“Where did you put it?” I asked my wife with more than slight annoyance.
“Back on the shelf where it belongs,” she retorted.
“But I just put it down two seconds ago!” I pleaded.
“Well,” she said, “it didn’t belong there.”
They say you marry your mother (or father), and apparently that’s what I’ve done. Growing up, my German mother would nary tolerate a fiber out of place on the rug, much less a book lounging on the table. Before you could find what you’d just put down, she’d have whisked it off to its rightful place.
But I suppose I can understand my wife’s frustration because I’ve always got multiple books going at once, and each location where I might choose to read needs to have its own stash eagerly awaiting my return. For example, the nightstand by my bed, of course, needs a few to pick from, as well as the couch downstairs, my car, my computer bag, and my office. That is not to mention I always need an audiobook in progress on my iPhone and at least one in the queue (luckily these are safe from fastidious hands).
The effect of all this reading is to produce an interesting mixture of ideas swirling around my head at any given point in time. Combine this broth with certain other influences — a song, a chance observation, a movie — and it can prompt action.
This happened on Tuesday and, while I can’t tell you the exact nature of what I did, I can tell you the influences that brought it about:
Listening to the audio version of “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. Takeaways:
- Intense passion about one’s work is key.
- Perfection can be costly, but will usually be beneficial in the end.
- Management by fear, intimidation, and abuse is a losing recipe, no matter how successful one is.
Reading “The Four Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferris. Takeaways:
- Success depends on scalability.
- Think global in terms of resources and support.
- At least 50 percent of this book is too shallow and gimmicky for my tastes.
- I’m sitting at a restaurant (okay, I’m at the bar of the restaurant) having lunch with my laptop open. A guy sits down, orders a beer and starts to chat with the bartender. He talks about retiring next year from a union job at a supermarket he’s held for 46 years. He doesn’t say this with cheer, but exhaustion, and I think not of someone toasting champagne in the winner’s circle, but dropping dead at the finish line.
There may have been another factor that influenced me but, if so, I can’t recall it. At that moment, something that’d been ripening in my brain for years became ready. In and of itself, however, that meant nothing, as many have known what to do, but yet been unable to do it. Let’s call this the action moment — the moment at which thought must become deed if results are to be achieved. It is at that moment that I drew upon lessons learned reading hundreds of biographies over the years, the countless examples that prove a life well lived is only done so by grasping the opportunities life occasionally places at one’s door. And mind you, as Seneca observed, they are presented like a waiter bringing around passed hors d’oeuvres — only within reach for a moment, then gone.
So I knew what to do, and I did it. The results of that action are largely irrelevant because one cannot judge the action by the outcome, but only by the context of the action moment.
The most important principle I have derived in my 39 years of life is this: live as if you were writing a biography that you would want to read — something interesting, fun, exciting and honorable. Let that be the standard by which all your decisions must be judged, and you’ll seldom be stymied by fear of the unknown.