How Books Changed My Life

Lauren and I were sitting at our kitchen table last night, splitting a bottle of red wine when she asked me quite bluntly, “What is your purpose in life?

We tend to get into these deep philosophical discussions from time to time (with the aid of some wine). Every now and then, it’s fun to play the role of patient/therapist and go deep into self-reflection.

It took me a while to come up with an answer. Sure, we all have hobbies and things we love doing, but my passion? That gets to the heart. What was I put on this earth to do? What purpose do I serve?

I know I’ve always had creative juices flowing through me. When I was a kid, I was a good artist. I would draw all of the time and had notebooks filled with sketches. When I got to middle school, I traded in my pencil for a guitar and began learning how to play music. When I got to college, I traded in my guitar for a keyboard and began writing again – blog posts, newspaper articles, and tweets. And now, I enjoy a whole mixture of those things. The internet and social media have allowed me to constantly pursue my interests all while figuring out what brings me joy.

But there’s always been books…

Based on a completely inaccurate guestimation, I suspect I’ve read well over 500 books in my life. But only a handful of those books permanently altered the direction of my health, wealth, and relationships.

All art – whether it’s music, paintings, books, or movies – is a gift. At the root of it, artists are trying to offer a gift to someone or something; and a lot of that gift is the alleviation of pain – of a broken heart, of fear, of self-destructive thinking. Every so often you come across a song or a passage in a book and you think, “Maybe I’m not alone. I’m not the only person who’s dealing with this shit. Whatever I’m going through, there’s meaning to it. It isn’t all just meaningless.

In high school, I was overweight. I never knew anything about nutrition. I ate Pop-Tarts or Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast and ate pizza and ice cream for school lunch. Surely, this wasn’t the “optimal” way to fuel after-school sports (but damn, was it tasty). I hated the way I looked in the mirror and I was embarrassed to take my shirt off at pool parties.

I wanted to make a change, and the goal was to get six-pack abs. So I picked up a book from my dad’s shelf with the most fitting title I could find called The Abs Diet. Reading through the 300 or so pages, I realized how accessible the information I needed was. I could just pick up a book about a topic, read digestible information from an expert, and apply it to my own life. It can’t be that simple, can it? But I thought, well if I just follow their expert advice, I can avoid the common beginner mistakes and reap the rewards from their first-hand knowledge. As someone who loves experimenting, I thought, let’s see if this stuff works.

I followed the nutritional and exercise advice from the book and lost thirty pounds in three months. I saw my abs for the first time and never looked back.

That’s when I realized how instantly a book can help turn things around. The key, however, is to have it hit you at the right time. A sad song doesn’t really seem appetizing when you’re in a good mood. But after a bad breakup? Those words and minor chords hit you right in the chest.

I’ve read plenty of books touted as “classics” or “must-reads,” but if you’re not in the right headspace to receive that information, it’s going to fall flat. Sometimes, you need to follow your own intuition and explore the piece of art that fell into your lap at just the moment when you’re at the tiniest bit open to receiving it. Great opportunities never have “GREAT OPPORTUNITY” in the subject line.

When I began working right out of college, I picked up Dale Carnegie’s classic self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People because I wanted to learn how to work effectively with other people. The pages were filled with so much wisdom it inspired me to grab a notebook and write out the best insights. Since then, I’ve continued to transcribe the most valuable passages from every book I read.

I was already a big reader of fiction, but after that book, I became a voracious seeker of knowledge. I wanted to consume as many resources that could have as positive an impact on my life as The Abs Diet or How to Win Friends and Influence People did.

That’s when books became, for me, “uniquely portable magic,” as Stephen King famously said.

Throughout college and my early twenties, I struggled with relationships for various reasons. I denied it for years or covered it up in self-protective ways. At a certain tipping point, I knew I had to do the work to solve my problem and get out of my own way. A book that my dad and grandfather always spoke highly of was The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. I saw it on my dad’s nightstand and thought it might be the book I needed to read to get me over the mental slump I was in. It was an old book, with browned pages, and tears along the paperback cover. Years of being stuffed in my dad’s commute bag had resulted in coffee stains, underlined passages in different colors of ink and highlighter, and damage on the corners from constant dog marking of pages.

Although I could have made the mental changes necessary through alternative methods like therapy, the specificity of the message across the chapters was exactly the language my fragile mind needed at exactly that moment. The words could have been applied to a failing marriage, an unmotivated corporate leader, or someone making a career change. But in my particular dilemma at twenty-two years old, the words resonated with a young man struggling with relationships and intimacy.

I started making changes in the way I spoke to myself. Before I read that book, my inner dialogue was a caricature of depression cloaked with humor. But by following the methods described in the book religiously, I was able to rearrange those negative thoughts into positive ones. Through sheer will and consistent practice, I managed to rewire my brain, body, and attitude in all facets of life. My posture improved, I smiled more, I became more vulnerable in conversations and started taking more risks.

I met Lauren three weeks later.

If I hadn’t read that book and followed its message, I don’t know if I ever would have had the courage to follow up with her. It wasn’t an expensive therapist that got me through that. I didn’t need a physical trainer or nutritionist to get a six-pack. All I needed were a couple of good books and the discipline to be humble and learn through consistent practice.

But back to the original question… “What is your purpose in life?

After a few minutes of deep thought, I came to the realization that my purpose is this; sharing the profound impact reading can have on one’s life.

When I hear people say, “Oh, I haven’t read a book in years lol. I probably should…,” it pains me. I want to shake these people like Billy Madison to the little boy in fourth grade. PICK ONE UP! ANY! BOOKS CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE! Literal words on a page can transport you into entirely new ways of thinking and interacting with the world around you.

That’s what I aim to do with Observe and Rapport. One only needs to read a handful of great books in their lifetime. You don’t need to read 40 books a year, and you certainly don’t need to read all of the books I recommend. I share them with you with the hopes that maybe it’s just what you need. My purpose is encouraging people of all ages to read as much as possible to unlock their greater selves.

Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. Humans are storytellers. The Bible is the oldest collection of stories and it is the basis of our entire reality. It’s literally the operating system for all of Western Civilization — a book! Stories, messages, characters, morals, and quotes passed down from generation to generation to form the basis of the government, law, and societal norms that we all live and breathe every single day. Libraries are one of our greatest available resources, and they’re 100% free of cost. A bookstore is like a playlist of the world’s greatest thinkers.

Books and words can change your life. Wisdom is written and passed down in hopes the next generation can learn and evolve. Life is complicated, and I’m obsessed with sifting through recorded knowledge and finding little nuggets of wisdom I can use to learn and grow.

A single book might not change your life, but a single quote or idea can. One little metaphor, or play on words, can completely alter and shift the way you think about things.

The rest doesn’t matter. If all I ever do on this planet is share my message and get more people to read great books that positively impact their lives, I’ll be happy.  That’s my purpose.



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