“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” ~ Joseph Addison
If my high school teachers were to describe my study habits, I’m confident words like “studious”, “engaged” or “motivated” wouldn’t make the list – not even close.
No, I believe that during high school words like “slacker”, “absentee student” and “class clown” would more accurately have describe my hellion self, and for good reason – because I was all these things, and worse.
Truthfully, a lack of interest in my studies wasn’t intentional, but rather a bi-product of something I didn’t fully understand at the time. While I really did want to learn and grow, (honest!) trying to absorb anything taught in a classroom setting came about as easily to me as protected sex does to a Catholic… I know, right?
I partially blame teachers for my bad attitude, because with the exception of the occasional “cool” one (Thank you Mr. Ranum) most appeared uncommitted, uninspiring and/or just plain boring. Rather than pay attention to these dullards I’d doodle notes on my desktop or play frisbee on the front lawn of the school with my fellow slackers.
So how did this slightly altered academic plan work out for me?
Let’s just say that when other kids were getting fat school year-end paydays from mom and dad for their plethoras of “A’s” and “B’s” this spotty faced kid got a big, fat “F” stamped on his forehead.
Well, maybe not quite on my forehead – the F was actually stamped on my report card. But to be honest, forehead or report card, all I had to show for my efforts was an “F”, and everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – knew it.
Despite knowing for months that I’d fail, when the actual moment came it still hit me like a ton of bricks. With this one letter I was branded a loser, which in turn made me feel too dumb, too worthless and too stupid to achieve anything of value in life. Needless to say, this didn’t exactly do my self-esteem any favours…
Because of this low self-worth I settled for any job I could get, which manifested in me spending the next few years hopping between one shitty, low-paying cooking position to another in lousy bars and restaurants.
Oh, sure, I always worked hard and did a great job, but that didn’t matter to the vile little tyrant inhabiting the apartment neatly tucked behind my cortex; you know, the one who never let me forget that I was a failure, plain and simple. Ever heard of this little bastard? Yeah, that one.
He’d constantly remind me that since I had no education, there was no way out of the the crappy abyss I’d cornered myself into. The bottom line was that my life sucked… BIG TIME; worst of all I thought there was nothing I could ever do about it.
Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. Just a few years (plus a smidge of maturity) later providence seemed to step in and offer me a golden opportunity one time while I was killing time at the mall book store. I know, weird place for providence to show up, right? Anyway, it was there that I had the good fortune to stumble upon a book call “Seeds of Greatness: The Ten Best Kept Secrets of Total Success” by Denis Waitley.
The title intrigued me since at the time I didn’t realize there was one best kept secret for success, let alone ten! And according to the blurb on jacket, this little gem of a book contained them all. Better still, it said that these ten “secrets” anyone could use to create a great life…
“Hmmm…” I wondered, “Had the teacher I’d been waiting for all these years finally appeared?” And if so, did this also mean that the student was finally ready?
Excited to learn more I dropped my last fiver down and ran home as fast as I could to get started reading. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that very day this little five dollar book would spark a major turning point for my studies and education; and more importantly, my life.
As I devoured each chapter, I couldn’t believe my eyes! The stories! The ideas! The perspecitives! Each one was telling me that not only was I not stupid, but that the skills I’d developed (even my mad frisbee skills!) were valuable; and better still was that with the right application they were worth something to the marketplace! Eureka!
All the negative thoughts and perceptions and sterotypical ideas about myself that I’d carried around for years were suddenly lifted. I instantly knew that if I applied these ten secrets to my life, then I too had a chance to be successful… Double Eureka!
I finished book in just 24 hours, then promptly re-read it again. Chapters espoused lessons on topic like self-esteem, creativity and personal responsibility – all critical life skills I never heard a peep about from my high school teachers. And so once I was done I raced out and got another book; and then another; and so on.
I’d finally found teachers and mentors who spoke in a way I could learn from, and couldn’t get enough of what they had to say, and kept on devouring books the with the frenzy and gusto of a pit bull in a meat locker.
I can honestly say that for the first time in my life I felt that – despite having always felt like a weird, stupid failure – I was worthy of success! Best of all, I knew there were many more teachers to be found in other books. Now my job was to read as many of them as I possibly could. And so I did.
Within the next few years I’d read over 200 books on the topics of leadership, personal development, finance and business, applying the ideas and strategies in all areas of my life. In addition, I read a healthy dose of biographies and classical literature, you know, thrown in for good measure… and the results? They spoke for themselves!
My growth was explosive! With my new knowledge and inspiration came confidence I began setting and achieving personal goals that just a few years earlier I would never have even dreamed of, like going back to school to get a trade (professional cooking) and backpacking Europe for three months whilst remaining debt free.
My positive attitude opened up door after door, and professionally I went on to have a very successful 30+ year career in senior hotel management and business ownership; and as they say, the rest is history.
Clearly I believe one thousand percent that the successes I’ve enjoyed have mostly come from reading and studying good books, which is why I absolutely implore you to include this most important and valuable strategy as a major part of your on-going education. I can’t state this point enough, and here’s why:
Good books open up new worlds for readers; they offer instant access to the most fascinating and accomplished people, give expert opinions and advice when needed, and espouse stories rich with details, told by those who experienced them first-hand.
Good books teach us incredible things; they make us question and challenge ourselves to be more than who we are now. Good books are excellent instructors, mentors and friends; and as long as we are prepared to look, every single answer we seek to every single question asked can be found somewhere within the pages of a good book.
The best part of all is that since they are readily accessible at any time, good books are easy to get whenever we need them; and what could be simpler that that?
If you’d like to get started, but aren’t sure where to begin, I wrote this post a couple years ago about some of the books that had changed my life. Since then I’ve added a few more, including this one that has become the cornerstone of my personal philosophy. Whatever you do, don’t miss reading it.
I can’t stress enough the importance of reading good books for personal growth and success; because I can promise you one thing: As stated above, I was a terrible student in a traditional sense, but it was the wisdom found in books that showed me that I could live the live I wanted to, and handed me the steps – All I had to do was read them, and then follow the steps laid out within.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the couch to read my latest book, which is a classic I’ve always heard about, but never read until now.