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“Can you recommend a book for…?”
“What are you reading right now?”
“What are your favorite books?”
I get asked those types of questions a lot and, as an avid reader and all-around bibliophile, I’m always happy to oblige.
I also like to encourage people to read as much as possible because knowledge benefits you much like compound interest. The more you learn, the more you know; the more you know, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more opportunities you have to succeed.
On the flip side, I also believe there’s little hope for people who aren’t perpetual learners. Life is overwhelmingly complex and chaotic, and it slowly suffocates and devours the lazy and ignorant.
So, if you’re a bookworm on the lookout for good reads, or if you’d like to get into the habit of reading, this book club for you.
The idea here is simple: Every week, I’ll share a book that I’ve particularly liked, why I liked it, and several of my key takeaways from it.
I’ll also keep things short and sweet so you can quickly decide whether the book is likely to be up your alley or not.
If you’ve already read a book that I recommend or have a recommendation of your own to share, don’t be shy! Drop a comment down below and let me–and the rest of us “book clubbers”–know!
Lastly, if you want to be notified when new recommendations go live, hop on my email list and you’ll get each new installment delivered directly to your inbox.
Okay, let’s get to the featured book: Principles by Ray Dalio, who’s the founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds, Bridgewater Associates.
It’s rare for a billionaire legend to take his time to carefully outline his own personal “operating system” for achieving success and fulfillment in work and life, and that’s exactly what Ray Dalio has done with Principles.
Inside, you’ll find many of his ideas and procedures for many aspects of his professional and personal life, ranging from his definition of meaningful work to his recipe for turning pain into pleasure, his prerequisites for deep relationships, his “fierce intolerance” of badness of any kind, and much more.
Unlike similar books, Principles doesn’t try to entertain you with anecdotes or fancy prose or sell you with references to science or history. Instead, it simply presents Dalio’s thoughts, experiences, and practices in a clear and highly organized manner, which I appreciated because it allowed him to share an almost overwhelming amount of high-value information. By the end of this book, I had made a ridiculous amount of highlights and notes.
I also appreciated that Dalio also isn’t one to mince words. He professes an unwavering fidelity to discovering, facing, and embracing truth, and he communicates accordingly. His goal isn’t to make you feel better about yourself or help you justify your shortcomings, but to challenge you to change your core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors for the better.
I also found his personal story rich and inspiring, and especially the period immediately after his first downfall. Imagine this for a minute: you and your growing team spend eight years working tirelessly to build an investment firm, which is well on its way to becoming a thriving enterprise, and then, in one very public and humiliating deathblow, you lose it all by betting the farm on a market downturn that never comes. Soon after, you’re borrowing money from your dad and selling your second car to feed your wife and two kids.
What would you do?
I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, but Dalio not only didn’t give up (obviously), he applied one of his primary principles to turn the catastrophe into an invaluable learning experience that ultimately led to his development of a revolutionary new investment strategy that would catapult him to greater success than ever before and set the trajectory for the rest of his life.
So, if you’re looking for powerful but unvarnished and sometimes unpalatable advice on achieving more happiness and satisfaction in your life, then Principles is for you.
My 5 Key Takeaways from Principles
Reality is optimizing for the whole—not for you. Contribute to the whole and you will likely be rewarded.
For me, this is a simple reminder that all the various marketplaces that we participate in life, whether intellectual, commercial, or interpersonal, operate according to some form of natural selection that strives to retain and pass along positive and desirable qualities and squash negative and undesirable ones, not to satisfy, validate, or improve any of us individually.
In other words, reality could care less about our intentions, efforts, and struggles, and only cares about the quality of our results.
And so whenever I’m faced with a failure, I choose not to blame others or bemoan my circumstances, but to assume that I should’ve and could’ve done better—that there’s a lesson to be learned that’ll help prevent similar failures in the future.
I saw that to do exceptionally well you have to push your limits and that, if you push your limits, you will crash and it will hurt a lot. You will think you have failed—but that won’t be true unless you give up. Believe it or not, your pain will fade and you will have many other opportunities ahead of you, though you might not see them at the time. The most important thing you can do is to gather the lessons these failures provide and gain humility and radical open-mindedness in order to increase your chances of success. Then you press on.
Much has been said about the importance of overcoming the fear of failure, and for whatever they’re worth, my knee-jerk thoughts on the matter are as follows:
- As I said in my recent article on the importance of necessity, I wholeheartedly believe that in order to escape the universal pull toward decay (entropy) and create and sustain anything worth having in life, whether a body, career, relationship, or society, we have to learn to run faster than we ever thought possible.
- That means that we’re going to stumble and fall sometimes, and it’s often going to hurt. Nobody in the history of the human race, no matter how brilliant or talented or accomplished, has avoided this, and neither will we.
- That’s fine with me because who wants to die without a few emotional and psychological scars, anyway? What are we afraid of, really? To quote Fight Club: “It’s nothing anymore to have a beautiful stock body. You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of a dealer’s showroom in 1955, I always think, what a waste.”
- Furthermore, whatever’s happening or hurting today will always seem like a much bigger deal than it will in the future. In fact, eventually, it’ll be completely forgotten.
- We’re ultimately judged in this world by our results, not by how sloppy or bumbling the process was. In other words, so long as we can emerge victorious, nobody cares how many mistakes we made along the way.
View painful problems as potential improvements that are screaming at you.
I like this because it forces you to stop playing the helpless victim and empower yourself to find solutions.
When you can begin to view trying situations or circumstances as puzzles that, once solved, will provide you with both short- and long-term value in the form of immediate pleasure and practical experience, it’s far easier to find the energy and motivation to solve them.
It seems to me that if you look back on yourself a year ago and aren’t shocked by how stupid you were, you haven’t learned much.
Things either get better or get worse, and if we’re not continually educating and improving ourselves, it’s safe to assume that we’re continually getting dumber, lazier, and, quite frankly, less valuable as people, even if by small degrees.
Thus, a simple but effective way to assess which direction we’re generally heading in is to periodically check ourselves against this benchmark of Dalio’s.
The courage that’s needed the most isn’t the kind that drives you to prevail over others, but the kind that allows you to be true to your truest self, no matter what other people want you to be.
We live in a society full of “now-you’re-supposed-to’s” that stretch from the beginning of our lives to the end, so I have a lot of respect for people who are willing to reject the expectations of the status quo and discover and pursue what’s truly meaningful to them.
I’ve also noticed that almost one for one, the most fulfilled and satisfied people I know have done just that, regardless of their level of material success.