The Importance of Reading

 

Quiet ReadingReading

It was one of the easiest things you could do as a kid to get banished by your classmates to the corner of the cafeteria. It was what your mother constantly harped on you to do more often.

It was definitively not cool.

Only geeks read books for fun, let alone reading for class. But personally, I loved it (geek?). I read everything I could get my hands on, and although it was mostly science fiction/fantasy (geek), it set the groundwork for my reading habits today.

In fact, some of history’s greatest leaders were avid readers at a young age.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a voracious reader as a youth, often skipping meals to save money to buy more books, and frequently skipping out on activities with his classmates to “read everything that he could about the most ambitious leaders of the ancient world” (Napoleon: A Life). He copied many of his leadership tactics from what he read about Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, and even packed up over 100 books to take along with him in his Egyptian campaign to study and learn more about his upcoming adversaries.

Other historical readers include Theodore Roosevelt, who would read hundreds of books a yearThomas Jefferson donated his personal library to the Library of Congress it was so big. And Abraham Lincoln schooled himself as a youth by waking up early every day to read before he started his chores around the farm.

But it’s not just our past leaders that read to get ahead; the titans of our current era are also enormous proponents of reading. Warren Buffet, one of the richest men on Earth, has said “Of all the investments I ever made, buying that book [Intelligent Investor] was the best.

Mark Zuckerberg has a goal of reading one book every other week (2 books/month), and even started a book club for people to join him along the way. And studies show that the average Fortune 500 CEO reads about 4-5 books a month, or one book every week.

Turns out, reading is the single best thing you can do to succeed in life. There is nothing better you can do for yourself and your self-improvement than to read. Prodigiously.

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Reading opens up your mind to new ideas, allows you to study some of the great figures in history (and today), and serves as astimulus for your own mental creativity and development. Some of my best ideas have come to me while reading a book, ideas that I never would have come up with on my own.

Reading has changed my life completely. It hasn’t directly changed my circumstances, but it has changed how I think and feel about those circumstances. It’s made me bolder, more self-aware, better at critical thinking, and all around a better human being. It has allowed me to realize my ambitions, and it’s why I created this page in the first place.

This page is dedicated to becoming the best ‘you’ that you can, so that you can make a difference in this world. Inherent in this idea, is that in order to become the best you can, you must keep learning.

Your Personal Education

Reading is about developing your mental prowess. It’s about the long game. It’s an investment in your own education and in your future.

Reading is the education you choose for yourself. No one teaches you in school how to leverage being an introvert. Or how to build a company from scratch. How to prioritize your day, or how to best invest your money. When you read, you get to set your own coursework and decide what you want to learn about.

School teaches you the technical knowledge you need: where to put commas, how to add to 100, how combustion occurs. It teaches you how to study and prepare, and of course there is the social aspect. But it doesn’t always teach you the philosophies, strategies, and tactics you will need to thrive. It’s that soft knowledge that sets you apart from the pack, and its knowledge that you can only ever acquire from either a mentor or a book.

Or, your book can be your mentor.

Your Personal Mentor

The best way to get up to speed on a new topic is always to learn if from someone who has been there before. The bad news is that finding that person at the moment you need them can be very difficult, let along convincing them to distill all of their knowledge down for you.

The good news is that everything has been done before. Someone has gone through the exact thing you are struggling with or want to learn about, and at some point someone wrote down what they did and learned in a book.

“The biggest reason people don’t succeed is because they don’t expose themselves to existing information”

– Jim Rohn

For the most part, this is knowledge and information you can trust. People can be full of it sometimes, and you have to be careful with what advice you take from people you meet. But by nature, books force authors to explain their thinking in a clear, conscience manner, or else it won’t get published. This third-party verification system means that you are getting the best of what someone has to offer, generally speaking. I’ve definitely read some texts that don’t fit this description – but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or always go to the horse’s mouth.

Your Personal Time

And the best part of all of this, for an introvert, is that you’re good at it. We’re natural readers.

Picking up and digging into a book is something that introverts naturally excel at. It’s a passive exercise. You can sit back, retreat into yourself, not worry about interacting with anyone else, and just think while you read. It’s your quiet time, which makes reading to learn and grow an inherent strength.

A couple of excerpts from Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:

 

“[Introverts] are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams”
“[Introverts have] been shown to excel at something psychologists call ‘insightful problem solving.’ Introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.”
“Introverts feel ‘just right’ with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a  close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book […] your typical introvert would rather spend her vacation reading on the beach than partying on a cruise ship”
“[S]tay as true to yourself as you possible can – starting by creating as many ‘restorative niches’ as possible in your daily life. ‘Restorative Niche’ is […] the place you go when you want to return to your true self”

We know introverts need time to themselves, and through reading, you can find your quiet time, and still learn from some of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. Overtime, you will start to sense your mental perceptions shift. You begin brainstorming your own ideas, connecting themes across books, and relating what you are reading to things you encounter every day in life. It’s a very personal process that you can use to recharge yourself.

Admittedly, reading a book each week, or even each month, is not easy. Becoming the best ‘you’ you can be requires a dedication and consistency of effort. It’s easy to pull up YouTube or Netflix for an hour or two. It’s a bit harder to crack open a book and read about the character of George Washington.

But it’s the hard things in life that are always most worth doing.

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Now of course, the activity of reading is only half the battle. You have to also read analytically– reading for ideas and intellect, not just entertainment. Really internalizing what you read and looking for ways to apply it.

This leads to the second, and largest, part. Eventually, you must do something with what you are learning. You have to use and apply it, or it is all just academic. But before you act, you must know. Action without direction is meaningless.

So you want to leverage your strengths to make a change in your life? How about you start with a book. For as the famous quote goes:

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”

– Harry Truman

Systems for Your Mind with Calendars

This is a follow up to last week’s post, but is less focused around reducing your stress levels as much as it is about knowledge retention.

I talked before about creating systems to reduce your stress and free up more time, by putting aspects of your life on auto-pilot. These systems do the work for you, so you don’t have to waste any mental capacity on making unnecessary decisions.

But there are other systems you can implement that function more like a calendar. Calendar’s aren’t there to get things done for you, they are for jogging your memory, helping you to remember to do something that you otherwise would have forgotten or not accounted for.

We all use systems like this for remembering certain things: birthdays, meeting minutes, doctors’ appointments. But they can be extended for use in so many more areas of life:

Note Taking

I like to think I read a decent amount, averaging around a book a week. The intent here is not just to read for readings sake – I read to learn. But you only have so much mental capacity. It would be impossible to think you can remember all that you read and be able to access that information on a moment’s notice.

Even Einstein himself, when asked what the speed of sound was, responded: “I don’t know. I don’t burden my memory with such facts that I can easily find in any textbooks.”

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Creating Systems to Reduce Your Stress

Ever had to think so hard that your head hurt?

I know I have. And it used to happen all the time. I was (and still am) a frequent receiver of stress headaches.

It is well documented that there are limits to our daily mental capacity. We have a mental decision quotient each day – you can only devote a certain amount of brain power to making decisions throughout your day before you go to mush, and stress begins taking over.

Having systems and structures in place can help alleviate the need to make unnecessary decisions throughout your day.

Most people already do this with things like their personal finances. Why receive a bill that you then have to take time to write a check for or fill out an online form, when you can set it up to automatically withdraw the necessary money from your account for you? It’s a no-brainer really. It eliminates the mental decision for you, and you can now use that time in some other more productive fashion, with the peace of mind in knowing that your finances are taken care of.

This same approach can be used for so many other areas of life, and the following are various strategies I have put in place for myself to eliminate unnecessary mental stress and generally make myself a happier and more productive person in general. Hopefully some of these can serve as ideas for systematizing your own life:

Personal Finance

As I mentioned above, personal finance is one of the easiest areas to systematize in your life. Personally, I have as many bills as possible set for auto-pay, as well as deposits into my savings and investment accounts.

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The Routine That Got Me Through Grad School

Grad school is a far different beast than undergrad.

Time is short, your to-do list is long. Can you party? Sure. Five days a week? Not advisable.

Particularly in business school, you’ve been working for some time before returning to change gears into a new career. But so have your peers, and so you must bring a focus and determination to succeed that is not always existent in undergrad.

You are only on campus for a couple of years (in my case, only one), and so you want to make the most of it. Classes, clubs, networking, social events, job hunting – there is only so much time in the day, and you’re pressed to use it in the best way possible.

For me, I found that you can’t just manage your time. I had to prioritize, and streamline it to my own personality and psychology to make sure I was as effective with my time as possible.

Some people have the ability to freestyle; to take on projects as they go throughout their day, work on multiple projects at once, and still get things done and retire at night in relative peace. I do not count myself among those blessed individuals.

If you are one of the aforementioned freestylers, this is not a post for you. I love routine. As an introvert and an engineer, I’m a proponent of systems. Optimizing my day to reduce mental fatigue and making sure I’m sticking to a plan that I have pre-determined will get me to my end goals. Continue reading

Your Glass is Always Half-Full

It is easier now than ever to check in on people you don’t see very often. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn; they all allow you to keep tabs on people. You can see a classmate from a decade ago move into the C-Suite, a childhood friend make a viral Youtube video, or an old flame put a ring on it. And this isn’t just limited to people we know. You can literally access anyone in today’s world. But this kind of access can have its drawbacks.

What makes it easier to stay in touch with and communicate with people also makes it very easy to start comparing yourself and your place in life to others, to start shopping around. This proliferates into many aspects of society – dating, job hunting, etc – but in the end you are constantly comparing yourself to others. In the context of this website, this is comparing yourself and your worldly accomplishments, but of course this also effects a broader spectrum.

This instant desire to compare, to compete with people you haven’t seen in years (or maybe not ever) can be extremely dangerous. You start comparing your accomplishments to theirs. You figure, ‘If they can do it, why aren’t I? I must be a failure because I haven’t done what they are able to do.’ Obviously, this leads to a very skewed, dark perception of reality. Yet we all still do it, myself included. Continue reading

Hustle Gang Over Err’thang: On Time Effectiveness

We all want to get things done, and we all want them done yesterday. We want action, we want to kick ass and take names. But very few of us do, or at least not on a consistent basis, and the ones that do get things done seem superhuman to us – how can they possibly accomplish so much? We write it off that they are special, supremely talented, have a team of people working behind the scenes while they sit pretty in their palace chair. And yes, some truly have other-worldly talent. But the rest are just like us – normal people, who are just incredibly effective with their time.

It is often easy to get caught up in the buzz of efficiency and productivity, of always focusing on doing things faster. But it is entirely possible to be extremely efficient at doing a task, but doing the complete wrong task. You have to be shrewd with your time, not just fast.

“Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.”

– Peter Drucker

This is time effectiveness. Focusing on what is most important and getting that done in an expedited fashion, versus just getting the next thing on your to-do list crossed off (unless, of course, your to-do list is already prioritized, in which case congratulations, you can go ahead to the second half of this piece. No $200). It is a blend of planning and execution, speed and precision. It’s doing the right thing, doing it the right way, and being urgent in its completion. Continue reading

Analysis: Washington – A Life

Washington_A_Life_book_coverSurveyor, Farmer, Statesman, General, President, Father of a Nation. George Washington held many titles throughout the course of his life, but few in the annals of history can claim the latter. He is a figure of legendary stature, both today and even amongst his peers. It is well known that part of this mystic and legend comes from Washington’s stoic, calm nature (the book’s author refers to him as ‘The Man of Marble’), but there is a lot more to him than that. And that is what makes Washington – A Life (Ron Chernow) so great, and while I feel it was important enough to warrant this post. While it is a beast of a book (comes in at almost a thousand pages), it is a text  that should go on anyone’s to-read list who considers themselves a student of improvement and success, and who seeks to make an impact in the world. It is most definitely going on my Resources list.

The title of the text is very apropos to the subject matter, as this is a book purely on George Washington’s life. There is very little actual analysis in the book, even though it’s large enough to rival the Bible in density. Chernow simply relates facts and actions from Washington’s life, mostly through letters and first-hand accounts from the era. The amount of research and detail that must have gone into this book is simply staggering. But Chernow leaves it up to you to analyze Washington and draw your own conclusions on what made him so great. And because there is such a wealth of information here, its not that hard to do, and by book’s end you are left with a very clear picture of just who George Washington was and what it was about him that made him such a great leader. Continue reading

Do Nothing to Do Everything – Meditating and Reflection

How many times do you go to bed with a headache, completely flustered by the events of your day? Only to wake up, check your email, and have it hit you all over again. You wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day, but then you check your email, or Twitter, or whatever else, and immediately let the stresses and concerns of other people hit you, and the headache immediately returns (or maybe you still wake up with all the mental baggage from the day before weighing you down).

In today’s age, its increasingly easy to get lost in the agenda of your day, to let the multitude of things you feel that you have to get done come crashing in on you and wear you down mentally. By the end of the day, you feel exhausted, but at the same time you don’t feel as if your getting anything done. Or maybe you did, but it wasn’t what you wanted, or wasn’t really that important to you. Part of this issue is setting proper goals for yourself, and time management. But the other part is just getting through the daily grind, staying committed to those goals when life gets you stressed out.

We all have the ability to fight this feeling. The ability to stay focused on what it is we want to do, no matter what gets thrown our way. This ability is MeditationMarcus Aurelius calls it ‘retreating to your inner citadel.’ Hosts of other successful people do this exact same thing; putting life on pause, taking a step back, and reflecting. You have to make time for yourself before all else, even if that time is only 5 minutes (as Tim Ferriss says: “If you don’t have 30 minutes to meditate, you need 3 hours”). Continue reading

The Process of Goal-Setting

Think back for a minute to when you were younger, and you were told by your parents and teachers about having dreams and goals. “You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it,” or “Don’t be afraid to reach for the stars.” And while the intent behind these statements is commendable, its lacks substance. Even as an adult, it can be hard to fully embrace the message when the idea remains so abstract. We’re told to chase our dreams, and then left to figure out how to get there on our own.

The problem is that life goals aren’t immediately tangible. The solution is therefore to break these broader goals down and make them so. Split up the end goal into more readily achievable chunks, and the path to achieving your goal becomes far more lucid:

Every duty is the completed sum of certain actions.” — Marcus Aurelius

As I eluded to in my last post, setting goals is not a one-step process. Its long, its detailed, and its iterative. You need a plan, a succinct strategy and framework for how to get to that end goal. Because shockingly, once you know where you’re going, you will find getting there a much simpler, though still arduous, process. One cannot expect to find El Dorado without a map. Likewise you can’t expect to run a company, become a professional athlete, or write your own book without direction and a vision of how to get there.

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To Move a Foot, or a Mile

To kick off the new year, I wanted to talk about possibly the most important tool I picked up during the past year: goal-setting. I know it is a bit delayed, being half-way through the first month, but I believe the art (yes, art) of projecting into the future to set your current path is timeless, and is really applicable at any point in the year.

I’m not much of a resolution man. I learned long ago that, like most people, I would find myself picking up the pieces of my shattered intentions by at least March every year. But like I said before, any time is a good time to sit down and assess your progress, and looking forward and setting goals for yourself is certainly more opportune with the mental fresh start of a new year. Also, holidays are often a great time to re-balance oneself around friends and family, with extra time away from your school or office.

Like I mentioned before, goal setting is perhaps the single most important tool I learned over the course of last year, and thats saying something, because tools make up practically 85% of business school. There are two distinct reasons for its effectiveness: Continue reading