10 lessons learned reading over 100 books in the past 3 years

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“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.” — Voltaire

Simply put, I learned a lot dating back to 2015, and since then, I realized I have much more to learn.

About three years ago, during the phase in my life where I was beginning my professional career in finance, frustration began setting in with continuing tests and regulated exams, and starting a sales job with a clear lack of skills at twenty-two was abundant. The only way to compensate for my absence of skills at the time was to repeat this reoccurring phrase where I constantly told myself “knowledge is power.”

Knowing what I know now though, which still isn’t anything, knowledge is only potential power. You must use, act and teach that knowledge if you expect it to be power.

It was the act of reading a book — sitting down, in the quiet, alone, absorbing the author’s insight and worldview, while challenging myself and the context — that helped me take my self-education, personal development and leadership development to a respectable level.

I’m at a point in my life where if someone asked what I did to change, to turn my life around, I would credit most of it to reading and personal development — the idea of learning something you never knew, creating dots in your mind and being able to connect them. Stuff that isn’t taught in schools yet. By reading numerous books (and what I actually wanted to) I learned a lot, and by learning a lot it helped me find clarity and perspective in my own life at a time in which I needed it.

Which brings me to my conclusion: if you’re stuck in your life or career, it’s mostly because 1) you are afraid or fearful and 2) you don’t know enough (worldview is too small). Which is why I recommend reading and traveling so that you can broaden your worldview, challenge and educate yourself, and to reach your own ideas or conclusions. Essentially, it’s the process of cultivating your very own idea meritocracy as Ray Dalio would say.

Sometimes, the beliefs that brought us to where we are, quite possibly are limited and outdated. Sometimes, we need to change our beliefs to change as a person. It’s scary and risky, but it’s also why so many remain stuck.

I hope the following helps you on your own journey of devouring books and acquiring the kind of wisdom that is now available to all of us so that we can truly learn to embrace our best self.

“It isn’t what the book costs. It’s what it will cost you if you don’t read it.” — Jim Rohn

Perspective’s gained by reading over 100 books:

1. Create the desire and build the habit:

Well the first thing I’d ask you is, what makes a person want to read books in the first place?

Is it to escape? To learn? There’s always a reason behind everything, and I believe defining that reason is critical. My reason was simply to learn. I kept telling myself that the more knowledgeable I became, the better chances of me getting ahead in life (in addition to working hard & smart).

At the time, I didn’t know if I was right, but it was better than not doing anything. Now, after having read so many books in the past few years (about 6-10 the first year of this journey (middle to end of 2015), I finished 40 in 2016, 38 in 2017, and so far 19 in 2018) I can confidently say that reading and implementing the insight helped me become a better person.

I was hesitant to title #1 as “Find the desire” because the truth is you won’t find it. Most people don’t read and won’t ever. You have to create the desire.

You have to constantly tell and sell yourself a story on how this will benefit you as a human being. Admitting that there are a lot of smart people — much smarter than you, no offense — out there willing to share valuable insight learned throughout the course of decades of their life’s experiences, their failures and successes may be a good start.

2. “Finding” the time to read:

The truth is, you have the time. Quit scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or binge-watching Netflix. The reason why most don’t sit their asses down and read is because it’s challenging. Some people like and embrace challenges, others not so much.

I equate this with going to the gym or running after a prolonged absence, it’s difficult to get our mind into a different rhythm that isn’t as effortless and comforting as watching a screen. It’s hard to challenge ourselves (or be challenged), irritating to look up words and understand the meaning and how it works in that sentence. But it helps us grow and learn and exercise our minds. How is that not worth the investment? The best investment we’ll ever make is in ourselves and our minds, not real estate, a stock, a bond, mutual funds or whatever the hell tickles your fancy.

Dedicate thirty minutes to an hour a day. Start with that, and if necessary, do more. You can get a lot done in one hour.

3. With love, passion and care:

I’m a bit old-school, so understand that this method doesn’t have to be yours.

When I read, I have the book in front of me like an entree, a pen and highlighter and post-its on the side as my utensils to help me engulf the content of the author.

When I read something that resonates with me, something that confuses or challenges or inspires me, I highlight it, break it down, question it, and eventually move on. If you don’t know a word, look it up. Google has become a household name, maybe you’ve heard of it.

If you don’t understand what you read, sit there it until you do. Make sure it clicks.

When I’m done with the book, I transfer all my notes to a smaller 2 page notebook (2 pages of what I took away per book), Evernote if I’m really feeling down for the adventure and organize them under keywords i.e., Communication, Leadership, Stoicism or Motivation, Sales or Marketing, Finance or Happiness, etc. At any moment, I can slide my thumb across my phone screen, through a notebook, click open Evernote, and have an archive of these wonderful records.

4. What should I read?

For me, reading consists of two means to an end: learning or escaping. But as a writer, I’m always learning — learning the style, vocabulary, metaphors, sentence structure, story structure, etc. When I watch a movie, I’m doing it for entertainment but I’m also trying to see how the writers created this scene or this character.

I’ve read mostly non-fiction books simply because I was always looking for insight on a particular subject, say, psychology and persuasion or social media and the change in the internet, whatever. Needless to say, you can learn a lot by reading fiction books as well; it just depends what lessons you decide to extract, i.e., The Alchemist or Harry Potter.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you read as long as you just read. The idea is to start somewhere, build up the desire to self-educate, and turn it into a daily habit.

5. And if the book sucks?

Then move on. This particular book may not be right for you in this particular time — some books are timeless, of course. I remember starting Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari last year as an example. It’s a phenomenal book, but at the time, I just couldn’t read it. I would read the words and they would just bounce off my forehead. I’m sure you’ve been there at one point or another, am I right?

I’ll come back to that book in a year or so and probably finish it in a week. Why couldn’t I read it before? I have no idea. Maybe my mind wasn’t ready for the history lesson, maybe I was making up an excuse. Regardless, you can always return to the books that you once considered “shitty” but later found out that it was exactly what you needed in that exact moment.

6. Application:

Trust me on this one, the most difficult and challenging part is implementing what you learned. The choice to implement it has to be immediate. That’s why experiential learning always trumps theoretical learning.

The notion is simple: Whatever you read, you will either look up to this author and their insight, or you think of them as an idiot or being crazy, or maybe a little bit of both. The idea isn’t so that you agree with everything, but if you do, that’s fine too. The idea is to challenge yourself and to constantly be learning.

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie would say something like: “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” And then he would quote renown individuals like Henry Ford, where he once said:

“If there’s any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get in the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

The question is, do you believe in that?

If not, chances are you will rarely be empathetic. In times where this tactic may prove beneficial, you might instead be close-minded or stonewall — and in order to understand if something works, one must fail and learn the hard way. If you do believe it and are motivated by someone as famous and successful as Henry Ford, you may feel more compelled to do so because Henry Ford and Dale Carnegie said so.

At the end of the day, reading books may or may not influence your beliefs. But if you’re stuck, if you’re seeking direction or clarity, it’s probably best to be open-minded and willing to fix what is broken.

7. Read it again and again:

I’ll probably read Think and Grow Rich and Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki 2 or 3 times in one year. Those books were that eye-opening for me, in addition to many others too.

Every time I went back to them, I learned something new — a new idea, a new story that I somehow missed the last time, a new set of words that moved me in a way that challenged my perception.

There’s nothing wrong with re-reading a book in the same year or later down the road. In fact, I recommend you do so.

8. Constantly seek out mentorship:

Mentors constantly provide information and knowledge for us to fill in the gaps where we often cannot yet see. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

When I was starting out on this adventure at twenty-two, I had no idea what was involved in running a business, including setting goals, making business plans, budgeting month over month, build a personal brand and business brand, handling daily rejections, making important future decisions or running a marketing campaign.

With a mentor there from the start, I tapped into a wealth of knowledge that got me up to speed faster and shortened that learning curve. The good thing is the learning curves continue to get smaller and smaller for individuals nowadays who are coachable and hungry for more. Surprisingly, a surplus of books were recommended in that process. My favorites would personally be anything by John Maxwell, as well as Good to Great by Jim Collins.

9. Invest in personal development, books and training at least monthly or quarterly:

Once high school and college is over, that’s it for a lot of people as far as higher education and learning. Some people will barely, if ever again, pick up a book. What if it were the opposite mentality?

For Christmas this past year, instead of getting a nice watch, my mom bought me a new bookshelf. Primarily because my first one was full and also because there can never be enough books to read. I probably should have kept track of the actual dollar amount spent on personal development since 2015 but I have not. It’s been hundreds of dollars on books, and overall, thousands of dollars when you factor in all of the training’s and events I attend. I’ve lost track at this point which is a good problem to have.

I’ve said it before, and it needs to be repeated again, the best investment you’ll ever make is in yourself. Don’t forget that! Buy a few books here and there every month, or every other. It doesn’t need to be crazy but $25-$50 will do.

10. Never stop developing your growth mindset:

Reading is so profoundly important and productive to one’s life. Reading helps you become a better talker and communicator, which in turn, makes you more likable or interesting. Both are very good qualities to have in our marketplace.

Reading helps you learn new words and vocabulary. It’s not about speaking like Shakespeare Marcus Aurelius, it’s about learning to use the right words at the right time to deliver what you’re saying in a less painless and roundabout way. It’s about speaking like you normally would, only enhanced now.

Lastly, and most importantly, reading makes you smarter. It seems that people nowadays would choose sexy over smart, which is sad. That’s, in essence, the cause of fear. Which is why many people go on through life with a fixed mindset versus cultivating and developing a long term growth mindset. Carol Dweck, Ph.D., and her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is great when describing growth mindsets. We all have room to improve, myself included!

The Long-term Benefits

Reading helps you find meaning in your life. It motivates and inspires you. It helps you acquire knowledge, different thoughts, ideas, stories, characters, etc.

Reading helps (me) become a better and more creative writer. Reading opens you up. It opens up your worldview and (hopefully) makes you less ethnocentric.

There are a lot of benefits to reading. Yes, it will be hard when you start. Your mind will wander and the thought of catching up with the latest TV shows or sports games will sound great. Sacrifice all of that (temporarily) for the time being.

But when you’re busy on Instagram or Facebook scrolling your life away, just ask yourself: What knowledge am I acquiring by doing this, and is it helping me be a better person? Am I using my time efficiently? Is uploading this complaint and negative post on Facebook or this picture that took me 5 minutes to organize of my sushi on Instagram really helping me? Or am I better off reading a book and learning something entirely new?

It’s always worth asking ourselves the hardest questions.

I hope you rediscover the power of reading. If you need any recommendations on a particular subject, feel free to ask. I’m here to help if you want to change.

My Very Best,

Donovan Vogel

Written by

Philadelphia based teaching financial literacy | Prospering all other hours | Writer | Lifter | Reader | Traveler | Freedom & Wellness

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