Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
Centuries ago, Blaise Pascal observed that the root of our problems is our inability to sit quietly and be alone with our own thoughts. We’d rather have more problems than to think deeply about the solutions, and that’s a sickness, really. Stillness isn’t only for Zen masters and monks retreating deep in the mountains — Stillness is what we need for us to think clearly, to make our best decisions, to perform at our highest level — Which we wouldn’t be able to do if our mind is constantly boggled with anxiety, worry, and ego. Have in mind a picture of John F. Kennedy calmly averting the Cuban Missile Crisis, slowly and carefully thinking his way through a situation that could have easily sent the world to ruin. Deriving wisdom from Eastern and Western philosophies, Ryan Holiday leads us on how we can achieve that same stillness, whoever we are, and wherever we may be. (Also, every time Ryan publishes a new book, it’s a must for me to read — Each new book only gets better and better, and he even calls this the best that he has ever written.
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
What I love most about reading Walter Isaacson’s biographies is that he doesn’t only provide a compelling narrative, he also lays down concrete lessons that we could learn from the people he writes about. For me, that’s what great storytellers do — They manage to create work that is both very entertaining and practical at the same time. If I could take away just one important lesson from the life of Leonardo da Vinci, it’s that you have to teach yourself to really love learning, to actually marvel at the “simple” beauties of the world — Just as you would when you were little. Leonardo’s average to-do list would be something like this : Study the tongue of a woodpecker / Find out why the sky is blue — That kind of curiosity, I think, is definitely something we should emulate, at least in our own ways.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
I had been reading the Stoics before I picked up this book, so it’s fair to say that the content wasn’t really a new groundbreaking experience for me — But hey, maybe it would be for you, and I’d still recommend you to give this one a read. The message of this book boils down to knowing what your values are, because if you don’t know what’s important to you, you’ll waste the rest of your life doing things that make other people happy, and eventually not achieving anything quite meaningful for yourself. Life is short, and as Manson says, you have “limited fucks to give”. So the “key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.”
Misery in life comes from “not dedicating your fucks only to things that are fuck-worthy”, and also, as the book teaches, it comes from not embracing the reality that life doesn’t have to be all happy and good all the time. Life sucks sometimes, and that doesn’t have to be a negative thing.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
There was a time when I kind of had an admiration for a character like Christopher McCandless — A person who insisted on living out his ideals, boldly going on road trips across the country. But I changed my mind once I had thought enough about it. The life and death of McCandless carries a reminder for the young people among us, especially. We often make the mistake of thinking that we’re alone in how we feel about society — We think of the greedy businessmen, the crooked politicians, oppressive teachers — That we fail to see that those things aren’t the whole picture. Society, the world — It’s not all bad out there. Because some of us carry this youthful rage in ourselves, like McCandless, we fail to realize the love and beauty that do exist in front of us. We fail to appreciate the people in our lives who offer us their friendship, their love and care. It took a dying breath for McCandless to realize that “happiness is only real when shared”, but luckily, the lesson is right there for us to learn.
Keep Going by Austin Kleon
Consistently putting out creative work is harder than it actually sounds, isn’t it? There are times when your morale is down, when you don’t feel like doing work, when other events are also weighing on your day — Heck, maybe you just feel like you don’t have any good ideas. But by practicing strategies such as making lists, sticking to daily routines, going on regular walks, saying no to other things when you should be working — You can be in the creative game for the long haul. The ideas in this book are presented in essentially the same layout as Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, so it’s a pretty quick and easy read — In fact, I think I’ve summarized more than half of the content already. Still, it’s definitely worth giving the entire book a read.