Reading is one of the hobbies that I’ve consciously tried to maintain over the past few years. I think a lot of people underestimate how much we can learn from reading – as well as all the other benefits it can offer. I’ve learnt so many valuable lessons from books that I’ve read over the past few years but there are some that I return to regularly, just to remind myself of the golden nuggets of advice that they contain. Below are three books that have perhaps had the greatest impact on my life and my confidence over the past seven or eight years. They have each provided unique insights and lessons that have been incredibly useful and if you look at the ratings that they all have on Amazon, it’s clear that I’m not the only one to have been influenced by them!
4-Hour Work Week – Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich – Tim Ferriss
At first, you might think that this book sounds like a bit of a scam. Quit your job and get rich! But, in reality, it’s far from a scam as its global success proves. The book was originally published in 2006 but has since been re-published and the new editions include testimonies from readers of the original version who took the lessons offered in the first edition and have completely changed their lives.
So what it’s about? In essence, the title doesn’t conceal anything. The author talks about his own story and offers tips and advice as to how you can leverage your own qualities and time to change your own life and avoid the treadmill and monotony of office or corporate life. Ferriss outlines how if you want to, you can quit your job and set up a life with automated streams of income by creating a system whereby your businesses are generating you money without you having to do 40-hour weeks. He suggests that we should take the 20 years of retirement and spread them out throughout our life – or, mini-retirements as the author phrases them – where each year you take a few months off whilst running your business remotely and with as little contact time as possible.
Within modern society, many people subconsciously travel through life on a treadmill that we’re anxious to step off for fear of ‘falling behind’ – not so much fear of missing out but fear of dropping out. As such, we rarely stop to question where this treadmill is going which is where this metaphor really comes into its’ own – the traditional treadmill of life ultimately goes nowhere – step on it when you go to school and step off it when you retire, perhaps with money in your back pocket but with a body that has been aged by a 30 year career of stress, commutes and worries over falling behind.
What this book is particularly adept at is showing how many people sacrifice their lives to the idea of retirement – Ferriss refers to these people as deferrers – putting off any form of pleasure and enduring a 30/40 year career. He sets this out explicitly and offers an alternative – focussing our attention on the other possibilities and paths that you could take in life which don’t require you to sign up to the 360-480 month subscription of standard office life in the twenty-first century.
For me, this was the book that has perhaps singlehandedly enabled me to set up my business which is a company that I set up whilst I was in medical school in 2013 called 6Med. We run courses for medical school applicants, and we made an online bank of questions for those applicants too. That company has been doing really well and I was able to run it alongside studying medicine at Cambridge because of the stuff that I learnt in this book. All the productivity tips and tricks – such as outsourcing to remote workers – have all helped enormously in enabling the company to grow for the past 7 years.
Here are a couple of quotes that I really liked from the book:
"For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn't conspire against you, but it doesn't go out of its way to line up all the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. "Someday" is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you...if it's important to you and you want to do it 'eventually' just do it and correct course along the way"
"Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. The question you should be asking isn't "what are my goals?" but "what would excite me?"
"If you're confused about life, you're not alone. There are almost seven billion of us. This isn't a problem once you realise that life is neither a problem to be solved nor a game to be won"
In essence, it’s a fantastic book and had a transformative effect on my life. If you have a passing interest in entrepreneurship or just want to get a fresh perspective and critique of the stereotypical 9-5 lifestyle of the modern world then read this book. You can also check out his podcast too – The Tim Ferriss Show – which is always full of interesting advice or interviews.
Show Your Work!: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Getting Discovered – Austin Kleon
Austin Kleon has written a couple of very popular books – short but packed with incredibly useful and life-changing advice. For me, ‘Show Your Work’ has proven really pivotal to my own life. Before I came across Kleon’s work, I had been toying with the idea of setting up a personal blog for a long time. I wanted to write about some of the lessons that I’ve gained or offer some advice from my own experiences, but I had never been able to get over the fear of self-promotion. I kept having negative thoughts around how people would judge me if I set up a ‘personal blog’.
In January 2016, I read Show Your Work and that completely changed the game for me – it made me realise that even if you are not an expert in anything, the fact that you have done anything at all means that you can write about that experience and there will be people somewhere in the world that will find that helpful. For example, setting up a company in Med school – it’s not a very common thing but it’s the sort of thing that people may be interested in so if I just write about my own experiences, I can share the lessons that I’ve learnt and help people.
The main idea of this book is that by sharing your work with the world, you are working towards helping people which is going to be an inherent good. The book provides ten rules for being open, generous, brave and productive and it completely changed my perspective and gave me the confidence to overcome that hurdle of fear and start writing. After reading it, I started my own blog which has now developed into what you are reading now. In fact, if it hadn’t been for this book, I probably wouldn’t have set up my YouTube channel LINK because the blog gave me the confidence to ‘show my work’ and overcome that fear that I discussed earlier of self-promotion and narcissism. It made me comfortable with the idea of putting myself out there.
I’ve now had thousands of messages from people all over the world who have been inspired or have learned something from the content that I’ve put out and the work that I’ve shared. If it hadn’t been for this book that I read in 2016, perhaps none of this would’ve happened and I wouldn’t have been able to help those people.
If you make any kind of content or would like to make content then this would be a really valuable book to read. We all have something to contribute – teach what you know and try to share something small everyday.
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur - Derek Sivers
Although this book has ‘entrepreneur’ in the title, please don’t let this put you off. The lessons that Sivers offers are as much lessons for life as they are for business and can be applied universally. I think anyone could gain quite a lot from reading this book and it certainly had an enormous impact on my own life.
As a bit of background, Derek Sivers was an independent musician who wanted to sell his CDs online in the mid 1990s but there wasn’t a platform that would do this at this point in time before the internet really took off. As a result, he decided to set up a company called CD Baby with just $500 in 1998 to help himself as well as other musicians to sell their music through the internet. He hired his first employee in 2000, grew the company to one that employed 85 people and was making over $100 million in revenue. He lists a number of lessons that he learnt from this business including:
o Invent and Improve
o Stop Things That Don’t Work
o Execution is Key
o Focus on Today
o Care About Customers
o Little Details Are Important
o Trust and Delegate
The company was sold for $22 million in 2008 but before he decided to sell the company, he transferred ownership to a charitable trust which then sold the company on his behalf – only 5% of the sale went to Sivers with the remainder of the money going to a charity for musical education.
This act was in keeping with Sivers’ overriding philosophy of generosity. This philosophy underlies much of what Sivers discusses in the book and the other key message is that you don’t need a visionary master plan to build a business – you should concentrate on what makes you happy and be guided by a philosophy of ‘having enough’.
We might think that the idea of not constantly chasing growth is quite novel in a world where every start-up just seems intent on gaining traction as fast as possible, growing as fast as possible, making money as fast as possible – ultimately aiming for growth at all costs. But Sivers ascribes to a different philosophical approach – pursue hobbies, businesses, side-hustles if they make you happy.
The book had a particularly profound effect on me in 2016. I had been running my company, 6Med, for about three years and it had been going well – growing year-on-year, increasing revenues, gaining more students. But in early to mid 2016 our growth started to stagnate and even dip slightly. I’d never really experienced anything like that before – suddenly something that had been going so well was on the decline and this caused me to question and doubt myself. Why has this suddenly stopped growing? What have I done? What have I done wrong? But then I came across this book and one quote in particular really struck a cord with me:
“Never forget why you’re really doing what you’re doing. Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn’t that enough?”
I regularly return to this quote to keep things in perspective. I can sometimes end up in a spiral whereby anytime I’m not working I feel guilty that I’m not generating content or keeping across my subscriber numbers. But I know that I’m immensely lucky to have the company, the YouTube channel, this blog and everything that that has brought with it. Whenever I find myself thinking that ‘I should make another video because my ad revenues have dropped’ or something along those lines, I open this book and read that quote. It reminds me that the revenue isn’t important – I’m enjoying what I’m doing, I’ve got amazing things on the side of my full time job and I’m helping people. Isn’t that enough?
Business is not about money. It’s about making dreams come true for others and for yourself. The real point of doing anything is to be happy, so only do what makes you happy and isn't that the best sentiment to end this post on?
Links to books:
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