There’s only one thing, one constant thing that I believe keeps me moving closer to my goals, and keeps me fixed on what I want to do. It’s got nothing to do with being close to the universe or attracting things to me with positive energy.
My secret weapon is that I read.
Running a business, being a writer, living a full life — these things depend on the knowledge that we can gain and use. What we call following our gut, is really us being subconsciously guided by every piece of information we’ve ever consumed, shaping our instincts and ideas and forming us.
I read constantly, throughout every single day. I read obsessively, consuming new books and revisiting old at an alarming rate. I read because I want to see the world through new sets of eyes. My bookshelves strain under the weight of comics, graphic novels, the complete works of Shakespeare, the Wundersmith series, books about Steve Jobs and Wall Street and Walmart and business and histories of the Holocaust.
I read books on my iPhone when I’m on the treadmill at the gym, every morning. When I first started working out, every minute felt like an eternity, watching TV shows or listening to music or podcasts never helped me get through a session. But a book, that’s something else. I can lose myself in a book and suddenly find that 45 minutes have slipped away while I run and read.
I read books about business, and startups, and entrepreneurship — because there’s always something new to learn, something that could shift my point of view or expose me to a different way of thinking. And because when I want to quit, the paths and advice of those who’ve gone before me act as a guide.
But there’s more. I read books about dragons and wizards and ancient spells, and I read books where there are worlds full of fantastic creatures and heroes, and I read books where there are sacrifices and victories and where good people mourn their lovers.
I read books about musketeers, and lamp posts in the woods, and the dangerous business of going out your front door. I read books about boarding schools and battlefields and a bridge to Terabithia.
I read about economic theory, and struggle through it despite how fucking heavy it gets, and I read books about the birth of the internet and the dot com crash and the lives of the Marx brothers.
I read new books, to find new characters and ideas, and old books because there’s always a detail I missed or a theme that I’ve forgotten, no matter how many times I’ve gone over them.
I read, because there’s so much more to the world than my corner of it. If I never tried to find it, I’d be limiting myself.
Through my bookshelf, my Kindle and my browser, I can access the entire store of human knowledge, insight and imagination at any hour of the day, and I think sometimes I’d be mad not to take advantage of that.
I know that if I let go of that, if I stop reading and searching for new thoughts, or better old ones, my work is going to suffer. I think a good part of what informs my voice, and guides my decisions both as a writer and an entrepreneur is gained from reading a wide range of different things, all the time. It challenges my ideas and it makes me re-evaluate them constantly.
So here’s my advice. If you want to accomplish anything of value, challenge yourself to read. And I don’t mean just read my blog posts — if you have the choice between reading something by me and reading a good book like Life After God, by Douglas Coupland, go for the book.
If you don’t read, you won’t gain the information and the insight and the inspiration that you need to make the right calls, at the right time. You won’t learn to see beyond the shit that you have to deal with, every day.
I think people want to believe that there’s a secret, to what I do. When they ask me for advice, it’s as if they think I’ve hidden away a key, that can unlock writing and business and make everything happen the way I want it. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I believe that my habit of reading is what’s made the difference in my life, and I think it’s incredibly important.
Make reading a good book a part of what you do. If you’re the busiest person on earth, just give yourself 15 minutes a day.
Bonus. Here’s 57 of my favorite books of all time, in no particular order.
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- The Hard Thing about Hard Things
- The $100 Startup
- The Hobbit
- Life After God
- The Man in the Iron Mask
- Beau Geste
- The Lean Startup
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being
- Dragons of Autumn Twilight
- The Prisoner of Azkaban
- The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth
- Losing the Signal
- Where Wizards Stay Up Late
- Masters of Doom
- Totally Wired
- The Little Princess
- Throne of Glass
- The Wind in the Willows
- The Fellowship of the Ring
- Without Their Permission
- The Moon’s a Balloon
- Pride and Prejudice
- High Fidelity
- Becoming Steve Jobs
- My Boring-ass Life
- Harpo Speaks
- The Call of Cthulhu
- A Republican Radical in Search of Hot Water
- Be Here Now
- The Color of Magic
- When Breath Becomes Air
- The New New Thing
- Man’s Search for Meaning
- A Princess of Mars
- The Everything Store
- Creativity for Sale
- Red Eye, Black Eye
- Are You My Mother?
- Autobiography of a Yogi
- For One More Day
- The Great Gatsby
- Heart of Darkness
- I Was Blind But Now I See
- Dancing Barefoot
- The Big Sleep
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
- Hatching Twitter
- Seventeen Contradictions
Here’s my call to action…if you’ve gone through that list, and you think you’ve got a book recommendation for me that I’d like, please shout out and let me know. I need new reads!
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.