My mother pushed me and pushed me to read from a very young age and I never complied. Until, I found a book I loved. Ask any avid reader about the first book they genuinely enjoyed and they will reflect on it with great joy. For me it was Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. For most of my generation it was Harry Potter, which did cement the habit for me. Yet, today I meet countless individuals who tell me they cannot “get into reading.
Secretary of Defense James Madd Dog Mattis, transformed the Marine Corps as an organization with this call to action. Read the man’s book “Call Sign Chaos” and he details how he managed to pull off multiple feats of military genius. Was it his personal cunning, or the years of experience he had on the battlefield? No, he read about similar successful military actions in countless history books and war memoirs written by successful Generals.
He used the things he learned about in history to become an extremely successful individual. Rising from the rank of Lieutenant, to the Commanding General of CENTCOM and ultimately to the office of the Secretary of Defense. His direction to the Junior Officers of the Marine Corps who desired to achieve similar success; you can be new and inexperienced in anything, but you have no excuse not to benefit from the successes and mistakes of those who went before you and were kind enough to write about. Reading opens our mind to a new world of experience to benefit from. This only works for the military buffs though right?
You can step into the mind of a total genius or a total psychopath should you choose to do so. Mein Kampf and Man’s Search For Meaning are equally available to the world. Where else do you have such an opportunity? The opportunity to sit down and experience the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of people who have experienced everything you have not. Think of all of the failures those people learned from? Can’t you benefit from those failures without the pain of having to actually experience it? Right now you can pick up a book and be welcomed into the brains of people who have made billions, survived the greatest atrocities in the world, or spent their lifetime studying a single topic.
In my profession I meet countless people who want to ask certain successful people in our company for a cup of coffee or fifteen minutes of their time to get advice. While I respect this, I think it’s actually a huge waste of time. It would be more efficient for a single successful person at the firm to write a white-paper on the do’s and don’ts of a successful consulting career. This would cut down on the unnecessary formalities of “tell me a little bit about yourself” and, “what are your goals?” Resulting in a better workforce across the firm and less time wasted on 15 minute coffee meet and greets.
This is exactly what a book is. it’s a person taking the time to put forward their thoughts on a topic for the world to benefit from. It’s a dedicated argument that has been (in most cases) concisely put together, edited, reviewed, and updated for your benefit. You would most likely ask Elon Musk to sit down for a cup of coffee. Why wouldn’t you read a book written by a man who spent hours and hours with him?
To take another note from General Mattis. Get rid of your TV. The man got rid of his TV and spent many of his nights reading what he could to sharpen his mind. I think this alone from a productivity standpoint can be a huge help. Since I was in college I have tried very hard to avoid time wasters like Video Games, binge-watching netflix, and the like. Sometimes I am more successful than others. If distractions are not your problem I recommend starting by reading things you like.
If you’re a big meathead, odds are your favorite sports-player has a biography written about them. If you like the out doors there are countless individuals who have written about their time spent in the wild. The information age has granted us an abundance of choice. It would be very difficult to have a set of interests someone hasn’t already written about in great detail.
I have found one thing to be the most helpful. DEAR. Drop Everything And Read. I set a time every evening when, no matter what I have going on. I drop everything I am doing and sit down and read for an hour. Sometimes I get pulled into conversations that matter to me more than my book of the moment. Other times I fall asleep after a half hour of reading. Yet I still manage to read more and more than most people with this simple concept.
The world is giving you an opportunity to step inside the minds of giants. Read you fools!
John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.