It’s your life

This:

“It’s your life — but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

And this:

“to be nobody but yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.” –e.e. cummings

 

Podcast SOS: Three sure things

I got a text today from a student on a road trip out west with some of his friends:

“EJ! Currently on a road trip across the US and wanted to know if you had any podcast suggestions while we are driving!”

I get this kind of request for podcast recommendations regularly.

I sent him these three podcast episodes:

Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History – The Big Man Can’t Shoot

The Art of Manliness – Becoming a Digital Minimalist

The Knowledge Project with Shane Parrish – The Angel Philosopher

Gladwell’s podcast is excellent throughout—provocative and compellingly counterintuitive. But that episode about free-throw shooting in basketball is the one that first got me hooked.

The Art of Manliness’s interview with the author Cal Newport is a solid introduction to his call for culling out the digital distractions currently overwhelming most of us.

And Shane Parrish’s interview with Naval Ravikant is full of nuggets of deep wisdom and practical life advice.

My podcast listening usually takes place while I’m driving or while walking my dog. I just don’t listen to the radio unless my kids take over in the car. Dad problems.

(Lately, though, podcasts have been shelved while I’ve listened to the audiobook versions of Robert Caro’s third and fourth volumes on LBJ: Master of the Senate and The Passage of Power. I’ve never read/listened to any book quite like these. This is the pinnacle of biography, at least from what I’ve read. The level of detail is extraordinary, but it’s not at the expense of truly riveting storytelling. Highly recommend.)

Raise the aspirations of others

Tyler Cowen is an economics professor and a prolific blogger at Marginal Revolution. He’s an A-list follow with multiple blog posts every day, and he’s a voracious reader who has pointed me to a lot of insightful articles and books.

I love this thought from Cowen: “At critical moments in time, you can raise the aspirations of other people significantly, especially when they are relatively young, simply by suggesting they do something better or more ambitious than what they might have in mind”

I have appreciated those who have seen more in me than I thought possible, who summoned something greater from me by their expectations.

And I have delighted in those moments when I have been able to awaken a new possibility in someone else. That’s a calling that keeps me going.

What if you looked for opportunities to heighten the trajectory of someone who would otherwise settle for a lower arc?

What if you regularly asked “What if…?”

There could be more people more fully fulfilling their potential with even a slight course correction thanks to your interest and curiosity and encouragement.

Awaken possibility.

A belief in the blood

“My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle. What do I care about knowledge? All I want is to answer to my blood, direct, without fribbling intervention of mind, or moral, or what not.” –D. H. Lawrence

This reminds me of Kubrick’s “The truth of a thing is the feel of it, not the think of it.”

“We can go wrong in our minds.”

Indeed. Just read the news.

Undoubtedly, our age is more disconnected than any before it from the physical—from blood and flesh and the feel of sunshine on skin and feet on actual ground. And face-to-face conversation. And taste and smell and the delicate sounds that get lost in the wash of noise emanating from ubiquitous devices.

There’s a knowing that comes from the body that our long-ago ancestors probably were in touch with in a way we never will be.

Not that I want to quit feeding my mind. But I know I need to more fully inhabit more often my flesh and blood.

And feel as well as think.

Lines of excellence

In a press conference just weeks before his death, President Kennedy was asked by a reporter if he liked his job. Kennedy’s response:

“Well, I find the work rewarding. Whether I am going to stay and what my intentions are and all the rest, it seems to me it is still a good many, many months away. But as far as the job of President goes, it is rewarding. And I have given before to this group the definition of happiness of the Greeks, and I will define it again: it is full use of your powers along lines of excellence. I find, therefore, the Presidency provides some happiness.”

The “full use of your powers along lines of excellence”.

Powers?

I’m late to the Marvel Cinematic Universe party, and the last few films have had me wondering who many of the superheroes are and what exactly are their powers.

Well, what exactly are your powers? I’m not completely sure what mine are.

Whatever they are, I know I’m not putting them to their “full use”.

Passive mode prevails over active mode way too often and the easy distractions of this age make it even harder to muster the will, to fully tap into my powers.

The looming regret just around the corner will be that of unfulfilled potential and unlived life. Powers wasted, left dormant and unsummoned.

Snap out of it, this half-slumber that most of us are muddling through. Fully use your gifts. Make them true gifts that offer value beyond yourself.

And be awesome in the process. Aim for excellence. Be discontent with just good enough.

Full use of your powers along lines of excellence.

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” –Robert Louis Stevenson

What I’ve been reading and listening to

My spring and summer book and podcast consumption so far:

Books:

The Triumph of Christianity by Bart Ehrman – Good insight into how a small, outlier religion took over the Roman Empire in just four centuries.

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle – Really good. The subtitle is “The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups”. The book is filled with great examples of organizations and teams that have crafted the kinds of culture that set them apart. The chapter on the San Antonio Spurs and Coach Popovich especially keeps coming to mind. I’m afraid the vast majority of organizations either make no effort to prioritize culture (which really just means prioritizing people), or they think they do but do it in a forced, inauthentic way, more as a means to an end rather than a meaningful end in itself.

The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot – A very deep dive into Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations by the foremost scholar on the subject.

Mastery by Robert Greene – I’m rereading this for a book club with the students I work with. It’s worthwhile just for the many vignettes of the lives and work of past masters.

11/22/63 by Stephen King – This is the first Stephen King novel I’ve ever read. It’s a wonderfully done time-travel story that completely pulled me in. It’s about a guy who goes back in time intending to prevent the JFK assassination, but it’s the side stories that make this so compelling.

Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle — A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Autuan, and The Farthest Shore – I do like an occasional fantasy novel, and these books were influential for an entire generation of writers. You can see where J.K. Rowling got some of her key ideas.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Light, fun, imaginative, and not as dark as I’d expected.

Next up: Circe by Madeline Miller

Audiobooks:

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – I learned a lot, but this is one where the actual book would have made more sense than the audiobook. So much of this book relies on seeing da Vinci’s creations. Isaacson goes into great detail on the nuances of his art, and it’s hard to fully appreciate it without seeing the art that’s included in the book

Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen – Bruce reads this himself, and that takes this one up a notch. He made his name in rock and roll as a writer of songs rather than on his voice or his musicianship. And this book is poetic in many parts. It’s beautifully written. He also stood out as a compelling on-stage presence, a true star as a charismatic, high-energy frontman. That all comes across in this telling of his story.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe – This is Wolfe’s classic account of the beginnings of the U.S. space program. It’s a rollicking, hugely entertaining story told with a winking flair that really captures the courageous and often reckless vibe of those first astronauts. The actor Dennis Quaid reads this, or, more accurately, performs this, and shows the right stuff, himself, in delivering a compelling and fun story.

Rocket Men by Robert Kurson – I was on a NASA kick. This one is all about Apollo 8, which was a bold effort to get American astronauts to the moon before the Russians. This one mission flipped the space race and set up Apollo 11. Apollo 11 gets all the glory, but Apollo 8 is a much more dramatic story.

Next up, Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts

Podcasts:

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – Episodes are few and far between because Carlin clearly puts so much research and planning into each one. His latest series on imperial Japan is off to a great start. So, so good.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History – Gladwell is killing it now that he’s started podcasting. This is a great format for his passionate and clever storytelling.

My reading routine is like this: First thing in the morning I sit down with a cup of tea and focus for around a half-hour on something heavier—non-fiction like Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, Ehrman’s book on Christianity, and the Hadot book on Marcus Aurelius, for example.

At lunch I read something a bit lighter and often related to work, like Coyle’s book on organizational culture.

At night and on weekends I opt for fiction.

The audiobooks and podcasts fill my drive time and walks and yard work.

Books are important to me. Reading has shaped my life like few other activities. It’s too easy now to “read” the drivel that scrolls across our screens and think we’re accomplishing something. I have to make books a priority in my life and build routines around them to make sure reading time doesn’t got lost to the frivolous and empty distractions of 21st century life.