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The best books I know

No excuses

I used to be a notorious seeker for excuses. In about every area of my life, I can recall situations where I played the victim and even felt great about the tragedy of it.

This book was a wake-up call. The only problem is that it is written in such an authoritative manner that most people won’t fully embrace it from the get-go. The subtitle kept me from reading it for more than a year because I thought that discipline was the last thing I needed in order to have a more fulfilling life. What might have helped me was that I listened to this book in one piece. I was driving from Toronto to Chicago in order to surprise my then-girlfriend and that’s about the time it takes to get through it, with a few thinking pauses already included.

From that point on, I had changed. It took a while until things manifested in my behavior since bad habits are sticky but as the months and years went by, I could see that I stopped pushing responsibility away from me. And much of that can be attributed to that book.

The War of Art and Turning Pro

If No excuses was my wake-up call, those two books was that plus relevant context and if I had to decide, I would go for these two instead. I had never thought of myself as an artist, at least not professionally, as few people do. But a few pages in, it dawned on me: The author was talking about my kind of people, people who perceive the need to express themselves in some way but are held back by some invisible force. What he calls resistance is a real as it can be and I cannot think of a person that is not adversely affected by it.

It explains the entry gate to a serious and joyful career in a literal sense. When I say that a book is generally worth it if it has one clearing thought, those two are worth at least ten each. For most of my life, I had been struggling with resistance while waiting for something magical to happen.

Most people are not serious about what they are doing. They may be making a serious face while at it but they are not serious. They wait. I too have been waiting for most of my life and I wrote about that last night already.

But then there are some people who are. You can tell that they are because they look different. Not because of how they dress but because of how they look you in the eye. How they behave around other people. They are not smiling naively and pretend do be innocent. They know what they want.

Steve Pressfield calls that transition “Turning Pro” and it is one of the best books I have ever read. If you read it and don’t like it, odds are that you are not ready for it yet and that’s ok. But at least give yourself a fair chance to become such a person at a later point in life.

Tribes

Assembling a tribe sounds like a terrific idea by itself but that is never going to work unless it is for a cause. A cause that is their own.

I am not on some biblical mission for which I would need hundreds or even thousands of people following along. But I am ready to step forward when I perceive a calling and I have for as long as I can remember. The book won’t tell you how to form a tribe and there is no step-by-step shortcut some people might be hoping for. It is more of a ramble but the message is clear. It reinforced my knowing that there is a need for leadership in certain situations and that there will be people that gladly follow. Not in a passive or sheepish manner as one might think, quite the contrary.

When I wrote my call for volunteer developers to build Helping Hands, I was calling for a tribe in a hurry. It only worked because people wanted to be part of the tribe, not because I forced them. I just happened to be the messenger of what is possible and I am glad that a few people followed that calling. That’s how tribes work. And that’s what the book is about. Should everyone read it? I think so. Because Godin addresses fundamental principles of society and it doesn’t hurt to be conscious about these things.

The Four Disciplines of Execution

If all the books above were addressing the what, this one marked the first around the how. If you hold it in your hand, it gives you the impression of “just another business book”. But that is not the case. It is the most practical piece of advice that I know about working smarter instead of harder and it works in a variety of settings, not only in a business context. If more people had internalized that kind of going about things, the world would be a different place.


How do you build a reading habit?

I used to dread reading when I was a kid. Asterix was fun and I also made it through six pieces of Harry Potter but that’s about where it ended. Reading was something I had to do. And I did, but I never found much joy in it.

Today, this is a bit different. First, I learned how to read a book: Like most other people, I treated books as something sacred that had to be read in a certain way and in full. That is complete nonsense and keeps most people from actually reading. Second, I read what I want to read: I am not saying that my taste is edgy in any way. What I will say, however, is that are more Third, I stop reading when inspiration happened.

So when you think you should read more (and if you already think that, you should listen to that inner voice), ask yourself what you would be interested in. Drop all the things that people tell you to read

How much should you read?

This question is frequently debated and people generally take one of the extremes. I usually take the “a lot” side but there are two situations where you should consider reading a lot less than usual: When you have received rich input or when you are inspired to create or do something.

I buy way more books than I actually read.