What LC Read: Vol. 3

Sunday, June 3, 2018

This week kicks off my self-imposed challenge to read eight works of nonfiction in the month of June. I did something similar last summer, when I made myself pursue a ratio of 3 fiction to 2 nonfiction to 1 poetry book for the 50+ books I would ultimately read. (Lol yes, I really miss school.)

But first, I also want to indulge in a short rant about why intentional reading is so very important to me. Yes, I could fill my time with lovely beach reads and call that a life easily and wonderfully lived, but my biggest takeaway from my university experience (quarter million dollar diploma, y'all) was that a real education must be actively pursued and practiced, and it isn't limited to institutional learning. One of my postgraduate intentions is to "seek extracurricular learning opportunities wherever and whenever possible." To me, this means filling my time with books, podcasts, articles, Skillshare classes, etc. that are challenging, relevant, and interesting. Developing an informal curriculum for these helps me organize my learning, but is admittedly obnoxious and certainly not required. As such, my contributions to OCL will largely center around extra-institutional learning and research, mostly cause I'm a big ass nerd and already miss school, but also because being well-informed and well-read is, in my opinion, a prerequisite of a meaningful life. So that's that. More soon, cause y'all know I don't ever shut up. 

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers | Tim Ferriss 
I'm generally extremely skeptical of self-help books profiling billionaires/traditionally successful people because they tend to be a bit delusional and self-congratulatory about the origins of their achievements. ("I started off with a small loan of a million dollars...") And Ferriss's book isn't absolved of that. A lot of the advice is useless if you don't have institutional wealth, have dependents (like aging parents and grandparents, or responsibilities to poorer family members overseas), aren't a card-carrying member of the tech and venture capital elite, and/or don't have the means to be entrepreneurial (a privilege that nobody in Silicon Valley talks enough about!). Fortunately, I'm not an entirely silly girl and I know this book was never meant to be about sad mediocre people like me. If you read it with the same curiosity with which you watch the Kardashians, you'll glean a lot more insight with less of the "this is so unrealistic" whining. People are imperfect and boastful and egocentric, nowhere more so than in Tools of Titans. It's fine. You can still learn from them, even if you didn't read Sun Tzu as a boy like Reid Hoffman, or divert $120,000 in MBA tuition to "practical hands-on learning" like Ferriss himself. Take a flip through the book. Skip the sections that bore you. I promise you will still find something you needed to read.

Just two quotes, though the entire book is comprised of them:
All those artists and writers who bemoan how hard the work is, and oh, how tedious the creative process, and oh, what a tortured genius they are. Don't buy into it. As if difficulty and struggle and torture somehow confer seriousness upon your chosen work. Doing great work simply because you love it sounds, in our culture, somehow flimsy, and that's a failing of our culture, not the choice of work that artists make. 
This frantic, self-congratulatory busyness is a distinctly upscale affliction. Notice it isn't generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the ICU, taking care of their senescent parents, or holding down three minimum-wage jobs they have to commute to by bus who need to tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It's most often said by people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed. 

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life | Bill Burnett, Dave Evans
I highly recommend this book, but just to manage expectations, the bulk of it is just okay. It did no harm, but sometimes felt like business school: it over-analyzed and over-taught the obvious, all while charging you a premium for it. (Side note: I have a lot of regrets, and forcing myself through business school -  when I did the bulk of my learning in liberal arts - might become one of them. Stay tuned.) So there's some fluff, but there are definite merits when you're feeling particularly lost and need someone to literally spell out the mantras for you, like "work is fun when you are actually leaning into your strengths and are deeply engaged and energized by what you're doing." I think the success of this book is that if you take the workbook seriously, you can confront some difficult truths about yourself. For me, it's that meaningful relationships with my family and partner might be more important than career advancement. I always scorned the girls who gave up professional opportunities for love, but here we are. Or that I will thrive in a creative environment, but suffer in a deeply analytical, technical role. (I have always chosen to intern and work in the latter -- because the money was better -- and been miserable.) I didn't need a book to know that about myself, but reading Designing Your Life was an opportunity to finally accept the fucking truth, and then strategize actions to manifest it. This book is exactly what OCL tries to do: document our many attempts (and likely failures) in designing purpose-driven, joyful lives we can be proud of.

One of the more interesting exercises in the book was to create three alternative versions of yourself to chart the different ways your life might play out. It's called your Odyssey Plan, and can help define important things still unexplored in our lives, or ambitions and dreams we've let go of or forgotten. It's really about revitalizing a curiosity about life and its possibilities -- before our learned considerations of prestige, tradition, and safety. I encourage you to try it. Mine were (1) children's book writer and illustrator, (2) some sort of literature influencer who hosts book clubs and discussions to encourage cultural/social literacy and community building, and (3) a speechwriter for the president (of Taiwan, of course). Obviously, I like to read and write books. Am I doing that in my own professional life? More so than I was. Can I still achieve all three in my lifetime? I would think so.

If you don't like to read, here's a TEDx Talk by co-author Burnett about the same topic (fun fact: Designing Your Life is a course he teaches at Stanford). And here's one by the other author, Evans. They're both wonderful, energetic speakers.

Onwards, then, and with great love,

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