Socrates said, “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for”.
Great men and women of every era of human existence have been readers. Presidents, emperors, CEO’s, entrepreneurs, moms and dads, and great writers. The list goes on and on of successful people who have been readers. Reading was a fundamental habit for their success.
In books, they found life lessons that improved their virtues, their ability to think, how to respond in situations, how to deal with others, and how to find empathy in others — despite their differences. They also found characters in books to learn how not to live. There are many cautionary tales in history that we can all learn from, just as much as we can learn from the successful.
In my own life, reading has been a source of great strength and wisdom for me to call on. While it certainly has not prevented me from many failures, mistakes, and lessons that I had to learn the hard way. It has served me as a tool that forces me to think differently, with more steadiness and patience. It’s provided growth, perseverance, and the ability to break from self-preservation and focus more on self-awareness.
For me, this timeless past time is best described by a quote from Jim Rohn, “Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary”. I’m not naturally talented, nor smart enough, to chase after the pursuits in life that I have in mind, without books. I don’t see reading as a choice. I see it as a necessary habit to become the person that I hope and desire to become.
Books and the contents within them have taught me life lessons that have given me the strength, courage, and wisdom to become a better person, husband, and father. I’m a more well-rounded human being and because of this, I’m able to see the bigger picture of life and know deep within me, the true meaning and purpose of what my life means.
It’s no secret that many of the successful people that we see and look up to in life read books. There have been several articles over the years that conclude that many CEO’s read 4–5 books a month. Bill Gates reads 50 books a year and Warren Buffett once told a graduating class the best way to build knowledge, is to read. He also says buying The Intelligent Investor, when he was 19, is the greatest investment he ever made.
In school we are taught to read so that we can learn and memorize facts, figures, and dates from history. These tiny bits of information will help us on the test. But does it really help us in life? Is it more important to know the date slavery ended or the reasons and the mindsets that it existed in the first place? Or, why did we fight for Independence, enter WWII, or send troops into Vietnam? Do the dates really matter in all these? (Other than for context and understanding of the time.)
Whether Abraham Lincoln was our 15th or 16th President — does it change the fact that he was an incredible leader, in a very divisive time in history? What qualities did he have to succeed in leading the country during this tumultuous time?
What kind of courage did George Washington have, to take on the challenge of leading a group of Colonies against England — with the odds heavily stacked against them — knowing that it could only end two ways — freedom or death? What could a start-up founder learn from him, that would be useful in starting his own company?
What kind of toughness did Katharine Graham have when faced with the decision on whether or not to publish The Pentagon Papers? What kind of hustle did it take for Jay Z to go from the projects to a Billionaire entrepreneur? And what did Viktor Frankl learn surviving three Nazi concentration camps and losing all his family, during WWII?
Those are the things we can learn about in books.
In Shoe Dog, Phil Knight, founder of Nike, takes us through the journey he went on to build Nike. It starts with an entrepreneur’s dream to build something he can be proud of and because he doesn’t want to work for someone else — the vision wasn’t to build a billion dollar company. From this book, you learn about the original idea, the doubt in himself, the sleepless nights, the days the company was on life support, working two jobs, and many more inspiring, yet messy stories about how to keep the dream alive. That’s just the first 18 years until Nike goes public in 1971.
In Tiger, a biography about golfer Tiger Woods, you learn some great insight into the early years of Tiger Woods’s childhood and how he was raised. The writer provides great insight into how he was trained to be an assassin, which played out well in competition, but not so well in his personal life. It’s a powerful story of success and also serves as a cautionary tale for ego, how to handle success, and parenting. Almost everyone could learn from this book.
Ego is the Enemy taught how to manage my own ego, because, yes, we all have one, we just have to know how to manage it. Compound Effect taught me how consistency in what we do will gain compound benefits to our lives, just like compound interest. Rich Dad Poor Dad taught me how to see my spending through assets and liabilities and the fact that a paycheck is an addiction, if you aren’t careful with your money. And, to help me build and maintain great, life changing habits, I read Atomic Habits.
All of these books have helped change my life over the last two years.
It’s not the facts and the figures. It’s the principal lesson within the stories. The life lessons. The mindset, attitudes, virtues, and traits it took to achieve and overcome great challenges and adversities. How to handle difficult situations and difficult people. How to face adversity and fear. How to understand power and politics in life and then how to navigate through them.
All of these same challenges exist in our own lives or will in the future. Ignoring it is naive, preparing for it is prudent. In each book I read, I find lessons.
Books contain life lessons within them just waiting to be picked up and discovered. Have a challenge in your life? Has this adversity — or something similar — ever been dealt with by somebody else, before you? There is probably a book about it or at least a book that would be very resourceful at this moment.
Facts and figures are great if you are preparing for a big test in school or have a goal of going on Jeopardy and winning big. But most of us just want to cultivate the strength and courage to pursue our dreams. To find the insights from the greatest leaders of all-time, so that we may implement into our own leadership skills. And to find motivation and inspiration from those that came long before us and risked their life and reputation to pursue something that they felt they had to pursue in their heart, no matter the cost.
To learn how to do things and how not to do things. To avoid pitfalls if we have the right knowledge. To teach us something we don’t know.
This is about reading for knowledge. Knowledge to live a great life.
We will still have struggles, adversities, and pitfalls in our lives — many of which we may only be able to learn through experiences. However, could we not possibly avoid some of those with more wisdom? Would more wisdom hurt us?
Most people do not have time to read 5 books a month, but it doesn’t take reading 5 books a month for reading to impact your life. I’ll leave you with a quote from the American writer and philosopher, Mortimer J. Adler, about reading, “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”.
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