I have a hard time remembering much about my childhood. Maybe I’ve taken too many knocks to the head or maybe I started trying various chemicals too early in life or maybe a combination of the two. Whatever. I find it amazing that other people can remember so many details of their youth many decades later. My memories are vague.
I think when I was a 10 or 12 years old I read a series of books called The Hardy Boys. If I remember I think these brothers were young detectives and went around solving Scooby-Doo type crimes. I read several of those books I think. I was fascinated with the myth of King Arthur. I read several of those books. Somehow I was introduced to the Dune series and read three or four of those books. As a kid all I read was fiction.
In high school I was turned on to Hunter S. Thompson. I started with the book every Hunter fan started with, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. I was hooked. Hunter S. Thompson became my hero. I read all his other books. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on with the books about politics.
As a fan of the Grateful Dead I started reading autobiographies about the Dead and other rock ‘n roll bands from the 60’s. These books complimented my Hunter S. Thompson bent.
Then I hit a patch were I stopped reading. I look back on this period and I wonder why. It comes down to this: I couldn’t find anything interesting to read.
I read only one book in college. It was the textbook for an early American literature class. I don’t remember the name of the book, only the subject. The stories were written by the European missionaries “settling” the new continent and they were all horror stories. They detailed the atrocities of the Europeans as they invaded and pillaged the Native Americans of the New World. The stories were raw, authentic, and uncomfortable to read. That Early American Literature class was the only class in the 4 years I went to college that was worth my time.
I spent every moment away from the classroom I could climbing and hiking in the mountains. I forgot about reading. Without realizing what was happening I was stagnating. No reading meant no exposure to new ideas and learning. This went on for over a decade. A lost decade.
In the summer of 2009 I packed my car full of shit and left North Carolina headed to Napa Valley, California. I was terrified. The economy was in the shitter. I was moving to a place far away with no job and no place to stay. I experienced my first mid-life crisis.
I read 3 books the first week I left North Carolina. Reading calmed me down, it helped to sooth my fears. I wanted to read more. I ran into my same old problem, I couldn’t find anything interesting to read. I was desperate and scared, I had to keep reading. I kept looking for books.
I’ve always been drawn to adventure. It’s been the story of my life. I had a short climbing career in college and I missed the sport. I started looking in the library for books on climbing. I hit the jackpot. The history of climbing is filled with stories of adventure, terror, and interesting people. I spent months reading about the greatest climbers and adventures in history.
Then I began to wear out the genre. I was having my old problem of not finding interesting books to read. Out of nowhere the solution appeared. Or maybe out of somewhere the solution appeared. I don’t know or I can’t remember. Maybe someone told me to do this or maybe I stumbled upon this myself.
MAKE A LIST.
That was the solution to my lifelong problem. I needed to make a list of books to read. I realized in all the awesome climbing books I read, the climbers would reference books that inspired them to go climb big mountains. I started writing these books down. Once I finished the book I was reading, I went to my list and ordered the next book. Voila! I solved my lifelong problem with a simple list.
The original List was a piece of legal paper. This wasn’t the best idea. I kept misplacing the darn thing. I’d search all over, find it, order a book, and cross it off the List once I was done reading it. The paper would get old and messy and I’d have to transfer the List to a new piece of paper.
This was my best technique for years. I became frustrated with the piece of paper and its shortcomings. One day I realized I lived in the computer age with Excel spreadsheets and electricity and stuff. It hit me, put the list on an Excel spreadsheet! What a simple idea.
I’m lazy and slow. A year later I forced myself to stop thinking and start doing. I sat down and made a simple spreadsheet with the title and the author’s name. My List was growing faster than I could read and mark the titles off.
I was so impressed with my List I began telling all my friends about it. Most didn’t think my List was as awesome as I did. Some liked the idea and would ask me to recommend books. I could name a few of the books I’d read but I realized I had a problem. I couldn’t remember all the awesome books I’d read. Once I read the books I marked them off the List and later, deleted them off the spreadsheet.
The List evolved.
I began to keep the books I’d finished reading on the list. I color coded the titles. If I read the book the color was red. If I hadn’t, the color was black. Simple.
Now if anyone asks for a recommendation I can go to my list and give them several titles. The list continues to evolve. I have added genres such as fiction, non-fiction, business, philosophy, and adventure. I can sort the list in several different ways.
Sometimes I just stare at the list. It gives me pride. I know, there are dangers to pride. I’m writing this whole post because I have a lot of pride about my List. But I think there are many more benefits to keeping a reading list than there are negatives.
YOU SHOULD KEEP A READING LIST.
It costs nothing but a little time and thought. You can tweak your list however you want. The effort is worth it, your reading list will make you a smarter human being.
There is power in a reading list. A reading list can show you patterns of your interests that you didn’t realize you had. It is a store of knowledge, like your brain, or a bank.
You can look back at your list and you will be looking back on your life. You will realize you spent a good portion of your life reading. This is time you can be proud off, this is time well spent. You will be able to add value to others if you are asked to recommend books because you will have a deep well to choose from.
If you ever need a recommendation for a good book let me know, I have a List.
I was frozen with fear. I didn’t trust my building, I wanted to escape, but I couldn’t move out of the bed. Once the earthquake stopped I laid in bed shaking with fear. Then I decided to get the hell out of my apartment before it crumbled to the ground. I ran for the door. The power was out, it was 3:30 am and pitch black. I heard a crunch, crunch sound after my first 2 steps into my living room. There was broken glass everywhere. I don’t know how I didn’t cut my feet stepping on the broken shards. This was my first earthquake and I had to respect the destructive power of these things. My kitchen/living room was trashed. Everything from my cupboards was broken in pieces on the floor, the fridge and freezer doors were wide open with their contents thrown on the floor. Wine bottles were everywhere.
I realized I needed to be careful. I turned back to my bedroom to try to find some shoes for my bare feet. Once I found some protective footwear I got the heck out of my apartment. All the neighbors convened outside in the driveway. Bewildered looks and night clothes were worn by all. We accounted for everyone in my small apartment complex, no one suffered physical injuries.
To my amazement, the building had not split in half. The shaking was so violent I didn’t know how it was possible that the structure was still intact. One of the neighbors complained of smelling leaking gas in their apartment.
It became apparent after 30 minutes or so that everyone immediately near me was unharmed and the apartment building stubbornly refused to split in half and crumble to the ground. The Fight Or Flight mode, along with the adrenaline, began to wear off. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like a zombie.
The previous day I worked 13 hours catering an outside wedding at a winery in Sonoma. The dress code requires that I wear black dress shoes with hard soles. I got home at 1am and my feet were sore. I showered and fell onto my bed at 2 am and passed out. I didn’t get much rest. An hour later the earth was attacking me.
It was cold outside in the 4 am morning darkness. The cooling breezes from the San Pablo Bay were doing their daily work on the Napa Valley. Some of the neighbors started drinking wine in rooms lit with flashlights and candles because they were too wired to go back to sleep. I would’ve joined them but I was beat down tired from catering the day before. Shivering in the dark in the driveway got old and I decided to venture into my apartment to assess the damage.
By the light of one small candle I tried to sweep some of the broken glass into piles. I kept stumbling on broken crap I couldn’t see. The sound of the broken glass clinking together as I swept it up gave me a headache. It was too much. I was still in shock. I walked through the debris back to my bed and laid down. I was unable to sleep and I was unable to be productive, so I laid in bed and stared into the darkness.
As the sun rose above Napa residents milled about the streets assessing the damage from the moving earth. I had no energy and I couldn’t sleep so I walked outside. The power was out. One of the neighbors heard rumors of someone making coffee from a French press and a bbq grill. It was all gone by the time I showed up.
I called my buddy Chris from work. He lives two blocks away in an old house that is elevated off the ground to protect from floods that invade Napa from time to time. An elevated house is good for floods but not so much for earthquakes. I was worried when I called him. Chris, his family, and old house were fine. He had a bunch of broken crap but no serious injuries and the house held up well. Chris also had a propane grill and a French press. He invited me over for coffee.
I spoke with my mom on the phone in Florida. She was keeping up with the events in Napa on the tv news. I informed her that I was fine and everyone I knew was ok, but I felt like a zombie. Mom encouraged me to go out and help people. She said the hospital was swamped with injured people and I should go there and help. Mom said it would make me feel better.
I liked Mom’s thinking. It is the same idea that I developed after suffering traumatic injuries from an avalanche. When life is terrible to you, the best way to cope is to go out and create value for other people. When you focus on creating value for others it gets your mind off of your own problems and you feel good by being productive.
The problem was I didn’t think I could be of much help to injured people waiting in line at a hospital. All my neighbors seemed to be ok. I couldn’t think of anyone I could help.
12 hours after the earthquake I remembered by buddy Ben. Ben lives four blocks south of me, he’s my only friend in town that I didn’t meet from work. I sent him a text message asking if he was ok. I never got a reply. I thought I should get on my bike and pedal down to his house and check on him. Working with 1 hour of sleep in the last 2 days left me slow and lethargic. The forces of good and evil, of checking on Ben and laying in bed during the middle of the day doing nothing, waged a small battle. Evil won. I figured Ben was ok and proceed to rest in bed.
I got an email from Ben two days later. He was staying at his girlfriend’s apartment in San Francisco when the earthquake hit Napa. He was unharmed. Ben said he would be splitting time between his brother’s place in Sonoma and his girlfriend’s in San Francisco because his house had caught on fire. What wasn’t destroyed in the fire was ruined by water from the firefighters. His place was a total loss.
p.s. What do you think? When your life was difficult from losing a job, a relationship, getting injured, or some other devastation; did you put your problems aside and try to provide some kind of value to others? If so how did that make you feel?
Let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re just a bunch of humans. All throughout time we deal with the same wants and needs, the same insecurities and battles with self-pity. We all have to start from scratch and learn. Learning is hard and most of us can’t or won’t do it. So we make the same mistakes over and over. We are much the same today as in the time of Cicero because the passions of man don’t change.
Speaking of Cicero, he once famously said in 55 BC,”The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt.”
Hmm… that sounds familiar. Was Cicero really speaking about Rome? Or did he have some crazy looking into the future machine and he was speaking about the empire of the U.S.A.? Or was he looking even farther into the future and speaking of the next great bureaucracy that will tangle up us forgetful humans?
Rinse, repeat. The cycle continues.
I’m reading Stephen Greenblatt’s excellent book “The Swerve: How The World Became Modern.” It tells the story of Poggio Bracciolini, a scribe of the Papal Court in Rome (turns out there were 2 other competing papal courts at the time) and his discovery in the early 1400’s of an ancient poem that had been lost in the passing of centuries, Lucretius’ “De Rerum Natura” (translated: On The Nature Of Things).
At the beginning of The Renaissance a work like On The Nature Of Things was highly disruptive. In it Lucretius suggests the universe functions without the need of instructions from the gods, and the world is made up of tiny particles we can’t see that collide at random and form larger particles. He figured out atoms before us modern humans figured out microscopes. Even during his day Lucretius’ thoughts went against the majority of thinking.
Lucretius was a man that leaned toward the Epicurean idea that the point of life was to seek out pleasure. This simple and harmless way of thinking was directly opposed to the Christian beliefs that all men are sinners and we must suffer for these sins. Christianity, especially the Papal court of Rome in the early 1400’s, insisted that mankind should suffer. The idea that life was meant for seeking pleasure was heresy and the Church stamped out every Epicurean thought they could find.
The Papal Court in Rome dictated how everyone should think and feel. It proclaimed it’s authority over every person on the planet. They claimed they got their authority from God, although it was best that you didn’t point out to the Court that the word “Pope” is not mentioned in the bible. You had to do what the rulers of the religion said or you were persecuted.
The Papal Court was of course, like all areas where power concentrates, a cesspool of corruption and broken morals. They extorted money from their followers. They forced their opinions on everyone. You were to live as the Court instructed you.
As Stephen Greenblatt tells it, the Papal Court sounds just like Washington D.C. now, or the British aristocracy in the 1700’s, or ancient Rome in the latter stages of its’ decline. These cycles keep happening in human history. A group (religious, or political, or both) gains power, then proclaims that the masses must do as they say (but not as they do). Then the corruption becomes so rampant the whole thing collapses on itself.
Rinse and repeat.
The players change, the location changes, the ideology changes, but the basic psychology of the process is the same. As I stumble through learning the histories of ancient cultures it’s amazing how similar they are. You basically read the same story over and over. We are doomed to repeat the same mistakes we’ve always made because the passions of man don’t change.
There have been great, learned, and reasonable people throughout history, like Lucretius, but they are in the vast minority. When the next great ideology comes along it usually does what it can to erase all traces of learned and reasonable thought. The cycle continues.
Us humans are really weak and fragile beings. We’re scared and we don’t want to be alone. We like to feel important and get attention. When I say We and I say Us, I mean me.
As I was progressing through life I would get these ideas and the ones I liked I would cling to. If I saw that other people liked my ideas or I got attention, good or bad, I would cling to them even more. I began to think that if I felt strongly about a subject and I repeated what I thought often enough and loud enough, then what I thought became a fact.
I would hide behind my made up facts. What would I hide behind my “facts”? My insecurities, manias, and failures. I would become an authority on my “facts”, these became my ideology. Being an authority figure made me feel good, it gave me a sense of feeling important.
It didn’t matter if I was actually correct in my ideology. I felt confident about it so I must be correct.
Definitions are important in the business of communication, so let’s make sure we define what we’re talking about so we’re all on the same page. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Ideology as:
• A systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture
• A manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture
• The integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program
These are some fancy sounding concepts. They’re ok, but I tend to think of an ideology as “How you feel about a certain topic.” I like this definition because it gets at the heart of the matter; we get attached to the way we feel about things.
How do you feel OR What do you think about (same question, different wording) global warming, politics, religion, or… the price of oil? It doesn’t matter what the topic is, the topic doesn’t need to be controversial, it can be as simple as your favorite sports team or your opinion of your boss at work.
We tend to pick a side of an argument and stay on that side. We will look for any bit of information that confirms the view that we have already taken. In the process we get stuck. We get too deep into an ideology and our thoughts become closed to outside influences. We can’t learn because when we come across new facts or ideas that challenge our cherished ideologies, we toss them aside. We lose our objectivity. We cling, we cling to our beloved ideas! …And we get all cabbaged up. We get stuck.
I first began to realize the problems of getting too deep into an ideology when I first started investing my own money. It was just after the financial crises of 2008-2009. The government was bailing everybody out. The economy was in a panic. And the government was printing as much money as they could to calm everyone’s fears. Massive inflation must be right around the corner.
The only way to protect from massive inflation? Precious metals.
The price of gold was shooting higher. The price of silver had some catching up to do to the historical ratio of silver to gold, which is about 16:1. I bought stocks in silver companies thinking they were about to rocket higher. The silver investments I made rocketed… but they went in the wrong direction, they rocketed lower. My thesis was still intact. The economy was still in crises mode, the government was still printing money like crazy. If my thinking was correct, the price of silver should have gone straight up, yet the opposite happened. I lost a large percentage of money.
I got too deep into an ideology and it cost me. I was completely wrong. Because my wrongness affected my bank account and not just a favorite idea, I had to figure out where I screwed up because I couldn’t lose any more money. I began to understand the dangers of having a set opinion.
Then an avalanche beat the life out of me. All my ideas were vaporized. I was crying, just trying to hold on to life. Then I stumbled upon the teachings of Charlie Munger. Munger frequently warns of the dangers of ideology. At the very least ideology will prevent you from learning new ideas. Since I wanted to become a “learning machine”, I had to reexamine all my cherished beliefs.
I began to see that getting to deep into an ideology can affect all manner of important decisions from investing and business decisions, to decisions affecting our health, to our relationships with those we’re closest to. And politics? Politics is all about choosing an opinion and sticking with it no matter what. Politics is the definition of getting too deep into an ideology.
So, how do you NOT get too deep into an ideology? Objectivity maintenance will help. Always think that you could be wrong, not that you always are wrong, but that you could be wrong. Look for disconfirming evidence, the holes in your argument or idea. John Maynard Keynes is credited with saying “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Always examine, and re-examine the facts. Be open to change.
Life is crazy. Change is the only constant. You must be prepared to pivot your thinking.
Ideologies are easy to fall into. If you find yourself deep into an ideology, it’s not the end of the world. No one is immune from ideologies, not you, me, or Charlie Munger. Maintain your objectivity.
Be open to people who have the opposite idea.
What do you do with your manuscript, painting, or piece of creative work once it is finished? The next step is really hard. Once you’ve finished you have to show your work and get feedback. When I started writing, I never thought I would finish, so I never thought about the next step. Once I finished the first draft I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to show it to anyone because I thought it sucked and I was embarrassed not only by what I wrote, but also the quality of the writing. I’m not a writer and it showed in my work.
But when you’re done, you’re done. I could have keep rewriting the thing over and over and claimed that it was never done. I could have made improvements on the manuscript for years, but even if I’d known what I was doing it would have made the story only marginally better. Plus, I was glad the first draft was done.
It took me two years to write the damn thing, it was like battling a monster for two years, I was tired of it. Not only was the process of writing difficult for me, the subject matter was difficult.
The whole story is of me talking about a traumatic event and my physical and psychological challenges in dealing with it. It was exhausting to keep going over the stuff. I don’t want the avalanche to define me. I don’t want to be that guy that spends the rest of his life talking about some tragedy that befell him. That scared me. I wanted to move on.
I just had to finish the damn manuscript. Once I did finish I felt lost all over again. I no longer had the routine of waking up early and writing before I’d go to work. I didn’t know the next step. Well, I did know the next step, I had to get someone to read it but I didn’t know who.
I listened to a podcast with the author Steven Pressfield and the editor Shawn Coyne about how you don’t want to dump your book, screenplay, manuscript, etc. on your friends or family; you need to find a professional and pay them to read it and give you feedback. This suggestion made sense to me. That’s where I’m at trying to find and editor to work with. I think I’ve found one but I don’t know. I’ve read a bunch of articles about how to find an editor. At this point I’ve got information overload. I don’t know what I’m doing. I think I’m just going to pick one and move on.
In the meantime my sister said she wanted to read the first draft. She thought it’d be a good idea for her to read it, give me some feedback so I could clean it up before sending it to an editor. That worked for me, so I sent it off to her. I think both her and her husband are going to read it which is good, I’ll have feedback from two people. Maybe yes maybe no.
Because of the personal nature of the story, it’s a memoir, and because my sister is biased because she’s my sister and she was a major part of the story, I wanted to find someone that doesn’t know me to read it and give feedback. That will happen soon enough I guess. In the meantime I’m looking forward to hearing the first criticisms of that ugly duckling I wrote.
Free Will seems real to me. I agree with the idea. The Meriam Webster Dictionary defines free will as the ability to choose how to act; the ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God, and lastly—voluntary choice or decision.
One of the reasons I like the idea of free will so much is because I’m big on personal responsibility, I think the two fit nicely together. No matter what happens in life you have a choice and your actions are your own. You get to choose—choose wisely.
The problem is that Life doesn’t care about you, me, or our nice little ideas. Life is more simple and complex than we can imagine. It seems the concept of free will works most of the time but not all the time. We don’t get to choose our dreams.
We don’t get to choose our dreams, they choose us. We are just walking along through life and then BAM! a dream chooses us, grips us, vacuums us up into obsession. When we are kids we don’t know what we want, we don’t know what is awesome. What is awesome knows and it decides to pick which one of us it will infect. Each person is picked by a different awesomeness. This is not a choice you get to make.
You don’t know if you will become obsessed by:
racecars and airplanes
big mountain adventure
or maybe farming.
Then you spend your whole life and all your energy pursuing this thing that you did not choose.
This is how it worked for me. I was a son of the South, I never saw snow until I was 8 years old. Once I saw snow for the first time I was hooked, I was obsessed. Once I went skiing for the first time that was it, that was the dream, that became the relentless pursuit. I didn’t choose skiing, skiing chose me.
So maybe free will does not exist in regards to our dreams, our passions, our obsessions—but free will does factor in our pursuit, in the degree in which we chase our dreams.
Some people have a dream or an idea and all they do is think about it. They daydream but they never pursue it. It consumes their thoughts but this never converts to actions. Without the energy of action the dreamer is always wondering “What if.” This is the easy pursuit, the dream is only a thought exercise. Experience is not gained, nothing is risked, nothing is learned.
For others they are consumed by a dream and they need more, more than a thought or an idea. These people exercise their free will and they make the choice to pursue the dream, they plunge down the rabbit hole. With no guarantee of what’s to come, these people risk the safety of normalcy to experience the possibilities of the beautiful idea. They have to see where the dream leads, they have to feel it.
Ed Viesturs started by guiding up Mt. Rainer.
John Coltrane started out playing the clarinet.
Jimmy Johnson started out racing motorcycles and off-road trucks in the desert.
Through the pursuit, experience and knowledge are gained. On this path some will succeed and continue to chase the dream. Others will fail and the dream will elude them. Maybe the dream will shift on the journey or maybe there will be an entirely new dream. There is no guarantee of payoff when you choose to put out the effort to pursue your dream.
Maybe nothing good will happen. Maybe only anger and devastation will find you on your pursuit. Most likely, whether you succeed or fail on your path, you will be better for the journey. You will learn. You will never wonder “What if”, because you know, you tried and put out the effort.
You will be better prepared for the next dream that chooses you.