One of my favourite podcasts is the Tim Ferriss Show. Among the many things Tim is successful at in addition to a podcast host, is being an author. Of his books, there is one called Tribe of Mentors: Short life advice from the best in the world, presumably about life advice that is short rather than advice about living a short life. It is based on answers to 11 really good questions that Tim needed to answer for himself at one point in his life, and of which he asked some people who he most admired to see what they would say so he could learn from the best. A sample can be heard in this podcast episode link, along with more about the questions and their sequence.
Personally, I love good, thoughtful and/or philosophical questions that are useful and not just theoretical. So in addition to reading and listening to answers from the book to learn, I thought I’d give them a try first. From answers I will give, I will analyze to see what I didn’t like, or which I thought I could improve on, to see if I can obtain a better answer some time over the next few years, decade, or even some point in the rest of my life. That’s because these questions aren’t just useless and/or silly thought experiments. No. A good answer for any one of these questions can really make a difference in one’s life, even if it wouldn’t always be some grand, life altering kind, though a few might be. At the least, I will end up with a great story for each answer. So here I go with question #1.
1. What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
I rarely give people books because I think it’s a big time commitment to expect someone to read it. As a result, I will answer about the books that have greatly influenced my life.
- Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates (1978). Up until my 30s, making sense of people was just an impossible challenge for me. That was until my childhood friend Scott told me about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that is used professionally to sort people. Its system was exactly what I needed to make sense of people in the world, with me being a very systematic person. However, I found its execution, the assessment through which one drew the type given by the indicator as well as how it was explained back to people, left a lot to be desired as I researched the subject matter more through this book. This book proposed its own person to do personality type assessments, an expanded theory to the MBTI, and also got me thinking critically about these assessments and framing explanations on my own. From this, people have made a lot more sense to me ever since, supplemented by a lot of other learnings about psychology that is more about all human psychology rather than certain types. However, the biggest impact this book had on me was that it inspired me to create my own personality assessment based on the works of Jung, Myers, Briggs, and Keirsey, that I could debate to be better than the ones from which I learned, as well as explain the outcomes better. It also inspired me to share my assessment online for over a million people to have used now! If that isn’t impact for a book on a general person, I don’t know what is!
- Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, by Daniel Goleman (1996). I had long known about patience, determination, grit, self-awareness, and such traits that are associated with emotional intelligence (EQ) by the time I was in my mid-30s. However, I had no clue for how to gauge it, or that it had a name as emotional intelligence. Through this book, I not only got those things, but also the self-realization that I had more EQ than the vast majority of the people on the planet. The quantified version came from an online test that had over 800,000 respondent at the time (of which I won’t share my percentile rating as it would only seem like bragging), while I convinced myself anecdotally of the same thing via my assessments with examples in my life, as noted via life example notes in the margins of many pages of my book copy, that I don’t see anything close to resembling in others’ lives. I also identified my weaknesses for EQ in those margins. It was a full on analysis, not ego padding confirmation bias. I did feel really good about myself, and better about myself than before reading the book, knowing this, and I have affirmed it a lot to myself over the years to navigate through life whenever EQ was highly needed due to complex and/or challenging circumstances.
- The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, by Thomas H. Johnson (1955, PDF link). In my early 20s, as I was self-learning about poetry, something that mystified me like people’s personalities, I borrowed poetry collections from one poet at a time, in some experimental order pending to what I was recently exposed. When I saw this book on Emily Dickinson’s poetry, I borrowed it because I had only vaguely heard of her and had not read many female poets’ works, and even fewer that I mostly liked. What I found was what Emily Dickinson called poetry to her, “if I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry“. Her ways of seeing the world metaphorically, and just declaring it without a lot of the classical elements of meter, rhyme, and proper punctuation, but which was not totally cryptic or improper in grammar, were just mind blowing to me! And that “dashing punctuation”, as I call it, to control how the reader should read the poems by her intentions of having them read, was revolutionary, not just to me but to the literature world at the time! Here was poetry like the modern poetry I had seen, but entirely eliminated as poor grammatical bitching, in a way that I could relate and like, with stunning content to go with expression and not just expression of whining content as most modern poetry I had heard. As a hybrid or bridge between the classical and modern poetry I knew of at the time, I called it “semi-classical poetry” for my own categorization, and started writing most of my poetry in the same way to style at least. The content is a lot harder to replicate but that’s why Emily is the the poetess she is! But you just need to do some “sampling” on my poetry blog to see her influence on my writing. It allowed me to write a lot more poetry than previously where sonnets and such forms look “forever” to write in terms of number of hours devoted to them. I have at least 25-50X the poetic output, on many more topics, as I would have had from Emily Dickinson’s influence than had I not known about it, and still enjoy nobody’s poetry more than hers to this day. Her letter writing is also equally breathtaking to read, by the way, as shown in The Letters of Emily Dickinson.
So those are my three books, based on influence as shown by impact. Now, I’m no bibliophile or avid reader, but I feel I have to include a few more that have greatly influenced my perspectives. I just haven’t been able to quantify impact like I have with these three books. Still, having the right perspectives on the big things in life helps because in many ways, they support one’s actions and decisions in life. Among these books are books that show me the grandest view of things, not some specific or even mid-range views. I hate it when people tell me I need to take the 10,000 or 30,000 feet view of something because I have to get more specific and detailed to get something done, as they don’t realize I do it cause I have to to get things done, but that I tend to seek and/or carry the 10 million light year view on most things.
- Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond (1999) and Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari (2015), for showing me human history, not geographic and societal history as most history is taught. I remember hating history being taught that way that I had a huge “history of the world” manual published by someone to summarize it all chronologically to at least have that compiled perspective all alongside each other in some way, never mind the higher level still presented by these authors and scholars. I have other similar books read and/or waiting to be read, including follow-ups by these authors, but their impact was or will have been less after these initial eye openers.
- The Starfish and the Spider, by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom (2007), for helping me sort the way the world works into centralized versus decentralized ways, and when to apply each. Very little analysis I do of how anything works doesn’t include this lens from the start, or very close to it.
- The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge (2007), for really convincing me of the case for neuroplasticity, and brain care with it. A lot of my lifestyle decisions involve this lens today.
I can actually write another handful but I’m already cheating on the question to go beyond the three requested so I will leave it here.
I plan to do a bunch more of these posts in the future beyond today’s date of posting, March 28, 2021. However, there may not be many for some months yet. So perhaps beyond July 1, 2021…