"One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning."-James Russell Lowell
You should read biographies. I didn't realize how useful these were until I started reading them.
Here are a few I recommend:
- Screw it, Let’s Do it by Richard Branson
- Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh
- The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
I'm halfway through Delivering Happiness (which is an incredible book) and it was just last night as I was reading that I realized how amazingly powerful these few—and recently read—books have been for me.
I've always discounted biographies as a kind of “hero worship” or history-like recant of someone who had done some stuff in the past: I just never saw the value in reading them.
Man was I wrong.
I wish I had learned this sooner, but I’m at least glad I did now.
You want to get better at just about anything? Read biographies.
Now, to address the quote at the top… this might sound contradictory to my advice to read biographies considering Mr. Lowell is suggesting that actually experiencing life is far more useful than reading or hearing about it from others.
And on that point, I agree with him.
The problem is, most people are resistant to taking action of any kind, especially when they don’t know what that action might look like.
This is where biographies come in. They show you what others have done and build a kind of fearlessness in you that says, “If they did it, so can I” (or, at the very least: “If they did it, I’ll at least try”).
I’ve always been bold and not quite risk-averse. This is probably from my poker playing days when I would win or lose thousands of dollars in a single day. But even before poker I always had a sense of confidence—and a burning desire—to learn and try new things. This has helped me in business and personal development my entire life.
And this is probably why I'm so impressed by the effect that these few biographies have had on me: they've spurred me to doing even more outside of my comfort zone.
I won't get into specifics, but each book has made me realize the kind of extremes that people go through to accomplish great things. It’s too often that only the successes are celebrated and the failures ignored. It’s just not that glamorous when you tell people that you built a successful company after risking every last dime and selling your condo for half of what you paid for it just so you could make payroll for a couple months. People don't want to hear how you lived in debt, slept on the floor in the office, borrowed money from your grandma after she took a 2nd mortgage out on her house, and so on.
People want the result and the belief that it won't be too hard to get that result.
For me, reading biographies have been a game-changer. For you, I know they will at least have a positive effect because, at the very least, they will make you a more knowledgeable and interesting person.
To put my advice in the simplest way possible, I want you to remember this easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide for doing more in your life:
- Read biographies
- Use the motivation and inspiration you garner to take action
- Learn from the action