Success got me thinking:
Steve Jobs was successful. Bruce Lee was more successful in his short career span. Mandela by all measures and standards had a successful life. So is the swimmer Phelps Stocks, the marathoner Dibaba and Muhammad Ali in sports.
Maybe you are successful. I don’t know. As for me, I’m not. Not yet.
The knowledge of nothing scribed under my name (Somewhere in Swiss Bank) and no inheritance to look forward to compels me to seek more. And in the process, I ask more.
Most often, I seek the making of the successful people and the true meaning of success. Sometimes, my conscience take me through rounds of internal monologue. In the end, I find answers though blurred, of: Is there a way I can act, behave or think to bring more rewards to my life? Or I can use to realize success fast?
Can there a way I can trade in the very path that made Marathon, the Greek long distance runner’s name a popular sport. And Hero, the Greek legend an attribute for extraordinary works?
Weeks ago, I held a light talk with Joel – a close friend, whom I met back in high school. In a coffee shop, in Orkney- an 8-hour drive archipelago north of Edinburgh.
The weather was cold and our discussion was gaining momentum and not long before it was heated.
Joel was fussing about the making of success.
He was talking of how a few people, a handful of them, were so talented that they seem to take all the ‘good things’ in this world. All the rewards that come with success; to a level that their life achievements make him, an ordinary man, a dwarf success-wise.
Me: … I don’t think so. You speak of talents. Maybe there is more.
Joel: You don’t get it, Lee. Are you? A handful. Like Jobs. He gave us technologies ahead of time. He went further to tell us what the technology was and even taught us how to use it. Tell me if that is not a rare God-sent talent.
Me: It is talent of cos. What if there is more to the very talent? More hidden from the normal eye and we see it not? Have you given this a thought?
Joel: (laughing) Tell me. What that something that is not talent?
And I told him: Grit.
Grit: The making of success
Not far from the coffee shop I held a talk with Joel. A scientist was observing something strange from her students.
It came so often that she gave it her time, not long before a pattern emerged.
In her observation, most of her not so talented students performed at par with the most talented ones. Sometimes, they would beat them.
The findings raised her curiosity to a new new level. She sought a more scientific explanation of it.
In her own words,
I left a very demanding job in management consulting for a job that was even more demanding: teaching. I went to teach seventh graders math in the New York City public schools. I made quizzes and tests. I gave out homework assignments. When the work came back, I calculated grades.
What followed was groundbreaking discovery. It shook Psychology understanding of success to its roots.
Angela Duckworth again:
What struck me was that IQ was not the only difference between my best and my worst students. Some of my strongest performers did not have stratospheric IQ scores. Some of my smartest kids weren’t doing so well. And that got me thinking… every one of my students could learn the material if they worked hard and long enough.
Now the honey pot.
The very concept she used to build the book Grit, the power of passion and perseverance. It got published and earned the bestseller spot almost instantly earning her millions, recognition and a several awards.
In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.
What is grit?
In Angela Duckworth own words: Grit is passion and perseverance for a long-term goal.
The epitome of effort, and stamina, and ability to stick with your future. Having the power to make it interesting even when you feel bored. Pushing it hard not for days, not weeks, not months or years but all time even when odds stacked against it.
Through effort, grit (1) transforms talent into skills. And, (2) make those skills productive. Talent, on its own, is futile. Like a fertile garden left unattended to, over which weeds thrive and crops edged out slowly.
Is it Talent over Grit
Often in life, we tend to glorify talent, IQ, height as sole causative agents of success. In the process, we undermine the impact of effort in developing the every talent to fruition and this is where we go wrong.
We hear of how talented silicon valley nerds are.
How company X sales team are good in closing sales.
How talented sportsmen and women are.
And at no given point have we taken a moment to check the records for ourselves of how much resources and time are expended every year to make a top-notch sportsman like Phelps Stock reach that level of excellence in swimming.
Instead, we take comfort in the shade watching the God-sent talent do the swimming and get chickened out in the process. Wow! He really is a god. I wonder if there will be another Phelps, ever.
I don’t infer that talent, 200+ IQ, 7’40’’ height, by no means add value to success. Perhaps they do. But, research has shown that there is very weak correlation between them and success.
For instance, Britney Spears was the highest paid female musician in 2012. She has released several albums and worn over 310 awards including Grammy award in 2015. With only an IQ of 104, she was able to break out of an industry creatively demanding as writing.
It points to the fact that, an inept person trying as hard can be at par with the talented or be better if they are grittier enough.
Having Blessed talent and ability to be grittier gives you a double chance of scaling up your skills twice faster and achieve more success in a short time.
The ability to endure and consistency of effort separates those who make it in life and those who don’t.
Focusing on talent alone stray us from doing what is right.
A genius! For 37 years I’ve practised fourteen hours a day, and now they call me a genius!
-Pablo De Sarasate
Conclusion: The Way Forward
A talented person, twice skilled but half hardworking will end up achieving the same level of success as an ordinary person striving harder.
This stems from the fact the talented are less willing to commit to a course that could bring them most rewards.
Similarly, those who strive for excellence improve their skills continuously over time. They end up producing more and accumulate more rewards not by sheer luck or gift of their talent, but by working harder.
It follows that the more they endure the more likely they are to meet their goals.
Have an interest in what you do.
Have a purpose.
Curate the vision of your future.
Make it a culture to be firm on your goals. Find people better than you and join them. The way things are done in their cohort becomes they way you do it on your own.
Talent distracts us from the simple truth that, on its own, without efforts, it remains an unmet potential.
Put one foot in front of the other.
Try more. Fail more. There is nothing wrong with trying and failing. It only means you are trying hard enough.
If you stumble and fall, fall forward. Fall 9 times and still rise for the tenth.
Know your place in your future life. Have a vision of it engraved in your notepad and somewhere in your heart.
If you become grittier enough, then, you are halfway between your current state and meeting your potential future.
Do you have a big dream? Do you want the good things life has in offer? Perhaps, disrupt the flow of an industry or change the course of humanity? Forget about the talent.
Of all the writers I know, William Zinsser stands out. His writing- fiction or nonfiction, is always fresh, laced with humor, wit, wisdom and entertaining.
His book: On Writing Well stands above all others books on the subject of writing. It is partly a guide and partly a bible for all writers, masters and contemporaries alike.
In the first chapter of the book, Zinsser dissects the complex process of writing and shows us fundamental principles that underlay the writing process in an easy to grasp question-answer approach. He answers questions that are at the core of good writing, that everyone wanting to write- and write well for that sake has to read. This is what he said:
The Wisdom of Good Writing (Excerpt)
A school in Connecticut once held “a day devoted to the arts,” and I was asked if I would come and talk about writing as a vocation. When I arrived I found that a second speaker had been invited—Dr. Brock (as I’ll call him), a surgeon who had recently begun to write and had sold some stories to magazines.
He was going to talk about writing as an avocation. That made us a panel, and we sat down to face a crowd of students and teachers and parents, all eager to learn the secrets of our glamorous work.
The first question went to him.
What was it like to be a writer?
He said it was tremendous fun. Coming home from an arduous day at the hospital, he would go straight to his yellow pad and write his tensions away. The words just flowed. It was easy. I then said that writing wasn’t easy and wasn’t fun. It was hard and lonely, and the words seldom just flowed.
Next Dr. Brock was asked if it was important to rewrite.
Absolutely not, he said. “Let it all hang out,” he told us, and whatever form the sentences take will reflect the writer at his most natural. I then said that rewriting is the essence of writing. I pointed out that professional writers rewrite their sentences over and over and then rewrite what they have rewritten.
What do you do on days when it isn’t going well?
He said he just stopped writing and put the work aside for a day when it would go better. I then said that the professional writer must establish a daily schedule and stick to it. I said that writing is a craft, not an art, and that the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself. He is also going broke.
What if you’re feeling depressed or unhappy. Won’t that affect your writing?
Probably it will, Dr. Brock replied. Go fishing. Take a walk. Probably it won’t, I said. If your job is to write every day, you learn to do it like any other job.
Do you put symbolism in your writing?
“Not if I can help it,” I replied. I have an unbroken record of missing the deeper meaning in any story, play or movie, and as for dance and mime, I have never had any idea of what is being conveyed.
“I love symbols!” Dr. Brock exclaimed, and he described with gusto the joys of weaving them into his work.
So the morning went, and it was a revelation to all of us. At the end Dr. Brock told me he was enormously interested in my answers—it had never occurred to him that writing could be hard. I told him I was just as interested in his answers—it had never occurred to me that writing could be easy. Maybe I should take up surgery on the side.
As for the students, anyone might think we left them bewildered. But in fact we gave them a broader glimpse of the writing process than if only one of us had talked. For there isn’t any “right” way to do such personal work.
There are all kinds of writers and all kinds of methods, and any method that helps you to say what you want to say is the right method for you. Some people write by day, others by night. Some people need silence, others turn on the radio. Others write by hand, while some by the word processor, some by talking into a tape recorder. Some people write their first draft in one long burst and then revise; others can’t write the second paragraph until they have fiddled endlessly with the first.
But all of them are vulnerable and all of them are tense. They are driven by a compulsion to put some part of themselves on paper, and yet they don’t just write what comes naturally. They sit down to commit an act of literature, and the self who emerges on paper is far stiffer than the person who sat down to write. The problem is to find the real man or woman behind the tension.
How was he drawn into it? What emotional baggage did he bring along? How did it change his life? It’s not necessary to want to spend a year alone at Walden Pond to become involved with a writer who did.
This is the personal transaction that’s at the heart of good nonfiction writing. Out of it come two of the most important qualities that this book will go in search of: humanity and warmth.
Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next, and it’s not a question of gimmicks to “personalize” the author. It is a matter of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength.
Can such principles be taught? Maybe not. But most of them can be learned.
You might also want to read: 100 Best Books of 2017: The Complete Recommended Reading List
A week ago, I dropped an email to several close friends asking what their ‘next big idea’ best books were. Books that shaped their way of thinking and how they see the world. The response I got was overwhelming.
In addition to the books I had read before, I decided to compiled a list of all best books ever- ones that make the better part of my reading this year, and I know might help you as well.
However, I left out some books (1) which were not in line with what we are about and (2) for some other reasons.
If you got a title you feel I should add to this list or a suggestion I should check out, drop me an email at hello (at) gentleinsight (dot) com. Thank you.
And I believe that the best learning process of any kind of craft is just to look at the work of others.
Here are your books, classified into categories. The * are available in blinks, both audio and text. It is free.
Best Self-help Books
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A counterintuitive approach to living a good life by Mark Manson
The Art of Possibility by grant Cardone
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris*
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy*
Superhuman by Habits by Tynan
10% Happier by Dan Harris*
The Practising Mind by Thomas Sterner*
The 10X Rule: The only difference between success and failure by Grant Cardone
A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen
The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod*
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie*
The Road Less Travelled: A new psychology of love, traditional values, and spiritual growth by M. Scott Peck
The 7 habits of Highly Effective People by Tim Ferris*
Getting Things Done: The art of stress-free productivity by David Allen*
Best Books on Writing
Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott*
On Writing by Stephen King
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Larry Phillips
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Wired for Story: The writer’s guide to using Brain Science to hook readers from the very first sentence by Lisa Cron*
The Elements of Style by William Strunk
The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler
With Hemingway: A year in Key West and Cuba by Arnold Samuelson ==== I also found a rare collection of Hemingway’s book: Hemingway’s Key West.
Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Just like Wired for Story, she hacks the brain science behind us liking some stories and not others and explains it in this book.
Best Books in Philosophy
Meditation by Marcus Aurelius*
The Republic by Plato*
Candide by Voltaire
The Manual for Living by Epictetus
On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Franki
Obstacles Is the Way by Ryan Holiday*
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Best Books in Psychology
Influence: The psychology of persuasion by Robert Cialdini*
Mindset: The new psychology of success by Carol S. Dweck*
Incognito: The secret lives of the brain by David Eagleman*
Fear of life: The wisdom of failure by Alexander Lowen
Peace In Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Rational Optimist: How prosperity evolves by Matt Ridley*
Think Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann
Blink: The power of thinking without thinking by Malcolm Gladwell*
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell*
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter
Best Business Books
The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris. (In addition to Rich Dad Poor Dad, the two books have had a huge impact in the 500% surge in online freelancers, online entrepreneurs and startups culture between the year 2007 and now according to recent report by PayCheck. If you haven’t read this book, I wonder what you’ve been reading all these time.)*
Influence: The psychology of persuasion by Robert Cialdini*
The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber*
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate them at your won risk! by Al Ries & Jack Trout*
Fooled by Randomness: The hidden role of chance in life and markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb*
The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley story by Michael Lewis
Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin
Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The wit and wisdom of Charles T. Munger by Charles T. Munger
The $100 Startup: Reinvent the way you make a living, do what you love, and create a new future by Chris Guillebeau*
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries*
The Best Personal Finance Books
The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason*
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki*
The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey*
Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin
Family Inc: Using business principles to maximize your family’s wealth by Douglas McCormick
Naked economics: Undressing the dismal science by Charles Wheelan
Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Tylor Larimore. (a DIY handbook on investing wisely)
Get a Finacial Life: Personal finance in your 20’s and 30’s by Beth Kobliner*
The Millionaire Next Door: The surprising secrets of America’s wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley*
I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi*
The Best Books on Personal Health
Bigger Learner Stronger by Michael Mathews
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our year of seasonal eating by Barbara Kingsolver*
Beat Sugar Addiction Now! by Jacob Teitelbaum & Chrystle Fiedler*
Bulletproof Diet: Lose up to a pound a day, reclaim energy and focus, upgrade your life by Dave Asprey*
The happiness advantage: The 7 principles that fuel success and performance at work by Shawn Achor*
The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to pure performance by George Mumford
Why We Get Fat: And what to do about it by Gary Taubes*
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a good number of supportive friends, a loving family and inspiring mentors in my life. A big ‘thank you’ to Mayer, James, Farouk, Jane…. to mention a few for your contributions and always being there for me.
No Longer am I productive but super productive. That doesn’t mean I don’t procrastinate at all. I do procrastinate but not like before. In fact, some of my previous life passions- like procrastination and social media addiction, still pay me visits regularly but I devised a way to keep them at bay as much as I can.
Now, you might be asking, what’s the secret Lee? Tell us the turning point, Buddy.
The turning point: I got fired as I said in the introductory article. Reason: WhatsApp!
About the secret, there is none. But,
Here is what I do to stay super productive
I meditate. Not all time but regularly, sometimes I do it several times in a day. Sometimes, I don’t do it at all. The result is clarity of mind. It is a cool thing to have.
I read books. Most people read too, just like I do. But, they read wrong types of books. Old materials have timeless wisdom. Doubt me? Then, why did they survive all the years unchanged? The answer is simple, they are more than good. And that is why people who are great at their craft, look for the ancient material for reference.
I don’t take sugar. Not anymore. Sugar clouds my thoughts. I end up performing stupidly and writing shitty staff, deleting them before I even start. I’ve heard before that sugar is poison to the brain cells. I’m no scientist to know that for sure. But, through personal experiments, I confirmed something of the sort. Instead, in my diet, you will find this:
All green, fresh and whole. Here I am. Healthier and stronger than before.
I exercise 5 days a week. It keeps me fit. I get more energy and brainpower every time I visit the gym. In the end, I push tasks at a speed unheard of. All completed ahead of time with a different level of accuracy. So you want to be smart, strong, healthier and more confident? Exercise.
I fast from all foods. Yes. I fast from all foods, except pure water of cos. The water thing has no calories. When I cannot fast, I stick to my meals timetable. The timetable conditions me to eat in the afternoons when the level of productivity drops. The result is clarity too, in addition to increased self-conscience and focus.
I stopped watching the news. In fact, I gave away my tv, for free. News helps me with nothing. They make me hysterical and reactive instead. Who wants to see the guy I like less making headlines, fake news about fake news, Syria, Somalia, Ukraine? Ah! I stopped
I help people for free. Since childhood, I sell nothing that was meant not for sale. When I get tired of the things I own, I give it away to someone who needs it. I give it away for free. Does that make me charismatic? Maybe. Does it make me money-stupid? Nope. What do I get in return? Inner happiness and fulfillment. Who can place value on that?
I live a minimalist life with a slogan: If it doesn’t add much value, ditch it. That is how I have lived for the last one years. In the house I live, I own almost nothing, including the house itself. Because I do not want to think about anything else but how to make life and the world better. Therefore, I uncluttered. In my closet, chinos, jeans and short-sleeved shirts.(I remember saying this before)
I limit my appetite for coffee. Just kidding. It’s tea. When I take it, I get addicted, I stop taking it, I get monstrous headaches. What is the point of taking it? A slow poison? I stopped taking it too.
Have I talked about 8+ hour sleep, 60-hours work week, taking cold showers, writing a not-to-do list? I have not. These are but regurgitated staff. They make no sense to real productivity apart from cluttering your mind and demeaning your judgment to think they are some kind of productivity breakthroughs. In reality they are nothing. Do them at your own risk at the expense of the true productivity.
Above all, do not go broke. Whoever said money is not important and perhaps it is the root of all evil, screw him. That is a born-into-money brat. Do not listen to him. When he tastes no money for a month or two, trust me, he will be back with a new testimony: MONEY IS GOOD, DO NOT GO BROKE.
If you liked this piece of life advice on how to stay productive, I will be giving more of such here. Make sure to check them out.
What do you do to stay productive? Let me know in the comments below. Don’t forget to share this with your friends.