The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

  • How much I’d Recommend: 9/10
  • Date finished: 11/30/21
  • The Alchemist, recommend borrowing from your local library or buy a used copy

The owner of my local pottery studio recommended this book to me in November 2021. I picked it up from the library and it’s a very easy read.  It’s a simple story about a young shepherd’s journey to find his personal legend. It’s philosophical at times.

🚀 Three sentences to summarize the book:

  1. This book is a story of a young shepherd finding his “Personal Legend”
  2. It’s metaphorical in many ways about what you believe as your dream, and pursuing it.
  3. Legend has it, this book finds its way to you when you are ready.

☘️ How did this book change the way I think/work/learn:

It’s a lovely story, one that I couldn’t put down. And the magic about this book is the philosophical elements of it. It’s something that if you believe in then it’s true, if you don’t then it won’t come true. It’s very much a “manifest your own destiny” kind of story. I love that it’s easy to read, and the plot goes by pretty fast. There are also some funny parts in it where I chuckled to myself.

It is a life-changing epiphany about commitment unequivocally and irreversably to your dreams.

📒 Favorite Quotes:

  • The worlds greatest lie: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.
  • Because there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.
  • When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
  • People are capable, at any time in their lives, or doing what they dream of.
  • There was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time that he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.
  • When you want something with all your heart, that’s when you are closest to the Soul of the World. It’s always a positive force.
  • Life attracts life.
  • All you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.
  • Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.
  • You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow.
  • People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them.
  • Fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with god and with eternity.
  • Every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.

Sapiens by Yuval Harari

  • Date read: April 2020.
  • How strongly I recommend: 10/10. 
  • SapiensRecommend having a copy, and read every year.

This is such a great summary of human history from the start. At the same time, Yuval addresses some of THE BIGGEST problems we face today: religion, war, consumerism, nationalism, and so much more.

Granted, he is probably a bit depressed giving the overview of the entire human history, seeing a lot of its brilliance, but also its faults, and unavoidable stupidities. See this fun interview of him by Dan Ariely here after his second book Homo Deus was published. He argues that science is about control (e.g., being able to control nature, our health, death, etc.), and religion is about order.

This book is so well written. It would be ironic and almost impossible to make a summary of a book about the entirety of human kind. Here are some quotes I love.

That spectacular leap from the middle to the top [of the food chain] had enormous consequences. Other animals at the top of the pyramid, such as lions and sharks, evolved into that position very gradually, over millions of years. This enabled the ecosystem to develop checks and balances that prevent lions and sharks from wreaking too much havoc. As lions became deadlier, so gazelles evolved to run faster, hyenas to cooperate better, and rhinoceroses to be more bad-tempered. In contrast, humankind ascended to the top so quickly that the ecosystem was not given time to adjust. Moreover, humans themselves failed to adjust. Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump.

How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

  • How much I’d Recommend: 9/10
  • Date finished: 2/1/20
  • Predictably Irrational: recommend borrowing from your local library – everyone should read it at least once!

This book is fascinating on describing some of the very basic decisions we make, that we think we are being rational, when we are not.

On consumerism:

  • We are always looking at the things around us in relation to others.
  • The only cure is to break the cycle of relativity.
  • In order to make a man covet a thing, it’s only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain

On free stuff:

  • Free is not always the best deal: not “free.” This also applies for time: go to the museum on the day it is free.
  • the difference between two cents & one cent is small, but the difference between one cent and free is HUGE.

The cost of social norms:

  • the most expensive sex is free sex!
  • Social norms vs. market norms
  • Introducing market norms into social exchange violates the social norm & hurts the relationship. Once this type of mistake has been committed, recovering a social relationship is difficult.
  • Companies undermining the social contract between employers & employees and replacing it with market norms. It is really no surprise that “corporate loyalty” in terms of the loyalty of employees to their companies, has became an oxymoron.
  • Money, as it turns out, is very often the most expensive way to motivate people. Social norms are not only cheaper, but often move effective as well.

The influence of emotions:

  • Our emotions change who we are when we are in a heated moment. Morality ethics goes out of the window.
  • Moral to the story, don’t make decisions or drive when you are in a high emotional state, and don’t underestimate the influence of emotions that could cloud your judgment.

Savings:

  • What we truly need is a method to curb our consumption at the moment of temptation, rather than a way to explain about it after the fact.
  • The high price of ownership: when we own something – whether it is a car or a violin – we begin to value it more than other people do.
  • Pride of ownership is inversely proportional to the ease with which one assembles the furniture.
  • Virtual ownership: we become partial owners even before we own anything, e.g. auction, catalog, trial promotion, 30-day money back guarantee, ideas of politics & sport teams
  • Everywhere we see the temptation to improve the quality of our lives by buying a larger home, a second car, a new dishwasher, a lawn mower, and so on. Once we change our possessions we have a very hard time going back down.
  • View all transactions as if I were a non-owner, putting some distance between myself and the item of interest

The cost of options

  • We keep our options open at costs we don’t know: just in case
  • The consequence of not deciding sometimes is larger: trying to compare two job opportunities and losing sleep over finding apartments in a different location, rather than picking one choice and move on with my life. We are afraid of picking the “wrong choice” or “burn bridges” or setting off on a road we cannot turn back. The truth is, it’s a lot easier to make a decision and keep going on it.

The effect of expectation: if you tell people up front that something might be disastrous, odds are good they will agree with you – not because of their experience, but their expectations.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

Scott Adams’ book about how to win at life is pretty hilarious. Maybe it is because he is the creator of Dilbert and have mastered sarcasm. It was a page-turner. He had a lot of lessons learned through his life and career. 

Three things that really stuck out for me:

1. Goals vs. Systems

He explained that one should not just have goals, but we should have systems to repeatedly able to do something. It almost seems like he’s saying having a goal makes a glass ceiling for you, that you will stop once this “goal” was achieved. Instead, we should have a system where we are working towards this goal, and stick to this “system” which will be foolproof. This made me think about my friend Daniel’s Youtube Channel “goal.” His goal was to be able to document interesting people’s lives around him. He should also have a “system” which prevents him from procrastinating and sending the video out immediately after he shoots it.

2. Deciding vs. Wanting

If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it. Deciding to succeed is so much different than just “wanting” to succeed. This makes me think of all the bad times and bad moods I have. Deciding to be happy is different than “wanting” to be happy.

3. Pick a delusion that works 

“My main point about perception is that you shouldn’t hesitate to modify your perceptions to whatever makes you happy, because you are probably wrong about the underlying nature of reality anyway.”

“Free yourself from the shackles of an oppressive reality. What’s real to you is what you imagine and what you feel. If you manage your illusions wisely, you might get what you want, but you won’t necessarily understand why it worked.”

Some book notes:

  • Good + Good > excellent : you are better off being good at two complementary skills than being excellent at one.
  • Wow, that was brave. Dale Carnegie class
  • Psychological and cognitive biases
  • Cut out unnecessary words for business writing
  • Rule of three for designing
  • The point of a conversation is to make the other person feel good
  • Imagine a specific confident person you know, and do bad impression of him/her to overcome shyness
  • Research shows that people will automatically label you a friend if you share a secret
  • Use affirmation
  • Experts are 50% right on anything that is unusually complicated, mysterious, or even new
  • Association programming – simply find the people who most represent what you would like to become and spend as much time with them as you can without trespassing, kidnapping, or stalking.
  • Happiness formula: eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, imagine an incredible future, work towards flexible schedule, do things you can steadily improve at, help others, reduce daily decisions to routine.
  • Pay attention to your energy level after eating certain foods; find your pattern

Deep Work by Cal Newport

  • How much I’d recommend: 7/10
  • Date finished 8/25/19
  • Deep Work, recommend borrowing from library instead of purchasing

​One of the highly recommended business books to me through friends.

1. Quit social media. 

I have done this experimentally from time to time. Instagram and Pinterest are my biggest draw and biggest time sink. I only download them for the time I really wanted to use, and delete right away. I find this an easier middle ground than no social media at all. This also makes me realize that if I had gone completely without social media, I’d probably do ok. 

2. Organize your email time.

​Have a time set aside to review emails but otherwise turn off email notification. This is very helpful for me because sometimes these email notifications are totally “Corporate click-bait” such as “CEO announcement” or “RE: Feedback on your workpaper.” Because nobody is going to contact me via email if they are trying to get a hold of me. If you really need me right away, you know you can reach me by text or call my phone. I have set up the understanding with my boss that if he needs me to respond right away, then he needs to call / text me. Otherwise, I will only review emails when it is in my allotted times (twice a day).

3. Finish your work by 5:30

I have adopted this motto fully, whether I am productive at work or not. But I do feel guilty when I am not productive and have been distracted at work all day. So the new goal is to implement some of the strategies to not keep being interrupted and be more productive at work in order to go home feeling satisfied and making tomorrow an easier day.

4. Having process-centric response to an email

Instead of having a one/two liner email that requires lots of thoughts, we should spend the time and better serve the recipient of the email to take action on it.

What is the project represented by this message, and what is the most efficient (in terms of messages generated) process for bringing this project to a successful conclusion?

5. Schedule every minute of your day

I find it very helpful if I start my day with a to-do list prioritized properly. The book suggest having scheduled every minute of your day also makes you respect your time more. However, to most of us who over-estimates how much we can accomplish in the short-term timeframe, it is important to emphasize the importance of scheduling downtime if you are going to schedule EVERYTHING.  I think I shall give it a shot this week to have everything scheduled and bulleted out and see how closely I can get budgeting my time.

A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer

  • Date read: October 2019.
  • How strongly I recommend: 8/10. 
  • A Curious Mind Recommend borrow from local library
Brian Grazer – American film / television producer and occasional as screenwriter. Notable pieces: A Beautiful Mind, Arrested Development, Apollo 13, Splash, etc. Brian wrote a book about how curiosity is underrated, and how it has helped him become good at what he does. He has had many conversations with people of all walks, from the father of atomic bombs to survivor of terrorist torture. I love asking questions ever since I was a child. I’ve always wondered about how things work, why are things the way they are, religion, politics, archeology, who we are. I’ve always considered myself curious and I thought I was just going to get to validate the fact that curiosity is great for a person’s soul. On top of all of that I expected, I learned a lot more from Brian’s book.

1. Doing nothing can be a very powerful action unto itself.  Brian described a situation where he wanted to talk to someone who is the CEO the company, and he thought about reaching out but doesn’t know where to start. He ended up doing nothing, and his work spoke for him when he got to meet the CEO of the company. Curiosity isn’t always about asking the question, or asking for an opportunity.

2. Convincing someone else to be onboard with you is to give them the power to lead. Talking to Tom Cruise and asking him to help be an example for the rest of the cast to save money. “Can you be the team leader here with the cast and crew? Can you be the guy that sets an example?”

3. People should ask their bosses questions:

  • “what are you hoping for?”
  • What are you expecting?
  • What’s the most important part of this for you?

4. Anti-curiosity: there are times you should not be curious Because I don’t need someone casting doubt, when they’ve spent an hour thinking about the project, and I’ve spent three years thinking about it. If they’re saying no, I need all my determination and confidence to grab hold of the idea and take it to the next person with the same level of passion and enthusiasm. You can’t get anything done trying to absorb and neutralize everyone else’s criticism.

5. How to have a Curiosity conversation:

“I’ve always been curious about your work, I’m trying to broaden my sense of that world, and I was wondering if you’d be willing to spend twenty minutes talking to me about what you do, what the challenges and the satisfactions are.”

“I’ve always been curious about how you ended up as [whatever their profession is], and I was wondering if you’d be willing to spend twenty minutes talking to me about what it took to get where you are – what the key turning points in your career have been.”

“I am a vice president at the local hospital, and I have a lifelong interest in astronomy. I was wondering if you’d be willing to spend twenty minutes talking to me about your own work and the current state of the field. I appreciate that you don’t know me, but I am writing out of genuine curiosity – I don’t want anything more than a twenty-minute conversation, at your convenience.”

  • Be clear that you want to hear their story. You’re not looking for a job, you’re not looking for advice about your own situation or any challenges you’re facing. You’re curious about them.
  • Even if the person you’re talking to is someone you know well, be respectful – treat the occasion with just a tinge of formality, because you want to talk about things you don’t normally; dress well; be on time; be appreciative of their time even as you sit down to begin.
  • What was your first professional success?
  • Why did you decide to do [whatever their job is]?
  • Tell me about a couple of big challenges you had to overcome.
  • What has been your biggest surprise?
  • How did you end up living in [their city]?
  • What’s the part of what you do that outsiders don’t appreciate?

6. Be grateful: thank the person you spoke with for sharing their stories.