about 14 years old onward was President of the United States. However when his time came to commit to his goal, when he was in the perfect position to obtain his lifelong dream and announce his candidacy for the 1960 Democratic Primary, he couldn’t do it. The fear of NOT getting what he always dreamed off was almost too much to bear and, though many thought he was a shoo-in as the nomination had he declared, he could not overcome that mental block. He was better off not committing and not failing. The failure to commit hurt his chances, fractured his supporters and while he debated back and forth on whether or not he was going to run, a young Senator from Massachusetts named John Kennedy announced his candidacy, travelled across the country and back again to campaign and, eventually defeated Johnson in the Democratic primary and became the 36th President of the United States. Now history gave Johnson his Presidency after all but his fear of failure nearly cost him his biggest dream.
Next in line – The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
2) To get better, one hour is better than one day
Book – Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Author – Cal Newport
Lesson: Most of us feel that there is so much going on in our daily lives and so many things that need our attention that we need to be constantly connected 24/7. Though it can seem that being “busy” and multi-tasking is more productive than committing to one thing, studies show that for all key markers: productivity, fulfillment, happiness, etc. we are better off if we commit to “deep work.” The author, Cal Newport defines “Deep work” as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Whether it’s research, writing, or coding. We’ve all had that feeling of “flow” where we but those can be few and far between, by setting up times and schedules to do deep, intense, focused work we can get so much more in an hour and, therefore, a day by honing in and blocking out. Batch send emails rather than constantly monitoring our inboxes, set up the proper blockers (wi-fi off, airplane mode on, out of office message) to and get to work and only work.
Next in line – So Good They Can’t Ignore You
3) It takes a lot of work below to look calm on the surface
Book – Creativity Inc.
Author – Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
Lesson: Pixar is the. They have had 8 best-animated pictures wins, with countelss of other wins and nominations, made America with the first 10 minutes of Up and along with the critical accolades, their movies have also grossed nearly $9.7 billion at the box office and have sold billions more in merchandise. They have some of the best writers, animators, directors and overall creative people in the world. Yet, they struggle. The creative process is exactly that, a process. What appears easy, ingrained or automatic is anything but. There are disagreements, problems ranging from minor to costly, creative blocks and at one point late in production someone accidentally typed in the wrong command into Pixar’s Linux system and erased the then yet-to-be-released Tory Story 2. Whoops.
Next in line – The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
Plus binge-watching all of the Pixar movies, I will take any excuse to do so.
4) If you hate the journey, you’ll hate the destination
Book – The Happiness of Pursuit
Author – Chris Guillebeau
Lesson: A lot of people live their lives sacrificing today for tomorrow. Like the famous Muhammad Ali quote says: “I hated every minute of training but I said ‘Don’t quit. Suffer and live forever as a champion.'” But for a lot of us, it does not work that way. There is no big fight or world championship to aim for. That’s the release from all that training. Sacrificing today for the eventual. Even if you’re the best at something, if you don’t love it, you won’t enjoy your life and, yes, it’s okay to enjoy your life no matter what everyone around you seems to be doing. We’re mostly all trying to justify our own behavior anyway. Work hard, but work for what you love.
Next in line – Born For This: How to Find the Work you were Meant to Do
5) The same title doesn’t mean the same approach
Book – Steve Jobs
Author – Walter Isaacson
Lesson: Steve Jobs is a polarizing figure but a figure that made Apple a revered company not once, but twice and also saved Pixar from the brink of an uncertain future when George Lucas sold him the company in 1984. However, his approach with the two companies differed greatly. While Jobs was hands-on in all aspects of Apple and famously so, he let those at Pixar do what they do best. Of course, Jobs had his opinions, criticisms, and complaints, he was also able to see when others were right even though he wasn’t always the best at expressing so. He was able to put his trust in Pixar while putting his weight behind Apple and reaping the benefits from both companies.
Next in line – The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made
6) When you’re worth more than you dreamed – you do what you love
Book – Sick in the Head
Author – Judd Apatow
Lesson: When Jerry Seinfeld finished his hit Sitcom Seinfeld in 1998, he and his co-creator signed one of the most lucrative syndication deals ever, netting an estimated $400 million each. Seinfeld’s options post-Seinfeld (eponymous titles are hard sometimes) . So what did he do? Went right back to his first love: stand-up comedy. In the dingy New York comedy clubs. At over 60 years old and worth an estimated $800 million, Seinfeld still performs stand up regularly and became the first comedian to have a residency at the Beacon Theatre in New York. He does it because it’s what he loves to do; not because he has to but because he wants to. Think of what you would do for free and then get so good at it, someone pays you to do it. Maybe not $500 million but enough for a roof over your head.
Next in line – Yes, Please – Amy Poehler
7) What you don’t know is more important than what you do know
Book – Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
Author – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Lesson: Sometimes (okay, oftentimes) I will read a book and be thankful there are people who are infinitely smarter than me. The world is a better place for these people and, according to the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the world is an unpredictable and chaotic place. Projections, predictions, basing tomorrow on what happened today, it’s all wasted practice for it’s what we do not know and what cannot be predicted that will have the biggest impact on our lives. We can be fooled by what we know or what we think we know. As Taleb states while discussing Umberto Eco’s anti-library it’s the books we have not read that are the most important and valuable.
Next in line – Antifragile
8) There’s always money in the banana (stand)
Book – The Fish that ate The Whale
Author – Rich Cohen
Lesson: Yes, this book is entirely about the life of a banana salesman. Sam Zemurray started his life in bananas selling “ripes” for a penny a bundle from a railway car. He ended up helping to overthrow the Honduran and Guatemalan governments for the sake of his banana company and becoming the head of his biggest competition. It wouldn’t work as a fiction. But Zemurray’s story goes to show that there is no limit to what some will do to succeed and, more importantly, those who see opportunities where others see nothing will be the most successful. The “ripes” Zemurray bought when he first forayed into the banana business were literally being thrown away by other companies as there was no time to sell them Zemurray was thought a fool to buy them.
Then he bought the company.
Next in line – Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
9) Time is our most precious commodity
Book – On the Shortness of Life
Author – Seneca
Lesson: “It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” Time is our most precious resource, according to Seneca and it’s hard to disagree with him. However, we all seem unaware of this fact. Because time is unquantifiable and because we’ve never gone without, we fail to realize that our time is finite and should, therefore, guard it as if we are guarding out most prized possessions. First, be mindful of your time, how you spend it and with whom, then worry about the rest. There are many great lines in this book and, yes, well worth your time to read it.
Next in line – Letters from a Stoic
There you have it, 9 books. 9 lessons and I am ready for more.
Luckily each one of these books has lead me to another which in turn will produce more.
I should get to reading and so should you.