I grew up hating to read until I dropped out of college and felt free to choose the books I wanted to read. Since then, reading books has been an extension of my curiosity rather than an assignment.
One year ago, I made a commitment to read more. I challenged myself to read 52 books in 2017. I fell short and ended up reading 34. I’m very proud of this because I still accomplished my core goal: to rekindle my desire for reading. After this year, a new book seems like candy to me. My family keeps asking me what I want for Christmas and the only thing I can think of is more Audible gift cards.
I love books because they give me a glimpse into somebody’s mind. They let you in on another human’s unique explanation of ideas. Understanding a new book means I understand something about humanity in a new way.
Here are my 3 favorite books from this year in no particular order.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
I listened to this audiobook over the summer. It’s an anthropological view of the whole of human history. What I love about this book so much is how objective Harari’s viewpoint is. He analyzes things like religion, economics, and politics as if he were coming from the perspective of an alien who is viewing the events of history for the first time. It’s eye-opening and refreshing, and I can’t recommend this book enough. In fact, Richard Branson recommended it recently as one of his top books of 2017.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
I read this book at the very beginning of the year and then reread about half of it later in the year. This book changed my life. It helped me begin to grasp what it truly means to be virtuously selfish. It shaped my understanding of my own values as they relate to work and love, and I continue to expand this understanding every day.
Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse
I read the kindle version of this book in February. It gripped me the whole way through. Carse breaks down life into two types of games: finite and infinite. Understanding the difference between these two types of games has helped me prioritize the events I choose to participate in. I’ll be reading this one again in 2018. It inspired me to write about freedom and choice.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba
What are the best books you read this year?
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash
Lately I’ve been deeply fascinated by Jordan Peterson’s lecture series on the Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories. This is somewhat surprising to me, because I’ve been a staunch, disagreeable atheist for as long as I can remember.
In the series of lectures, Peterson points out that religious storytelling has been one of the major constants throughout all of recorded history. This speaks to the undeniable relevance of these stories to us as humans, and for that reason he argues that it is naive to write them off without a deep investigation.
You don’t have to become a Christian or believe in God to learn something about yourself from one of the longest-standing books known to mankind. After all, it was written by fellow humans.
I never went to church as a kid. I was raised with the encouragement to believe whatever I wanted to believe. I gravitated towards atheism because it was logical to me. In my teenage years, I immersed myself in the study of astronomy, and it was difficult to find a place for Heaven and Hell in the cosmos.
Last week, for the first time in my life, I went to church. It was a large, non-denominational Christian church. I walked in and there were hundreds of people buzzing around finding their seats in the huge auditorium. Everyone I encountered seemed more happy than usual.
The Pastor who lead the worship ceremony was a normal guy and cracked a few jokes to get warmed up. As he got into his spiel, I got out my notepad. He went through three main points, using a few lines from the bible and some anecdotal stories.
These were his three main points, in my own words:
- If you see someone struggling, do what you can to help them.
- Try honestly to do the things you know are right, and avoid doing things you know are wrong.
- Don’t compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to yourself from yesterday.
These seem pretty obvious, right? Religious or not, you can’t really argue that these are bad pieces of advice.
There was no cult-like blood sacrifice and no forced baptism. Nobody held me down and poured holy water on me. It was just a bunch of people getting together, reminding themselves to “be good.”
Peterson touches on this in his lectures. Religion is our attempt to figure out the best way to live so that we can have the best life possible. We want to be the best version of ourselves and reach the highest part of our potential. So we think about what that might look like, and we think about what actions we might need to take to go in that direction, then we try to act it out. But we aren’t perfect, so we go to church to constantly remind ourselves that if we keep doing those things, it will lead us towards that highest part of our potential.
Having faith in God is the same thing as having faith that if you do things like act honestly and genuinely try your best, things will end up generally better for you.
At its core, God is an abstraction of what we see as the ideal thing we could become. It can be constantly imagined and stacked up against the you that exists right now. Religious or not, you can conceptualize God in this way, and it can be used as an accurate compass pointing you towards the best possible version of yourself, whose limits are unknown.
Religious people take it a step further by personifying this abstracted ideal. They call him God, the transcendent, all-powerful man in the sky who can make anything happen. They speak to him in prayer, which is their way of communicating directly with this ideal.
I don’t think I’ll go to church regularly, but I did enjoy having that experience. I understand a bit more clearly why people are deeply religious. They are committed to being the best version of themselves. Everyone has their own way of doing this.
Photo by Jan Tielens on Unsplash
I started doing freelance videography about 4 months ago. It’s been a wild ride so far, and I know I’m just getting started. I’ve failed more than I expected, learned more than I expected, and succeed a bit less than I expected.
The past 4 months have been demoralizing, humbling, inspiring, and uplifting, but most of all, useful. This is the first time in my life my income has been fully dependent on the sales and production of only myself. It’s hard.
I’ve boiled it down to the two primary lessons I’ve learned since I started on my own. I could make this list about 30 items long, but I’m sticking with the two top ones to keep this post focused. These two lessons are directing my macro focus as I step into 2018.
I hope you can relate with what I’ve learned and apply it to your own life and business.
1) The Core Matters Most
The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine about his business, Jyve.
Jyve is a platform that connects local musicians with bar managers, streamlining the booking process so bars can have live music and musicians can play gigs. This short video explains the app from the perspective of a bar manager.
“What’s the core of Jyve?” I asked him.
He talked about the value they provide to bar managers by helping them book gigs efficiently. He talked about the economic value, gave compelling statistics, and clearly explained the ROI (return on investment) for bar managers to use their platform.
Everything he said made sense, but it wasn’t the core. There was no emotion behind it.
I continued, “That’s not the core of it. Why do you care about all of this so much? Why does it matter to help the restaurant managers book musicians?”
After some more back and forth, it came out of him.
I couldn’t possibly say what he said as eloquently as he did, so I’ll summarize: His face lit up, he grinned, and said that music has been the constant in his life that pulls him through tough times, and he knows that local musicians playing local gigs feel the same way. To help them play more gigs means to help more people experience music.
In short, Jyve exists for people who f***ing love music. For people who yearn for that visceral feeling that comes when you sing your heart out in front of a crowd of people, and for people who will spend ungodly amounts of time and money just to see their favorite band play live (again and again and again). For musicians who will take the shittiest jobs, live on little to no money, and will do whatever it takes just to keep playing music.
As he explained this, I felt chills run down my spine. I knew that was it. That was the core. I wasn’t just listening to words anymore — I could feel the passion and meaning behind the words, giving them substance that wasn’t there before.
THAT is what is required to make a good video, or to truly help a customer in any way. You MUST understand WHY your customer does what they do. The skill to execute that and capture and display that story in a video also helps, but it all starts by understanding the core of your customer. It requires a lot of digging. It requires lots of time. You need to get to know the people you’re working with by studying them over time. You need to ask lots of hard questions that don’t have clear answers. You need to keep pushing them to articulate something when they’re not sure how to explain it. Keep digging. Keep asking questions. Keep asking why. When you discover the core, you’ll know it.
Simon Sinek wrote a pretty well-known book called Start With Why in which he does a deep dive into this principle of “why.” He applies it to companies like Apple and Southwest, and paints a clear picture of how one can traverse from why to how to what rather than the opposite direction. I highly recommend reading it.
2) Provide a Full Solution, Not a Product/Service
The two sentences I’ve heard the most from potential clients over the past 4 months are:
- “Video is the next big thing.”
- “We need more video content.”
Video marketing is important, and EVERYBODY knows it. Therefore, it should be easy to sell a video to someone who already knows they need a video, right?
People don’t buy good videos. They buy solutions. Everyone knows they need videos, but nobody knows how to use a video in a way that will solve their problem.
When someone says “We need more video content,” what they really mean is, “We need more sales and we think videos will do that more efficiently than what we are currently doing.”
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to sell videos, and it hasn’t worked very well at all. The “starving artist” stigma is there because art, while it’s incredibly valuable in its own right, does not solve a specific problem.
When somebody asks me for a video, they don’t really want a video. They want something else, and they think the video will help them get it. So I should ask lots of questions to find out what they want, then build an entire marketing campaign that will solve their problem. This means creating a video, dipping into Facebook ads, making landing pages, handling email marketing, and putting all the pieces together into a full solution.
My job is to find out what they want, then work backwards.
The video is made with the entire marketing campaign in mind. The marketing campaign is made with the video in mind. There are more pieces to the puzzle than just a video if you want to create something that somebody is willing to pay for. This means a lot more work than just creating a video and being done with it. But that’s the point. That’s how you actually help somebody.
Selling people an answer you think you already have doesn’t work. Turn yourself into somebody who can work through their problem, and you’ll end up with a solution that they will actually pay you for.
When you find yourself searching for an answer, stop. Orienting yourself towards an unknown answer is confusing.
Just ask questions.
Prod the thing you are trying to understand from all angles. Each good question acts as a flashlight shining from one particular direction. If you shine enough flashlights on your problem, the solution will become apparent. You’ll be able to see where what currently exists falls short, and it will be obvious what is needed to fill the void.
I started asking myself a question recently that has helped me understand and define my strengths and weaknesses. Here it is:
What do I do to recharge?
I stress and over-analyze things fairly often. When this happens, I’m less likely to undertake something difficult. I know that getting a little win under my belt does wonders to boost my confidence and energy in times like this. It’s like recharging myself to go on and tackle the next task.
I noticed that recently when I feel stressed, I revert to doing things that come somewhat easily to me. Things that I know I can win at without trying too hard.
Sitting down and cranking out a video is a lengthy, cognitively-demanding task. When I’m already stressed or feeling less confident than usual, I avoid committing to something like this. I know that I’ll likely give up halfway through because I don’t have the energy it takes to work deeply and end up with something I’m proud of. That’ll only leave me more dissatisfied with myself.
Instead, I usually opt to make a few phone calls. There are always new or old leads or customers I can follow up with, and it never hurts to check in and see where they’re at. Talking with people, asking questions, and listening all come very naturally to me. Even when I am at a low point in my day, I know I can pick up the phone and make some sort of progress, even if it’s something small like clarity on what I should do next.
It’s hard to define your own strengths objectively. Take note of what you do when you’re stressed that comes easily to you. It can be a great litmus test to point you towards what you’re naturally good at and reveal what naturally takes you more effort.
(Photo by Cyril Saulnier on Unsplash)