YOU are the System – 7 Takeaways for February 14, 2021

Your Own Path

A couple of quick recommendations from my approach to reading/saving/note-taking:

  • Even though I stopped using it for time-management, Evernote remains a great way to save both notes and complete articles that I want to refer to later without worrying that they’ll disappear online. It also saves “simplified” (i.e., no ads, no fluff) versions if it can. (The Evernote Clipper saves the URL with ’em, so I return to the original if it’s still around.)
  • I use Readwise to capture my highlights from Kindle books and other resources. It’s a great way to not just remind myself daily of some of the things I’ve encountered, but it also serves as a useful reference as I build this list each week.
  • I’ve started using Feedly to manage email newsletters in addition to RSS feeds. It lets me collect and organize important content without cluttering up my inbox. It’s a tool I often use for some of my daily reading and curation for Not All News is Bad.
  • And, of course, like so many other people, I use GoodReads to track what I’ve read, what I’ve thought about reading, and of course, what I’m reading right now. Since I’m not allowed to post Amazon affiliate links in email when I reference books here, it’s generally a GoodReads page I’ll send you to.

On to the week…

1. “Best-selling authors are primarily great marketers”

Arthur Schopenhauer’s 3 Ideas Will Improve the Way You Read – Eva Keiffenheim, MSc – (Medium) – There are many reading advice articles, and this one’s good, but the takeaway I quote above is what really made me sit up and take notice.

We often pay attention to the bestseller lists, but if you pay attention to the process of getting a book on that list, you’ll quickly realize it has almost nothing to do with the book’s content. It’s all about marketing these days. A better way to look is to see which books have been on that list for a long time or which books have stood the test of time? There are certainly books on bestseller lists that totally deserve your attention, but it’s not because they’ve been marketed well; it’s because they contain valuable content.

2. “the real value of a real education, (…) has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness”

This Is Water – David Foster Wallace – (via Mark Manson’s blog)

Manson mentions this commencement address in a recent Q&A video. I’ve now seen it referred to as a “famous” commencement speech from 2005, but this is the first I’d heard of it. To grossly oversimplify, Wallace discusses the value of an education in the real world. It’s much, much deeper than that and reminds us that most of us live our lives on a default setting — call it the rat race, the daily grind, or whatever. The value of education (I’ll claim any education) is teaching you how to think, and in doing so, teaching you to be aware.

3. “It is better to follow your own path, however imperfectly, than to follow someone else’s perfectly.”

Bhagavad-Gita, quoted in The Practice: Shipping Creative Work, by Seth Godin, itself quoted in How To Ship Creative Work –  Josh Spector – (Medium)

And now quoted here. That might be the longest multi-step attribution I’ve ever done. Josh’s post is a summary of the book, and yes, “Buy Now” was clicked after locating the Kindle edition of Godin’s book on Amazon.

Godin is one of the most prolific bloggers of all time. He posts something of substance at least once a day. I look forward to the book. He’s also wonderfully pragmatic:

Of my 7,500 blog posts, half of them are below average compared to the others, on any metric you’d care to measure. Popularity, impact, virality, longevity. That’s simple arithmetic.

(Roughly the same attribution chain as above.) I post Josh’s summary, or rather a list of favorite excerpts because they’re great ways to preview books before investing the time required to read them properly. Godin’s great, but not every book of his is for everyone. This one feels like it’s for me.

4. “I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be.”

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character – Richard P. Feynman – (ebook)

The full quote that really caught my attention:

It was a brilliant idea: You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.

What’s interesting is that Feynman was suffering from what I’d call a form of “imposter syndrome” — feeling like those around him were overvaluing his abilities. Letting go of responsibility for what others feel allowed him to move on and actually have fun with it all.

Positive or negative, we take others’ feelings so seriously at times. Even the person that cries out, “I don’t care what other people think!” is often the one most concerned with their appearance, their behavior, and their possessions because of “what other people think”. Letting go of trying to achieve that unattainable measure is ultimately freeing. You might even have fun with it all.

5. “*YOU* are the system.”

The System Isn’t Rigged. The System Is You. – Tim Denning – (Medium)

In many ways, this article speaks to one of my core beliefs: we control our destiny. It’s our reaction to the world that governs how we feel, how we act, and how we’ll survive. Many people I’ve mentioned this to respond by blaming “the system” — any one of several — for blocking or preventing them from achieving their goals or at least putting them at a severe disadvantage.

I can’t argue. It’s how they feel. And there’s a strong rationale for why they feel that way. And yet, it’s their reaction to their situation that controls more of their future than they’re willing to believe. They’d rather blame it on something external than investing the energy to change their beliefs and move onward and upward.

Blow up the system that constrains your mind. You have so much potential, and you can overcome any obstacle when you see the path forward.

To all the bankrupts, has-beens, underdogs, and one-time failures — your time will come. “The system” didn’t get you. Your belief system from a fatal experience temporarily got you. The good news is when you see the system is you, everything changes.

6. “You are the only expert in your own experience.”

My free 10-step Writing Academy – Elizabeth Gilbert – (Facebook)

This is a very short post by author Elizabeth Gilbert, and it’s pure gold. I re-visit it every so often. While it’s not one of those things that maps directly onto “how-to” articles, where I spend so much of my time, it’s still inspirational and contains many good reminders of the process of giving birth to words. Strongly recommended for anyone who writes (which, IMO, should be everyone.)

7. “The way to become a better writer is to learn how to write well.”

The Most Underrated Writing Tip That Beats ‘Write Every Day’ and Improves Your Writing – Boateng Sekyere – (Medium)

In a recent discussion among students in a writing course I’m taking, one expressed concern that not speaking English as a first language put them at a disadvantage. My response was that in my experience that many people who learned English as a second language end up better writers than those for whom it’s a native tongue. I think the reason is simple: they’ve chosen to learn it, and they’re motivated. Native speakers are forced to sit through English and writing classes whether they want to or not.

You have to familiarize yourself with the rules of writing if you want to get better. Take courses, read books, study the works of other writers to learn how. Write every day. But even better, every day, learn how to write.

What I’m Reading

In progress:

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