Your Choices Will Change the World

Beginning this month in North America and many other places around the world, students will be finishing their education and moving on. High school, secondary school, college, university, grad school -- whatever form it takes, this is a time of transition for many.

So much lies ahead! So many possibilities! And sometimes, so much uncertainty. My sister is one of this year's graduates. Congratulations, Mary! You lasted much longer in high school than I did, but you still managed to escape early. Well done.

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Site Update: You, Me, and Your Group

Group Conversation
Group Conversation by Mr. Willie
In the nine months that people have been following along so far, I’ve met up with readers in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, New York, Tunisia, and Cairo – and many of you have sent other invitations that I haven’t been able to accept (yet) due to schedule conflicts. In the second half of 2009, I hope to get more organized with this and start doing a few meetups that are planned in advance so more people can come. Every week I hear from someone I’ve missed on a recent trip, and I want to get to know more of you. I also want to begin connecting with groups of people (especially small businesses and non-profits), and one way I’ll be doing that is through some limited teaching and speaking. Over the next few weeks I’ll be planning out the first part of my 2009 goals and schedule. I did this recently with travel planning, and next week I’ll do everything else. Naturally, I thought I’d let you know what I have I mind with the group work, in case you have an idea about an opportunity that might benefit both of us. I’ve worked with groups for about six years now, as a leader, director, board member, and outside agitator. After shying away from consulting for several years, I now do it twice a week for people seeking to solve specific problems. I want to do something like this next year on a limited basis for a couple of groups who are doing great work. What I Can (and Can’t) Do The short summary is that I challenge groups to be remarkable. I talk about combining personal goals and service to others, as well as finding a way to do what you want while helping other people at the same time. I like to honor people who are doing great work while encouraging them to go further. I’ll tell a few good travel stories in any talk I give, but there’s usually a hook – I want to help, not just entertain. I also like facilitating workshops on lifestyle design and being on roundtables with cool people. Collaboration is good. I feel at home with small businesses, non-profit organizations (especially groups working on international development), and churches that aren’t afraid of being challenged. Unfortunately, charities and non-profits are not immune from the lure of mediocrity, but thankfully there are a number of them that really want to change the world. Those are the ones I enjoy connecting with. Lastly, I am not a good person to do motivational speaking in the traditional sense. I’m not going to tell a car dealership to go out and sell, sell, sell. If I was going to talk to a car dealership, I’d probably tell them they were in the wrong business, and they’d probably tell me to leave. I’d like to avoid that, and besides, the market for salesmanship is well-covered. For group meetings or speaking opportunities, I’m looking mostly at starting here in the Pacific Northwest (from Vancouver, British Columbia to Portland, Oregon) because that makes the logistics easier, but of course I’m not one to restrict anything based on geography. Show Me the Money Charity Donation My speaking and teaching service is currently in beta mode, which doesn’t mean I’ll give it less of a 110% effort. All it means is that I don’t want to get paid for it yet. I do need to have my travel expenses covered, and if your group normally pays outside speakers, I’d like to donate the money to a charity that we both agree on. But otherwise, I’m willing to do this at no charge for the right group. If you’re changing the world somehow, the least I can do is help out where I can. If you represent a group that would be interested in connecting, please send me a note with details. ###

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16 Great Books to Change the World

Bookshelf Spectrum by Chotda

I did a book list for Flashlight Worthy recently, all about my choices for books related to Unconventional Living. You can see the original list here, but in this post I'll expand it a bit to feature books that can help you change the world.

If you've never read these books, I recommend you hop over to Amazon or to your local library. Barring that, you can always do what I do and spend two afternoons a week reading at Barnes & Noble. (I buy coffee and consider it "rent.")

Meaning of Life

It's hard to start with anything other than Man’s Search for Meaning. That pretty much has it covered. But after that, my favorite book in the world is probably Mountains Beyond Mountains, which tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and the organization he founded. And although it’s not a true autobiography (it’s compiled from various articles, sermons, and letters), The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. is as good as you’d expect it to be.

its-not-how-good-you-arePersonal Development

Wishcraft is one of the best “lifestyle design” books, published years before the industry was popular and still providing some great food for thought. I also like Finding Your Own North Star. Of course, Getting Things Done is the productivity classic, and well worth owning a copy. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be is all about not letting the bad guys get you down, in advertising or in life.

Finally, if you want to create something (anything), check out The War of Art. Someone much wiser than me once said, “We are all artists, even if we don’t know how to draw.” This book will help you overcome the enemy of resistance and win the war of art – no matter which art form you work in.

ayn-rand-atlas-shruggedWhy Capitalism Is Good

I read three of Ayn Rand’s major books earlier this year, but I read them in backwards chronological order – Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and Anthem. Each contains similar ideas, but the writing was less polished in the beginning. If you can only read one, then Atlas Shrugged is the rightful masterpiece.

The book is 900+ pages, 60 pages of which is a single speech by one of the characters towards the end. In a nice application of abridgment, this guy has condensed it to 964 words.

endurance bookTravel

I don’t read a lot of travel books, but once in a while I find an especially good one that I really enjoy. I read Pico Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu after getting back from many of the same places he visited.

If you’re ever stranded off the coast of Antarctica without a ship or means of communication, Endurance will help you see through the situation. Even if that’s not your exact situation, the lessons of Shackleton may help you anyway.


I find that reading literary fiction helps me relax. Whenever I go on a trip, I try to take two novels and two non-fiction books with me. On the last trip, I read Harbor and Then We Came to the End for the novels.

As mentioned before (a few times, probably), I love most of Haruki Murakami’s work. If you want to blend fantasy and reality and head off into the underworld of Japan, Murakami is the master. Someone asked a while back if I had read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is one of his longest books. At the time I hadn’t, but since then I’ve finished it. It is suitably great.


By the Way

I read a lot of books, but those have stood out to me more than many of the others. If you're looking for a good gift for someone this month, consider giving one of these books instead of a gift card.

Also, the last time we did this, I heard a lot of great recommendations from many of you. What books would you add now?


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Unconventional Guides:

Working for Yourself: Creating Personal Freedom
Discount Airfare: Surviving Stress and Maximizing Fun

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The Care and Feeding of World-Changers

pile of books for world-changers
Image by Paul Watson
I spent the evening at Barnes & Noble last night, and did a lot of reading in the café area. I spent most of the time reading the first part of Haruki Murakami’s new book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It’s part running log, part self-help guide, and part writing memoir. I love it.

I read a few other things too – the BBC Focus on Africa magazine, a travel guide for Sri Lanka, and a quick look at a memoir of someone who spent two years at Harvard Business School.

I tend to spend a lot of time reading like that, although recently I’ve cut back. That’s not a good sign – I believe reading is one of the most important things we can do every day – so I’m working on fixing it.

The regular intake of valuable resources, especially books, is crucial to the development of any committed world-changer.

In this post I’ll share more about why reading is so important, and let you know about a few other materials I’ve been checking out recently.

First, let’s say you’ve got your two answers to the most important questions in the universe, you’re building a small army, and preparing to launch a plan of attack (or scale up your current plan). How do you keep the momentum going?

Without regular doses of the right resources, your world-changing will be limited, and that momentum will shift downwards. Since we live in an age where access to information has been democratized (at least for everyone able to read this essay), there’s no real excuse for not taking the time out to learn.

Good resources can inform, inspire, or entertain. These goals are not mutually exclusive; some resources can accomplish more than one at the same time.


I try to read at least one work of literary fiction a month. I recently read Never Let Me Go and Baudolino, both of which I’d wholeheartedly recommend. Earlier this year I read The Rector of Justin and re-read A Wild Sheep Chase, another Murakami book. I picked up Harbor for the last trip, but it didn’t arrive on time, so I’ll have it for the next one. For less intellectual entertainment resources, I check out the Fail Blog, GraphJam, and a few online comics.


Some of my all-time favorites are linked on my Inspiration page. In addition to those, recently I’ve discovered The Power of Full Engagement and have been slowly reading that.

Earlier this year I also read The 7 Habits for the first time ever. For some reason I missed it in its original shining hour, but reading it felt very familiar. I realized that I lot of the principles and examples in the book have been adapted (and sometimes stolen without credit) by many other writers and teachers in the personal development field.

I have to admit that I thought a bit less of the people I’ve learned from who used Stephen Covey’s stories without any attribution. Maybe I should read The 8th Habit next and see what else has been stolen.

(Note to Prospective Gurus: if you want to become a self-help teacher, by all means, use the best stuff that’s out there. But you should also create your own material, and credit what you do end up borrowing or adapting.)

Alternative Learning Styles

I’m an old-school fan of traditional books, and probably always will be. For me, there's something about holding the paper and ink in my hands that isn't easily replicable with other mediums. But it’s true that not everyone has the same learning style, and it’s always good to mix it up a bit. When I’m running I usually listen to a 20-minute language learning podcast before switching over to high-energy music for the rest of the run. I’m not an inherently good language learner and don’t always enjoy the process, but once I start the podcast I can usually stick with it until the end.

In addition to language learning, the iTunes directory has an increasingly large selection of free educational resources. There are also video podcasts, which don’t work well while running (I’ve tried and it isn’t pretty; trust me) but can be fun to check out on the bus or airplane.

For paid products, the Teaching Company has some fun courses which I’m sure you can learn a lot from. If I don’t sound too certain, it’s because this is definitely not my learning style. I have a hard time listening to lectures.

(One tip: these DVD and CD products are pretty expensive. You can get a better deal by shopping on eBay for used copies.)

Eliminating Distractions

While I advocate taking in many diverse sources of information, I also agree that you should eliminate as many unimportant distractions as possible. For me, the biggest distraction is internet surfing. I have an incredible ability to spend hours in front of the computer doing nothing of value. An hour will pass and I don’t even remember what web sites I’ve been reading. Yikes—that’s not good.

To end, or at least cut back on this bad habit, I’ve had to set rules for myself. The current ones are:

  • Gmail three times a day (no more)

  • News-reading twice a day (no more)

  • Try to initiate at least one minor-to-moderate project a day (instead of continually responding to other things)

  • Complete at least one task towards each major project

  • Spend time writing first thing in the morning

  • Never feel bad about stopping work to exercise
Speaking of the Murakami book, one passage I read last night was especially relevant.

I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance. I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing… I felt that the indispensible relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers. As long as I got my day-to-day life set so that each work was an improvement over the last, then many of my readers would welcome whatever life I chose for myself. Shouldn’t this be my duty as a novelist, and my top priority? My opinion hasn’t changed over the years.

Except for being a novelist, that’s pretty much exactly how I feel about what I want to do. But I know I have a lot to learn, so that’s why I keep reading.

What Resources Do You Rely On?

I included some of what I’m reading these days in case you’re looking for referrals, but it’s important to read according to your own preferences.

What’s on your bookshelf – or your iPod, your Kindle, or whatever – these days?


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