Reading 2017 by Jonathan Biddle

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One of my goals every year is to read 50 books. This year, I read 61: 44 audiobooks and 17 kindle books. I read some phenomenal fiction this year. With a new job that was mentally and physically draining, it was wonderful to have this escape. I note the best ones below, but I've never read so many simply great books in one year. The nonfiction was a little dry. I read a lot, but not many great books. I hope this will change with the lineup I have selected in 2018.

So, on to the best books I read in 2017, in no particular order.

Give Work by Leila Janah

Leilah Janah is inspiring, and this book chronicles her journey to find sustainable ways to give agency to the world's poorest. She provides a healthy, realistic perspective on poverty that avoids the twin dangers of solutionism and white-guilt. 

When you ask people living in desperately poor regions whether they would prefer to receive aid or work, they choose work, because work gives them access to the necessities listed above and the long-term ability to procure them without outside help. In addition, work gives them what we in the West prize so highly: agency—the means with which to make their own decisions and chart their own lives.

Dynamic Supply Chains by John Gattorna

I specialize in international supply chain management, and this book was invaluable in helping me focus on a strategy to revitalize the supply chain in the business unit in which I work. Gattorna's customer-centric approach is brilliant, and crystallized a lot of scattered ideas I'd had. I won't say more lest I bore everyone else to tears who just wants book recommendations!

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

How we know what we know and why we believe we know it are some of the most fundamental and critical questions of life. Kahneman's research delves deep into our decision-making and truth-gathering processes. He brilliantly details the most common pitfalls of our mind and the heuristics we unconsciously use to guide our decisions.

Unfortunately, the book is a bit of slog, and Kahneman delights in very detailed explanations of his experiments. Most are quite interesting, but it's easy to lose to the point of a chapter for all of the trees. Still, I highly recommend this for anyone who makes decisions on a regular basis, especially anyone in a management role. I have found the book incredibly helpful to give me more pause before I rush to conclusions and to help me continually question my "gut."

This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.
Narrative fallacies arise inevitably from our continuous attempt to make sense of the world. The explanatory stories that people find compelling are simple; are concrete rather than abstract; assign a larger role to talent, stupidity, and intentions than to luck; and focus on a few striking events that happened rather than on the countless events that failed to happen. Any recent salient event is a candidate to become the kernel of a causal narrative.
Subjective confidence in a judgment is not a reasoned evaluation of the probability that this judgment is correct. Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it. It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.
We are confident when the story we tell ourselves comes easily to mind, with no contradiction and no competing scenario. But ease and coherence do not guarantee that a belief held with confidence is true. The associative machine is set to suppress doubt and to evoke ideas and information that are compatible with the currently dominant story.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

I loved this book. Holiday is good at waking us up to reality. Our illusions about ourselves and our ego are the roots of so many problems in our lives. He doesn't waste words and gets right to the point: we are our greatest enemy. Humility and perseverance are the pathways to true success.

In this way, ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It repulses advantages and opportunities. It’s a magnet for enemies and errors.
We will learn that though we think big, we must act and live small in order to accomplish what we seek. Because we will be action and education focused, and forgo validation and status, our ambition will not be grandiose but iterative—one foot in front of the other, learning and growing and putting in the time.
The greatest work and art comes from wrestling with the void, facing it instead of scrambling to make it go away.
Passion typically masks a weakness. Its breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance. You need to be able to spot this in others and in yourself, because while the origins of passion may be earnest and good, its effects are comical and then monstrous.
Receive feedback, maintain hunger, and chart a proper course in life. Pride dulls these senses. Or in other cases, it tunes up other negative parts of ourselves: sensitivity, a persecution complex, the ability to make everything about us.
Instead of pretending that we are living some great story, we must remain focused on the execution—and on executing with excellence. We must shun the false crown and continue working on what got us here. Because that’s the only thing that will keep us here.
The problem is that when we get our identity tied up in our work, we worry that any kind of failure will then say something bad about us as a person. It’s a fear of taking responsibility, of admitting that we might have messed up. It’s the sunk cost fallacy. And so we throw good money and good life after bad and end up making everything so much worse.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

In our increasingly distracted lives and world, it's hard to find time to dig deep into our work and accomplish the hard things. Newport provides some incredibly helpful suggestions and resources to help in this endeavor. 

At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell

Excellent overview and history of existentialism. 

The Stone Sky by N. K. JEmison

A fabulous conclusion to Jemison's trilogy. My words won't come close to doing it justice, but the worldbuilding and social commentary is spectacular.

Well, some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.
‘Lynching was never the only option. The nodes were never the only option. All of these were choices. Different choices have always been possible.’ There is such sorrow in her, your little girl. I hope Nassun learns someday that she is not alone in the world. I hope she learns how to hope again.

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

A beautiful and sad exploration of a boy's search for meaning in life. Maugham writes wonderfully, and it's a pleasure to read.

Philip thought that in throwing over the desire for happiness he was casting aside the last of his illusions. His life had seemed horrible when it was measured by its happiness, but now he seemed to gather strength as he realised that it might be measured by something else. Happiness mattered as little as pain. Whatever happened to him now would be one more motive to add to the complexity of the pattern, and when the end approached he would rejoice in its completion. It would be a work of art, and it would be none the less beautiful because he alone knew of its existence, and with his death it would at once cease to be.
Philip thought of the countless millions to whom life is no more than unending labour, neither beautiful nor ugly, but just to be accepted in the same spirit as one accepts the changes of the seasons. Fury seized him because it all seemed useless. He could not reconcile himself to the belief that life had no meaning and yet everything he saw, all his thoughts, added to the force of his conviction. But though fury seized him it was a joyful fury. Life was not so horrible if it was meaningless, and he faced it with a strange sense of power.
It seemed to him that all his life he had followed the ideals that other people, by their words or their writings, had instilled into him, and never the desires of his own heart. Always his course had been swayed by what he thought he should do and never by what he wanted with his whole soul to do.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Bowles' masterful writing is clearly on display in this book. He uses the story of three travelers journeying through Morocco to explore themes of loneliness, meaning, happiness, and death. Highly recommended.

He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler. The difference is partly one of time, he would explain. Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another.
And it occurred to him that a walk through the countryside was a sort of epitome of the passage through life itself. One never took the time to savor the details; one said: another day, but always with the hidden knowledge that each day was unique and final, that there never would be a return, another time.
Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy by Cixin Liu

A surprisingly fantastic sci-fi trilogy. Liu imaginative literature is firmly grounded in scientific theory, and this believability stretches from the current age into the future ages he postulates. 

What Ye disliked most was seeing the waves that slowly crawled across the display, a visual record of the meaningless noise Red Coast picked up from space. Ye felt this interminable wave was an abstract view of the universe: one end connected to the endless past, the other to the endless future, and in the middle only the ups and downs of random chance—without life, without pattern, the peaks and valleys at different heights like uneven grains of sand, the whole curve like a one-dimensional desert made of all the grains of sand lined up in a row, lonely, desolate, so long that it was intolerable. You could follow it and go forward or backward as long as you liked, but you’d never find the end.
Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.
The past was like a handful of sand you thought you were squeezing tightly, but which had already run out through the cracks between your fingers. Memory was a river that had run dry long ago, leaving only scattered gravel in a lifeless riverbed. He had lived life always looking out for the next thing, and whenever he had gained, he had also lost, leaving him with little in the end.
Death is the only lighthouse that is always lit. No matter where you sail, ultimately, you must turn toward it. Everything fades in the world, but Death endures.
And now we know that this is the journey that must be made by every civilization: awakening inside a cramped cradle, toddling out of it, taking flight, flying faster and farther, and, finally, merging with the fate of the universe as one. The ultimate fate of all intelligent beings has always been to become as grand as their thoughts.

Terra Ignota #1 & #2 by Ada Palmer

These are the first two books of a 4 book series, and they're unlike anything I've read. Palmer models her future society heavily on Roman and Greek history, not only in the worldbuilding, but also in the writing. These are difficult books and hard to get into, but very rewarding. Palmer manages to comment on a wide variety of subjects such as sociology and class, gender, the question of war's inevitability, if utopia is possible without bloodshed, etc.

Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

Brown does a phenomenal job of character building and plot development in this trilogy. It's a really enjoyable series with incredible plot twists.

And I wonder, in my last moments, if the planet does not mind that we wound her surface or pillage her bounty, because she knows we silly warm things are not even a breath in her cosmic life. We have grown and spread, and will rage and die. And when all that remains of us is our steel monuments and plastic idols, her winds will whisper, her sands will shift, and she will spin on and on, forgetting about the bold, hairless apes who thought they deserved immortality.
Maybe that’s just the nature of us, ever wishing for things that were and could be rather than things that are and will be. It takes more to hope than to remember.
Everything is cracked, everything is stained except the fragile moments that hang crystalline in time and make life worth living.
Everything grand is made from a series of ugly little moments. Everything worthwhile by hours of self-doubt and days of drudgery. All the works by people you and I admire sit atop a foundation of failures.

Reading 2016 by Jonathan Biddle

One of my goals every year is to read at least 52 books. I met my goal this year by reading exactly 52. I'd like to share the most significant books that I read (in no particular order) and then close with a few thoughts on this yearly goal.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I'm at a loss to really describe this book. It's terrifyingly horrific with bright lights of hope scattered throughout. The beauty is in the power of friendship that gives hope to the hopeless protagonist. The horror is in what was done to him. This is a book that made me weep at the hideousness of what humans can do to each other and at the restorative power of love and friendship. Yet despite the beauty, the sadness lingered on to end with the realization that some things can never be repaired. Some wounds are too deep, too harmful, too lasting.

The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin by Steven Lee Myers

Fascinating look at Putin's life--especially in today's context.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Excellent ethnography of the effects of housing and eviction on the poor in America (specifically in Milwaukee). The continuing systemic racism and discrimination in the housing market was shocking, though I guess it shouldn't be too surprising.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey

Excellent book that surveys the research over the last few centuries on how we learn and retain what we learn. The best part is that the information is actionable, whether you're just trying to expand the horizons of what you know or whether you are in academia. 

"This much is clear: The mixing of items, skills, or concepts during practice, over the longer term, seems to help us not only see the distinctions between them but also to achieve a clearer grasp of each one individually. The hardest part is abandoning our primal faith in repetition."
"About the only thing we can control is how we learn. The science tells us that doing a little here, a little there, fitting our work into the pockets of the day is not some symptom of eroding “concentration,” the cultural anxiety du jour. It’s spaced study, when done as described in this book, and it results in more efficient, deeper learning, not less. The science gives us a breath of open air, the freeing sensation that we’re not crazy just because we can’t devote every hour to laser-focused practice. Learning is a restless exercise and that restlessness applies not only to the timing of study sessions but also to their content, i.e., the value of mixing up old and new material in a single sitting."
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The Broken Earth #1 (The Fifth Season) & #2 (The Obelisk Gate) by N.K. Jemisin

I'm a huge fan of epic fantasy and excellent world-building in the tradition of Sanderson's Stormlight Archive series. Jemison's Broken Earth trilogy is brilliant and insightful in ways beyond a mere fantasy story.

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Excellent overview of the history, current state, and future possibilities of genetics. Engaging and readable just like Mukherjee's other book The Emperor of All Maladies.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough, Michael Braungart

This is one of my favorite books of all time and I read it for the second time this year. Highly recommended exploration of truly sustainable design and manufacturing.

Check out this link for a look at all the books I read: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2016/5466966

Random Thoughts

- 69% of the books I read this year were via audiobooks. I'd really like to move this needle closer to 50/50 of audiobooks vs. kindle/physical books because of the different levels of retention and content each of these mediums lend themselves to. This year was difficult to maintain the balance because of the amount of time my marathon training took, but I probably could've kept the balance if I had watched less TV (but too many good shows this year!).

- Sometimes I think I should set a larger goal for reading, especially after seeing how many books some of my more prolific friends read. However, I've decided to keep the same goal in order to make sure I'm balanced on the creating/consuming scale in terms of content. This is obviously a personal decision because I'm a slower reader, but the primary creative project I'm working on is still about a year out from completion and I need to stay focused.

- I didn't tackle any really difficult books this year and I'd like to change that. In 2017, my goal is to tackle Being and Nothingness by Sartre, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Hofstadter, and an engineering design textbook, so wish me luck.

At the Nexus of Life and Work: Facing Who We Are In Light of Who We Want to Be by Jonathan Biddle

Every time we wake up, we face choices centering around our work and our life disconnected from that work. These “waking-up times” (since it is not just isolated to the morning for many people) can vary dramatically. Some days we see the world as ours for the taking. The possibilities seems endless and we make plans to do great things. At the other end of the spectrum, we wake up to the crushing realization that we have to go at it again. 

This spectrum reveals the humanity of our work. Work does not merely constitute a slice in the pie chart of our lives. It connects who we are with who we are becoming. No matter how much we might try to avoid it, our work seeps into our identities and begins to define how we see ourselves and how we experience the world. 

It’s at this nexus—this deep connection—between our life and our work that we begin to discover who we really are. Sometimes, when we overlay this self-discovery on top of our dreams, we encounter a massive gulf. How we resolve the inescapable conflicts between who we are and who we want to be exposes our deepest commitments, dreams, and fears.

Dreams vs. Reality

One of the most common questions we ask kids is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In our earliest years, we usually respond with some predefined category of work that holds some special significance in our minds. I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. Why? Probably because I had helicopter Legos and they were pretty cool. 

The point is that when we’re young, the world lies open before us, and every path seems possible. We dream as big as the skies. 

For most of us, this naked idealism loses its hold as we grow older and as society dictates that certain career paths are more financially attractive and viable (why do so few want to be firemen when they’re older compared to when they’re younger?). 

Despite these false dictates from society, there’s a very real narrowing that occurs as we grow and most things become less attainable. We begin to see our futures as constrained by what we’ve already done.

In one sense, this is true. If I wanted to become a world-class gymnast, it’s just not going to happen. Age and aging have a real effect on our bodies and put some things forever out of reach.

But these are exceptions and few things are ever completely out of reach. We frequently tell ourselves lies about what we’re capable of achieving in order to avoid the cognitive dissonance that comes with living less than we want to. 

For many things in life, it’s not a matter of innate talent, but rather of time and commitment. The burgeoning science of expertise and skill development is pretty clear on this point. It’s a matter of what we choose to sacrifice.

All work is a form of sacrifice, and work is the way we accomplish things in this life. Sacrifices are inevitable, but the deeper question is determining which sacrifices to make and for how long. But in pursuit of the best, we almost always have to make stops at the second best. These stops are frustrating, especially when we have big dreams.

The danger is that sometimes we end up staying at the second best. The normal has a way of suffocating us into apathy, and we end up leaving our dreams behind as time rushes by. 

Determining Our Dreams

Many of our dreams are possible if we simply devote the effort and time, but how can we possibly determine what we truly want—what is best—when we do not know the end result?

In my view, this is one of the most paralyzing questions. How can we know what we want? I won’t address all the philosophical assumptions buried in that question, but the feeling of impossibility is very real. We want to experiment with many different careers and directions, but the economics of family and survival severely limit our options. We struggle with whether we are making the *right* career choice or working with the *best* company.

Most decisions in life, especially as it relates to our work, are not ethical—there’s no simple right or wrong choice. But they do shape who we become, and in that sense inherit an ethical weight by association.

In my view, the goal is to craft a dream in which you are the best version of yourself, leveraging your passions to influence those around you to become the best versions of themselves. We want to find something where the effort to balance work and life becomes less of a pursuit and they intertwine in harmony.

The Grind

As I mentioned before, our stops at the second best are the most frustrating parts of pursuing our dreams. We know these stops are not where we want to be, but we also know we can’t get where we want to go without them.

Even in pursuit of our dreams, a large percentage of what we do is routine. When work consumes us, it's easy to begin to start ascribing significance to the most menial tasks. It's often the way we deal with the cognitive dissonance that arises when we are not expanding the horizons of our capabilities or not reaching for our full potential.

Surviving the “second-best stops” requires inhabiting the grind with healthy doses of mindfulness and reality checks about what is truly important. We must place a premium on what the consequential in order for the day-to-day necessities of making a living not to crush us.

Conclusion

We are most human in the struggle to become who we want to be. Our identities can blossom or be crushed by our work—all dependent on what we choose to sacrifice. This choice is deeply personal and subjective. Some people sacrifice a promising career to provide a better future for the children they bring into the world. Others sacrifice a family in pursuit of something more valuable in their eyes. But what we choose is not as important as that we choose.

The goal is clarity, choosing our path with eyes wide open to the costs with an accompanying humility that recognizes we are far more than our personal choices. The network of lives within which we live has far more to do with our futures than our subjective notions of free will. When we are present within our sacrifices with our eyes steadily on our dreams, we find fulfillment in the little things. Now is what we will always only have. And now is where we make our dreams come alive.

A Note on Privilege

I’m writing this from the perspective of a white, middle-class male with parents who sacrificed and provided far more than I’ll ever understand. Thus, I must pause to acknowledge that the luxury of chasing our way in life is a notion primarily enjoyed by the privileged. We tell our kids, “You can be anything you want to be.” In many cases, this is true. But wherever it is true, it is deep sign of privilege. Contrary to many pop success books, success is not simply a matter of working hard. 

Many people throughout the world do not have the ability to choose their careers due to health issues, deep structural poverty, environment and societal crises, and structural racism. So as we consider and wrestle with merging our dreams with our work, we should do it with gratefulness that we are riding on the achievements of our ancestors. 

Possibilities by Jonathan Biddle

I'm far from the summer nights

Where the light lingers on and

Everything seems possible,

Full of light.

 

The impossibilities of life

Crash in like the tide.

 

And I--

I'm stuck in the sunbeams of dreams

While walking in the darkness

Of wonder. 

 

The path has narrowed

By chance

By choice

And all I have is here.

 

Now is the needlepoint of possibilities

Determined by the past.

 

But the world goes ever deeper

The smaller it gets. 

Smallness betrays a perspective on the infinite. 

 

This is a life

Where

Limitations are the bedrock of possibility.

 

As the sun rises

It sets elsewhere.

On and on

On Goals and Goal Setting by Jonathan Biddle

Writing about goal setting around New Year’s is probably a bad idea since there will be a plethora of articles about it, but I wanted to share my experiences with the hope that it might be helpful to some people. Goals are simple on the surface (“just do it!”) but become complex and multifaceted animals once you start to grapple with them. They’re our attempts to bring certainty and order to our chaotic lives by creating signposts to look for and reach for. They keep us from drifting aimlessly in this world of infinite possibilities which can drive a person mad with hope or dread. They’re symbols of our worldview and what drives us and motivates us. What we establish as the aim of our lives signals to others what we value and what is the endgame of our existence. 

One of the most significant things I’ve done with respect to goal setting occurred during Christmas 2013. I was living in Egypt while working and studying Arabic and had just been informed by the University of South Carolina that my appeals to remain in the country despite the political unrest had all been denied. I had secured an internship in Milan, Italy and didn’t have the money or time to fly home for Christmas. Instead, I traveled to a little beach town in the Sinai Peninsula called Ras Shitan. The travel was an experience in itself since I was traveling alone (and there had been terrorist attacks there recently), but the significant event was that I chose to spend the majority of my 5 days there simply reading, writing, and setting goals, and what came out of that week significantly impacted my future.

All of the traditional strategies promoted for effective goal setting were important in designing my goals, such as the SMART framework (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, timely), but I want to focus on 5 things that helped me design my goals.

1. Big Picture

It’s hard to imagine setting goals for five days if you’ve never tried, but once you dive in, it absorbs hours of time as you search for a place to even start. I started really big: the meaning of life. I was going through a period of transformation regarding my most fundamental beliefs, so this wasn’t an unfamiliar question, and it was coupled with the need to determine what direction I wanted to take with my MBA. Unfortunately, the meaning of life was not solved during the mere 5 day time period, but I used the fragments of big picture ideas to help guide me.

It’s important to start with the big picture—whatever that might be for you, whether religion or humanism or something else entirely. This is the framework of your life and the context in which everything else acquires meaning and significance. Being as clear as you can about your “mission” in the one life you get helps you eventually narrow down to what you need to do today. The big picture may evolve, and that’s OK, but the crucial thing is to have something—anything—to ground yourself.

2. Horizon

The horizon with which you plan is crucial to the success of goal setting. Focusing simply on the new year is the default, but it's a sure path to failure. One year is far too short to achieve anything of lasting importance. I established 25 years as the upper limit of my goals. It could’ve been 50, but 25 years is a good horizon to accomplish big things without getting into complete speculation. In addition, every year when I revise my goals, I’m placing them into the same buckets even though my reference point has changed. 25 stays 25 so I'm continually planning further out in manageable increments.

The horizons I chose were 25 years, 10 years, 5 years, 2-3 years, 1 year, and 6 months. I also created yearly and monthly buckets for things I wanted to continually accomplish, such as exercising or reading at least 50 books a year.

3. Diversity

I then broke down my life into specific sections: Physical, Spiritual, Mental, Professional, and Social. Diverse goals were important to me in order to improve myself holistically, not myopically. Setting goals in only one area of life can lead to stagnation or boredom.

Using these categories, I started to brainstorm and think through what I wanted to accomplish in those areas within 25 years. Once I had the big ideas defined for each category (3-5 per category seemed manageable), then I worked backwards and started placing more manageable, incremental goals into the “horizon buckets” I had already created.

Working backwards and breaking down big idea goals is important. For example, one of my goals was to read 2000 books in 25 years. This type of goal takes consistency over multiple years. To achieve that goal, I created a yearly goal of 50 books (yes, it doesn’t add up, but I’m assuming I’ll read more books as the years go on). Another major goal I had was to start 3 successful businesses within 25 years. This is much more general, so working backwards, I set the goal of starting one to two within 10 years, basic business plans drawn up in 2-3 and 5 years, and a brainstorming goal every week.

4. Skills

The businesses goal brings us to a critical point in setting goals: skill development. This larger goal of business creation forced me to think about what kinds of businesses I wanted to start and therefore what skills I needed to be developing today. Say I wanted to start a business in web design (I don’t, but sorry, I’m not sharing any of my “brilliant” business ideas here). Then let’s say that I don’t know any programming languages. Well, my big picture goal requires that I, at the very least, develop a knowledge of HTML, CSS, and Javascript. I could then work backwards to develop a plan within 1 year to have mastered 1 or 2 of these languages, acquire my first client within 2 years, etc. and all the myriad of other skills needed to succeed in that domain.

Skills are critical to reaching big picture goals because they are the tools with which we form the world into our dreams. I recommend creating a list of skills and using that to drive further goals.

5. Review

Once everything is laid out and put into the proper buckets, the only thing left is execution. This is obviously the hardest part and requires a determined sacrifice of time and energy. One of the most important keys to success is to keep your plan constantly in your mind. For me, I created notes in Evernote for the full list of goals, monthly goals, and the skills list. Evernote has a reminder feature you can enable on individual notes so I set them for weekly review. Every Saturday, I get a notification on my phone and computer to review these goals. 

Conclusion

This method is not for everyone and I’m sure it can be improved, but it has helped me tremendously and brought a directional aspect to bear on my free time. I’ve also accomplished more than I thought I would in faster time frames than I anticipated.

The critical thing to remember is that goals are not ends in themselves. Running that marathon you’ve always dreamed of won’t make you happy if you treat it like an end. Goals are means of enjoying this one, beautiful life we have in more and more diverse ways without getting lost in a sea of options and ending up treading the water of uncertainty. 

We should probably call them “Means” instead of “Goals.” But it just doesn’t sound the same.

Feel free to share things that have helped you set goals and stay with them in the comments!

Reading 2014 by Jonathan Biddle

I've been meaning to post this for a while, but life's been far too busy. Anyway, I read 44 books in 2014. This was short of my yearly goal of 50, but I'm not too disappointed considering the traveling, MBA coursework, and busyness with work. I'll just comment on the best books I read, but feel free to check out all of the books I read using the Goodreads link at the bottom of the page.

8. Scarcity

This was an enlightening book that explores the psychology of how we react when we have less than what is sufficient. Whether what we lack is time, money, or other resources, a significant part of our intelligence is related to cognitive scarcity.

7. Cradle to Cradle

A fabulous book that challenges our current conceptions of product life cycles. It was one of those books to which I kept saying, "Yes. Yes. Yes!" as I read it. An easy read, but the obstacles to application often seem insurmountable due to the capitalistic influence of globalization on the way we design and make things.

6. The New Jim Crow

I love this book. Not because it makes me happy with America, but because it exposes the existence of an "underground racism" that permeates the American criminal justice system. Having worked in prisons, I know from experience how dead on she is.

5. Angle of Repose

Stenger uses truth and fiction to explore the marriage of two people in the early 1900s. A timeless read about the challenges of commitment and relationships.

4. Portfolios of the Poor

This is a really helpful, data-based book that focuses on how the poor use money and survive on less than $2 a day. One key takeaway is that the poor are not poor because of weak money management skills; their ability to manage multiple sources of money is incredible and surpasses that of most Westerners. They are poor, rather, because of their chance societal positioning which is reinforced by lack of access to regular and consistent cash flows and reliable sources of money.

3. Washington: A Life

Honest, excellent biography of Washington.

2. Thinking in Systems

One of the best books I've read in a long time that reaches across disciplinary boundaries to tell a coherent story about how things work. The best part is that it doesn't just tell a story; it shows you how to tell even better stories.

1. The Social Construction of Reality

A simply spectacular book that I will read again at least once. It's an important book because it explores the foundations of epistemology as they relate to sociology and how this affects everything we know in life. Berger's sociology of knowledge concerns "itself with everything that passes as 'knowledge' in society" (13). We exist in worlds we didn't choose and what we know (and how we know it) has inevitably been informed by those worlds. Understanding this dialectic of how we are formed by our society and also form it is to central living meaningfully and thoughtfully within the institutions of society while at the same time questioning and challenging its underlying assumptions.

"All social reality is precarious. All societies are constructions in the face of chaos." (102)

"Man is biologically predestined to construct and to inhabit a world with others. This world becomes for him the dominant and definitive reality. Its limits are set by nature, but once constructed, this world acts back upon nature. In the dialectic between nature and the socially constructed world the human organism itself is transformed. In this same dialectic man produces reality and thereby produces himself." (182)

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Jonathan Biddle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (2014 shelf)

Connectivity Technology in Africa by Jonathan Biddle

I recently had a project for school where we created a data dashboard using the Tableau visualization software. My group chose to explore the growth of connectivity technology in the African continent over the last decade and a half. We specifically focused on the number and growth of mobile phone, internet, and landline users. 

We were able to create some pretty beautiful visualizations that I think increases the usefulness of the data, so I thought I'd share it. The adoption of the communication technology over the last 2 decades has exploded across the continent, and there is a definite trend over the last 5 years to replace landlines with mobile. It's also interesting to explore the inward spread of the connectivity from the coastal cities to more inland, developing countries.

Click on the image below to be directed to the Tableau Public website and interact with the data!