50 Great Bits From The 25 Books I Read In 2017

This idea was originally inspired by Julien Smith, a much more prolific reader than I. Here are my similar lists from years past: 2012, 2013, 2014, 20152016.

Given the amount of long planes ride I had in 2017, I expected to read many more books than usual throughout the year. While I capped out at 25 again, this was probably the most diverse reading year genre-wise I’ve ever had, mainly because I made a point to finally read more fiction. Although it took a while to get used to reading not for the sake of learning something of benefit to my career, personal life, or bar trivia, I enjoyed the rhythm of reading non-fiction in the morning to get my problem-solving brain going and then fiction at night to bore me, er, get me thinking about something more abstract before falling asleep.

Despite how others might remember 2017, it was a great book year for me and several I read will likely remain among my all-time favorites for years to come. Here are 50 of my favorite passages, quotes, and bits from all 25 of those reads (words are the respective author’s unless otherwise noted).

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

1) The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him.

2) ‘You put so much stock in winning wars,’ the grubby iniquitous old man scoffed. ‘The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how splendidly we’ve done nonetheless. France wins wars and is in a continual state of crisis. Germany loses and prospers. Look at our own recent history. Italy won a war in Ethiopia and promptly stumbled into serious trouble. Victory gave us such insane delusions of grandeur that we helped start a world war we hadn’t a chance of winning. But now that we are losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better, and we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.’

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

3) According to a survey conducted by Yankelovich Partners, a majority of people want more control over the details of their lives, but a majority of people also want to simplify their lives. There you have it—the paradox of our times.

4) In addition to the normal workplace wardrobe, employees had to create a “workplace casual” wardrobe. It couldn’t really be the sweats and T-shirts you wore around the house on the weekend. It had to be a selection of clothing that sustained a certain image—relaxed, but also meticulous and serious. All of a sudden, the range of wardrobe possibilities was expanded, and a decision-making problem emerged. It was no longer a question of the blue suit or the brown one, the red tie or the yellow one. The question now was: What is casual? A New Yorker piece about this phenomenon identified at least six different kinds of casual: active casual, rugged casual, sporty casual, dressy casual, smart casual, and business casual. As writer John Seabrook put it, “This may be the most depressing thing about the casual movement: no clothing is casual anymore.” So we got the freedom to make an individual choice about how to dress on a given day, but for many, that choice entailed more complications than it was worth.

Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

5) One of the small marvels of my first trip of Europe was the discovery that the world could be so full of variety, that there were so many different ways of doing essentially identical things, like eating and drinking and buying movie tickets. It fascinated me that Europeans could at once be so alike — that they could be so universally bookish and cerebral, and drive small cars, and live in little houses in ancient towns, and love soccer, and be relatively unmaterialistic and law-abiding — and yet be so endlessly, unpredictably different from each other as well. I loved the idea that you could never be sure of anything in Europe.

6) Liechtenstein’s last military engagement was in 1866, when it sent eighty men to fight against the Italians. Nobody was killed. In fact – you’re going to like this – they came back with eighty-one men, because they made a friend on the way. Two years later, realizing that the Liechtensteiners could beat no one, the Crown Prince disbanded the army.

How To Write Short by Roy Peter Clark

7) Joseph M. Williams’ Five Principles of Concision:

  1. Delete words that mean little or nothing (kind of, really, actually)
  2. Delete words that repeat the meaning of other words (various and sundry)
  3. Delete words implied by other words (terrible tragedy)
  4. Replace a phrase with a word (‘in the event of’ becomes ‘if’)
  5. Change negatives to affirmatives (‘not include’ becomes ‘omit’)

8) Some of the best advice on how to write to and with visual images comes from TV writers and producers. In his book Television News, Ivor Yorke writes, “In most cases, to repeat exactly what is happening on the screen is to waste a great opportunity to tell the viewer something worthwhile. The writer’s skill lies in being able to convey what is not clear from the pictures.” In Aim for the Heart, my Poytner colleague Al Tompkins argues that in good television, “pictures and words should not match,” but they should, according to Jill Geisler, ‘hold hands’.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

9) Loneliness feels like such a shameful experience, so counter to the lives we are supposed to lead, that it becomes increasingly inadmissible, a taboo state whose confession seems destined to cause others to turn and flee.

10) No one I knew would admit to liking Craigslist, but I always found it weirdly cheering. The unashamed display of need, the sheer range and specificity of things that people wanted was far more reassuring and democratic than the preening, exacting profiles that appeared on the more sanitised dating sites. If the internet was a city, Craigslist was its Times Square, a site of cross-class, cross-racial contact, temporarily levelled by sexual desire.

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz

11) In 1768, when Cook embarked on the first, roughly a third of the world’s map remained blank, or filled with fantasies: sea monsters, Patagonian giants, imaginary continents. Cook sailed into this void in a small wooden ship and returned, three years later, with charts so accurate that some of them stayed in use until the 1990s.12) The death scene was all the more shocking for its many ironies. Cook, who had often excoriated his men for violent intemperance toward natives, succumbed to precisely that, marching ashore with a menacing but inadequate force and opening fire at the most charged moment possible. A Quaker-influenced child of the Enlightenment, Cook died with a gun in his hand, having just killed a man. The dagger that felled him was forged from one of the iron spikes that Cook himself had ordered for his ships before leaving England, “to exchange for refreshments” and “to be distributed to [natives] in presents towards obtaining their friendship.” The final irony was that Cook died, not in warlike New Zealand or Niue, but on an island where he’d been greeted as a god, and where he’d felt so secure that until the final day he had ordered his men to go ashore unarmed.

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

13) Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.

14) I thought of our respect for the dead. I thought of the white sanatorium where the light of a man’s life goes quietly out in the presence of those who love him and who garner as if it were an inestimable treasure his last words, his ultimate smile. How right they are! Seeing that this same whole is never again to take shape in the world. Never again will be heard exactly that note of laughter, that intonation of voice, that quality of repartee. Each individual is a miracle. No wonder we go on speaking of the dead for twenty years. Here, in Spain, a man is simply stood up against a wall and he gives up his entrails to the stones of the courtyard. You have been captured. You are shot. Reason: your ideas were not our ideas.

Maphead by Ken Jennings

15) There’s a reason why we call the travel bug “wanderlust,” not “wanderwhim” or “wanderhobby.” It’s an urgent, passionate thing.

16) Tests on gender and navigation have found that women tend to navigate via landmarks (“I turn left when I get to the gas station”) whereas men use dead reckoning (“I still need to be north and maybe a little west of here”), which ties in nicely with the evolutionary perspective: early men went out on hunting expeditions in all directions and always needed to be good at finding their way back to the cave, developing their “kinesic memory,” while women foraged for edibles closer to home, developing “object location memory.” Simply put, men got better at finding places, while women got better at finding things.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

17) ‘Did you ever feel,’ he asked slowly, ‘as though you had something inside you that was only waiting for you to give it the chance to come out? Some sort of extra power that you could be using if you knew how?’

‘You mean all the emotions one might be feeling if things were different?’ Helmholtz shook his head.

‘Not quite. I’m thinking of a strange feeling I sometimes get, a feeling that I’ve got something important to say and the power to say it – only I don’t know what it is, and I can’t make any use of the power. If there was some different way of writing… Or else something different to write about. I’m pretty good at inventing phrases that seem new and exciting even if they’re about something completely obvious. But that doesn’t seem enough. It’s not enough for the phrases to be good; what you make with them ought to be good too.’

18) The Savage shook his head. ‘It all seems to me quite horrible.’ ‘Of course it does. Happiness is never as exciting as unhappiness or the struggles of great passions. Happiness is never grand.’

Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

19) If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.

20) Highways with billboards have three times as many accidents as highways without billboards. President Eisenhower said, ‘I am against those billboards that mar our scenery, but I don’t know what I can do about it.’ In California, Governor Pat Brown said, ‘When a man throws an empty cigarette package from an automobile, he is liable to a fine of $50. When a man throws a billboard across a view, he is richly rewarded.’

Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer 

21) Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next—and disappear.

That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

22) Remembering numbers proved to be one of the real world applications of the memory palace that I relied on almost every day. I used a technique known as the “Major System,” invented around 1648 by Johann Winkelmann, which is nothing more than a simple code to convert numbers into phonetic sounds. Those sounds can then be turned into words, which can in turn become images for a memory palace.

The code works like this: The number 32, for example, would translate into MN, 33 would be MM, and 34 would be MR. To make those consonants meaningful, you’re allowed to freely intersperse vowels. So the number 32 might turn into an image of a man, 33 could be your mom, and 34 might be the Russian space station Mir. Similarly, the number 86 might be a fish, 40 a rose, and 92 a pen. You might visualize 3,219 as a man (32) playing a tuba (19), or maybe a person from Manitoba (3,219). Likewise, 7,879 would translate to KFKP, which might turn into a single image of a coffee cup, or two images of a calf and a cub. The advantage of the Major System is that it’s straightforward, and you can begin using it right out of the box. (When I first learned it, I immediately memorized my credit card and bank account numbers.)

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

23) This is how 99 percent of people select their jobs: pay, work environment, hours. But that’s the point. Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job—not a calling.24) “Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked.

“Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

25) The second reason that deep work is valuable is because the impacts of the digital network revolution cut both ways. If you can create something useful, its reachable audience (e.g., employers or customers) is essentially limitless—which greatly magnifies your reward. On the other hand, if what you’re producing is mediocre, then you’re in trouble, as it’s too easy for your audience to find a better alternative online.26) The idea motivating this strategy is that the use of a distracting service does not, by itself, reduce your brain’s ability to focus. It’s instead the constant switching from low-stimuli/high-value activities to high-stimuli/low-value activities, at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge, that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty. This constant switching can be understood analogously as weakening the mental muscles responsible for organizing the many sources vying for your attention. By segregating Internet use (and therefore segregating distrnactions) you’re minimizing the number of times you give in to distraction, and by doing so you let these attention-selecting muscles strengthen.

The 50 Best* College Football Teams of All-Time by Bill Connelly

27) [Walter] Camp hated the idea of the forward pass. This was not his vision. He and others made sure that passing was still an immense gamble. You wanted to throw? Fine, but a pass had to cross the line of scrimmage at least five yards beyond where the passer received the ball from the center. Violating this rule meant a turnover. A pass could not cross the goal line. Violating this rule meant a turnover. The pass couldn’t even hit the ground without resulting in a turnover.

28) 1990 would go down as one of the craziest seasons in the history of the sport, with six different teams holding the No. 1 ranking and eight holding No. 2. Two teams split the national title – one began the season unranked and didn’t reach the top 10 until November; the other lost a game, tied a game, and benefited from two of the most famous, controversial calls ever.

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

29) What the slave wants but can never have is not only freedom from the chains but also from their memory.

30) Sometimes it’s possible, just barely possible, to imagine a version of this world different from the existing one, a world in which there is true justice, heroic honesty, a clear perception possessed by each individual about how to treat all the others. Sometimes I swear I could see it, glittering in the pavement, glowing between the words in a stranger’s sentence, a green, impossible vision—the world as it was meant to be, like a mist around the world as it is.

How To Change The World by John-Paul Flintoff

31) The Victorian artist and writer John Ruskin once asked why we gave medals to people who, in a moment and without much thought, save somebody’s life, but we give no medal to people who devote years to bringing up a child.

32) Going first does not necessarily mean taking charge of everything that follows.

Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday

33) “You’ve heard it in a million meetings. And clients are so flip about it: “We want to go viral. Make people share this online.” Everyone wants it. As though massive viral sharing is as simple as asking for it. All I know is that I cringe each time I hear a client make that assumption. The growth hacker has a response: Well, why should customers do that? Have you actually made it easy for them to spread your product? Is the product even worth talking about?”

34) At the core, marketing is lead generation. Ads drive awareness . . . to drive sales. PR and publicity drive attention . . . to drive sales. Social media drives communication . . . to drive sales. Marketing, too many people forget, is not an end unto itself. It is simply getting customers. And by the transitive property, anything that gets customers is marketing.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

35) It was propped against the collar box and I lay listening to it. Hearing it, that is. I dont suppose anybody ever deliberately listens to a watch or a clock. You dont have to. You can be oblivious to the sound for a long while, then in a second of ticking it can create in the mind unbroken the long diminishing parade of time you didn’t hear.

36) Father said a man is the sum of his misfortunes.

Study Hall by Bill Connelly

37) When you grow up in an area obsessed with this sport, and when you take in the collegiate game day experience enough, it becomes a large portion of your identity, more than perhaps any other sport in this country. You cannot fathom another way to spend autumn Saturdays. You get nervous when friends announce they’re getting married in September. Cracking open a beer at 8:00 a.m. is, on Saturdays, completely defensible. Driving 12 hours round trip for a big conference game? Not only logical, but necessary. NFL fans who say things like “Well, I don’t really follow college football…” make you question both their integrity and their morals. You perhaps cannot justify some of college sports’ shadier dealings, but you believe there is enough good to outweigh the bad, and it is difficult to imagine what might change that.

38) For now, just know that if your average starting field position was in the low 20s, you probably lost. If it was in the high 30s, you probably won. While the way you capitalize on your opportunities matters, the simple fact is, creating more opportunities through field position typically results in more points.

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

39) If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business—you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you’re working for a lunatic! “And, besides, that’s not the purpose of going into business. “The purpose of going into business is to get free of a job so you can create jobs for other people. “The purpose of going into business is to expand beyond your existing horizons. So you can invent something that satisfies a need in the marketplace that has never been satisfied before. So you can live an expanded, stimulating new life.”

40) Your business and your life are two totally separate things. At its best, your business is something apart from you, rather than a part of you, with its own rules and its own purposes. An organism, you might say, that will live or die according to how well it performs its sole function: to find and keep customers.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

41) He walked till morning. The high wore away, the chromed skeleton corroding hourly, flesh growing solid, the drug-flesh replaced with the meat of his life. He couldn’t think. He liked that very much, to be conscious and unable to think. He seemed to become each thing he saw: a park bench, a cloud of white moths around an antique streetlight, a robot gardener striped diagonally with black and yellow.

42) Straylight reminded Case of deserted early morning shopping centers he’d known as a teenager, low-density places where the small hours brought a fitful stillness, a kind of numb expectancy, a tension that left you watching insects swarm around caged bulbs above the entrance of darkened shops. Fringe places, just past the borders of the Sprawl, too far from the all-night click and shudder of the hot core. There was that same sense of being surrounded by the sleeping inhabitants of a waking world he had no interest in visiting or knowing, of dull business temporarily suspended, of futility and repetition soon to wake again.

The Art of Smart Football by Chris B. Brown

43) In addition to extensive drill work, [Mike] McCarthy often gives his quarterbacks lengthy written tests, once even asking his non-Montana quarterbacks in Kansas City to write an essay describing the Chiefs’ version of the West Coast offense “from a philosophical perspective.”

44) A quarterback translates his knowledge of defenses and passing plays to the field through his reads, of which there are two basic types: progression and coverage. “A progression read is a pass play where three or more receivers are looked to in a one, two, three progression. ‘Is he open? Is he open? Is he open?’” said [David] Cutcliffe. With a coverage read, it’s “the coverage played by the defense” that determines which receivers the quarterback looks for.

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

45) If the best in the world are stretching their asses off in order to get strong, why aren’t you? (Christopher Sommer)

46) I wish I would have known that there was no need to wait. I went to college. I went to law school. I worked in law and banking, though not for terribly long. But not until I started PayPal did I fully realize that you don’t have to wait to start something. So if you’re planning to do something with your life, if you have a 10-year plan of how to get there, you should ask: Why can’t you do this in 6 months? Sometimes, you have to actually go through the complex, 10-year trajectory. But it’s at least worth asking whether that’s the story you’re telling yourself, or whether that’s the reality. (Peter Thiel)

The Mind and the Brain by Jeffrey M. Schwartz

47) The brain of a child is almost miraculously resilient, or plastic: surgeons can remove the entire left hemisphere, and thus (supposedly) all of the brain’s language regions, and the child still learns to talk, read, and write as long as the surgery is performed before age four or five.

48) The seven-month-old Japanese babies whom [Patricia] Kuhl tested had no trouble discriminating r from l. But ten month-olds were as deaf to the difference as adults. When Kuhl did a similar test of Canadian babies raised in English-speaking homes, she got the same results: six-month-olds could distinguish Hindi speech sounds even though those sounds were not part of their auditory world; by 12 months they could not. Between six and twelve months, Kuhl concludes, babies’ brains begin the ‘use it or lose’ process of pruning unused synapses. The auditory cortex loses its sensitivity to phonemes that it does not hear every day. This may be why children who do not learn a second language before puberty rarely speak it like natives.

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

49) “From time to time, I would gaze up at the stars after a night shift and think that they looked like a glowing desert, and I myself was a poor child abandoned in the desert.… I thought that life was truly an accident among accidents in the universe. The universe was an empty palace, and humankind the only ant in the entire palace. This kind of thinking infused the second half of my life with a conflicted mentality: Sometimes I thought life was precious, and everything was so important; but other times I thought humans were insignificant, and nothing was worthwhile. Anyway, my life passed day after day accompanied by this strange feeling, and before I knew it, I was old…”

50) There’s a strange contradiction revealed by the naïveté and kindness demonstrated by humanity when faced with the universe: On Earth, humankind can step onto another continent, and without a thought, destroy the kindred civilizations found there through warfare and disease. But when they gaze up at the stars, they turn sentimental and believe that if extraterrestrial intelligences exist, they must be civilizations bound by universal, noble, moral constraints, as if cherishing and loving different forms of life are parts of a self-evident universal code of conduct.

42 Things I Learned From 21 Books In 2016

Check out my lists from 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Idea originally inspired by this list of Julien Smith’s. 

Another year, another bunch of books read. I try to read at least 20 every year and to make some of those fiction. I’m much better at doing the former than the latter.

And like I do every December, I like to skim through my notes and list out my favorite two passages or things I’ve learned from each book I read.

Text in quotes is taken straight from the author:

On Writing Well by William Zinsser


1. “Still, plain talk will not be easily achieved in corporate America. Too much vanity is on the line. Managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind.

Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a person too arrogant, or too dumb, or too lazy to organize his thoughts.

Remember that what you write is often the only chance you’ll get to present yourself to someone whose business or money or good will you need. If what you write is ornate, or pompous, or fuzzy, that’s how you’ll be perceived. The reader has no other choice.”

2.Nowhere else in nonfiction [than in travel writing] do writers use such syrupy words and groaning platitudes.

Adjectives you would squirm to use in conversation–‘wondrous’, ‘dappled’, ‘roseate’, ‘fabled’, ‘scudding’–are common currency. Half the sights seen in a day’s sightseeing are quaint, especially windmills and covered bridges; they are certified for quaintness.

Towns situated in hills (or foothills) are nestled–I hardly ever read about an unnestled town in the hills–and the countryside is dotted with byways, preferably half forgotten. In Europe you awake to the clip-clop of horse-drawn wagons along a history-haunted river; you seem to hear the scratch of a quill pen…. [and] chimneytops sing their immemorial song of welcome.”

A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson


3. “It is no accident that the first highways in America were called parkways.

That’s what they were envisioned to be: parks you could drive through.”

4. “I still quite often go for walks on the trail near my home, especially if I am stuck on something I am working on. Most of the time I am sunk in thought, but at some point on each walk there comes a moment when I look up and notice, with a kind of first-time astonishment, the amazing complex delicacy of the woods, the casual ease with which elemental things come together to form a composition that is—whatever the season, wherever I put my besotted gaze—perfect.

Not just very fine or splendid, but perfect, unimprovable. You don’t have to walk miles up mountains to achieve this, don’t have to plod through blizzards, slip sputtering in mud, wade chest-deep through water, hike day after day to the edge of your limits—but believe me, it helps.”

The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb


5. “Being an executive does not require very developed frontal lobes, but rather a combination of charisma, a capacity to sustain boredom, and the ability to shallowly perform on harrying schedules.”
6. “[Philip] Tetlock studied the business of political and economic “experts.” He asked various specialists to judge the likelihood of a number of political, economic, and military events occurring within a specified time frame (about five years ahead). The outcomes represented a total number of around twenty-seven thousand predictions, involving close to three hundred specialists. Economists represented about a quarter of his sample.

The study revealed that experts’ error rates were clearly many times what they had estimated. His study exposed an expert problem: there was no difference in results whether one had a PhD or an undergraduate degree. Well-published professors had no advantage over journalists. The only regularity Tetlock found was the negative effect of reputation on prediction: those who had a big reputation were worse predictors than those who had none.”

How Soccer Explains The World by Franklin Foer


7. “As everyone knows, Italian men are the most foppish representatives of their sex on the planet. They smear on substantial quantities of hair care products and expend considerable mental energies color-coordinating socks with belts.

Because of their dandyism, the world has Vespa, Prada, and Renzo Piano. With such theological devotion to aesthetic pleasure, it is truly perplexing that their national style of soccer should be so devoid of this quality.”

8. “As the Protestants celebrate a goal, they’re egged on by the team captain, a long-haired Italian called Lorenzo Amoruso, who has the look of a 1980s male model. Flailing his arms, he urges them to sing their anti-Catholic songs louder. The irony is obvious: Amoruso is a Catholic.

For that matter, so are most of the Rangers players. Since the late nineties, Rangers routinely field nearly as many Catholics as Celtic. Their players come from Georgia, Argentina, Germany, Sweden, Portugal and Holland, because money can buy no better ones. Championships mean more than religious purity.”

The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley


9. “Rainbows do not exist without an observer and there are as many rainbows created by as many people looking in the right conditions, each one subtly different. The reason for this is that rainbows are formed in an exact position relative to each observer and they have a precise shape.

Whenever our shadow is shorter than we are tall, we can say with certainty that the sun is higher than 45 degrees. Therefore if our shadow is shorter than we are tall, we will never see a rainbow.”

10. “The easiest method for finding the North Star is by finding the easy-to-identify group of seven stars known as the Big Dipper to Americans and the Saucepan to many others.

Next you find the “pointer” stars—these are the two stars that a liquid would run off if you tipped up your “saucepan” by its handle. The North Star will always be five times the distance between these two pointers in the direction that they point (up away from the pan). True north lies directly under this star.”

The Wander Society by Keri Smith


11. “When we constantly fill up all our “empty” time with stimulation in the form of electronic devices, games, and distractions, our brains become disengaged and the thinking process is effectively halted.

We never get to hear our own inner voice—we don’t develop a relationship with ourselves and our minds. We don’t get to know who we are because we’re not listening.”

12. Per·e·gri·nate (verb): travel or wander around from place to place.

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson


13. “The desire for more positive experience itself is a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”
14. “The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement.

People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great—they are mediocre, they are average—and that they could be so much better.”

Born For This By Chris Guillebeau


15. “A few tips on figuring out which real world problems you can solve, and how:

1. Solving problems of daily life is usually the easiest and most successful approach

2. Solving specific, measurable problems is much better than attempting to create huge behavior change

3. To avoid getting off track, always ask, ‘Why should people care about this?'”

16. “In Alexandria, VA, a personal finance advisory company has an unconventional sabbatical practice of its own. The Motley Fool, which has around 300 employees, sends one of them on a “mandatory vacation” every month. In keeping with the company’s culture, it’s called a “Fool’s Errand”, and each month the lucky employee is chosen by lottery (with long-term workers receiving multiple entries based on their number of years service).

The winner gets two weeks off and $1,000 to spend however they like, but there’s one strict rule: the employee must leave immediately and have no contact with the office while gone. Winners are also encouraged to do something that contributes to the Motley Fool’s overall mission (“to help the world invest better”), but aside from not checking work email or phoning into conference calls, there’s no restriction on what people can do.”

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams


17. “It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction, for the actual world is less intense than the world of his invention and consequently his life, without recourse to violent disorder, does not seem very substantial.

The right condition for him is that in which his work is not only convenient but unavoidable.”

18. “I have been corrupted as much as anyone else by the vast number of menial services which our society has grown to expect and depend on. We should do for ourselves or let the machines do for us, the glorious technology that is supposed to be the new light of the world. We are like a man who has bought a great amount of equipment for a camping trip, who has the canoe and the tent and the fishing lines and the axe and the guns, the mackinaw and the blankets, but who now, when all the preparations and the provisions are piled expertly together, is suddenly too timid to set out on the journey but remains where he was yesterday and the day before and the day before that, looking suspiciously through the white lace curtains at the clear sky he distrusts.

Our great technology is a God-given chance for adventure and for progress which we are afraid to attempt. Our ideas and our ideals remain exactly what they were and where they were three centuries ago. No. I beg your pardon. It is no longer safe for a man to even declare them!”

Stand And Deliver by The Dale Carnegie Institute


19. “For a speaker, sincerity is the wild card that trumps everything else. Deep, genuine sincerity is the first characteristic of all credible presenters. No audience can deny the truth of emotions that you feel at a deep level, nor would any audience care to deny them.

On the contrary, they want to feel what you’re sincerely feeling. They want to share the experiences of your life for the few moments that you’re standing before them.”

20. “Magic Formula (best for short, motivational talks):

1. Share a vivid, personal experience that’s relevant to the action you ultimately want your listeners to take. This should be a story that led to a positive change in your life. This will take the most time.

2. Call directly on the audience to take that single, well-defined action. Make it seem easy. This should take you only 2 minutes to explain.

3. Clearly and convincingly describe the benefit that listeners will get by taking the action. This will take the least time; as little as one second.”

Olympic Weightlifting by Greg Everett


21. “Proper [squat] depth is full depth; full depth means full depth. That is, full depth is not breaking parallel, nor is it breaking parallel—it is squatting to the lowest possible position without surgical alteration of body parts while maintaining correct posture.

To simplify, we want to close the knee joint maximally while maintaining upright posture and a correctly arched back.”

22. “Part of the myth that weightlifting stunts growth can be attributed to flawed logic, similar to that which persists with regard to gymnastics. Because elite gymnastics and weightlifters in lighter weight classes tend to be smaller in stature, many people assume that their training has limited their growth.

This is a classic logical fallacy—post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). In other words, because following sport training these athletes remain short, it is assumed that this training was causative of the athletes’ stature. This chronology however, in no way demonstrates causation.”

God’s Debris by Scott Adams


23. “If the penny’s consciousness were like human consciousness, it would analyze the situation and conclude that it had free will.

When it wanted to come up heads, and heads was the result, the penny would confirm its belief in its power to choose. When it came up tails instead, it would blame its own lack of commitment, or assume God had a hand in it.”

24. “Conversation is more than the sum of the words. It is also a way of signaling the importance of another person by showing your willingness to give that person your rarest resource: time. It is a way of conveying respect.

Conversation reminds us that we are part of a greater whole, connected in some way that transcends duty or bloodline or commerce. Conversation can be many things, but it can never be useless.”

The Martian by Andy Weir


25. Despite the fact that we haven’t been there (on foot), most of Mars’ major topographical features have already been named, and many as long ago as the late 1800s.
26. ASCII can be used to communicate in a pinch when space and time are at a premium.

The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo


27. “By using this principle you can make contents looks far more exciting:

Hang heavy items on the left side of the closet and light items on the right. Heavy items include those with length, those made from heavier material, and those that are dark in color. As you move toward the right side of the closet, the length of the clothing grows shorter, the material thinner and the color lighter.”

28. “Attachment to the past and fears concerning the future not only govern the way you select the things you own but also represent the criteria by which you make choices in every aspect of your life, including your relationships with people and your job.”

The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday


29. “Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens—at that exposing moment—the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you’re sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or bullshit?”
30. “There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”

The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway


31. Dentuso is Spanish slang for something with big, ugly teeth (like a shark).
32. “But he liked to think about all things that he was involved in and since there was nothing to read and he did not have a radio, he thought much and he kept on thinking about sin. You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?”

Take Your Eye Off The Puck by Greg Wyshynski


33. “At the 2013 Sloan Sports Conference, authors Eric Tulsky, Geoffrey Detweiler, Robert Spencer, and Corey Sznajder presented evidence that showed carrying the puck over the blue line generated roughly twice as many scoring chances as dumping and chasing it.”
34. “Buffalo Sabres general manager George “Punch” Imlach was ticked off about how tedious the [draft] process was, so he decided to cast one of most hilarious protest votes in pro sports history. In the 11th round, with the 183rd pick, Imlach selected Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas in the “Japanese league”.

Technology being what it was in 1974, there weren’t many ways for the NHL to check the credential on this “star center”, according to Imlach. The league rubber-stamped it; rival NHL general managers immediately wondered who this mysterious rookie was.

Weeks later, Imlach came clean. There were no Tokyo Katanas–“Katana” being Japanese for “sabre”–and there was no Taro Tsujimoto. Imlach was exasperated by the length of the draft and decided to have a laugh at the its expense. So he made up the pick and submitted it.”

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman


35. Puss in Boots was a European fairy tale character around long before Shrek 2.
36. [Wikipedia]: “The Great Stink was an event in central London in July and August 1858 during which the hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent that was present on the banks of the River Thames.

By June the stench from the river had become so bad that business in Parliament was affected, and the curtains on the river side of the building were soaked in lime chloride to overcome the smell. The measure was not successful, and discussions were held about possibly moving the business of government to Oxford or St Albans.”

Beginning Songwriting by Andrea Stolpe


37. “There is one chord in a major key that doesn’t sound particularly happy or sad, but more suspicious, confusing, or even simply ‘wrong’.

This is the diminished triad that results by playing a triad starting on the 7 of the C major scale, the B. When we stack the B, D, and F, we call it a B diminished chord, or Bdim for short.”

38. “Crumpled Paper Songwriting Activity: Have each songwriter take out a piece of paper. On the paper, everyone writes something they deeply want to tell someone, but are afraid to. Crumple up the paper, and throw it in the middle of the room.

After everyone has contributed a paper ball, have the songwriters each choose a crumpled paper and unfold it. Each songwriter will write a song based on the idea they chose, perhaps even using the language on the paper as the actual chorus section of the song. Have everyone perform their songs next time the group meets.”

Antarctica by Claire Keegan


39. Fred and Rosemary West were English serial killers that buried at least 12 victims in their garden and cellar in the 1980s and 1990s without their neighbors knowing.
40. “The air spiked her lungs. Clouds smashed into each other in the sky. She hung her head back to look at them. She wished the world could turn into a fabulous, outrageous red to match her mood.”

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett


41. No matter what version of this story I read, I will always picture Scrooge as Michael Caine and every one else as Muppets. 
42. “Was he not enjoying the solitude he had sought his entire life? He was, and that was the bitter realization. For he was so competent, so driven, so independent that, in a temporal sense, he had never really needed anyone. This ability was now his cruse, for he craved a friend in his final hours.

His earthly assets, all of them, were down in the street in the counting-house, measured in ounces and pounds, and by morning, he would have lost his grasp on them. He did not even have a will, having been dissatisfied with simply giving his hard-earned estate to one who had not worked for it. He yearned for someone to tell him his life had been successful, to affirm that the single turn he had gotten upon earth had been well spent.”

What was your favorite passage from a book you read in 2016?

3 Bits of Advice for New Freelancers

The fine folks over at Invoice2go (a professional invoice app)* asked me, and many other freelancers, to offer up three nuggets of advice for those new to self-employment. While I still consider myself new to the game, I was happy to contribute the below, part of which made it into a sleek infographic (also below). 

In just over two years, freelancing has taken me places and taught me things I never could have predicted.

For context, I did my first paid freelance gig in April 2014, charging a modest $6.24 to write a sales page for a friend. Fast-forward to August 2015, and I was making enough money writing and editing on the side that I could quit my 9-to-5 job and start freelancing full-time.

I’m finally living the dream I had for several years, but the journey hasn’t been without its fair share of tough lessons, and the days in which I wonder what the hell I am doing outnumber those in which I don’t. I think some of this is inevitable with starting anything new, however those feelings may have been mitigated if I had known these three things earlier on:

It’s Ok To Pay For Help

As soon as you start bringing in more than just beer money, meet with an accountant. Not only will they tell you how you can best protect your business and its assets in the face of legal action (by forming an LLC, S-Corp, or otherwise), they’ll be able to estimate how much you should be setting aside for next tax season.

Stupidly, I didn’t realize being a business owner meant I had to pay two sets of taxes (personal and business), and I went from Scrooge McDucking into a room full of coins one week to wondering where it all went the next.

You Can Probably Charge More

If you have “formal” experience working in your field and are new to freelancing, I guarantee you are undercharging what you actually could be. When I was charging just $10 per project starting out, a large part of me still felt like a fraud even though I had been working in PR and writing professional copy for three years. I was convinced an unhappy client was going to call me out and spread rumors across the internet that I was what I felt like: an impostor.

Eventually I realized that potential clients saw me as an expert and were coming to me for a reason: because I had work experiences and skills that they found valuable. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have contacted me in the first place.

Be It Til You Make It

Pay for a logo, nice business cards, and a website. Be someone that you would want to hire. Even if your freelancing work is only a side-gig at the moment, when you get asked “so what do you do?” always include in your answer (preferably first) that you do writing/photography/art/etc.

If the person is interested or a potential client, they will ask about that over your “other” job. If you take yourself seriously, other people will, too.

Most importantly, even when none of your friends can relate to what you are trying to do and you feel completely lost, remember that you are far from the only person to choose this path. If you make yourself do just one thing for your business each day, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your career trajectory can change and you’ll discover there are countless others like you. You may even be asked for advice by aspiring freelancers someday. 

Here’s what others had to offer:

Invoice2Go-Freelancers Graphic*I don’t personally use the product (Excel and Word are just fine for my current invoicing needs) but I know other freelancers that rave about its ease-of-use. I was not compensated for this post.  

Why I’m Grateful I Was A Message Board Nerd For 10+ Years

July 3, 2000.

Although I was only 12 years old, I can recall this day with more detail than most from my childhood.

And not because I knew it was important at the time, but rather it signified the beginning of a big part of my life that not many people know about, save for one or two of my oldest friends.

Like most of my summer mornings at that age, I was left to my own devices to play in the backyard, ride my bike, read, watch Sportscenter on repeat, or play video games. This particular morning I remember being engrossed in one of the latter, specifically one set in the Mario universe.

After what was probably a multi-hour session of Mario Partying with myself (actually not a euphemism), I ventured upstairs for my ritualistic afternoon session on AOL, exploring whatever it was that had a grip on my pre-pubescent mind at the time (not porn just yet). This day, I can remember wanting to know more about the universe I was just exploring: that of Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom.

And probably after delving into the Yahoo! Directory (how I miss thee), I ended up on a message board called Nintendoland, part of a larger gaming message board site simply called the Video Game Forums (VGF).

And I basically didn’t leave for the rest of the decade.

Prior to this, my only “social” experience online was AOL’s chat rooms, which mostly consisted of me talking out of my ass about sports or people asking me “ASL”, to which “12/M/OH” never seemed to generate any follow up responses for some reason.

So when I encountered Nintendoland’s culture (really, typical of any message board of the time), I was hooked. Inside jokes and jargon, respected “veterans” and “noobs” of the community, total post counts that earned you different color stars and “ranks” under your username, registration day “birthdays” (which is why I remember 7/3/00)…it was gamification and social networking combined before either of those were household words.

I donned the username ShyGuy727, ironically not because of the social disposition I now hope to make a living writing about, but after one of my favorite Mario characters:

That day I made my first few posts, lord knows about what (VGF only lets me look back as far as 2008). While seeing fireworks with my parents the following night, I was already distracted by thinking back to my new online community, wondering what insightful thing or witty remark users like Tub-O-Troopa, KirbyKing, or VGF’s godfather, Shane, had to say.

Later that month we went on vacation, and I can vividly remember bragging to my cousin about my green stars (“given” only to those members that had made 100 or more posts) and trying to get him to join. Soon, the autumn arrived and so did school, and hopping on VGF from 3-4, Hot Pocket in hand, became part of my daily routine.

But the boards quickly became a place to talk about more than just the politics of the Mushroom Kingdom or a place to participate in “make a Kirby-related story, three words at a time” threads. A large number of non-video game-related forums served as both outlets and support systems for our adolescent strife.

Often, these issues were, yes, teenage in nature (“how do I ask a girl to prom?”). Other times they were the first exposure I had to real tragedy in my privileged yet sheltered suburban life:

Pre-any sort of site where I could read reaction at a 13-year old level, VGF was where I was able to make some sense of the weight of 9/11. A post that same afternoon from a forum member (that I interacted with daily) explaining he just found out his father was in the South Tower when it collapsed gave me much more perspective about the tragedies than any explanation from my parents or teachers ever could.

Another longtime member that I engaged with frequently passed away at 16 due to a chronic bone marrow disorder. Almost 10 years later, “Knux” is still memorialized on the site in his own dedicated forum, favorite memory threads as well as his obituary archived forever in a kind of digital monument.

We all learn that the world can be a cruel and nonsensical place at different times and in different ways, and for me it came through the stories of my digital friends.

These incidents only strengthened my bond with the board, and over the next 7-8 years I accrued over 10,000 posts on VGF, good enough (then) to put me top 30 all-time. Even though my actual video game playing waned heavily toward the end of this period, I became one of the forum’s most loyal and recognizable members.

I read about and commented on current events, helped other message board nerds sort through their pubescent drama, and sharpened my fantasy/role-playing writing skills in the “Battlefield”. I learned how to write with humor, express empathy through language, and even some basic HTML. In a place where soft opinions went to die, my writing voice also solidified and strengthened. I also had my first exposure to internet shock sites and was once so disturbed/nauseated I had to skip a family dinner.

In high school, my VGF visitation tapered off and my attention shifted to the slightly more mature (read: high schoolers and college students instead of middle schoolers and high schoolers) GameFAQs message boards, particularly the Sports and Racing forums. Funny enough, one of my fellow interns in New York was actually a member of these same forums, and upon moving there we quickly formed a friendship over our mutual nerddom.

But eventually real life started to out-fulfill my online one, and unceremoniously I said goodbye to ShyGuy727 and message boards* altogether.

Despite the enjoyment I derived from these online communities (and I suppose some of the trouble they kept me out of), for several years I looked back on this period of my life with utter contempt. Somehow I was convinced that if I hadn’t spent that time crafting my online persona, my offline one would have developed faster.

And maybe it would have. But chances are I also would have just found another “mindless” pursuit to fulfill my time, one that didn’t involve any kind of interaction with others, digital or otherwise.

But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I view all that time “wasted” on message boards as one the best things to ever happen to me.

Before I knew that I wanted to devote my life to writing (2012 or so), the story I would tell myself was something along the lines of “writing and creating always came naturally to me”. While it’s true I was always creating, scribbling, and sketching in notebooks on car trips, I never realized that these things didn’t come naturally—in reality I was honing them daily for about a decade. On video game message boards.

Those 10,000+ posts? In a way, I had been practicing for what I wanted to do with the rest of my life without even knowing it. Before having any idea what 10,000 hours was significant of, I was accumulating mine.

The ‘find your passion’ crowd often cries something along the lines of “look back to what infatuated you as a child”, and in the extremely limited scope of my own life, I can’t disagree with this. I was allowed to run rampant online (within reason) and as an inadvertent result I developed perhaps my greatest professional asset. Moreover, the forums helped me figure out more than just that I liked to write. You don’t spend all that time sharing your teenage tribulations with strangers and without learning a thing or two about what makes you tick and who you are as a person. Despite how trivial my “problems” were then, the daily introspection in that afternoon window developed a habit that continues on today in the form of journaling and meditation.

Of course, absolutely none of this was apparent at the time, which further exemplifies the importance of letting oneself pursue that which is on their mind during all hours of the day, without pragmatic purpose. Like Christine Hassler says in The 20 Something Manifesto:

Following your passion is a journey, not a magic wand; success is not immediate, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come.

So while I may never be a video game reviewer, game script writer, online counselor, or the mayor of Toad Town, for my writing’s sake, I am extremely grateful my parents never told me to ‘just go play outside’.

*before their resurgence in mainstream popularity as “social news” sites, ala reddit.

For The Sake Of Posting

The lack of new content is merely a consequence of my own good fortune.

Freelancing has been going incredibly well—better than I could have anticipated even a year ago—but it’s left little time for personal writing projects. I consider this only a temporary circumstance, as it’s not for a lack of ideas, just time: my Evernote list of “Posts to Write” is quickly turning into a tome in itself.

A while ago I decided the blog was going to be nothing more than a form of self-amusement, a way to show potential clients that I know how to write a blog post, and hopefully as a means to entertain one or two people. One reason for this was limited personal bandwidth; another was that it takes me way too long to write, edit, and publish a single 1000-word post. However, due to the volume of freelance work I’ve been doing, I’m finding that I am now able to articulate clearer, quicker, and have become an overall more efficient writer—which makes me all the more excited to eventually get back into a posting groove again.

And since posting begets more posting, I thought I’d give some brief updates on some other things I’ve been up to:

1.Moody_BookCover_Final Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be the editor for my good friend Michael Moody’s new book, Redefine YourselfThe book is an easy-to-read guide for making small, yet powerful, alterations to your daily routine and thought patterns that can lead to dramatic life changes.

Whether he knows it or not, I’ve always considered Michael a mentor of mine, so I was extremely honored when he asked me to take my red pen to his project. As someone who has read his fair share of self-development books, I can’t recommend this one enough for anyone wanting a straight-to-the-point guidebook for improving their quality of life—be sure to pick up your copy from Amazon today.

2. For the third year running, I will be doing another social experiment this June. Like last year though, it will involve people I both know and don’t know, so details won’t be revealed until after it’s over.

3. My site received a mention in the Envato Market blog as a great example of the ‘hero’ design trend. Thanks and props again to my great friend and digital designer-extraordinaire, Jacob-Fox,envato on the re-design.

4. I’m not sure what took me so long, but I’m now on Goodreads! Let’s be book buddies. You can keep tabs on my progress as I slog through Infinite Jest.

5. After reaching a new low point with caffeine (two full coffee mugs of espresso each morning on top of additional drip coffee at work), I finally have things under control again.

Funny enough, I now have way more energy and focus than I did before. Credit to Guayaki’s Yerba Mate line for helping me cut it off easy with Miss Brown Eyes.

6. Finally, I have a massive announcement coming late this summer. For a variety of reasons, I can’t say anything else about it, but much will be written when that time comes.

More soon.