[How-to] Find a Mentor

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Through a relatively unplanned series of events, I once found myself on the island of Zanzibar, just off the coast of Tanzania, with nothing to do for an entire week.

Zanzibar, like most tropical islands, is a tourist haunt.  And the tourists all do one thing: lay out on the beach.  But I have a fair Irish complexion (read: ghastly– people regularly mistake my taking my shirt off for the sun getting in their eyes) and attempting to tan myself is like roasting marshmallows with C-4, except boring.  And that’s no good.

Fortunately/accidentally, I found a mentor– a wizened old shopkeeper named Rashid who sold wooden masks to tourists in a small store along one of Stonetown’s hundreds of narrow streets.  Within five minutes of me striking up a conversation, he was lecturing me on the value of hard work.  And when a foreign old man starts talking to you about the value of hard work, you only have choice: you listen.

Rashid in his shop

He gave good advice.  But his views on thriftiness were the first droplets of the monsoon.  It turns out that Rashid had a lot of admonitions.  For instance:

  • Put your faith in God
  • You are young– have sex with many girls
  • [censored]
  • How much did you pay for that!?  Seriously!?  You are getting ripped off!

For the next six days, Rashid had my back.  He found me better-priced guides to go fishing with.  A cheaper hostel.  He brought me to the town square and gave me and my friends coffee and African pastries and introduced us to everyone who passed by who he knew (which was, more or less, everyone who passed by).  Most generous of all, of course, he gave me more advice than I have either the intention or the moral flexibility to put to use.

And all he ever asked in return was my American opinion on whether pro wrestling was staged or not.

Rashid was not who you might think of when you decide you want a mentor, but he had all the same qualities.  He knew Read More

[How-to] The 4 Commandments of Reading for Self-Education

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Photo credit: swamibu (from flickr.com)

Note: I'm not a big fan of trashy link bait names.  That being said, calling these the 4 commandments of reading for self-education is, while opinionated, not a stretch for me.  Forgive the self-aggrandizing title and if you think there needs to be an addition, let me know in the comments!

During the four years I was in college, I read definitely one, maybe two books– total (excluding schoolwork).  Now, I read definitely one, maybe two books every week.  I’ve only been doing this for a year and a half, so it’s not like I’ve read every book on the planet– but for just about every book I used to think wow, I should read that, I actually have.  And it’s pretty cool to be able to say that.

I’m not trying to chug through a list of supposed classics or something.  My aim here (trite as it sounds now) is wisdom– knowing how best to act in any situation.  As I see it, that’s the reason why anyone would try to educate themselves in the first place.

And that’s the aim I’m presuming you have too.  Reading only for entertainment is a bit saccharine, and if that’s what you want to do, you won’t find many tips in this essay to help you.  I don’t talk about how to speed read, and I don’t talk much about making time to read.  I liked The Hunger Games as much as the next person, but I’m much more excited about changing the way I live because of ideas I find.  Consequently, these commandments apply mostly for non-fiction (though a few fiction books really have changed my outlook on life).

I hope you have a pile of books you are dying to read.  I want you to devour them, highlighting and notating some and reading 3 chapters of others that you just toss away incomplete.  I want you not to say “I wanna read that!” but “I have read that, and a few of its sources.  Here are my favorite ideas.  I disagree with this part.  Here’s where I think the field is headed next.”

I submit this set of guidelines for going in that direction.

The 4 Commandments of Reading for Self-Education

  1. A book is only as good as what you remember from it
  2. Actually reading is more important than reading fast Read More