What I Read in 2017

Another year of reading has finished, so it’s time to take stock of how I did for 2017.  While I’m not an advocate of reading purely for the sake of speed or volume, I do challenge myself to see how many books I can get through during the year, if for nothing else than to ensure I’m carving out time to read.  For my 2016 results, check back to my post on What I read in 2016.

This year, I managed to get through 44 books and almost 14,000 pages, which is on par with my results from last year.  I posted my top list of books I read this year a few posts back, if you want to check it out.

I would say a little more than half of these books are audio books, as I decided to get an Audible subscription, and a friend has been kind enough to supply me with Terry Prachett books.  I have significantly picked up on the amount of fiction I’m reading, which was a deliberate choice since I noticed I consumed a lot of business and self-help books last year.

Title Author Pages
1 Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Greg McKeown 272
2 The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck Mark Manson 224
3 Leaders Eat Last Simon Sinek 368
4 Awaken the Giant Within Tony Robbins 544
5 $100 Startup Chris Guillebeau 304
6 Tools of Titans Tim Ferriss 736
7 American Gods Neil Gaiman 558
8 The View from the Cheap Seats Neil Gaiman 544
9 The Consolations of Philosophy Alain de Botton 272
10 Catching the Big Fish David Lynch 208
11 The Colour of Magic Terry Pratchett 288
12 The Path to Purpose William Damon 240
13 The Light Fantastic Terry Pratchett 288
14 The 80/20 Pinciple Richard Koch 288
15 The Complacent Class Tyler Cowen 256
16 How Proust Can Change Your Life Alain de Botton 208
17 Equal Rites Terry Pratchett 282
18 No Fears, No Excuses Larry Smith 272
19 Mort Terry Pratchett 272
20 The Death of Expertise Tom Nichols 240
21 Never Split the Difference Chris Voss 288
22 Sourcery Terry Pratchett 336
23 On Writing Stephen King 288
24 The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin 368
25 Reading the Humanities John Greenwood 156
26 Spark John J. Ratey 304
27 Wyrd Sisters Terry Pratchett 336
28 Managing Oneself Peter F. Drucker 72
29 Pyramids Terry Pratchett 308
30 The Checklist Manifesto Atul Gawande 240
31 Total Recall Arnold Schwarzenegger 656
32 Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual Jocko Willink 208
33 I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had Tony Danza 272
34 Guards! Guards! Terry Pratchett 416
35 Eric Terry Pratchett 160
36 Side Hustle Chris Guillebeau 272
37 The Productivity Project Chris Bailey 304
38 Moving Pictures Terry Pratchett 400
39 Mating in Captivity Esther Perel 272
40 Finding Ultra Rich Roll 400
41 Reaper Man Terry Pratchett 288
42 The Art of Learning Josh Waitzkin 288
43 Machine Man Max Barry 288
44 The Road to Character David Brooks 320
Total: 13904

All in all, I am very happy with the results, and I am looking forward to tackling the growing stack of books I have in my office for 2018.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

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Skills Worth Developing – A Primer

I have recently made visits to my alma mater’s Career Centre for some career counselling.  Now that I have established myself solidly at work, I want to start planning the next steps for mid-career moves in a few years.  While I can certainly do a lot of work on my own, I find value in speaking with a professional who can help me work through the process from an objective outsider view.

Part of the process involves reflecting on skills and values.  Not only should I look at the skills I currently have, but I should also start looking towards jobs I’m interested in and analyzing the skills I will need.  This process asks a number of important questions:

  • What skills are required to be successful/effective in my desired position?
  • What skills will I need to develop, and what kind of training/experience will that require?  Is there any lateral movement I can make with existing skills or domains?
  • On what timeline do I need to plan for skill development?
  • (And, critically) Of the skills required of a position I’m looking at, do I really care about the skill or acquiring it?

I’m still in the early stages of this work, but it has gotten me thinking about skills more broadly.  If you spend time around the career or personal development blogospheres, there is a lot of lip-service paid to skills that lead to high paying jobs, especially those concerning STEM.  Oftentimes, I find that these skills are specific bits of knowledge, such as programming and design, but you still see some of the generic skills like communication or critical thinking.

While reflecting on this, I was thinking about skills that I don’t see mentioned often that would still be worth developing as they are cross-domain and useful in many contexts.  And so, from time to time, I will reflect on some of these skills here.  Next week, I will share some reflections on the skill of storytelling.

One thing to note here is that I think these skills are important irrespective of whether they are tied to high-paying work.  Yes, it can be important to seek high compensation for work.  However, my introspection on the topic of career moves is motivated less by wanting more money, and more tied to personal fulfillment.

Yes, I want more money – I am hampered by student loans and I look forward to the day when my comfort margins widen sans debt.  The reason, though, that I went to the career adviser in the first place is because I generally don’t feel satisfied by my work.  I want to feel a sense of purpose and intrinsic achievement in my life, both professionally and personally.  There are many aspects of my life that I am happy with, especially at home.  Where I feel an absence of satisfaction is in the intersections of work, production, and craft.  It’s not about being busy or productive.  It’s about making, producing, and working on interesting problems.  That’s what I feel is missing.

It’s what I intend to explore through thinking about skills worth developing.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Quarterly Sleep Review: July-Sept

Back in May, I thought I’d give a sleep update for that quarter to see what kinds of trends would shake out when taking a longer view of my sleeping habits.  I missed the opportunity to give an update for the April through June span, so instead I’ll skip it and give the update for July, August, and September.

In the first quarterly sleep review, I was showing some pretty terrible numbers, with an overall success rate of 25/120 days, or 20.8%.  Let’s see where we are now.

Jul-Sep sleep

Here, we see a much better hit-ratio.  Between the months of July and September, I hit my target two out of three months, for 31 out of 92 days, or 33.7%, a more than 10% jump in sleep.

Some of my success in this quarter is because I’ve tried being more conscious of my sleeping habits, though I will admit that I still don’t do a good job of maintaining a night-time routine to get myself into bed at a decent time.

The sleep results for each of the days of the week are somewhat consistent from the last quarterly update, with the most sleep occurring Sundays, where I’m usually not up late and I can sleep in the next day.  Thursday continues to be a bad day for sleep since I’m still working at the bar Wednesday night’s.

The biggest improvement that was unexpected was my Saturday sleeping.  As I noted in the last quarterly update, Saturday’s typically suffer because I work at the bar, and so being up late usually means I won’t get a full 7-hours in.  In this quarter, I have fixed that issue somewhat, though admittedly not intentionally.  My best reason to account for this change is that I often take early cuts at the bar when we have lower patron turnout, so I’m able to go to sleep earlier than I otherwise would have.

A final caveat on my sleep results is that my July and August results are good because of the vacation I took from work.  The two weeks off between July and August meant I was able to keep a regular sleeping schedule, go to the gym twice per week, and have time with my partner, all while still being able to get work done from my to-do list.  That two-ish week period is a little bit of a deviation from the norm, which resulted in a higher sleep ratio for the month.

All in all, I’m happy with the results, and am looking forward to the next quarterly sleep review to close out 2017’s sleep tracking.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

What You Say “No” To

Last week I discussed some thoughts on being busy.  Near the start of the post, I made an off-hand comment about why I’m typically busy:

It’s often less of an issue of seeking achievement, and more the result of me absent-mindedly saying “yes” to obligations without regard to the impact it has on my time and calendar.

This is the perfect example of an answer to those interview questions of “what is a weakness of yours?”  It took a lot of self-reflection to realize that a lot of stuff I do is less because it fits within a plan, and more because it sounded like a cool thing at the time.  It was a habit I formed when I was single and life was simple.  However, as things started piling up, it made it really difficult to prioritize.  The most important things in my life (love, sleep, exercise, etc.) end up taking a back seat to those things that seemed cool when I said “yes” to an ask.

I was watching a video from Jon Call, aka Jujimufu on YouTube, and he was discussing email tips that he uses to stay organized.  However, around the 3:30 mark of the video, he drops a fascinating insight:

“If I said yes…, I’m basically saying ‘no’ to (my wife) Sam, I’m saying ‘no’ to (my friend) Tom, (and) I’m saying no to you guys…”

Whether you are talking about your email inbox, your work, or the important people in your life, it’s important to reflect on what you are saying “no” to when you decide to say “yes.”  It’s a hard lesson that I am still struggling with, and I’m thankful with how patient my loved ones have been.

I invite you to reflect on your own life: what are you saying “no” to?

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

“You’re an over-achiever”

Right off the top, I want to make clear that this post is not intended to be a humble-brag.  I’m hoping to use the observation in the title as a jumping-point for a meditation on my career and professional life.

I’m a busy guy.  It’s often less of an issue of seeking achievement, and more the result of me absent-mindedly saying “yes” to obligations without regard to the impact it has on my time and calendar.  I find it satisfying to be involved in all sorts of cool projects, but I also rationally know that “being busy” is a cop out.

Busy people are often flakey.

Busy people often use it as a status marker.

Busy people are often less effective than they believe.

That’s not to say that effective people aren’t busy.  However, I bet that the ratio of effective people to the merely busy is skewed.  But that’s besides the point.

The other day, a coworker and I were talking about career advancement and our track-records for interviewing for jobs and getting turned down.  I commented to my coworker that they could invest more in themselves through courses at the College.  They dismissed the idea as it didn’t fit their current career position (they are mid-career, so the investment in training has a lower return in their mind), but commented that it’s a good strategy for me.  Then they dropped the line from the title:

“You’re an over-achiever.”

The comment was meant in the context of working at the College, working as a bouncer at a bar, teaching, taking a class, podcasting, etc., and it wasn’t meant to be dismissive or condescending.

The funny thing is that I don’t associate “over-achiever” with me.  It’s not that I reject the idea being applied to me, but more that if I’m to associate words to describe me, it’s not one I would have thought of.  My colleague also referred to me as “ambitious,” which I would agree is a closer description of me, except I would code that word to be synonymous with “foolishly hoping for a good outcome”.

The problem I have with the concept of being an “over-achiever” is I associate it more with outcomes instead of process.  “Over-achievers,” to me, get results irrespective of how hard they may or may not work.  I’m critical of my successes because I don’t think I achieve a lot (especially relative to the effort I put in – how busy I am).

That’s the disconnect for me.  I often feel that for all my busyness, I’m not making a lot of headway.  I’m not landing jobs that I interview for, I have a lot of projects that are idle or slow-moving, and I’m constantly filling up my evenings with stuff to do while also wishing I had more downtime.

This might not be a fair evaluation of my professional life, but it’s a reflection of the standards I have on myself.  From a career perspective, I feel adrift and treading water.  Each day slips by as more time I didn’t use wisely towards some further goal.  Having these feelings hasn’t yet translated into action or a change of behaviour, and I don’t know if and when that might happen.

Other people I know (I won’t name names), whom I consider to have achieved something with their professional life, are also called under-achievers by people who know them best.  When I heard that, I compared it to my own life, and felt bad.  If they are under-achievers, what does that mean about me?

All is not lost.  During orientation at the college, I joked with some engineering students that I have two philosophy degrees and three jobs, so clearly I’m beating the odds.  I know that, rationally, I’m doing just fine; that I’m being too hard on myself, or I have unrealistic expectations on myself.  Progression through one’s career is about building (skills, knowledge, connections, etc).  It’s slow and methodical, not characterized by leaps forward.  I need to keep reminding myself of this.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

What I’ve Been Reading (as of August 21st)

I enjoyed writing my last reading update from back in June, so I thought I’d give an updated list.  In full disclosure, I have only completed three of the five books I mentioned (the two outstanding books are Brooks’s Character and the biography of Cato), so I won’t include those on this list.

Here are five more books I’m reading at present.

Montaigne: A Life by Philippe Desan 

Considered the father of the modern essay, Montaigne has popped up in various references during my reading, from stoicism to observational commentary and timeless meditations.  I’m a sucker for biographies, and this book was recently released in English as a fairly authoritative account of Montaigne’s life, not as an extraction from his essays, but as a picture of the historical figure.

William Tecumseh Sherman: In Service of My Country: A Life by James Lee McDonough

Did I mention I’m a sucker for biographies?  This was a birthday present to myself last year, but I’ve only started digging into it.  Sherman is held up as an exemplar of restrained greatness.  He’s considered great in equal parts from talent, study, and luck (though often it was luck that helped him out).  But the reason why I picked this up was how he is often held up as a contrast to Ulysses S. Grant, another U.S. Northern Civil War General, who mismanaged his life and the U.S. Presidency after the war, whereas Sherman quietly continued his duties in the army until retirement and didn’t seek political office (or so I’ve heard, I haven’t read very far into the book).  Like Washington before him who declined to be the first king of the United States, I like reading about figures who manage to avoid the hard fall from grace after they acquire fame, power, or authority.  Also like Washington, I think it’s important to understand a full picture of history, warts and all.

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

I don’t actually own this book.  It was laying around my fiancee’s office for about a year, so I decided to start reading it one day and take it home.  I don’t expect a lot of insight from this book, but I do like reading anecdotes of how other people manage their time so that I can glean possible tips and tricks to apply to my own life.  In the last year or so, I’ve started being more mindful of my time, hence why my reading lists include a disproportionate amount of productivity and personal development books.

80,000 Hours: Finding a Fulfilling Career That Does Good by Benjamin J Todd

I’ve also been more mindful of my career recently.  With losing out on a few jobs recently (before and after interviewing), I’ve been considering my options for improving my career prospects through opening up opportunities, strategic skill acquisition, and relationship building.  While the content of this book is entirely online for free through the 80,000 Hours website, I purchased the book anyway to have all the information in one place.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

This book is brand new to the list as I only grabbed it from the library this past weekend.  I read about George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) in Brooks’s Character book (from the last list) and I was struck by her lauding of the average person in her fiction.  I, like many others, have found myself buying-in to the aspiration to greatness narrative – that to have a good life also means to be great, have impact, and cement yourself in history.  Middlemarch, and many other books by Eliot/Evans, chooses to laud the quiet efforts of the average person, who does their part and is praiseworthy in their steadfastness.  Brooks quoted the closing lines of Middlemarch in Road to Character that celebrated humble lives,

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who life faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Big Picture on “Productivity”

I was reading Mark Manson’s latest post last week and I connected with a simple truism that I often lose sight of.  While I wouldn’t say that “hacking” productivity is the main thing I’m concerned with, if you were to poll close friends of mine, they’d probably label me as that kind of person.

You can read the full post here, but I’ve bolded the important part here:

There is no such thing as an optimum life. Sure, there are some habits and actions that are healthier than others. But the 80/20 here is pretty simple: just don’t fuck up the big stuff.

My fiancee and I had an argument recently.  We were arguing over whether we should consolidate our cellphone plans under one carrier and share any of the benefits it may afford.  Of course, the argument itself was a little stupid because what we were arguing over was slightly deeper issue around my desire to be in control.  I may be laissez faire in many things, but my fiancee is often finding me stubbornly pig-headed in a few key areas that relate to finances and things I consider wasteful (overpaying for cell services I don’t actually need, using the AC all the time, leaving lights on, etc.).

Most instances of control around finances for me stems from wanting to set up systems that take care of the critical items – loan repayments, paying off other debts, savings, etc.  I want to set up systems so that when they are up and running, I want to ignore them and focus on other things.  I don’t want to go back in and have to constantly tweak the system to make up for bad habits and behaviours on my part.

Yet, sometimes my focus on the system can lead me to concern myself with the stupid nitty-gritty details.  In this, I can focus too much on the little things and end up having stupid arguments about how I don’t want to switch a cell carrier because my system already works for me.

 

It’s important to remember to get the big things right and not sweat the small stuff.  Rather than thinking I can set up an independent system (a relatively little thing) it’s more important for me to focus on the big things like having open conversations with my partner as we plan our future together, rather than taking pride in being unreachable by phone outside of major cities.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan