The Best Books I Read in 2021

I read for many reasons. I read for self-improvement. I read to learn and to be prepared for life. I read to understand myself and others. I also read because I enjoy the quiet that reading requires. Reading physical books is an important part of my life.

I read and re-read some great books this year. Here are a few of my favorites.

Issacson, Walter: Steve Jobs

My first book of 2021 was my favorite. Walter Isaacson does a great job providing an insight into the life of Steve Jobs. It is a fascinating read about a creative, demanding leader who created some of the most popular products of our time.

Cialdini, Robert: Influence

If you’ve ever wondered why you bought something you never meant to or why you said “yes” when you wanted to say “no”, this book shows you why. Cialdini explains the key factors in influencing behavior. These tactics can be used for good or bad, so it’s important to understand them. That way, you’ll know how to use them and when they’re being used on you.

Kerr, James: Legacy

This is one of my favorite books. I re-read Legacy this year and I got more out of it than my first read. The All Blacks are arguably the most dominant sports franchise in history, and this book shows you why. It explains the importance of culture and how everything you do matters. I can’t recommend it enough.

Zinsser, William: On Writing Well

Writing well is a never-ending process. And being able to write well is never a bad thing. It doesn’t matter if you are at work sending emails, texting your friends or family, or writing handwritten notes. Being a better writer helps you and the person you are communicating with. Being able to get your thoughts on paper is not easy. This book helps you get better at it.

Newport, Cal: Digital Minimalism

Phones, computers, and TVs are huge sources of distraction, and they aren’t going away anytime soon. These things will continue to pull at your attention if you are not careful. If you want to be productive and get anything done, you have to learn to use these tools instead of allowing them to use you.

Miller, Zell: Corps Values

Another one of my favorite books from this past year. It is a short read, but it is packed with useful information. What you do and how you do it matters. In the book, Zell Miller discusses twelve “corps values.” A few of them are punctuality, neatness, discipline, and loyalty. A great read for anyone looking to get better.

2021 was a great reading year, and I’m excited about the books that 2022 will bring.

2020 Reading List
2021 Reading List

What I’d Ask of My Kids’ Coaches

Sports are part of life. No matter where you’re from or how you grew up, sports have a role in your life. You either love or hate them. You either enjoy playing sports or you can’t stand the thought. Almost everyone has an opinion about sports. And since they have opinions about sports, they have opinions about coaches, too. People aren’t afraid to share what they think about a coach.

If I’m ever lucky enough to have kids, I hope they find a sport they love to play. Sports teach valuable life lessons. You learn to work hard, to be a good teammate, and to do the right thing. Sports are not easy and they definitely aren’t for everyone, but they teach lessons that last a lifetime. I hope my kids get the chance to learn those lessons.

When most parents watch their kids play sports, they are full of ideas for coaches. They say—or yell, most likely—things the coach should be doing or complain about a variety of things. Some parents might be upset because their kid isn’t playing as much as they think they should. Others might be upset about the plays the coach calls or the practice plans. No matter where sports are played, there is no shortage of parents that think they know better than the coach—the one actually coaching and trying to help. The problem with complaining is that it doesn’t help anyone. It does not help the team, and it definitely doesn’t help your kid.

If my kids play sports, I won’t waste time telling the coach what they should do. I won’t complain from the stands and act like complaining is helpful. There is, however, one thing I’ll make sure to do: I will ask the coach to please hold my kid to a high standard. I will ask the coach—and I will ask, not tell—to please challenge my kid and have high expectations for them. I will ask the coach not to let my kid take the easy path or take a play off. Don’t let them be a distraction or not listen to you. Don’t let my kid talk while you are talking or fail to make eye contact when you are talking. Instead of telling coaches what they can do better or what you don’t like about them, start with supporting them and allowing them to do their job. Your support just might make them a better coach.

What we are missing today is people willing to set high standards and hold others to them. Instead, we have tons of people judging from the sidelines and complaining when things don’t go their way. But what are we without high standards and people expecting great things from us? It is the only way we learn to expect great things from ourselves. I want my kids to learn those lessons from their coaches. And that won’t happen if I get in the way.

Reaching Goals

There is no easier person to fool than yourself. At times, we can be our own worst enemy. We come up with many reasons why we can’t do something, and we too easily accept the obstacles we put in our way. But in a world full of excuses, doubts, and hesitations, you can be different. You can choose not to make your own excuses. You can have or be what you want if you are willing to do it. You can say, “yes” when everyone says, “no chance.”

To go where you want to go, you first must choose what to get rid of. Elimination helps you focus on what you want. It gets rid of the clutter that disrupts your vision. Since chasing two rabbits is a sure way to catch neither, it is best to go after one. So, what is the one thing you want? Is it to read more, to lose weight, to think better? No matter what you want, getting closer to it starts by getting rid of things in the way. What you say “no” to is far more important than what you say “yes” to. Start by getting rid of things.

All goals require certain things from you. Yes, there are multiple roads to the same destination, but that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. Well, you can, but don’t expect good results when you follow your feelings and ignore proven paths. Losing weight might mean you need to avoid eating or drinking certain things. You can’t lay on the couch eating whatever you want and expect to lose weight; it doesn’t work that way. If you want to read more, you have to make time to read. You can’t hope to read more but spend all your free time watching TV and be upset with the reading you didn’t do. Books won’t read themselves. Your choices must support your goals, and there are certain things you’ll need to do. Instead of hoping for things to happen, you need to get started and do them.

We all have different goals and dreams. It isn’t what we want that matters, it’s what we do. What matters is how committed we are and how hard we are willing to work. Dreams don’t matter without a firm commitment at all times. Unless you commit to it, you’ll never get it. All it takes is your work and focus. That sounds easy, but it isn’t. 

If you want to become something, you need to act that way first. Instead of telling yourself all the reasons you can’t do something, start finding any reason you can. There is always something you can do to get you closer to what you want. A healthy body starts with deliberate actions. There will be days you don’t feel like exercising or eating healthy food, but that doesn’t matter. Those are the days where you must make the right choice despite how you feel. Oftentimes, feelings get you in trouble. Giving in to your feelings on those days means a setback. And you can’t afford many setbacks and redos on the way to your goal. You must be committed no matter the circumstance.

Achieving a goal depends on how committed you are to it. You have to commit to it to get it. And that means it is up to you to choose to act towards it every day, in every thing you do. Reaching a goal depends on how hard you work and how dedicated you are, not your talent level or what others tell you that you can do. We all can choose to work hard and stay committed. So be careful of the excuses you tell yourself and don’t let anyone or anything stop you. You can do it, you just have to choose it every day.

29 Thoughts on 29 Years

Today is my birthday. I turn twenty-nine this year, so here are a few things to think about.

  1. Do the right thing the first time. It’s a waste of time to go back and fix what you could have done right at the beginning.
  2. Nobody will do it for you. Nobody is going to give you good health, a job you love, or the dream in your head. If you want something, you have to figure out how to get it. Nobody is coming to save you.
  3. It’s not what happens to us that matters, but how we respond. Everyone goes through difficulties and is challenged every day. But your response determines where you go from there. Do you pout and feel sorry for yourself, or do you respond and get better?
  4. Walk in the entrance and out the exit. You’ll be surprised how many people don’t do this, and the problems it causes.
  5. Follow the rules, but not the stupid ones. Rules are there for a reason, and they are non-negotiable. You can avoid many issues by simply following the rules. If the rules are stupid that’s another topic for a different day.
  6. Never be afraid to ask questions that you have tried to find the answer to. There are stupid questions. They are the ones you haven’t tried to answer yourself (see #2). If you have tried to learn on your own but can’t figure it out, ask someone.
  7. Remember that you might be the one bright-spot in someone’s day. Don’t forget how important your role is right where you are with the people around you.
  8. It is easy for people to say education doesn’t matter. Chances are, they are the ones who don’t have any. So their opinion doesn’t matter.
  9. You become what you allow. If you choose to look away when you know something is wrong, then you are no better than what you are avoiding.
  10. The smartest and wisest people are the ones you have never heard of. The best coaches, teachers, parents, and leaders are the people who avoid the spotlight and attention.
  11. My Dad taught me–and still teaches me–that education is something nobody can ever take from you. Learning is a lifelong process, and you should never stop learning.
  12. People will try to make you what they want you to be. They will try to influence your decisions and steer you down their path. But life is your own journey, and you can’t follow your own path by living through someone else. Think for yourself and make your own decisions.
  13. Taking care of your lawn is underrated. I used to hate it growing up, but now I love it. There is something about consistent work that makes it rewarding.
  14. Quality is its own reward. “You gotta make the back of the fence – the part that nobody will see – just as good looking as the front of the fence. Even though nobody will see it,” as Steve Jobs’ father taught him, “you will know, and that will show that you’re dedicated to making something perfect.” So go and make something perfect.
  15. Don’t hesitate to buy a book. Learning is the top priority (see #11), and you should pursue it at all costs. Even if you only learn one thing from the book, that’s one thing you didn’t know before you bought it. Buy the book.
  16. Make time for yourself. Life will fill your schedule if you let it. Do what you need to do to have time for yourself.
  17. Document everything. This goes for your professional and personal life. Save emails. Write things down that grab your interest. Keep track of things that are important to you. You will not regret having written it down. “The faintest ink,” as the old Chinese proverb goes, “is more powerful than the strongest memory.”
  18. Alive time or dead time. I learned this from Ryan Holiday, and he learned it from Robert Greene. Every minute you are alive is a gift. How will you use your minutes? Watching TV? On your phone? Or reading, learning, and improving.
  19. Study anything that interests you. Go down the rabbit hole until you learn something. It’s never a waste of time to pursue what interests you.
  20. Do the things nobody else wants to do. Get up early, exercise, eat well, read, and don’t make excuses. The greatest opportunity is where no one wants to go.
  21. Listen and think more than you speak. You can never take back something you said, so make sure everything you say has a purpose. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
  22. Make time to journal, and write by hand. I don’t know what it is, but there is something to the old-fashioned pencil (or pen) and paper. Write about whatever you want, but make sure you do it. And do it every day.
  23. You become who you are around. Look at the people closest to you – they are who you will become. Do you like what you see? If not, change something.
  24. Take a walk. Many times, the way to get through a challenge is to step away from it for a while. When you get stuck, get up and walk outside.
  25. Great teachers are underrated. They challenge you to think about who you are and what you want. And that skill is rarely taught anymore.
  26. Sometimes things don’t go your way, and that’s okay. It’s what you do after things don’t go your way that matters. 
  27. It’s never too late to be what you want to be. Never be afraid to burn it down and start over. The best time to start anything is right now.
  28. Choices make you who you are, not your circumstances.
  29. Don’t beat around the bush. Be precise, say what you mean, and don’t leave people guessing. 

Work to Do

It is easy to believe the lie that work stops. That, sometime soon, you will get the break you deserve. The time off. The retirement. You have had your eye on it for a long time, and now it feels close. It all sounds great, but if you want to be great, breaks never come. At least they shouldn’t. Being great is about the work you are doing and the work you have left to do, not what you have done.

School trains you to look forward to breaks. It is rare to go through a full week (Monday through Friday) when you are in school. So, you have gotten used to breaks. And although those breaks are nice during the school year, they do not come when you graduate. Graduation day is fun, exciting, and rewarding. You have been through a lot, and now you are finally done. Except the reward is not the break you expect. The reward for all your hard work is more work, and that is a good thing. You get to do the work you were (or should have been) trained to do. Go and do it well.

In sports, people tell you to “keep your eye on the prize.” The prize usually has something to do with winning. It might be the NCAA championship, the Super Bowl, or the World Series. If you are fortunate to win and achieve your goal, your work is not finished. If you want to be great, you must get back to work. Next year starts right when you walk off the court or field. When the final buzzer sounds, the off-season starts. Winning a championship means you have less of an off-season. So, you have work to do. And you better get to it because you have less time than the people you beat. The reward is the work you get to do, not the work you did. 

Some people work their entire lives to retire. They tolerate jobs they hate so they can reach the reward of retirement. But, if you are working for the right reasons, retirement never comes. Even when you do not have to go to your job anymore, you still have work to do. Learning is a lifelong journey, so you are never finished. If you are living, you have learning to do. Retirement might give you more free time, but that does not mean you should waste it. You have a responsibility to continue working, to continue learning.

If you want to be great, you have work to do. The work never ends because it should never end. Your life is too important to let yourself believe that at some point you get to relax and do nothing. Continue to work. Continue to learn. Not because you have to, but because you get to.

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