I was a lucky kid growing up. I had my parents around me, had as good an education I can get too outside of the family. Both my parents and teachers provided the best guidance they can and talked about life lessons and what they learnt. This of course is vastly better than not having any guidance at all but the guidance I was getting was limited to their life experience, which was highly shaped by the local environment they were in (setting: small city, “emerging” country). They told me to study hard, get into the best schools I can get, get the best grades I can get and get the best job I can get.
This is all sensible, don’t get me wrong, but as I got into college and later on to working life, I realized people who had mentors and who were exposed to a broader set of learnings had a significant edge. These people were aware of different life choices, some of them seem to know what they wanted even in their university.
Now, of course, I should have found myself mentors who have a broader set of experiences and I eventually did. But, this is actually not scalable. By now, you probably know where I am going with this. What’s truly scalable is reading and learning through other people’s life experiences. Specifically reading good biographies is a great way to “get inspired”. Instead of reading all those freaking Stephen King books in high school (and I mean every single one of them), I should have read biographies. Should probably have done other things too but don’t want to get into that right now.
Since this, admittedly very late, realization I have been playing catch-up and want to share my favorites.
Good Luck! You’ll need it.
#1 Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography by guess who
I have heard about this for a long time from various sources but just recently had a chance to read about it. There is so much good stuff in this book. He is truly a self made man who was eager to learn, improve, apply himself to many (and I mean many) different areas. Let me make that specific for you. Benjamin Franklin was a successful entrepreneur, he was an inventor (yes, he is the one with the kite and the key experiment), he was a soldier for a while, he was in government and he was among the founding fathers of the US.
As I look at his life and the life of specialization and narrowness that has been imposed on humanity (i.e industrial revolution, corporate life both required high degrees of specialization) and as experts gained more authority Benjamin Franklin type initiative taking is really rare. Finding a path to this type of existence remains a true inspiration for those who are so inclined (such as myself).
#2 Meetings with Remarkable Men by George Gurdjieff
Now this is a strange one. I came across Gurdjieff through one of my many intellectual undertakings of truly understanding human nature and success. The particular undertaking I am referring to in this case was watching Netflix. Specifically the Wild Wild Country. For those of you who don’t know, Wild Wild Country is about Osho, a Guru of sorts who was wildly popular in the early 80’s and while his influence is less visible (given he is no longer alive, it’d be strange if he were actually more visible) his books are still quite popular and widely available.
In that documentary Osho, in maybe 1 or 2 instances, refers to this person called Gurdjieff and how he was spot on with some of his core teachings. Upon hearing this, as someone who is generally obsessed with new information (mostly in to an unproductive degree to be honest) I immediately Google’d George and found out he is a truly remarkable character. He believed people were not fully awake and needed to achieve consciousness. Before you sleep at this point, let me add a couple of things:
- He was a successful businessman, he financed his travels in search of learning across Eastern Turkey, Persia, India, Russia before establishing an institute to share these learnings which, of course, included a series of mystical dance movements he was thought in a hidden temple somewhere in the depths of central Asia by an ancient order of monks.
- He lived through World War I, having to re-establish his business multiple times, caring for an extended group of people and family who traveled with him.
- After his travels he established a successful institution and business in Fountainbleau without speaking French in the beginning, later he did the same in New York.
- There are some theories he was active politically as a secret agent in his time.
- He spoke Turkish, Russian, French, Armenian, Greek fluently (or maybe some not that fluently but you get my point).
- He was a composer, including of a piece called “Struggle of the Magicians” which was the sound track of a ballet.
- Did I say his teaching included mystical dance movements?
- Lastly, this is what he looks like.
Let me make this clear. If this guy is going to talk to me about consciousness I am going to shut up and listen. Also, if he wants to talk to me about various random adventures he had in his travels, people he came across, guess what, I am going to shut up and listen to that also. I don’t know how I didn’t hear about him before but he is a truly fascinating character and this specific book was a hugely entertaining and valuable read for me.
Can’t make this stuff up. I don’t know how this is not a already turned into a movie.
#3 Magellan by Stefan Zweig
Being a relatively keen Zweig enthusiast, I didn’t know Stefan Zweig wrote biography until I came across this book. Apparently he does write biographies, and writes them really well too. This book shows how this Portuguese dude became the first person to sail around the world. He used a ship (5 actually) as well as cunning, ruthlessness, perseverance, self belief, decisiveness to reach his goal and to deal with copious amounts of adversity (including but not limited to giant Patagonians, mutiny, treacherous bureaucrat as you would, constant low intensity warfare) on the way.
Read it to feel ashamed that you can’t even get your ass to the gym 3 times a week which I obviously don’t do as you can guess.
If you like what you read consider a small donation here.