Letter II — What people don’t tell you about reading books and travelling
[Context: I’ve read Seneca’s letters, and in order to get the most from them I wanted to find a way to document my own thoughts and actions in a way that wasn’t repeating what was already said or simply sharing quotes or passages. I want to think for myself. So, I have started writing letters to myself, in the third person. Here’s my response to Letter II on reading books and travelling]
It’s interesting that you have built a library of books. Perhaps you felt that you needed to do this because other people do this. Most people say that you should read books, so it’s best to buy them all and read them. But what if they are wrong?
What if it’s not about reading all the books, but only reading a selection of the books? Seneca said “…if you are unable to read all the books in your possession, you have enough when you have all the books you are able to read”, and “always read well tried authors, and if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to ones you have read before”.
I know you enjoy repeating things — like your favourite movies, books and music. This philosophy leans directly into your natural behaviour. So if you feel unsatisfied with your reading, go back to a well tried author. A book that you enjoyed, or perhaps a book that you didn’t quite get everything from. You don’t need a new book. You don’t need to buy the latest books. You certainly don’t need to read the latest marketing book. You’re not a professional book reviewer.
I understand that there’s a peer pressure to buy and read all the books, almost like a status symbol. But nothing is more annoying than seeing people posting up pictures of book covers and quotes from books, when you and I both know that they aren’t actually learning anything. They aren’t letting the words turn into actions. They want to look smart, and looking smart isn’t what it’s really all about, is it?
So you can stop posting pictures of books. You can stop sharing quotes from books. It’s just noise and it means little.
Instead, share your own distilled thoughts, experiences and results from what you have learned from action. What the outcome is from what you have done.
Think for yourself. Share your own experience.
Reading a book doesn’t make you smart. Knowledge is not power without action.
Instead of showing off to people you don’t really like or care about, show your family and yourself what you are capable of.
Being famous is not the goal here. Being cool is not the goal here. Being an influencer is not the goal here.
It’s not even about how many books you’ve read. Volume does not equal intelligence. You can become obese from reading too much. Just like a good diet, it’s about quality, not quantity. Take a passage from Seneca, for example. A single passage can be as little as a few paragraphs, and those few words can have a dramatic impact on your life. A single sentence that’s understood properly can completely change how you think and how you behave. That’s much more important than reading all the books.
You don’t need more. You need better.
Stop wanting after more and focus on what is essential.
What is enough for you?
…and before I finish up…
I know you are well connected with people that travel all over the world, but don’t let this distract you. It might look like a great lifestyle, but it’s not for you.
….and it’s certainly not all that it’s cracked up to be. Trust me, I know.
Seneca said “To be everywhere is to be nowhere. People who spend their whole life travelling abroad end up having plenty of places where they can find hospitality but no real friendships”.
When you see pictures of your peers travelling and seeing the world, there’s no need to feel envious, jealous or that this lifestyle is a goal for you. Figure out what you want for yourself. What is important to you?
I know you well enough to know that you like to stay at home and spend time with your kids, family and friends. Perhaps it’s better for you to work on being famous in your own home rather than on stages? What do you think?
And don’t forget, you cannot run away from your problems. Often times you are your biggest problem. No matter where you go, you will always be there. So get comfortable where you are. Do your best work where you are and face up to the challenges, you cannot run from them.
I’ll leave you with these thoughts for today: stop getting distracted by the people around you. Stop getting distracted by the things around you. Remind yourself daily what is important to you (health, family, friends, philosophy, your work) and work on these things first. Everything else can wait. Stop wanting. You really don’t need more of anything. Many people have succeeded with less and you are living in an age where you can have anything you want.