Sometimes I fly out of bed like my ass was cattle-prodded by the lightning bolt of Zeus himself. But usually getting out of bed is an existential battle of wills, and because I’m such a good-hearted pacifist, it’s one I normally lose. I like to think of this as a college faze, because I’m fairly certain empirical evidence shows people become responsible adults the moment they are handed their diploma. It’s sorcery really, sorcery condoned by the State of California. Speaking of sorcery, I like to think that student debt and a limited job market are Voodoo tricks as well. Otherwise I’m not entirely sure what I’m in college for. After all who in their right mind would consider swimming deeper to avoid drowning? I like to think there’s some magical power in my shinny future diploma, mainly so I can mental transfigure this into a Harry Potter metaphor in which I’m diving to the bottom of a freezing pond to fetch Griffindor’s sword. In this scenario, self-doubt is the strangulation-prone Horocrux locket, which for unforeseen reasons I didn’t bother removing before I plunged into the deep. In this alternative version of the story it’s Emma Watson who saves me (who represents hope, government issued financial aid, and everything good in the world). Sadly though, the only person who can save me is myself. Because when I finally surface from the freezing lake, temporarily safe with sword in tow, it’s going to be up to me to find a use for it. No magic or Emma Watson involved (sadly).
In Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, he remarks “People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash and eat.” Although this is a somewhat ambitious goal, and possibly not even a desirable one, the spirit of this message is hugely important. It’s a matter of becoming so intellectually and emotionally involved in your “work” (in this case defined as “what you do”, not necessarily a “Job”) to the point that distractions cease having a hold on you.
Looking at my peers and myself, it saddens me how rarely this ideal is achieved in school setting. Those in school seem to be there as a stepping stone for bigger things (their future “Job”) and schoolwork is often viewed as an unpleasant labor that must be taken care of before one can do “something they love”. Even worse, many students don’t even have a thing they love to do, at least not to the level described by Aurelius. We leave a very big gap in our potential as people when labors of love are not present in our lives, for several reasons. The first is physiological. Human cognition and performance functions best when attention is in “flow” state, the phrase popularly use to describe complete immersion in an activity, and it’s only in this “flow” state where distractions are able to be ignored completely.
The second reason is ideological, and perhaps the more important of the two. Excelling at any work requires extended periods of high level focus (Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours), which can only be achieved in three ways: survival, ambition, or love of what you do. Farmers of agricultural societies may not have considered designing irrigation systems their “life calling”, but they were damn good at what they did because they had to in order to survive. I’d imagine many of the investment bankers and stock brokers of the world don’t “love” their professions, but they do them at an extremely high level because they do *love* money, and the power and status that comes with it. For the majority of us, survival is assured, and we don’t possess the burning desire for riches required to give our lives to a job we don’t particularly like. That leaves only the classic advice to “do what you love” (and get paid well to do it), advice so easy to issue but seemingly so hard to actualize.
Sadly, I would consider myself one of the lacking individuals. What I love are stories, via reading, writing, visualization, or other modern mediums like television or movies. A book is one of the few scenarios in which I will sit down to read, and get up 6 hours later lightheaded from hunger and cross-eyed from intense focus. The tangible steps to make a career out of a love for stories other than jump into the rat’s nest of starving writers? No idea. But at least I know there’s something out there I’d forget to eat for.
Cell Phone Anxiety—Friendjection addition
Cell phone/facebook anxiety: the “when is X person going to text me back”, “IS X person going to text me back?” internal anxiety battle is one of the most obnoxious facets of social interactions in my life. Facebook can be bad too when you’re waiting for a response message. The easiest way to deal with this problem is to learn how to not care. I’ve had to learn to just drop the person from my mind—they’re not getting back to me because they’re busy, or because they don’t care about me. If it’s the former it’s just a reminder I should be doing something too. If it’s the latter, they’re probably not worth my time, as it’d be an unfulfilling relationship anyways, and nothing to get particularly upset/anxious over.
For people who I’m comfortably friends with, I have a bit more leeway to be obnoxious, especially for time sensitive issues. The main problem is “asking out” acquaintances (aka “Hi, want to be friends?”). I’ve learned to have this interaction in person as much as possible—rejection is comparatively easy to deal with (and once you’ve dealt with sexual rejection, friend rejection is a breeze), it’s doubt that eats you alive. The other important thing to remember is that just because someone doesn’t text you back doesn’t mean they don’t like you, it just means they probably don’t want to be real friends, which is understandable and fine. The sad/happy truth about the college social scene is that I’m not going to interact with 99% of my acquaintances a year after graduation, so it’s not like friendjection matters that much (read: AT ALL).
Although my official occupation is “college student”, I’d estimate 80% of my “education” (aka, useful shit, excluding life experiences) has come from extracurricular reading. Every book on this list has been read 3-10+ times and underlined and margin-marked to the point where the original words take concentration to make out. All of these books are best looked at as a conduit for each author’s individual life philosophy, that’s what makes me read them over and over again and what makes them tangibly valuable in my life. What I’ve gotten out of each book has changed every couple months, and I know I’ll always get something new out of each one if I read it again.
Top 4 (8 books):
1) How to Win Friends and Influence People-By Dale Carnegie
This remains the most important book I have ever read in my life. Literally life-changing. I still have moments when I’m an aggressive asshole and suffer from the occasional collegiate relationship drama, but for the most part, I have ZERO social conflict in my life and I credit internalizing this book’s lessons. I first discovered it at 19 when I was moving back home to Marin County after spending 6 months at Santa Barbara City College and realizing that I had NO CLUE how to have productive, friendly relationships outside of a small group of friends that I connected with at a deep level. While I still wouldn’t consider myself a paradigm of social grace (it’s a continuous work in progress) this book taught me how to be a friendly, approachable person, and how to genuinely value other people (something that did NOT come naturally to me).
P.S. An honorable mention to UC Davis’ own Richard Osibanjo (author of Turning Points, which is great in it’s own right and I highly recommend), who brought me back onto the path of genuinely liking people when I was depressed and despondent about the state of higher education Fall 2013 and Winter 2014. To this day he is the most personally important and influential person I have met at Davis, even though I only interacted with him for two hours at the 2014 Aggies Leading the Way Conference. It’s positively silly how short interactions with exceptional people can change your whole outlook on life, this was one of them for me.
2) The 4-Hour Workweek- by Timothy Ferris
Even though this is intended as a business book, it’s become one of the most important personal development references I’ve ever had for building self confidence and embracing unconventional thinking. Like How to Win Friends and Influence People, I discovered Tim Ferris book at 19, when I was going through one of my many young adult crisis-of-purpose phases. This book touches on so many important, PRACTICAL issues was hard for me to believe the first time through. I’d read two or three pages, then read them again, and again, and then have to put the book down for 20 minutes to go for a walk because the ideas were so groundbreaking I needed time to mentally and emotionally process them. Originally marketed as a Silicon Valley Productivity Guru, Tim Ferris has become one of the dominant male role models of my life just through his writing. It took discovering him to realize that it’s possible for someone to be an attention-seeking unconventional thinker and be REWARDED for it. Conquering fear, managing time, setting priorities, evaluating relationships, finding personal meaning, and living one’s dreams in a tangible way, ALL of this is in this book. I’ve cried multiple times reading certain passages and have quotes plastered on the walls of my apartment (totally normal, I promise). Somewhat ironically, 60% of the book’s content barely even applies to me because it involves real world business negotiations and how-to entrepreneurial blueprints, experiences I’ve yet to touch in my life. I will continue to re-reading this into the future, especially as I start on business ventures of my own and finally have the perspective to understand much of the book’s business-related content.
3) The Way of the Peaceful Warrior (also, The Journey of Socrates)- by Dan Millman
It’s ironic that this book follow Robert Greene’s on my list, as this book book is essentially a “based on a true story” narrative designed to deliver new-age, Western Buddhist teachings. I first read this book at 15, and although I’ve since abandoned the life philosophy it espouses, it was very profound to me at the time. The book is semi-autobiographical, following the author’s real-life college encounters with his spiritual mentor (who is secretly his great-grandfather) nicknamed “Socrates”. Socrates systematically breaks down Millman’s arrogant, self-absorbed, entitled self and teaches him Western Buddhism as means to happiness through destroying the ego. Socrates’ character is based upon Millman’s real life great grandfather, Sergei, a 20th century Russian immigrant who’s pregnant wife was killed in an anti-Jewish hate crime at the hands of Pre-WWI Russian Cossacks and discovered spirituality as a way to cope. Although I fundamentally disagree with Socrates’ conclusion that ego-death is the secret to a satisfying and fulfilled life, the book is full of meaningful life lessons about the value of humor and self-awareness in developing a meaningful high-performance life. Unfortunately, Dan Millman significantly hurts his own narrative by giving Socrates impossible quasi-mystical powers, and his college self is repulsively obnoxiously, but the book is still extremely meaningful.
4, 5, 6, 7, 8) The 48 Laws of Power, The 33 Strategies of War, The Art of Seduction, Mastery, The 50th Law – All five by Robert Greene
I needed to include all five books Robert Greene has written, that’s how exceptional of a writer/thinker he is. All five books follow the same basic format: historical figure anecdote followed by analysis and then a distilled life lesson. Each book is divided into 10-48 “laws”, several of which are subdivided further within the chapter. What makes Greene’s so exceptional in all five books is his ability to talk about social, political, and psychological power from a point of view completely devoid of morality. In a culture with an unquestionable Judo-Christian sense of right and wrong this premise is ground-breaking. Cutting, ruthless, pragmatic, and utterly free of bullshit, these books forever saved me from the self-help section of the bookstore (which is stereotypically shallow, fluffy, and more or less worthless). The research is excellent, the “case studies” fascinating, and the writing high-vocabulary yet extremely easy to follow. I’ll need to talk more about these books at another point to do them justice, but for now, buy them, read them, read them again, underline, reflect, read again. In many ways these books were a key to freeing myself from the “positive thinking”, politically correct, fake niceness of the world I grew up in. Not saying I’ve figured life out yet, but these books helped me cut away a lot of useless, masturbatory thought patterns. Again, buy, read, read again.
Author’s individual life philosophies on how to “live the good life” manifested through their book(s):
Dale Carnegie: Maximizing friendliness, agreeableness, understanding, and compassion is the single best skill to being successfully professionally and personally.
Tim Ferris: Fearless, unconventional thinking and a analytical, experimental mental attitude are necessary to take advantage of the opportunities the modern world affords us. Don’t be afraid to question cultural common sense and make yourself a better personal operating system to take advantage of all life has to offer.
Robert Greene: Never lie to yourself about the realities of life, people, and yourself. Embrace the world the way it is without trying to rationalize or sugarcoat reality into something “nicer”. Morals and ideals such as fairness or justice are human inventions, the world is not influenced by such ideals. Politics and power struggles are everywhere there are people and everyone engages in power plays of some sort or another in their day to day lives. Yes, this includes me and you.
Dan Millman: Where you give your attention is where you give your life. Don’t write off low-stimulation moments as worthless, because that’s what most of life consists of. Don’t fall into the illusion of thinking that you’re “all that” hot stuff, you’re human, you’re going to die, you’re not that big a deal in regards to the universe.