“Hey Jeff, you just read 50 books in 50 weeks and blogged about them – now what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to Disneyland!”
Well, okay, it was actually Walt Disney World and the end of the series just happened to coincide with the already planned trip. So now you know how it ended, but how did it all start?
“There must be at least 50 books here I haven’t read,” I said to myself while surveying my home office in February 2013. “I bet if I read just one a week, I’d be done in a year,” continuing my in-brain discussion. “Hmm, I wonder what I would learn if I read 50 books in 50 weeks and blogged about it?”
Since I already had a website and blog for my aviation training and consulting business, I called my social media marketing specialist, Lisa Haas at ActuateSocial, and asked her how long it would take to set up a new website, domain name, and so forth. She had it done in less than a week and I was off and running.
All my life I’ve been an avid reader but moving forward in this project I never really had a plan of the kinds of books to read. I usually read a lot of psychology related books, self-help, and books by and about successful people and achievers; I’m very interested in how successful people became successful, in all areas of life, business, careers, relationships, physical fitness and health, financial success, child rearing — just about anything that relates to life mastery, so I had a lot of that on my shelf already. I just grabbed the first one and started from there.
HOW DID I DO IT: THE SETS AND REPS
If I was going to pull this off, I needed an effective strategy. Since I read anywhere between 400-600 words per minute I felt reading a book in a week was doable, but I’d have to account for time to stop and highlight as I went along. This dropped the reading speed quite a bit.
I really didn’t tell a lot of people my goal because I actually have a few full time jobs, plus a family and, I’d like to think a life, so whenever I told anyone about the project they wondered where I was going to find the time. In this case, I can teach you how I’m going to do it, or I can just do it but I don’t have time to do both. I used what Anthony Robbins calls, “no extra time,” or NET time. Essentially, that’s doing two things at once, like reading in the bathroom or while sitting on an airplane without wifi access. Reading time is already programmed into my life so I just had to make some extra time to highlight as I went along, then blog about it.
I often timed myself on the blogs – my goal was to write one in 30 minutes, averaging 1,000 to 1,500 words (always shooting for the 1,000 target), and then 15 minutes for editing, selecting the picture, adding tags and other details of setting it up to post. Most of the photography came from iStockphoto.com or CanStockphoto.com. By giving myself a time limit I could better control my time on the project.
At first, following the writer’s advice to “write first,” I posted blogs in the morning, but I often found I’d get too far behind on other work, which, since I do have two day jobs, had to take priority. The writing was better if I could do it first thing in my day, but that just wasn’t always possible. I committed to writing every day, but my reasonable target was to get 4-5 blogs per week posted (per book) and I usually could hit that mark. That gave me some time off during the weekends and some flexibility in case other priorities overwhelmed my usual workload.
Of the 50 original books I had on the shelf, I read about 25 of them and 25 more that I bought throughout the year — I have a bad habit of always acquiring more books but also as I went along I found that the books were fitting into categories so several were acquired to fit with certain categories or themes. I tried a few formats for the writing – bullet points worked better for the psychology and self-help books, but narrative and quotes worked better for other types. I found that the key was not to force a format and just go with what worked.
I refrained from doing book reviews and focused on the positive as much as possible. There were some books I didn’t like that much, but I’ll never tell you which ones. I feel you can learn from everything and every situation so I stuck with my commitment to learn what I could. Also, I didn’t worry about the political, social or religious beliefs and practices of the authors – if I only read books by people with whom I agreed 100%, I’d have read one book — my own.
DID I GROW?
I often challenge my students with the question: At the end of the semester, you will have changed, but will you have grown?
We all change – even those that resist it with all their being. We are not the same people we were in high school, or elementary school. . . okay, most of us aren’t. Most of us grew up a little at some point. One of the big reasons I read is to learn and grow. So, in 50 books in 50 weeks, I certainly grew, but what did I learn?
- First, there are just a few common success themes out there. The strategies of being successful in just about any area of our lives are well known. I didn’t discover a lot of new knowledge, but I did learn a lot of ways to apply it.
- Second, I also learned that it’s easy to understand all of this information, but its hard to implement it. If you really want to be changed for the better, pick one or two books, apply their principles consistently over the next six months — just “do the sets and reps” on those one or two books. That’s how habits are formed.
- Third, I learned that no one strategy works for everyone. There are numerous ways to succeed and while there are common themes not every strategy works for everyone all the time. Modifications are necessary and sometimes stuff just doesn’t work for you.
While I was influenced by all the books, there were several books that were life altering. These were the books that significantly changed my way of thinking, or my approach or strategy in life. Three of them are:
- The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This is must reading for any couple. It changed my relationship with my wife for the better and even with my kids. Tony Robbins is fond of telling men who have said, “I gave her everything!” in defense of their own actions to save a relationship, he will reply, “Yes, you gave her everything but what she needed.” We often try to convey our love to our significant others but we haven’t learned to communicate in their language. Chapman teaches you how to give them what they need.
- The First National Bank of Dad, by David Owen. This changed my wife and I’s approach to the kids allowances and even our Disney experience! Rather than forced poverty, which most allowance programs are geared to accomplish, or forced savings programs, which aren’t really voluntary and thus teach nothing but what its like to pay taxes, First National Bank of Dad sets up systems that gives kids choices. We made some slight modifications to the program recommended in the book but I am very happy to report that it works! At a Disney store the other day I overheard a mom arguing with her kids about buying them gifts. We just spent 9 days in the Magic Kingdom and never once argued with our kids about money. They saved for months and collectively had nearly $1,000 to spend. We bought them NOTHING! Not only are they are incredibly happy with their purchases, in two cases they returned with money to spend back at home if they desire. We’re not rich and their allowances weren’t extraordinary, nor did we force them to save the money. They saved what they wanted too. I would have taken the extra step and had them use cash to give them the visceral experience of giving their money to someone, but for security reasons we didn’t want to be trolling around Disney World with nearly 1K in $20 bills in our pockets. We used our “Magic Bands,” and a credit card, and my wife had a 10-minute accounting project every evening to draw down on the accounts. The balance was reported nightly and it worked beautifually.
- Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, by Susan Jeffers. I was saddened to learn about the loss of of Ms. Jeffers while I was blogging about her book. I had wanted to read it for a very long time and it contains some of our most fundamental principles in personal success. If you only have one book to choose to read to change your life, pick this one.
There were three common themes that came out of the reading – each of these I highlighted in my TEDx MSU Denver speech in October of 2013.
- You can’t wear the jewelry if you don’t love the job -- you have to follow your passion in life if you want to be happy. Otherwise, you’re just marking time, waiting for the day to end and waiting for you life to end. You may be “successful” by someone’s definition, but you risk never being fulfilled.
- You have to do the sets and reps — there is no free lunch, there are no shortcuts to success and even if you find a short cut to get there, you won’t have built the strength, the muscles, the endurance, to overcome the obstacles or to sustain the success.
- You have to build a great team around you — life’s better with company. We don’t live alone in a world where we don’t rely on others for help or support. Try to live that way and you will limit your own success and your own resiliency. There’s a reason banishment meant death in man’s early days – the one standing away from the herd gets attacked – we’re not meant to be alone.
One of the things that surprised me the most and that I most enjoyed was getting to engage with so many of the authors whose books I read. Some, like Mark Sanborn who really took me under their wing while others, and others like original MTV VJ Martha Quinn who were wonderful to chat with on Twitter. I did read many of Mark Sanborn’s books and I think the world of him. His knowledge and information is extraordinary and I’d recommend any of his books. I also love books about our US military’s special operations community, particularly the SEALs (maybe its a nautical thing with me since I’m ex-Coast Guard), but I figure if you’re going to study success, study the guys who must be successful or die. I’d like to thank these brave soldiers for sacrificing any normalcy to living so that we can live in a free country.
I’d like to thank the following authors for their support: Rorke Denver, Mark Donald and Jason Redman, all former US Navy SEALs, Gary Chapman, Laird Hamilton, Tim Larkin, Dan Schawbel, Scott Berkun, Martha Quinn and Mark Goodman, Trista Sutter, and Randi Zuckerberg. Several authors I read more than one of their books including: Mark Sanborn, Tom Rath, Johah Lehrer and Brian Tracy. I also want to thank my parents, Zig and Dianne Price for cultivating my habit of reading, my wife Jen and my kids for sacrificing “dad time,” and my friends for their support throughout this project. Of course, thank you to all my readers, and a special note of thanks to Lisa Haas and Alex Cook at ActuateSocial.
Thank you to Barnes and Noble, specifically the store at 92nd and Sheridan in Westminster, Colorado. All the books I read were hard cover. I do have an iPad with a Nook app and have several books on there but I’ve only ever completed a few. Even though I travel quite a bit, I still love actual books and for this project it was easier to mark my progress and find highlighted entries. I know that doesn’t make sense with the highlight/search function of e-readers but I remember where things in books are at, viscerally.
My love of books came from hanging out in bookstores. The Arvada Book Store still has a special place in my heart – it’s long gone now but I fondly remember the older couple that worked there. They never saw me as a nuisance, or “some kid,” who was just hanging out and never bought anything. As my parents can attest, I bought plenty. But, the couple that worked there were always suggesting books and helping me find whatever interested me. They were what Mark Sanborn calls Fred’s. In fact, to this day I still have an advance copy of the book Warday, by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka which they just gave to me one day because I was always in the store. I feel at home when surrounded by books and even designed my home office to look like a cross between B&N and Starbucks.
My folks almost always supported my reading habit by, well, buying more books. Books provided me an escape, books taught me what I needed to learn to do a great many things in this life and books enabled me to build a business, get through hard times, overcome great obstacles, solve problems and build relationships. Eventually, I would read 50 of them in 50 weeks.
As I travel throughout the U.S. one of my hobbies is to visit bookstores, and Barnes & Noble’s are my default hangout in any city I go to. I get to see the variety in books from store to store. I know that ebooks are very popular, but you’d never know that to walk into a B&N at Christmas time. I think ebooks have their place (usually in a business travelers hands) and I have a few that I read as well, but mostly I think this generation and the next will continue to love hard paper books. Unlike music, if bookstores go away how will we learn about new books? Amazon can only recommend stuff it thinks I like but it can never replace the experience of wandering around a bookstore for an hour and finding hidden treasure that I never thought to read. According to Thomas Lee, writing for the Minneapolis Star Tribune (June 23, 2013), some online retailers are starting to launch brick-and-mortar stores, noting: “… a physical store still offers a credible and safe place for customers to examine the product, ask questions, buy and, if necessary, return it.”
Are real books more expensive? Yes. But someone has to support the salary and overhead. I don’t mind paying a few bucks more — consider it “rent” for the space you enjoy being in. That said, I’m a supporter of ebooks as well and will likely publish a few here soon – in fact, my own textbooks are available both hard copy and ebook. Once ebooks take over, if that does ever happen, maybe we can keep the bookstore but instead of hard copy books, we’ll have small 8×11 plastic book jackets on the shelves. Want to flip through one? Download it right there to sample for 5-minutes (sorry ebook folks, the sample chapters you show me online don’t give me enough to make an informed decision and no one should trust the online reviews). In this “new” bookstore, if you want to buy the book you’re looking at hit “buy” on your digital device and it downloads immediately to your reader. The jackets can be changed out when new books come in. Just a thought.
When I was in Italy, I loved the piazza’s. These were the parks and gathering places but for those of us in the States. it is bookstores and coffee shops. Leonard Riggio, the Founder and Executive Chairman of Barnes & Noble, Inc once described bookstores as piazzas of contemporary culture. They are. They are our place to gather, connect with others, discuss thoughts, big and small. It’s not their time to go just yet. Besides, my wife and I have a retirement dream that we will spend our last years sitting in a bookstore reading every day.
I’m going to Disney World! Well, already did that. I’ve been encouraged for years to develop some workshops and write some books on life mastery, living successfully, and generally improving your life. I’ve been teaching a similar class at the university for the past 19 years and the 50 books gives me a great launching platform. During the time I did the 50 books, I also completed my Tony Robbins Strategic Intervention Coaching training during this time.
Look for some workshops and books to follow; get on the email list so you’ll be notified
I’m also going to enjoy catching up on some “non-50 books,” reading. I already finished “Roberts Ridge,” by Malcolm MacPherson, the story of Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and USAF special operators in Operation Anaconda. I also need to read some novels! I have Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep and some others lined up, plus Duty, by Robert Gates and I’m currently reading my daughter’s pick, Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas.
Then it will be back to the books. Starting in March 2014, it won’t be 50 in 50, but it will be 12 in 12 — 12 books in 12 months. I’m looking to continuing the themes of always learning, but I’m also going to ask for more engagement and discussion from the readership. The goal is to take one (or two) books and focus on their strategies: implement them and determine their value and whether they are successful and sustainable.
I’m grateful that I took what I already love to do, which is read, and combined it with with the second thing I love to do, which is write and was able to teach others along the way.
I was drafting this final blog post for the 50 books on our flight home from Disney World. Sometime during that flight my mother-in-law passed away quietly in her home in Kansas.
Mother-in-law’s and sons-in-laws usually have relationships that can best be described as somewhere between annoying to outright combative, but not ours. I loved my mother-in-law dearly. She raised two wonderful daughters, including my wife of course, was a faithful and loving wife to her husband Dave, whom she leaves behind; she was brilliant in her own right and a wonderful and joyful pianist; to hear her play was to listen to angels play the harp. She is gone from us too soon and the world is a little bit dimmer without her in it. I loved to have long discussions and debate at her kitchen table and I will miss those dearly as I will miss her. A better mother-in-law did not exist. She was also my most devoted reader of this series. The entire 50 books in 50 weeks is dedicated to Sherilyn S. Kadel, of Randall, Kansas.
Her life ends, but her inspiration does not. The journey continues Sherilyn.