Ten Lessons Learned from Reading Over 100 Books

When I left my corporate job about a year and a half ago, I started reading books, gorging on books in fact. I've now read over 100 books covering a variety of areas of interest:

  • Finance & investing
  • Economics
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Unconventional living
  • Health & fitness
  • Mindfulness 
  • Even select works of fiction

Interestingly enough, I found that there was more to reading than, well, reading. Here's what I've learned so far:

  1. It's not important to remember what you've read.
  2. It affects how you think and feel.
  3. What you read influences your actions.
  4. It's OK not to finish a book.
  5. It makes you learn about yourself.
  6. It promotes curiosity.
  7. It helps you evolve.
  8. You'll never keep up with your reading list and that's fine.
  9. You're not likely to ever be "done".
  10. And you'll never want to be.

1. It's not important to remember what you've read.

Books represent different things to different people. For some they are light entertainment, for others a resource of knowledge and learning, and for others they are reminders of important moments or academic successes. However, when you buy a book, you do not suddenly own the wisdom it contains—all you have bought is words on paper. It’s up to you to internalize whatever enlightenment the book has to offer.
— p. 128, It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh

Or to memorize facts and figures for that matter, unless you're taking a course that makes it necessary*. I find what's important is the many insights I can derive from reading on a topic of interest. You know what I mean. It's those "aha" moments when the lightbulb turns on and you now understand something in a way you didn't previously. That's what makes reading so gratifying. It's the handful of moments such as these that make a book memorable, that make you recall the lessons time and time again, just when you need them most.

2. Books affect how you think and feel.

Reading does change the way I think, at least while I'm reading a given book. I find myself seeing the world through the author's eyes, or at least how she or he wants me to see it. By seeing things differently, I can't help but change my thinking and, to some extent, how I feel about the world around me and about my actions within it. This is especially true when I'm reading a book on psychology or philosophy, but it seems to occur no matter the topic.

Noticing how my thinking changes depending on what I'm reading helps me realize that my thinking is plastic and that how I think and feel about something can, and likely, will change over time. And most importantly, that change is ok.

3. What you read influences your actions.

Books make you want to do things. Indeed, that's exactly what compels us to read some of them ("how to's" anyone?). Whether it's a call to action to declutter, to start writing, to pay more attention to your finances, to invest, to cook, to fix, or to be kinder to yourself, what you read is an enabler to change, both for better or for worse. It certainly has for me and some of these subsequent actions have resulted in articles I've published on this very blog.

4. It's OK not to finish a book.

I used to live and die by my "to do" lists. I was always after that next checkmark, no matter how important or trivial it might be when stacked against what I really want in life.

There are plenty of books out there. Some are awe inspiring, some are great, some are good and some are, well, not worth finishing. I've given myself permission not to give my time to a book that doesn't fuel my curiosity to know more about a topic or more about what the author thinks about it. I'd say that about 10% of the books I start reading I don't finish and I think that percentage is still too low.

Sometimes I stop reading after the first chapter, sometimes I'm 2/3 of the way through. Whatever the point I've reached, I always feel it's OK to move on because it makes room for something that might be much better than what I'm leaving behind and, after all, time is what's scarce, not the written word. It's the quality more than the quantity that matters and no checklist will ever measure that for me.

5. It makes you learn about yourself.

The more I read, the more I notice how I feel about statements I read. I have reactions to an author's writing, both good and bad. When I have a noticeable reaction to something I've read, I start asking myself why:

  • Why do I like what I've just read so much?
  • Why do I feel so uncomfortable with what I just read?
  • Why don't I believe this author is genuine in what he/she is saying?
  • Why do I feel I can trust this message and apply it?

Sometimes, it's the questions I ask myself that offer the best value in having read a particular book. In fact, if often influences what I'll read next.

6. It promotes curiosity.

The more I read, the more curious I get about topics related to what I'm reading. It's a bit like being a squirrel climbing up a tree. At first, the squirrel moves up the tree trunk. As it moves up the tree, it chooses a fork and move along it. Every time it reaches another fork, it has an increasing number of options in how it chooses to keep climbing. The options simply multiply and/or cross over into other types of options as branches start to overlap. The questions keep multiplying...exponentially. The more I read, the more I want to know and the more I realize how much I don't know and likely never will because there are just too many choices. I find that exciting as opposed to overwhelming. It just seems to increase my appetite to learn.

7. It helps you evolve.

As I learn and become exposed to an ever-growing list of topics, I find myself choosing certain paths and discarding others. Reading has helped me better understand what I care about by having to make choices about what I want to learn more about.

There's no better motivator than curiosity about a given topic, practice or craft. I don't force myself to read something because another person says it's a good idea (I would probably not be a very good book club member). I read it because I want to read it and I feel I'm going to get something out of it. I need to believe that it's helping me move in a direction that feels good to me, at least for now. Luckily, that growing list of topics has helped me discover areas of interest I didn't even know I had and it makes me feel like a more well-rounded person. I don't know where my reading will take me over the next few years but so far, so good.

8. You'll never keep up with your reading list and that's fine.

Book suggestions are everywhere. Almost every news outlet, book seller or blogger worth their salt has a "suggested reading" list. Even authors offer up suggested readings if you want to know more about what you've been reading. For every book I read, I easily come across another 10 suggestions. If something sounds interesting, I write it down on my "future reading" list, along with any pertinent notes about the book I want to remember, such as who suggested it and why. If I'm out of ideas, I simply refer to this list and see if something strikes my fancy. If not, I look for inspiration elsewhere. Just because it's on someone's list doesn't mean I need to read it.

9. You're not likely to ever be "done".

In The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau suggests a good reading list can be as, if not more, valuable than a college education, at a fraction of the cost. In The Power of NO, James Altucher suggests that a noteworthy component to one's reinvention is to read 200 to 500 books and that this activity can be as valuable as having a great real-life mentor.

Indeed, many successful leaders such as Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey believe reading is essential to success. Given there are many great books to read and that, as time moves on, our collective body of work will only grow, it's unlikely we'll ever be able to say we have "arrived". Indeed, after reaching the triple-digits, I feel I've barely scratched the surface of what I want to know about. 

10. And you'll never want to be.

The truth is that I don't want to feel I'm done reading everything I want to read. It would sadden me to think that I could ever reach that state. The act of reading itself, to become immersed in a book and to surrender to the thoughts and ideas its author is trying to convey, is invigorating.

Reading helps me in a variety of areas and I feel more creative, productive and happy when a topic or story has me completely engaged. I'm a better version of me because I've been reading, but more importantly because I'm still reading. What it does for me in the present is what I find most valuable and I can only derive that value as long as I keep turning the page.

What about you? Are you an avid reader? Are you (re)discovering reading? Tell me about your experience with books.

*I'll admit that I do keep notes on books I've read. I use sticky notes to mark favourite quotes and passages and often subsequently write down  what I valued most. The best of the best make it on Twitter or end up inspiring upcoming posts.

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