“Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” -Warren Buffet
I read this after college and had a major fear of missing out. On top of surfacing knowledge that I was dyslexic a couple years earlier, school made me despise reading.
I grant credit where it is due: school did teach me to become literate. However, it did not teach me how to become a lifelong reader. It made me avoid reading at all costs.
My mindset around reading was to do it because I had to, like the three green beans my parents put on my plate that had to be cleaned before I could leave the table. Similar to the vegetable that I used to detest, my assigned school books were a similar relationship. Forced into compliance.
Not interested in Shakespearian book of sonnets like Midsummer’s Night Dream where the word a bosom means to love? Too bad, school says to read it anyways. Like many students, I was forced to read books that I did not have the slightest curiosity about. The alternative options weren’t great :
(1) To feel like a fraud and skim Cliffnotes summaries
(2) To not read and risk failing the class
This was a terrible experience. It felt like being a starving vegetarian being given a plate of filet mignon. It’s not surprising to see why so many of us lose interest in visiting libraries or giving our curiosity another shot.
After graduating from university, I didn’t know what to read because everything was assigned to me previously. I wasn’t shown a path of how to uncover my own curiosity. If I started a self-help book that ended up being boring, I’d quit reading altogether rather than merely quitting that book. Being conditioned to feel like a failure without completing a book was from from joyful.
Why would I choose to feel like a failure in my free time?
Ironically, the same institution that is supposed to inspire me to become curious about education created the opposite effect. As Gustave Flaubert shared in 1867, “Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.” There is so much that the gift of literacy can offer to students of life, yet dread gets drilled into them instead.
I recognized this and chose a different path. I changed my attitude and unlearned how I’d previously seen books. Rather than a vehicle for feeling like a failure, they empower me to unearth ideas that fuel my learning.
They are the ignition to my joy. This began when I started seeing my tutor named Joe at Brainspring, where I realized I wasn’t as awful at reading as I thought. Those weekly sessions over the course of the summer and fall in 2018 turned my skepticism around. I started to create my own scorecard for success. Rather than compare myself to the expectation of past teachers or Warren Buffet with spending 80% of my day reading 500 pages, I redefined why I read.
Entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant’s practical theory for reading is to see how many ideas he can understand and use. He believes it is better to reread the best 100 books and know those ideas fully than to read all the books. While reviewing processed information, a new understanding can be gained.
While re-reading a book, the words do not change. But the interpretation does. We, humans, get shaped by our life experiences accrued. If the interpreter changes then the information evolves with it. Learning means simultaneously understand the present and remember the past. Rather than stretch for the number of books completed, seek for understanding of the best ideas while reading.
Author James Clear reinforces this as well: “When reading books or listening to podcasts or taking advice, remember that everyone is biased to their personal history. The world is complex and there is no single path to success. Look for patterns that are repeated across many successful people, not single stories.”
Spark the fire for your love of reading even if school took that away. After all, reading is the closest humanity has to time-travel. Yes, Warren Buffet reads 500 pages a day. I read at least 1 page every night and that’s good enough for me. I enjoy it and always look forward to reading another.
I grant you permission to take your reading habit back into your own hands.
Ask yourself: Am I living my life by society’s scorecard or by my own scorecard?
Thank you to the responses I received this tweet that inspired me.