When I hit the magic age of 30 all of the stereotypes about turning 30 happened all at once. I grew tired of my job (and my managers), I got tired of my morning commute, and the evening commute as well. So I decided to quit my job without a safety net and to just wing it in life. I lived off of my savings for some time as I wondered where to go next.
I started to freelance my web development skills, I created a web consulting agency and I co-founded a tech startup. Nothing you wouldn’t see on a television show about a 30 year old burnt out programmer.
At this point I was also relatively overweight and had developed bad habits when it came to living any form of a healthy lifestyle. I wasn’t vegan, vegetarian, paleo or any classification of diet. I didn’t meditate or watch my breath or even walk really. I was a trapped victim of my modern environment.
Like Thomas Anderson in the Matrix, I knew there was something else I was missing. I was on auto-pilot and it was becoming more noticeable. And the more noticeable, the more uncomfortable it became. One day a friend handed me a book to read. It was tiny, it was orange and truthfully I just took it to be polite. The book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. At this point I had never heard of either the title or the author and truthfully the last thing that I read was probably sometime in college almost a decade prior.
But since I had more time now with this whole startup business I decided to start reading it. It’s overall a relatively easy book. If you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil it. But it’s a fun esoteric mystery that takes you on the heroes journey with many life lessons pointed out along the way.
Looking to make a few healthy changes I started to take morning walks and on occasion I would take the book with me to a local coffee shop. I’m a slow reader so it took some time to get through it. A few weeks at least. The more I got into it, the slower I read it as I really started to enjoy the story.
By the time I was done, I felt better. Better about life and about myself. The main character is me, but also you. It’s all of us at some point in time. And as they overcome adversity, we wish the same for ourselves. In addition this new walking routine was now a habit that I could not shake.
Soon after I finished the book I picked up another to take on my walks. It was Dale Carnegie’s “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”. Phenomenal book that I still recommend to everyone that I know who is an over-worrier. The whole premise of the book is about how most of the negative thoughts that we have on a daily basis never come true. And it does so with dozens of anecdotal stories from people all over the world making it that much more relatable.
Needless to say, after reading it, I felt better again. It made me reflect on my own life and really put into focus the things that did work out as oppose to the ones that didn’t. Which really are the only actual things that should matter. At this point, I was walking daily and reading much faster. And overall my demeanor was improving without my actively having to do anything.
You can guess what I did next. At this point, maybe a month after my first big read. finding something else to read became another habit. It was a part of my morning wake up routine, particularly as I was waking up at 5am these days. I’d get up, make coffee, go for a walk with book in hand. Eventually this turned into a Kindle as it was just more convenient and the books I was choosing became heftier in size.
If you are wondering what I read, it was pretty much anything and everything that I thought was interesting. I read books on quantum physics, followed by books on fasting and dieting followed by books on finance such as “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. This accompanied my lifestyle habits as I began intermittent fasting and writing down my business goals on a daily basis. I lost weight in the process and my professional work improved as I was able to scale the startup to thousands of clients in less than a year.
I didn’t quit my startup and escape to the woods to read as some might believe. The startup still ran just fine and most of my day was dedicated to it. But between 6am and 8am, that was my own personal pre-work ritual before the task list began. There were no emails and no phone calls during this time.
I soon began to average about 6 to 8 books per month, or 72 to 96 for the year. The more I did it, the faster I was able to read. I don’t think I was actually reading faster mind you, I was just getting less and less distracted the more that I did it. You could say that I was training my focus in this regard. Also, that’s alot of books and books aren’t cheap, I totally get that. This is also why having a Kindle helped out as the digital version of most books was substantially cheaper than the physical copies. Think of it as an investment.
So what magic did I learn from these books you may ask. The truth is that I can’t quantify the benefit of reading these 100 books in a year. But this I can say safely and many in my circle of family and friends will attest. My vocabulary grew exponentially along with my ability to form complex and cohesive statements. My ability to recognize patterns in speech and behavior also became stronger, likely due to the varying styles of writing in the different kinds of books.
I also learned countless new concepts of which I was completely unaware of previously. The number of “a-ha!” moments that I had were too many to count. I learned more about what it meant to be human. And I think more importantly, I learned that other people knew these things at a much higher degree than I ever could. That my own little bubble of reality really was little. And in a sense the reading had this secondary effect of increasing my level of curiosity about the natural world.
I lost weight as I learned about dieting, fasting and food allergies. I had less brain fog throughout the day. I met many of my neighbors as I became “that guy that reads every morning at the coffee shop”. And I increased my focus as I navigated through the thoughts and ideas of someone who is long gone but that were passionate about certain things during the course of their life.
And it all started with one tiny unassuming orange book, as many of the greatest stories tend to do. Years later I still make it a point to read everyday, though not at the same level as before. My rate of 90+ books per year sits at around 20+ these days. Either my schedule has filled in with other life events or I’m still working to assimilate the knowledge I read prior. But I’m always keeping an eye out for that next title that could very well lead me into the next phase of my life.
So read anything and read everything that catches your eye and you might just find yourself years later a complete stranger to your old self.