The 2015 Reading Challenge

A layout of my goal for (finally) reading 52 books in 2015

In 2015, my goal is to read 52 books and write 52 blog posts. Wait, what?!? Let me explain below…


When I was little, I loved reading. Whether it was the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling or the Little House on the Prarie stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder, I simply could not stop reading. Thankfully, my parents were totally supportive of this habit and helped me along each step of the way. But, as time went on, the fascination with books started to diminish as each year went by. More and more books lay on my shelf unread. I’d venture to guess that from the sixth grade to the twelfth grade (a span of SIX years!!), I probably only read approximately 100 books in total (counting the ones assigned to us in school). To provide context, I probably read about 300 books from second grade to fifth grade alone. Clearly, as I grew older, I became a slacker in the reading department.

Naturally, when I got to college at UNC in Fall of 2011, that trend of not reading as much continued; however, something always nabbed at me to start reading more. But, I was still largely noncommital to the prospect of reading even 20 books a year. I chose to believe that I just did not have that much free time. I always seemed so busy throughout the year, so how could I possibly make time to read even a few books a year? I reasoned that I read so much from the second to fifth grades probably because I was unencumbered by school and just had a ton of free time. So, as the Fall 2011 semester wrapped itself up, I decided to put the thoughts of reading more on hold.

2013 — Year One of the Reading Challenge

But, a year passed. Then, I found myself in December of 2012 (I still can’t believe how fast 2014 went by!). And, as I saw the the clock ticking to midnight, I thought it would be an awesome idea to make 2013 the year I finally acted on my goals. I’d held out long enough. I needed reading and books back in my life.

I’d always heard of people making New Year’s Resolutions in order to improve their lives in one area or another. However, I’d also heard that most people didn’t succeed in those resolutions and even more actually crashed-and-burned within the first month. Two questions remained for me.

  1. What New Year’s Resolution did I want to pursue for 2013?
  2. How could I avoid becoming one of those people that simply failed at their goals despite the best of intentions? How could I decide upon a substantial goal and actually succeed (or get close if I failed)?

The first question was actually the easiest to answer. I decided that I would go from reading 5 books a year to 52 books a year. Sure, I found myself laughing at disbelief at the thought of my reading count hitting the double digits. But, hey, I’ve always believed if you’re going to fail at something, why not fail while setting the standards insanely high (if you can count reading 52 books as “insane”)? Plus, I wanted the challenge. I wanted a goal so tough that it scared and intimidated me. If I had set the goal to something achievable like “read 10 books in 2013,” then I would have hit the goal and not done much else that year. I learned from setting that initial reading goal of 52 books for 2013 that if you want to really reach for something (something that you feel you can’t reach), then you must aim high. Many times through that first year of reading, the number 52 kept motivating me and, soon enough, I began to just enjoy the process of reading while the “stats” of how many books I’d read began to seem less and less important.

Great. Now I had my goal. 52 books in 2013. Bring it on. But, exactly how was I supposed to achieve this goal? After reading a few blog posts by others online about how they set and successfully completed their audacious long-term goals, I realized that I needed to break down my “52 books in 2013” goal into smaller chunks. Essentially, this meant I had to read four books a month. The 4 books a month idea was a lot easier for me to grasp than the mammoth 52 books in a year idea, and I’m sure that’s what helped me keep going when it became tough. I kept saying to myself, “I only have to read four books this month. I can do that.” Also, I decided that I would keep a steady log of the books I read on a Google Docs spreadsheet. In the spreadsheet, which you can see below, I included the pages I had read as well as the books read.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Av_CWQ7p8tPFdHdrWHYzU1RzNUZjUTBtVENFbmEzdkE&usp=sharing#gid=0

As you can see, as 2013 went by, I actually kept up with my reading goal. However, around July 2013, I hit a stretch of 3 straight months where I didn’t get the chance to finish any of the books I read. It doesn’t mean I didn’t read a book, it just means I didn’t finish any of the ones I started. The way I had constructed this challenge meant that I had to complete a book if I wanted to log it as one of the 52 books I read. Books I quit reading halfway through because I lost interest didn’t go on the Google Doc spreadsheet. But, I closed out the year on a relatively strong note though with 8 books read in the last quarter of the year.

In December of 2013, I took stock of what went right and wrong throughout the first iteration of my reading challenge and how I could improve for 2014. First, I realized that while setting the goal of 52 books was great and it definitely stretched me, it was more sensible that I would need to aim for a slightly more reasonable number of books to read. The reason why I aimed for 52 books in 2013 was primarily because I did not have any insights into how many books I could read in a calendar year. It was only after going through that first year that I realized that my capabilities, at their current levels, would allow me to read 33 or so books a year.

Second, I learned that I actually had it in me to read 33 books in a calendar year. In this sense, the Google Doc was tremendously helpful to me since I had quantitative measures that showed me where I was successful and where I was not in 2013. Now, for 2014, the goal was to build from that 33 books read number by reading a few more books. This is also why I decided to set the goal to read 40 books for 2014.

Finally, I came to appreciate how much I had transformed from having gone through the experience of simply increasing the number of books I read. While I did not read 52 books in 2013 (or even come close for that matter), I definitely went further than I thought I would. In all honesty, I thought I would give up and fail after two or three months of this. But, completely reading those 33 books taught me to finish what I started.

I, like most people, was notorious for getting excited by an idea (in this case a book) at the beginning, but, as time wore on, I would get disenchanted by it and lose interest. Ultimately, this meant my ratio of starting something to actually finishing it would be 10:1 (for every ten tasks I started, I would finish one of them). After that first year of reading 33 books, I realized that the ratio began to shift more towards 5:1, which was a significant personal achievement.

But, perhaps most importantly, I noticed that my entire demeanor began to change having read those books and absorbed the ideas in them. Many of the books I read were self-help books that broadened my thinking and made me appreciate the present moment before me. I began to improve simultaneously in all other areas of my life as well. My mindset changed drastically. I grew into a mindset that fostered the idea that anything was possible and within my reach if I was willing to work hard for it. Even if all of those positive changes hadn’t occurred by reading more, just having more general knowledge about the world and the people in it (past and present) was thrilling and self-satisfying.

2014 — Year Two of the Reading Challenge

Below is a screenshot for my Google Doc spreadsheet (as of December 4th, 2014) for the 2014 reading challenge, in which I set the goal to read 40 books.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Av_CWQ7p8tPFdHdrWHYzU1RzNUZjUTBtVENFbmEzdkE&usp=sharing#gid=1

As you can see, unless I put forth a Herculean effort to get 14 books read this December, I won’t be meeting my goal of reading 40 books that I set for 2014. Most likely, the final number will be around 30 books read, which is a slight decrease from my 2013 number of 33 books read.

As far as what went wrong in year 2 (2014), I believe it was my undertaking a few new activities in addition to the reading goal. I spent a lot of my time from June onwards learning web development and creating my first website. I also started to blog on a one-post-per-month basis starting in May right here on Medium, so that experience, while completely worth it, took up a chunk of my time every month. Finally, in late October 2014, I decided to start drawing more as well since that is something that I have a natural ability for and just don’t spend enough time improving. So, a combination of all of those things worked in cohesion to cause a slippage in my reading goal. But, I still feel as if all of these other forays are well worth the effort and I will continue to cultivate them as much as possible in 2015.

However, there’s still no excuse for not finding time to read more as well. At the end of the day, I am still making excuses and not meeting my goals in the reading department. I know I can do better.

So, for 2015, I want to change things.

2015 — Year Three

In 2015, I want to once again aim high and set my goal of books read to 52. But, in order to make sure that I am successful, I am going to read one book per week and then also write a blog post on Medium that recaps what I read and the important takeaways — this is going to be similar to what Bill Gates is doing on his own blog. This means 52 books as well as 52 blog posts in 2015. It also means reading and finishing a book the first five days of the week and then spending the next two days crafting and writing the corresponding blog post on Medium. Rinse and repeat for 51 more times and I should be successful with my goal. I think I can do it and it definitely scares me, but it’s the good kind of fear.

Sure, it is audacious to even think I can reach the 52 books read mark when I haven’t come even close in the last two years, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. It just means I haven’t found a way to do it yet. Plus, there are plenty of people out there in the world that read much more than I do, so I have it pretty easy. Also, after having done this for two years, I know where my capabilities lie as far as reading and blogging are concerned, and I know doing both of those 52 times in 2015 will stretch my abilities beyond their current limits. That’s the exciting part for me — the growth.

And, I may fail at this goal. To be honest, I may very well fail within the first month (like most people do with their New Year’s goals and dreams).

But, that’s just fine by me. I’ve failed in the past two years at this reading goal and still grown a ton from it. In a sense, my failures have always somehow landed me in a better spot than I was before emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. So, even if I don’t achieve my ambitious goal of reading 52 books and writing 52 corresponding blog posts/book reviews, I will still learn a lot from the experience. I will still grow far beyond how much I would have if I had not attempted to do this.

Playing it safe has never really been my part of my life philosophy, so here’s to a new year of experimenting, failing, and growing. And, if I’m fortunate enough, then also succeeding a bit.

As Academy Award winning actor Matthew McConaughey would say, “Go have this experience.” If I can do that, then the results will come anyways regardless of whether or not I’m ultimately successful with this challenge.

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NOTE: If you’d like to follow my progress of this reading and blogging challenge in 2015, then please follow me here on Medium or you can just follow my collection. Or, you can follow on Twitter as well.

I will also be keeping track of my progress on the Google Doc spreadsheet for 2015 as well as on my personal website. Thanks!