2020 Reading List

Building on my commitment to myself (starting last year) of reading one book a month from my reading list, I decided to up it to two in 2020. It’s lucky that I did because what else was there to do this year?

Here are the books that I’ve worked through this year, some planned, some unplanned, but all worthwhile…well most of them. Some weren’t great.

January

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

Classic Gladwell. A book about how little things can make a big impact and what it takes for an idea to reach critical mass to become a significant movement.

The Dispossessed – Ursula K Le Guin

This is the first of a few books that I read this year which I have no idea how it made it on to my list. But it was there. So, being a slave to my list, I read it. It was an intriguing fiction novel about different planets and other space type things which are not normally interesting to me. However, it was worth the read.

February

The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek

I have heard Simon interviewed about this book a few times, and whilst the book doesn’t really provide much more than what he covers in the interviews, the concept is brilliant. The idea that, in business and other areas of life, we are not playing a game with set rules and timeframes. Nobody ends up being the ultimate winner. Sometimes we will win, sometimes we will lose, but shifting your mindset to understand that the you are not in competition with the person/business next to you. Instead, you are playing your own game.

Utopia for Realists – Rutger Brehman

The best first line of a book ever. “Let’s start with a little history lesson: In the past, everything was worse. For roughly 99% of the world’s history, 99% of humanity was poor, hungry, dirty, afraid, stupid, sick, and ugly.”

Essentially the book is about a vision for a realistic utopia, with universal basic income, a shorter work week and open borders. A very interesting read.

March

Enlightenment Now – Steven Pinker

500 pages of why things in our world have never been better than they are now. Still much improvement necessary but a great perspective on history and humanity.

April

Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin

One of the many books about habits Gretchen talks about the pillars of habit and the four tendencies being an upholder, a questioner, an obliger and a rebel. Whilst not going deeply into the psychology of habits, Gretchen does appear to understand and explain some of the complexities of how we all create habits differently. This approach is different from what I’ve come across before where she unpacks some of the methods that we can use depending on what type of personality we have to help create habits and facilitate better habits

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield

Probably my favourite book this year. Chris Hadfield is an experienced astronaut having travelled to space 3 times in his career, this book outlines some of the practical things that he learned during that process. He is really funny too. Many times I would chuckle to something humorous in the book which piqued my wife’s interest and she in-turn, read it and loved it.

His ability to work the problem in front of him regardless of all other challenges he faced, is inspirational.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Another book that I have no idea how it ended up on the list, but, well, it was on the list. A fiction novel about the multiverse. Tripped me out a bit, but quite the entertaining read.

May

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

I think this is a book that I will read every year as there is just so much to it. It is the writings of Marcus Aurelius, the stoic philosopher and Emperor of Rome, as he wrestles with some of the most significant questions about life and meaning.

It has provided me with a quote that I am striving to live up to…

“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.”

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemmingway

Having never read anything from one of the greatest author’s ever, I thought I better do so. At first I struggled with the pointlessness of the story but recognising that it was first published in 1926, I was impressed by the ability of the author to tell an engaging story. Even if it didn’t seem to have a point.

Renovation of the Heart – Dallas Willard

On a suggestion from Donald Miller from Story Brand, a look at the state of our hearts. “We live from our depths – and we understand little of what is there”.

Predictable Irrational – Dan Ariely

Dan is in incredibly intelligent and thinks about the world in a very interesting way. The premise of this book is that we are not rational beings in the decisions that we make and whether we approach our lives but that irrationality is predictable dance studies really inside but the majority of them are done in university colleges in the US don’t have the reach or the breadth of the entire community as a whole. The sections on pricing and the psychology behind it is fascinating. The section money and deception is terrifying.

June

Give and Take – Adam Grant

The book of generosity. Adam lays out why those who are generous in the workplace become more successful than those who aren’t. Outside of the Bible, this is my bible. A true encouragement to not shy away from seeking the best for those that you work with and around as it will make you better at your job.

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Cal Newport outlines what he means by that phrase in deep work and then he outlines why we should all be looking to create more opportunities to do work in our lives especially in our work lives. The opposite of deep work being shallow work which is all the things that actually distract us in our work life or can be things which are just not helpful to us. the capacity for someone to create a great amount of work when they have access to the work is extraordinary and there is something that everybody can take out of this book even if they are not an intellectual store professor he does bring a specific view of a professor to this work and there is some things that will not translate into other areas of life especially when it comes to taking time off. There are times when it comes off arrogant but his insight is second to none.

July

The Bourne Initiative – Eric Van Lustbader

In light of not having a Jack Reacher novel to read (as I had finished all of them), I thought I would give another series a try. You will notice there is no other mention of the Bourne series in this list. There is a reason for that.

Atomic Habits – James Clear

Another favourite. James unpacks how little things that we do build up over time and can create a significant impact. We get to choose what daily things we do to either create a positive impact or a negative impact.

August

Hiking with Neitzsche – John Kraag

Having never read anything by Neitzsche this was a nice introduction to his philosophy and life journey. This book is about John Kraag’s two trips following in the footsteps of Neitzsche through the Swiss Alps, one he took as a teenager and one 17 years later as a married father of one. An amazing journey into the depths of despair and depression and seeking out meaning in meaninglessness.

Bruce Lee – Matthew Polly

Having never seen anything with Bruce Lee in it, or really understanding who he was, this story captured me. His intensity and influence across martial arts and the movie industry are overwhelming. Every familiar ‘tough guy/girl’ in movies today can be traced back to him. All of this at the same time as being caught between two cultures. Not accepted as fully Chinese and not embraced as an American, we are only left to imagine what else he could have brought had he not died so tragically.

September

Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

On the back of my Neitzsche journey in August, more staring into the face of darkness and despair. Frankl writes about his time in Auschwitz from a psychological perspective. It was through this experience that he shaped the framework for his practice in psychology in the years to follow. He doesn’t go into great detail about the atrocities that occurred, but he does talk about the importance of finding a meaning and purpose that can keep you going in the most troubling of circumstances.

The Only Story – Julian Barnes

Random addition. Written from three time perspectives, it is a story of forbidden love but is unusual in the sense that it plays out the relationship to the end. The complexity of what a relationship between a teenage boy and a middle aged woman looks like ten years down the track, and then even further.

October

Fear & Trembling – Soren Kirkergaard

Kirkergaard is revered as a deeply influential thinker and so I have been attempting to get an understanding of that. I find him very challenging to read with moments of pure inspiration. This entire book describes the journey of Abraham on his way to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It is about faith, courage and whether or not Abraham was a sadistic murderer.

Thirst – Scott Harrison

The story of Charity: Water as written by its founder. His is an intriguing story and upbringing. From the darkness of running nightclubs in New York to digging wells in Africa, Scott is brilliantly honest about his journey, mistakes and all, in an attempt to bring clean water to the world.

November

The Happiest Man on Earth Eddie Jaku

Another inspirational book from World War 2, Eddie went through many concentration camps, including Auschwitz, as a Jew. His survival and life after has been a miracle. This is a really easy read, written very simply and does gloss over some of the finer details.

Jack Reacher – The Sentinel – Lee Child

The brand new release, timed well as it was about the 2020 election and how it could be hacked by Russia. I hate to say it but I was disappointed. I think Lee tried to shoehorn an idea into a story to fit the year. It lacked the normal Jack Reacher flair.

What’s Your Plan – Suzzanne Laidlaw

Written by an Opportunity International Australia Ambassador, Suzzanne shares her story and then couples her journey with business principals to help those starting out, or trying to get a hold of their business. Suzzanne’s story is one of the most unique, gut-wrenching and inspiring challenges that I have ever come across. And her heart is one of the largest ones that exist.

December

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

I did not know a thing about this before I read it. Everyone seems to know it and the answer to the question of ‘What is the meaning of life?’ being 42, but I had no clue what that was all about. For a sci-fi book that was written in the 1970’s, it is refreshingly creative and engaging. It was a wild ride, although I found the ending a little disappointing.

That’s it for another year – I would love to hear your suggestions for my list for 2021!

Compound

I love a good spreadsheet. It helps me keep my life in order by tracking the important numbers. As a number gets changed in one cell, the total is impacted by the exact amount of that change. It is neat and tidy, and precise.

Not everything in life is measured by numbers. You can’t calculate the importance of a specific relationship that you have by allocating a number to it, or a regular activity that you are involved in, or even someone’s presence. Well, I guess you could try, but it would be completely arbitrary and cold. Much of our life is not neat and tidy, and most definitely not precise. (Which is bad news for my spreadsheet.)

Generosity is one such area. We can try and calculate the cost of giving money away in light of how much less we now have, compared to the tax deduction that it has given, but that is an arbitrary and cold process. That is not how generosity works.

Generosity is when you give something away, instead of seeing it as a financial loss for you and a financial gain for someone else, it becomes a compounding transaction creating a positive impact for everyone involved, those who are close to it and not involved, and those who hear about it later. It increases exponentially.

Generosity breeds generosity. It is not possible to run out if it. It is not a finite resource. It is one of a very few things that increase every time you use it. You will never reach the end of generosity because when you think you are there, you will discover more generosity.

Try it out. No spreadsheet required.

Your Growth is a Gift

Have you ever thought about what people are missing out on because you are not growing? What impact is it having on those around you when you are stuck doing the same things you have always done, knowing the same things you always knew, being the same person you always were? It may not sound like a big deal and maybe personal growth is not your ‘thing’, but it’s not about you. It’s about the people that you love that are in your life, and then then people that they love that are in their lives. We owe it them to be the best version of ourselves so that we, in turn, can help them be the best versions of themselves…and so on.

Here’s a harsh truth: If you think you are currently the best you can possibly be, you’re not. (Ouch). There is always more. There are things that you don’t know yet that will change the way you turn up when you learn them. There are things that you don’t know how to do yet which will be groundbreaking in your life and in those around you; groundbreaking in the sense that it will break new ground so you can build something new on it.

There is always more to learn. Always more to discover. Always more to understand. Not so that you can get to the finish line of learning, but so you can improve and make everything you touch just that little bit better.

How many people can reap the benefits of your growth?

2019 Reading List

At the start of this year I set myself a challenge. My ‘Must Read’ list of books kept growing and I really wasn’t making my way through the long list of amazing books people kept recommending to me. Not that I wasn’t reading, in fact I was making my way through quite a number of books, but they were not the type of books that were serving me and helping me shape who I wanted to become (you may see some of them in the list of random books below).

So, my challenge was to read 1 book a month from my list and after I finished it, I could read anything else I wanted, as long as at the start of the next month I was to begin the next book. It’s been a fun year, some amazing books, some were a bit of a waste of time…but I completed the task.

Here is my list:

January – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson

Being a person that doesn’t swear a lot, I read this book, not because of the title, but because someone suggested it to me. I predicted that Mark Manson would calm down with the swearing after the first few chapters and actually got into the content. It is a book about self-responsibility, taking ownership and not being influenced by external factors. (This is one of quite a number of books that feature an *, or a ? or %#@! to hide a swearword, it has become quite a thing but has kind of lost its impact now).

February – All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

This was the only fiction book amongst my official list this year. By far and away the best fiction book that I have ever read (sorry Lee Child). An incredible story from different perspectives based during the build up to and through the impact of, World War 2.

March – Factfullness – Hans Rosling

The last book that Hans wrote before he died (I found that out as I finished it and I may have been a little bit emotional about that). Hans lists the 10 reasons we are wrong about the world and why things are better than we think. Need a pick me up? Get into this one.

April – Dark Emu – Bruce Pascoe

An insight into Australian Indigenous history, something that I think we should all read, and a good starting point for people who want to understand more about what happened in our past. I was astounded by the ingenuity and wisdom of the first Australians.

May – Creativity Inc. – Ed Catmul

Ed was the CEO of Pixar Animation Studios to see how he started out in life and then with this incredible culture, one of radical candour and understanding that great ideas can come from anyone. It was a bit of a dry read at times, but it was punctuated by some amazing stories about the movies they produce and some of the struggles that they went through.

June – The Sickness Unto Death – Soren Kirkergaard

As I got into the winter months I foolishly started reading some books that were quite intense and this was one of those. I had heard of Soren Kirkegaard before, I had heard people quote him and he sounded amazing, so I thought I’d grab one of his books and read it.

With this one, most of the time I was trying to figure out what he was talking about, piece the sentences together to make sense, which I assume is difficult because it’s been translated from Danish. I think the general theme of this book or the general understanding of it is that the sickness unto death is despair. That’s all I have.

July – Anti-Fragile – Nassim Taleb

Nassim Taleb seems to me to be like an incredible intelligent guy and Anti-Fragile is unpacking what the opposite of fragile is. Which is not something that is hard or strong but instead something that continues to grow stronger when it encounters shocks and tumult. Great concept, tough read for me.

August – Building a Story Brand – Donald Miller

I listen to the Building a Story Brand podcast with Donald Miller and I’ve heard him talk about this marketing concept a number of times so I thought I’d actually grab the book and read it. He unpacks a clear process to break down the elements of your company’s story and helps you communicate it very clearly. This is helpful for anyone in business, or marketing, or marketing businesses, or just about anything else.

September – Good to Great – Jim Collins

I think I cheated with this one, I listened to it as an audiobook, so I’m not sure how much I remember but in it Jim Collins goes through some of the greatest companies that were great for a long period of time, outperforming the market norm and discovered the things that made them great. Mostly it was to do with culture and leadership.

October – The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg unpacks why we do the things we do, how we form habits, how the brain works in habit forming and how we can stop doing the things that we want to stop doing. He looks at Alcoholics Anonymous as a great example of this. Habits follow the pattern of cue-behaviour-reward, to change them is about shifting the behaviour and keeping the reward.

There is a great story about why child nutrition was poor in rural parts of the USA a few decades ago, and how a sole focus on safety turned one company around.

November -The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday

Perhaps I missed something with this one. It was a good read and a great philosophical insight into how people can succeed in the face of overwhelming adversity, but I found it lacked quality practical applications.

December – Indistractable – Nir Eyal

Nir examines the reality that humans have been easily distracted for our entire history. We like to blame technology but we really like to avoid uncomfortable feelings and will find anything to distract us from them. This book gives practical tips on how to notice when we are being distracted, figure out why and create a plan to overcome it. His tips are game changers.

Other random books read:

  • Jack Reacher – Lee Child (x5 – Don’t judge me)
  • Unpoverty – Mark Lutz – Rich Lessons from the Working Poor
  • How We Love – Milan & Kay Yerkovich – Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage
  • A World of Three Zero’s – Mohammad Yunas – The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment and Zero Carbon Emissions
  • Weconomy – Craig Kielburger, Holly Branson, Marc Kielburger – You can Find Meaning, Make a Living and change the world
  • Inspired – Rachel Held Evans

So, there you have it. I would love to hear your favourites from this year and what I can read in 2020!

How To be Generous to Yourself (without letting yourself off the hook)

I love personal growth. I love consuming books, podcasts and videos about growth. I find it exhilarating. But I realised a little while ago, I must be exhausting to live with. I am always searching for the reasons why I do the things I do, how I can do life better, and how I can find the blind-spots that I have. Nobody wants to live with that, and to be honest, sometimes I am exhausted by it too. So I am slowly learning about what being generous to yourself means. I have been reluctant because previously I have been very good at letting myself off the hook for something and calling it ‘self-generosity’, but it was really just laziness and a lack of integrity.

Now, I have three sayings that I use which help keep things in check.

We are all a work in progress

This is helpful for me and for when I am dealing with others. Sometimes I can get frustrated with people who don’t seem to be trying to improve and this saying is a great reminder that I don’t know other people’s journey, and I certainly don’t know where they will end up. It helps keep me in check too, as I realise that I am a long way from where I want to be.

I am better than I was yesterday (but not as good as a I will be tomorrow)

To stop me slipping into the depths of despair and frustration when I make the same mistakes or fall into the same victim racket in my mind, I think of how far I have come and I can have confidence in my trajectory of growth. If I can keep doing to small things each day; reading, learning, keeping fit, then I know I am moving forward. Progress is slow, but it is still progress.

In this moment, I am enough

With all that said and done, I can know that right here, right now, I am everything that I need to be for this moment. I can’t do anything about any work or preparation that hasn’t been done because it is too late to change it, so I can own who I am and what I am doing.

What are your best sayings?

Look How Far You Have Come!

Riding a bike is easy, once you know how. When you know how, it’s almost impossible to remember what it was like to not be able to ride a bike. It’s something that you never forget how to do, it’s like, well, riding a bike.

It’s not until someone points out to you that there was a time that you didn’t know how, that you can stop and see just how far you have come.

It’s the same with anything in life. Each day we learn and grow and it’s not until someone creates a space for us to stop and reflect on where we have come from and what we have achieved that we begin to understand how far we really have come. I’m not the same person I was 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 10, or 5. I’m not the same person I was 12 months ago. My hope is that my life will always be like that as I continue to grow and learn.

If it’s true for me, it’s true for you and for our world. In relation to some of the big issues in our world we have come such a long way. Take poverty for example: since 1990 over 1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty, a larger percentage of girls are in school, about 50,000 less children under the age of 5 are dying every single day because of hunger and easily curable diseases. We have made some incredible progress.

The journey is far from over though, with much work to do (jump on board and help us out!), but we have great reason to hope and to take time to stop and say, look how far we have come.