“Parker,” I said, as our little one began flinging books off the shelf, “cut it out.”
As I started cleaning up, I noticed one of his victims was a classic work of fiction I’d snagged at the used book store long ago. As is usually the case, my appetite for books is greater than my ability to consume them, and this one, Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth,” must have been sitting on that shelf for at least five years before it was so unceremoniously plucked from oblivion.
Choosing to see the hand of fate in my son’s selections, rather than merely the indiscriminate hand of a toddler, I scooped up the book and relocated it to my nightstand where, that evening, I finally parted the uber-dried pages. To my surprise (these “classics” are sometimes best left on the shelf), the writing was of an unusually high quality, and I was soon underlining outstanding sentences. Here are a few choice passages:
- She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce — the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice — but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life. (at this sentence, I wrote LOL in the margin)
- She had taken the girl simply because no one else would have her and because she had the kind of moral mauvise honte which makes the public display of selfishness difficult, though it does not interfere with its private indulgence.
- … but the girl showed a pliancy which, to a more penetrating mind than her aunt’s, might have been less reassuring than the open selfishness of youth. Misfortune had made Lily supple instead of hardening her, and a pliable substance is less easy to break than a stiff one.
The first example, though a daunting “don’t-try-this-at-home” 72 words, still reads well, still flows musically to what seems its natural ending point — a clear indication we are dealing with a writer of skill. And how do I know the sentence “works?” How did I know, after just a few pages, that I was dealing with something remarkable? The same way one gets to Carnegie Hall — practice, practice, practice.
I’ve been reading and reading and reading since I can recall. For the last five years, I’ve supplemented that reading significantly by absorbing audiobooks at times when reading was impossible — such as when exercising or driving a car. I can attest that not one of those “impossible” moments has passed in recent memory when I was not listening to a book. To my wife’s disbelief (and seeming consternation), I can say I really don’t listen to music at all. All told, I’m sure I’ve put in what Malcolm Gladwell has described as the 10,000 hours necessary for one to become a true “expert” at anything. I’ve earned the right to judge writing.
Recently, I chatted with someone who has accumulated what we’ll call a lackluster record of entrepreneurship. As he took me through his tales of woe, I quickly saw the problem. While they were all businesses, per say, they were all very different businesses. After a failure, instead of leveraging those lessons learned to give it another go, he’d switch to a different type of venture and, once again, suffer the hard knocks reserved for the novice. And on and on.
One of my most deeply held beliefs is that specialists beat generalists every time, experts outdistance dabblers — for it is only by first absorbing, then learning to parry, those hard knocks that we can ultimately dodge them altogether.
In healthcare IT today, opportunities abound. It is important when evaluating these to keep the aforementioned dynamic in mind, for opportunities are sweetened to the degree they embed us ever deeper into our chosen field. To those that favor facts and formulas over general philosophical theories, this is pure physics — one must merely look at the greatest wonders of the world carved by the relentless powers of wind or water to appreciate its truth. And it is only by displaying such powers of concentration and perseverance that we earn the right to expect similar results.