When was the last time you showed appreciation for someone? Praised a colleague at work, called your mother to tell her that she’s the strongest being on earth or let your partner know that little something you love about them?
We have the bad habit of letting good things go past us without granting them and the people doing them any recognition. But when things go bad, hell breaks loose – oh, we’ll surely let that person know all the 137 ways in which they fucked up.
I won’t go into the reasons why that’s a horrible idea, but instead live up to what I’m preaching. So today I’ll show a little bit of appreciation for The CEO Library, a startup that’s a breath of fresh air in a world driven by sophisticated recommender systems, likes, and votes.
Instead of relying on such mechanisms for recommending books, they go straight to the root and ask people that you can look up to – CEOs, entrepreneurs, independent thinkers – what are the books that changed their lives. Cristina and Bobby (the founders) go even beyond that and extract valuable takeaways from those books, usually accompanied by their own life stories and deliver the result in the form of a newsletter.
I’ll admit that I’m cheating a bit here with this seemingly out of the blue appreciation. It’s not out of the blue. They’re organizing a giveaway for their readers who let them know how The CEO Library changed them in some concrete way.
When I first heard about the giveaway I was like “Yay! Free books! Of course I want free books!” Then my train of thought went from “Meh, I can buy those books on my own” to “Wait, what if this is a nice opportunity to let someone whose newsletter I’ve been following for almost a year now know how they’ve influenced me?” So here we are. Ideally, you should really do this out of the blue, but I never said I’m actually good at this appreciation-thingy.
The funny thing is that I found out about The CEO Library in a period when I wasn’t interested in startups at all. There are very few newsletters that I follow (and even those not consistently) and Learning How to Learn was one of them (mostly for their book recommendation, so I already liked this style of finding out about books). At one point, they recommended The CEO Library and I found out that it was actually a Romanian startup! So I said I should give it a try.
I’m stressing out the fact that back then I had zero interest in startups. See, throughout my university years in my Bachelor's I was very hooked on research and I viewed almost with contempt a lot of competitions for startups with silly ideas that claimed they were changing the world. Moreover, a lot of people seemed to be in this business just for the money, fame and the so-called privilege of being their own boss. Sure, some of the giants in tech right now were also startups once upon a time, but what are the chances that these guys will reach that stage?
So I stayed out of that scene. And then one year ago multiple things started happening at the same time. I was thinking more and more that maybe research is not for me. I get bored pretty easily and working on a very narrow research topic for the next 4 - 6 years didn’t seem so appealing anymore. Then big tech companies seemed to offer a lot of possibilities, but most of the time you’re just a small piece in a huge machinery that can go on with or without you.
Reading Cristina and Bobby’s newsletter and interviews made me see that there was more to the superficial image I had about startups and their founders. Among the untouchable genius founders and the guys that look for the next hit-and-run business were also young, passionate people that had a problem and nobody to solve it, so they started doing their own thing. And some of those people liked the same books that I did.
Then I started letting go a bit and for a while I turned to some activities that made me happy and fulfilled, not necessarily more productive. I started reading more fiction books, which I’ve always loved, without feeling guilty anymore that I’m missing something out by not reading a “productive” book. At the beginning of the year, I set myself the modest goal of reading one book per month in 2019, but by reading out of genuine pleasure I’m almost there and it’s only April.
This process made me rediscover another thing I used to do out of pleasure a long time ago, that I had forgotten for about five years: drawing (and painting). I had intentionally halted my creativity flow to prioritize more “useful” things but this meant that I had let go of precious personal resources. So about two months ago I started fixing this.
By the way, who says what’s useful and what’s not? Maybe we should, at times, let go of that list of things that we’re supposed to do and just be true to ourselves and what we like. And by that I mean going beyond watching Netflix in favour of something that allows us to progress, be it running or drawing or playing an instrument (the progress bar of a series episode doesn’t count).
This brings me to the present moment, when I said I should find out more about what this entrepreneurship thing is about and join events where I can find like-minded people. I don’t know where this will lead, when or whether I will start my own thing.
However, I trust that small, incremental changes can incubate great ideas. I do not wholly trust books that give you an a-ha! moment and make you want to change your life from scratch. Just like with The CEO Library – there was rather a collection of insights that brought a shift into my mindset.
Probably my favourites were the heartfelt stories that accompanied the takeaways from the newsletter. Anyone can do a summary of a book and add some inspirational quotes, but it takes real commitment to put those words into action. And when you do, those words will reach further than before, inspiring other people to find their own path.