Read for Reconfiguration

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Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

I once had coffee with a guy who told me that he read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” six times. He said it with such pride too. I was really excited since this was one of the first resources to influence me to think about financial literacy.

It’s been over ten years since I’ve read the book, but I still remember a few of the core concepts. So I started to discuss Robert Kiyosaki’s concept of assets as income-generating resources versus the traditional notion of “things you own,” and his mind was blown. He never heard the idea before. This surprised me because it was one of the main points of the book and it was repeated over and over. No big deal. Maybe that concept wasn’t important to him. After a few minutes of discussion, however, it was clear that he couldn’t recognize anything from the book. Again, no problem. Maybe he doesn’t remember the details, but he has an emotional memory of being impacted by it.

I have no opinions about that one guy’s relationship to that one particular book, but our conversation made me think about the purpose of reading books and how that might differ from the social rewards we sometimes get from claiming to have read certain books.

In How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, Pierre Bayard makes a fascinating distinction between internal (psychological) and external (physical) libraries:

“In truth we never talk about a book unto itself; a whole set of books always enters the discussion through the portal of a single title, which serves as a temporary symbol for a complete conception of culture. In every such discussion, our inner libraries — built within us over the years and housing all our secret books — come into contact with the inner libraries of others, potentially provoking all manner of friction and conflict…For we are more than simple shelters for our inner libraries; we are the sum of these accumulated books. Little by little, these books have made us who we are, and they cannot be separated from us without causing us suffering.”

I see the aim of reading as the construction of an inner library. The books in our outer library provide the tools for construction. When we face a problem, set a goal, or have a need, what matters most is our ability to retrieve something useful, relevant, or pleasant from the inner library we’ve gradually built through our studies. In this sense, books are not status symbols, they’re soul stirrers. We don’t read them because we wish to brag about ourselves. We read them because we wish to build ourselves.

Wherever learning resources are shared, there’s usually at least one person who’s quick to say something like “oh, I’ve already read that book” or as in the case I mentioned earlier “I’ve read that book multiples times.” My question is, can you say something intelligent about it? Can you use the ideas to create a result that matters to you? Can you advance the discussion started by that book with your own ideas? The purpose of reading a book isn’t to say you’ve read it.

A book is not a trophy. It’s a tool for personal transformation. For Kafka, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” Education isn’t a name dropping contest. It’s a paradigm-shifting process. It’s an opportunity to have our perspectives and presuppositions challenged from every angle.

If the process of scanning your eyes across the words on a page isn’t contributing to personal transformation, start over. If the process of letting sound waves pass through your ears isn’t leading to critical reflection, start over.

Reading isn’t about how much technical detail you remember nor is it about how much time you spend on books. It’s about what you’re able to retrieve from your inner library during those moments of need when no book, author, thought-leader, or friend is within grasp.

Keep reading great books. Keep sharing great books. Keep taking beautiful photos of great books. Keep tweeting and talking about great books. But don’t forget to let those books disturb you, provoke you, and transform you.

As Mortimer J. Adler wrote, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

Tools are For Working, Not Worshiping

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Photo by La Compagnie Robinson on Unsplash

Here’s a tweet I saw today from Roger Ver:

Screenshot (290)
Decentralization = Tool
Individual Sovereignty = Goal
Too many people are so busy worshiping the tool that they have lost sight of the goal.

Tools are for working, not for worshiping.

You can make awesome things with your tools, but your tools are not the things that make you awesome.

Life isn’t about how good you are at judging people who don’t understand your tools nor is it about how excited you are about the particular tools you possess. It’s about one thing: what you do with your tools when it’s time to face the inevitable battle you’ll have with your own resistance.

Don’t worship your college status, or your college drop out status, or your homeschool status, or your self-directed learner status, or your minimalist status, or your freelancer status, or your entrepreneur status, or your work from home status, or your I take online courses status, or your I attend this program/school status, or your I know how to code status, or your I read a book a week status. Those things are just means to an end.

The end is you.

The end is becoming the best possible version of yourself. The end is taking ownership of your life and experiencing yourself as a being of power. Everything else is a mere tool. And nothing makes a tool lose its power more quickly than when we make a religion out of our use of them.

Practice Unabashed Curiosity

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Photo by Jonas Verstuyft on Unsplash

Refuse to be ashamed of anything that enhances you.

If it stimulates critical thought and creativity, consume it.

If it builds intelligence and integrity, indulge it.

If it moves you in the direction of who you want to become, run with it.

If you’re doing things that make you better, keep doing those things without being concerned about those who don’t do them.

There’s more than one right way to explore the world. Find the way that works for you and stick with it until you find something better.

If you find it easier to engage new perspectives through travel, then travel far and wide. If you find it more fulfilling to curl up on your couch and read novels without ever leaving your apartment, stay local without guilt.

Does it make you healthier and smarter when you buy less stuff? Buy less stuff. Does it make you feel cranky, guilty, and uninspired because you’re micromanaging the amount of stuff you have? Just buy the stuff you want and get over it.

Have the guts to read whatever you want to read. Have the guts to listen to whatever you want to listen to. Have the guts to go where you want to go. Have the guts to be enchanted by whatever enchants you.

Personal growth isn’t about impressing other people with your particular mechanism or means for personal growth. It’s about generating the outcomes and experiences that you get to freely decide you want.

Don’t apologize for how you actualize. Just actualize.

 

Never Stop Studying

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Photo by Lilly Rum on Unsplash

“Thinking is the very essence of, and the most difficult thing to do in, business and in life. Empire builders spend hour-after-hour on mental work . . . while others party. If you’re not consciously aware of putting forth the effort to exert self-guided integrated thinking . . . then you’re giving in to laziness and no longer control your life.” —David Kekich

I can’t think of a single problem for which becoming smarter fails to assist in finding the solution.

Besides the willingness to work for what we want, the interior depth we bring to our creative challenges is our greatest asset.

Whenever we’re intimidated, defeated, stumped, or rendered hopeless by a problem of any sort, it can always be traced back to the lack of access we have to certain ways of thinking.

We fail to negotiate because other possibilities are invisible to us. We fail to ask questions because we can’t conceive of answers that exist outside of our own knowledge-base. We fail to persist because we have no understanding of the options that lie beyond inconvenience. We get stuck because we don’t know about any systems or tools that would work for our unique situation. We don’t know what our options are. We don’t know where the resources are. We don’t how to get started. We don’t know who to ask, how to ask, or when to ask. It’s always something we don’t know.

All problems are knowledge problems and all solutions are knowledge solutions.

This is why a steady diet of philosophical thinking and philosophical reading is so important. If you’re not regularly consuming content that exposes you to challenging concepts, you risk becoming a virtual solipsist: someone who believes in the existence of other minds, but who lives as if his or her own mind is the sole source of creative solutions.

If you want to be a successful professional, refuse to settle at your current level of intellectual development. Study your butt off and never stop challenging yourself to become a better thinker.

If you’re content with the books you’ve already read, your career is already dead.

Feeling Good is not the Enemy

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The notion that we should be hyper-skeptical of the ideas we want to be true is silly.

Evidence always matters and it doesn’t become more or less important based on what we want to believe.

For example, I don’t want to believe that there are monsters under my bed and it actually makes me feel better to imagine that I’m safe from ghosts and goblins when I lie down to sleep at night. I’m not going to treat my belief on this issue as if it’s irrational solely because it’s what I want to be true. The truth is still the truth even if makes me feel good.

Another example: I really enjoy the feeling of believing that my four older brothers are supportive of my dreams. Yes, that’s an emotional experience. If this belief were not true, I’d feel disappointed. Thankfully, my belief is supported by a large body of evidence. I’m not going to treat my belief on this issue as if it’s unscientific merely because it gives me psychological comfort. Evidence is still evidence even if it points to something that’s not negative.

Critical thinking isn’t just for the beliefs that fill our hearts with faith, hope, and love. It’s also for the beliefs that make us sad, angry, and uninspired. People are just as terrible at seeing the truth when the truth benefits them as they are at seeing the truth when it doesn’t benefit them.

The world is filled with miserable people who want to be happy, but who haven’t been trained to detect the logical fallacies that doom them to poor decisions and self-defeating conclusions. The world is filled with people who have more options and opportunities than they realize, but who don’t know how to subject their limiting beliefs to skeptical scrutiny.

Take a good hard look at what ruins your day. Have you really taken the time to analyze the epistemic foundations of your beliefs and perceptions? It’s delusional and dangerous to assume that you’re being logical just because you’re not having a good time.

You might be resilient for believing in things that make you miserable, but that doesn’t make you rational. Instead of focusing on being tough, focus on being truthful. And follow the truth wherever it leads…even if it leads to something pleasant.

Creativity is the Willingness to Stop

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In order to create, you not only have to be willing to start, but you also have to be willing to stop.

That is, you have to accept the fact that you’ll never be able to say everything that can possibly be said in a single performance, pitch, or presentation. If an idea or conviction is truly worth expressing, it’s going to be far more nuanced than what can be captured in one article, one speech, one graphic, or one project. Being creative means challenging yourself to share what you have with the world even though you know it’s possible to edit it, rethink it, or rehearse it until kingdom come.

Instead of being a perfectionist about the project you’re working on, be a perfectionist about the process of gradually getting better as you move from project to project. The central problem of inspiration isn’t starting, it’s shipping. We fail to begin things because we don’t know how to give ourselves permission to end things.

If you want to get stuff done, hold yourself accountable to a clear and completable definition of what it means to be done.

The Meaning is in the Making

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Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi on Unsplash

Word of caution: Avoid entrepreneurial stereotypes like a deadly plague.

Someone recently shared with me an entrepreneurial project they were working on. It had the following elements: it required them to learn some new skills, it required them to make creative use of existing skills, and it involved making a product and selling it to customers. I was impressed. Yet, this person was hesitant to share their work because it wasn’t as “impressive” as something like “taking an online coding course.”

I’ve never taken an online coding course, but I’ve met dozens of people who have. And some of them haven’t created a single thing outside of the classroom. All they have are a bunch of mock-up websites, apps, and other unshipped items that no one in the real world even knows about. But hey…they know how to code. Yay!

Knowing how to code doesn’t mean squat if you fail to create value with it. Being able to speak techno-geek doesn’t mean squat if you can’t keep a job or all you know how to do is lurk around at hackathons.

Don’t be fooled by startup culture hype. It’s not about working at a co-op space that serves white chocolate mochas. It’s not about attending conferences on innovation and technology. It’s not about being a fan of Elon Musk. It’s not about working from home or working from the beach. It’s not about saying “I know python.” It’s about identifying the things you want to do and figuring out a way to get those things done.

All of the above matters only if you make it matter. And none of the above matters if you don’t make it matter.

It’s what you make that matters.