Welcome back to the Stairway to Wisdom!
The week after next there will be no newsletter, as I'll be away for my hernia surgery (probably already more than you wanted to know!), but STW will return on Friday the 25th with a new breakdown and newsletter.
I first read his book, The Revolution from Within, several years ago and it changed the way I see everything.
Here was a guy, respected and loved and listened to by millions, who basically said:
Don’t follow me.
Don’t praise me.
Don’t just automatically accept what I’m telling you.
Find out what you think.
Find out who you are.
Simply observe the activities of your own mind, see how it’s your own thoughts and attachments, and poisonous emotions that are the root causes of all conflict, both internally and externally.
He taught people that what they are, the world will become, and that it’s pointless to change any kind of cultural system without also changing the individual.
I thought his book, On Truth, was remarkable, and so I've made it this week's featured breakdown.
In this issue of the newsletter, we've also got a profile on the hard-partying monk, Francois Rabelais, three books that will help you give back, wisdom from a great personal finance book about investing, and more!
So let's get started!
Latest Release: On Truth
“Truth is a thing that is living from moment to moment - to be discovered, not believed in, not quoted, not formulated. But to see that truth, your mind and your heart must be extremely pliable, alert."
Thinking that you can find one Ultimate Truth that's going to be final and complete for all time is like a musician trying to hold down one note forever and ever; like trying to close your fist around a flickering flame; or like trying to stop a sunset and hold it in place until the end of time.
Trying to pin down the truth of human existence is an impossible task, and trying to fossilize that truth with words is always a mistake. Not only that, but no one can lead you to the truth either. Sure, they can suggest ways of approaching the truth, but they can never simply hand you the real thing.
Jiddu Krishnamurti understood this from a very early age when in 1929 he voluntarily dissolved the religious organization that sought to name him the new World Teacher and get him to take the lead of their new movement.
In a famous speech entitled Truth is a Pathless Land, he stated that it's impossible to follow anyone to truth and that you'll never find out the basic truth about the structure of Reality by listening to some leader or guru.
So naturally, Krishnamurti in this book - which is a collection of his public talks about the nature of truth and the various ways in which the mind distorts and obscures it - never claims to have access to some special truth that you or I don't have.
In my own life, Krishnamurti motivated me to question everything I thought I knew (and was told) about the world and the mystery of existence. He made me aware of the inner workings of my own mind and helped me see how truth arises when effort stops, when the mind is perfectly empty, and when there is only direct experience of the present moment.
All this is to say that this book won't teach you anything that's "true." Likewise, this breakdown can never claim to feature the Ultimate Truth about anything! There is no authority "out there" that can lead you to the truth, no "script" that you can follow that will lead you to the answers to the most important questions of life. But that's what makes being alive at all so damn exciting!
Dead, lifeless "truths" are just...boring. Life is always moving and changing, and so is the truth of Reality and Existence. The search for what's true is the wildest adventure in the whole damn universe, and we're all living it right now.
Inside the Mind: Francois Rabelais
Inside the Mind is where we take you deeper into the life and thought of a major literary figure, someone who has had an extraordinary impact on our collective knowledge and wisdom.
Today I'm featuring Francois Rabelais (1494-1553), a French Renaissance writer, physician, monk, and scholar known for the somewhat-shocking-for-the-time, Gargantua and Pantagruel, a novel full of obscene humor and satire.
Here was a guy who was never really accepted by the church or the royals, and never really fit in with any "crowd." That is to say, he was...interesting. A doctor, but a hard-partying, fast-living bon vivant. A monk who was critical of the authority of the church. A Renaissance writer, but not really belonging to any age. Or perhaps all ages.
Nowadays, the word Rabelaisian means something that is "marked by gross robust humor, extravagance of caricature, or bold naturalism." Imagine having such offensive jokes that your name becomes associated with them!
Above all that, I just like to think of him as a sort of priestly, friendly dude who loved to laugh and didn't take anything too seriously. In short, someone who sounds like a wonderful person to have around.
A Few Quotes from Francois Rabelais:
“I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”
“A mother-in-law dies only when another devil is needed in hell.”
“Readers, friends, if you turn these pages
Put your prejudice aside,
For, really, there's nothing here that's outrageous,
Nothing sick, or bad — or contagious.
Not that I sit here glowing with pride
For my book: all you'll find is laughter:
That's all the glory my heart is after,
Seeing how sorrow eats you, defeats you.
I'd rather write about laughing than crying,
For laughter makes men human, and courageous.”
Start with This Book: Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais
Another Good Place to Start: The Complete Works of Francois Rabelais, by Delphi Classics
Wisdom in Action:
You'll notice that every book summary in the Stairway to Wisdom comes with Action Steps. That's because when you really want to bring about changes in your life, knowledge is not enough.
After learning and knowing, you must do.
We want every one of our readers to see and feel their lives changing for the better, immediately and over time.
So in this section, we've taken all three Action Steps from The Simple Path to Wealth, a great personal finance book about how to set yourself up for life, and put them right in front of you so that you can take action today:
#1: Before You Do Anything...
In her excellent time-management book, 168 Hours, Laura Vanderkam writes that the best way to gain control over our time is to figure out how we're spending it now. We can take a similar approach to our finances!
So before we do anything else, it's a good idea to figure out where we are now with our finances - what our situation is, and what our options are. This means making some sort of budget, taking into account your lifestyle, cost of living, any assets or liabilities you have...that sort of thing.
Then, it may be a good idea for you to calculate how much you'd need to have invested to be able to maintain your ideal lifestyle by withdrawing 4% per year from your investments. As discussed above, if you want to live on $100,000 per year, that means having $2,500,000 invested in the stock market and living off the interest.
#2: Destroy Debilitating Debt
Debt has no place in your financial life! JL Collins says that repeatedly, I say it repeatedly...so yea!
Sometimes it's more or less unavoidable, or at least understandable, as in the case of taking on student loans or buying a car, but it's that mindless consumer spending that leads a lot of people into debt trouble, and that's the kind that needs to be ruthlessly eliminated from your life if you want to give yourself the best odds of becoming financially free.
There are two popular methods for eliminating debt, and the first is to address the loan with the highest interest rate and pay that off first. Mathematically, that's the best option, because you're paying down the principal and reducing your interest payments along the way.
However, other people have success with something called the snowball method, where you take the smallest debt balance and pay that off first. The thinking behind this is that if you have multiple smaller loans all competing for your attention, it makes it difficult to get a handle on everything psychologically.
If you take out those smaller balances first, putting every single dollar you have into paying off that smallest amount, you'll build up momentum, and you'll be able to move on to the next highest balance, and so on until you're completely debt free.
The choice is up to you, but the important thing is that you get this situation handled once and for all.
#3: Make Your First Deposit
Getting in the habit of investing is so incredibly important. That's why this Action Step is simply to open an investment account and deposit your first $10.
Earning 8% interest on $10 is almost literally nothing, but it's NOT nothing, because you're getting started. You're moving down the path, and that's something to be celebrated.
Depositing just $10 a month is $120 in 1 year (if my math serves me correctly!), but as you keep eliminating your debt and working to make more money, the amount you'll be able to deposit will keep rising as well, until you're able to start getting into triple digits and even higher!
The important thing is that you just don't stop. You can even set it up so that a certain amount is invested automatically each month so that you don't even have to think about it!
Eventually, you'll look back and realize that you are an investor. You've armed yourself with the requisite knowledge, and taken the appropriate steps, and you're now destined for financial independence.
Read the Full Breakdown: The Simple Path to Wealth, by JL Collins
From the World of Reading: Jarrett Lerner
In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Prisons uses children's fourth-grade reading statistics to predict how many prison beds they'll need in the future.
If that hit you as hard as it hit me, you'll see why I feel so intensely that children EVERYWHERE deserve the opportunity to receive an education, and a chance to discover the magic of reading.
It's also why I'm proud to tell you about Jarrett Lerner's latest book, A Work in Progress, which just came out this year! If you're looking for children's book ideas, check out Jarrett's book! I haven't been this impressed with a children's book in a long time, and I was glad to do anything I could to help it fall into the hands of more readers.
Here are a few words about A Work in Progress:
"A young boy struggles with body image in this poignant middle-grade journey to self-acceptance told through prose, verse, and illustration.
Will is the only round kid in a school full of string beans. So he hides…in baggy jeans and oversized hoodies, in the back row during class, and anywhere but the cafeteria during lunch. But shame isn’t the only feeling that dominates Will’s life. He’s also got a crush on a girl named Jules who knows he doesn’t have a chance with—string beans only date string beans—but he can’t help wondering what if?
Will’s best shot at attracting Jules’s attention is by slaying the Will Monster inside him by changing his eating habits and getting more exercise. But the results are either frustratingly slow or infuriatingly unsuccessful, and Will’s shame begins to morph into self-loathing.
As he resorts to increasingly drastic measures to transform his appearance, Will meets skateboarder Markus, who helps him see his body and all it contains as an ever-evolving work in progress."
A child who reads will become an adult who thinks, and it's the responsibility of all of us to make this possible for them. Jarrett's out there making this possible for children everywhere through his work with organizations like First Book, and I really do hope you check out his book.
Further Reading: A Work in Progress
Learn This Concept: Semmelweis Reflex
The Semmelweis reflex or "Semmelweis effect" is a metaphor for people's tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it contradicts established norms or beliefs. That is to say if it disrupts "business as usual," then it's usually going to be viewed with suspicion.
It's got kind of a tragic backstory, and the term derives from the name of Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor who basically discovered hand-washing.
Alright, so he didn't exactly "discover hand-washing," but he did notice that child mortality rates dropped significantly whenever doctors disinfected their hands before moving from one patient to another, especially after performing an autopsy.
Yeah, I know. But hey, this was like 1847.
The tragic part was that hardly anyone believed him! Faced with new information, and a new theory, doctors all but shut him down, some even believing that "a gentleman's hand could never transmit disease."
Eventually, people caught on and started washing their hands, but the phenomenon earned the name "Semmelweis Reflex."
Further Reading: Semmelweis Reflex
Three Books: How to Give Back
There is a book for every problem you could ever face. Whatever it is that you're dealing with, someone else has also gone through something similar, come out stronger on the other side, and written about it in a book.
With that in mind, here are three books that can show you how to use the gifts you've been given to help others and keep the world flowing forward:
“Life is not a solitary journey. It is building a home together. It is a process of being formed by attachments and then forming attachments in turn. It is a great chain of generations passing down gifts to one another."
This Book Breakdown contains 9 Key Ideas, 3 Action Steps, and 76 Book Notes. Read It Here.
“I treat everybody I meet as if I will run into them again. As much as I can, I want to make a lasting impression and whenever possible, leave everything better than before I showed up. The most positive impacts I’ve made haven’t been overly calculated strategic decisions. They have grown organically out of this simple philosophy.
The bottom line: Spread as much positivity and love as you can wherever you go, not to avoid some imagined future punishment, but because you don’t know the magnitude of the impact that possibility will have on others and the world. Usually, our humble efforts have an effect reaching farther than we think."
This Book Breakdown contains 7 Key Ideas, 3 Action Steps, and 34 Book Notes. Read It Here.
“If you want more success, find a way to serve more people.”
This Book Breakdown contains 6 Key Ideas, 5 Action Steps, and 15 Book Notes. Read It Here.
Upgrade Your Reading:
This is one of the better books out there about learning, and I recommend that you start following Scott’s current work online today, because he just gets better and better and smarter and smarter as he continues to learn and teach the best practices for mastering any language, topic, or skill.
Along with languages and skills, Ultralearning is useful for reinventing yourself in your professional capacity too, since the modern world is changing unimaginably quickly and we must learn to adapt to the ever-changing nature of work and business. Meta-learning - learning how to learn - is going to be your best defense against obsolescence, a hedge against the future, and this book will help you sharpen that skill.
The book discusses 9 different principles involved in rapidly learning complex skills, and it’s a must-read book on self-education. It’s heavily researched, valuable, and tactical, which is exactly what you’ll need if you want to use these skills of yours to beat out the competition and separate yourself from everyone else who isn’t prepared for the future challenges of life and the world.
Most people never invest much in their own self-education after finishing formal schooling, which is why meta-learning will be your competitive advantage against your “average” competition. Nobody is putting in the kind of work that Scott did to put together this book, and for your sake, you must become an ultralearner if you want to keep up.
Study Notes: Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Taleb
This is one book where you just feel yourself getting smarter simply by reading it. I’ll admit that Taleb’s writing style can be a little…self-congratulatory, and I can see where people are coming from, but I still view all of his work as pretty much essential reading. They’re unbelievably valuable books about learning to see the world clearly and they’ve changed how I personally approach living and choosing.
Fooled by Randomness is part of Taleb’s Incerto series, “an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand.” It’s about why we think we’re so smart, and why we’re so easily fooled.
Taleb himself is a renowned risk expert, stock trader, and polymathic scholar whose term “Black Swan” has entered the public consciousness to mean a completely unforeseen, random event that we can only explain looking backward and, by definition, never predict.
The main focus here in this book is the huge part that luck plays in our lives and how little we all understand it. We think we do - that’s the problem - but people get lucky or unlucky all the time, and yet, instead of recognizing that fact of the universe, we congratulate ourselves on being so smart or thrash ourselves for being so stupid.
This is one of those books that you can read again and again and again, year after year after year, and for that reason, I’ll never stop pushing Nassim Taleb’s books into people’s hands and saying, “Look!”
“In the real world, one has to guess the problem more than the solution.”
“Journalism may be the greatest plague we face today - as the world becomes more and more complicated and our minds are trained for more and more simplification."
“Wealth does not count so much into one’s well-being as the route one used to get to it.”
“We favor the visible, the embedded, the personal, the narrated, and the tangible; we scorn the abstract. Everything good (aesthetics, ethics) and wrong (Fooled by Randomness) with us seems to flow from it."
“It does not matter how frequently something succeeds if failure is too costly to bear.”
“Reality is far more vicious than Russian roulette. First, it delivers the fatal bullet rather infrequently, like a revolver that would have hundreds, even thousands, of chambers instead of six. After a few dozen tries, one forgets about the existence of a bullet, under a numbing false sense of security."
Further Reading: Matt Karamazov's Notes from 1,150+ Books
That's it for this week! Next week, I'll be back with more book breakdowns, inspiring thinkers, novel concepts, big ideas, reading tips, and more.
In the next issue, I will also be releasing the breakdown of Your Next Five Moves, by Patrick Bet-David, one of the best leadership books I've ever read, by a man with a relentless work ethic and an epic life story.
Also, if you have any bookish friends that you think would love the Stairway to Wisdom, you can click the button below and share it with them. I mean, what are friends for?
We covered a lot today, and again, thank you very much for joining the Stairway to Wisdom. The whole team is behind you! We all want you to win!
Until next time...and happy reading!