You become what you read

In line with an earlier post where I talk about taking responsibility for outcomes in your career and striving to give work the best version of you, I believe that one of the best (and easiest) ways to self-actualize is through reading top-shelf publications, including books and journals – both on-line and off.

Reading – of the good kind – is perhaps one of the best things that I’ve done for my career.  That is why it irks me every time that I see a girl on the train, wearing what look like excruciatingly painful high-heels* and too much make- up for day light, holding a New Idea magazine (I prefer to call it No Idea – it’s Australia’s #1 gossip mag).   To me that train ride is a missed opportunity for her to learn something of value and do something with her life.  While I believe that a little brain candy is necessary to keep sane in life, it should by no means be something that a. one spends much time on or b. any money on.  You read right. 

My personal rule of thumb for keeping sane and staying actualized is 90/10. That means that I spend most of my life time reading worthy material and only 10% reading mind-numbing stuff.  If you’d like to stick to the infamous Pareto Principle, by all means shoot for 80/20 – or risk turning into a personality-less consumerist. 

I think I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve bought (with my own money) a beauty magazine.  (Okay, I admit that getting beauty and gossip magazines from doctors’ consulting rooms, was one of the perks of working as a medical sales representative)  However, I cannot keep track of the number of National Geographic, The Economist, Time, Business Week, Harvard Business Review, inc. and Entrepreneur that I’ve invested in. 

While I do believe that EVERY publication, whether top-shelf or not, has SOMETHING to offer, I don’t believe in looking too hard to find gold.  More so, statistics say (and don’t ask me how statisticians come up with this stuff) that you get an average of 10% from any book that you read.  So if you insist on reading crap, well, you do the math…

By far the book that has had the most positive impact on my career has been (drum roll please) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey ( My intention is not to give you a summary here – my intention is to get you to get off your bum and read it if you haven’t.  I read it for the first time more than 10 years ago and some of the principles that Stephen writes about continue to guide me.  Sure, his writing can sound like a sermon at times – but for those of you looking to take your career seriously, this is the Bible. 

(I know that my dear friend James Adonis – a very successful twentysomething, would agree. Check out his new venture:

3 of Stephen’s habits that remain on the top of my mind are:

1. Be proactive.  In my world, this has meant quite literally: ‘get off your bum and go get things done for yourself – cause no-one will make things happen for you’.  Maybe that’s the reason why I get up at 5:10am every day to meditate for 20 minutes, then I read for 20 minutes and then I go to the gym for an hour.  All this is to make sure that I give my work the best version of my self.  That includes a focused mind, an actualized self and an oxygenated brain & body. 

2. Begin with the end on mind.  I remember that when I finished reading that chapter, I took out a pen and paper and wrote down what I’d like my life to look like when I looked back on my 100th birthday.  Doing that exercise sure fired me up.  That was when I realized that it was up to me to make out of my life what I wanted my life to be.   It became clear to me that if I did not know where I was going, then I’d be leaving myself for the taking of those who did know.

3. Put first things first.  I’ve taken this habit to a more practical level. The time management matrix that he offers for separating the urgent from the important is probably the best model that I’ve seen for getting things done at work. Ever since the days when I was working as a pastry chef, almost 10 years ago, I’ve been following a time-management ritual.  I plan my weeks on Thursday afternoon and my days the night before.  Every Thursday I jot down everything that I’d like to get done the following week; my to-do list.  Then I go through the list and for each item I ask myself: ‘is this urgent? or is this important? or both?’  Then I mark the urgent and important with a letter A, the important with a letter B and the urgent with a letter C. Every night of the week, to get closure on my day and to get psyched up for the next day, I go through my to-do list and re-prioritize it based on what I’ve accomplished so far.  By doing this I’m making sure that I’m focusing on what’s most important in my life – not in someone else’s.

What have you done for your mind lately?


*For the record, I believe in wearing stilettos at work. But please, if you need to walk on hard city pavement for more than two blocks, do me a favor.  Get yourself a nice-looking shoe bag so that you can keep your high-heels in your purse.  Then change to them in the elevator – feet binding is so passé ladies!

Note: I do not and will not get any remuneration from any provider if my readers – you – buy or use any of their services…I’m just sharing the wealth cause I care about you!

9 thoughts on “You become what you read

  1. This idea of reading useful things 90% of the time is a thoroughly good one. However, I wonder if you consider good fiction a useful kind of book? I rarely read fiction nowadays but betweent he age of 12 and 17, all I wanted to be was a writer and possibly a fition writer and that’s all I read. When that dream evaporated, I gave up on reading fiction altogether for many years.

    When I was 19, I came to a conclusion that my religious reading of daily newspapers since I was 12 had come to a complete waste. I could not recall or remember anything I have read or pin-point anything I have learnt from newspapers. I never read a page of newspaper until say 5 years ago and I now read newspaper online because I think it only deserves my attention for a few minutes at a time only for global events and yes, laugh out loud, the weather.

    Recently, I’ve come to a conclusion that there are as many rubbish non-fiction books out there as fictions. Books are written by people of various abilities, intellectual capabilities, intelligence and let’s face it, talent. Just because it’s been published is by no means a guarantee of its quality. Editors, mind you are as varied in their taste and capacity as writers themselves and so are publishing companies.

    Hence I have arrived at my dillemma. How can I ever trust myself to pick up another book, non-fiction especially? At least with fiction, I have come to a conclusion never to read one that has not withstood the test of time (not considered as ‘classics’) or has won a major price somewhere, sometime ago. At least I know some basic level of standards have been applied there. With non-fictions, I have read as many ‘top selling’ ‘No 1 for 15 straightweeks ‘ that I consider lacking in originality in any sense of the word and frankly, jejune. I can’t begin to count the amount of time I bin the book immediately after getting to the last page. I rather have the satifaction of burning it except i don’t have a working fire place.

    What’s your recommendation with choosing a good non-fiction book? How do I know that I will not be wasting my time reading a book that I thought I was going to learn something from but ended up wasting more of my valuable time on, not to mention my absolute fury when I came to realise that I was completely and utterly duped by the book and the writer?

  2. Hi Yen,

    Thanks very much for your well thought comment. I agree. Picking a good book can be tricky (and risky business) – let alone finding a great one!

    My main beacon for picking either non-fiction or fiction books has always, without exception, been word of mouth – of course I need to trust and respect my source. For example, a friend of mine has proven to be in the know by continuing to recommend books which I thoroughly enjoy and I get a lot from – including the 7 Habits that I write about above. So for years I have trusted her advice. More so, every time that I see her, we make it a point to exchange books. At the moment I’m loving the one I got from her last week: Excuse Me, My Life is Waiting.

    I also rely on recommendations made by authors that I read. For example, Tim Ferriss, best-selling author of the 4 Hour Work Week and Jack Canfield, best-selling author of several books, including Chicken Soup for the Soul, both reference great books in their own books. Whenever I’ve followed their lead, they have been right. For example, the E-Myth is a great one which Tim highly recommends. So I continue to look out for their recommendations either on their websites/blogs or e-newsletters.

    I also go to Oprah’s list from time to time. For example, I learned a lot from Basic Black, written by Cathie Black.

    My other check point is The New York Times best-seller list. So happens to be that almost every book my friend has recommended has been on the list at some point.
    For example, a very informative read, The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell has been there for 164 weeks and counting.

    As far as authors being around for long, with non-fiction I have found that there aren’t any hard and fast rules. In fact, some of the best books I’ve read lately, including The 4 Hour Work Week and Personality Not Included (by Rohit Bhargava), have been the 1st book of the author. In those instances I’ve relied mainly on what the word on the street is..if you know what I mean. In my mind, a good book, whether non-fiction or fiction, is created by an author who does their research well and has a style that I like. As a writer myself, I believe that this is not determined by how many times they’ve been around the block. This is determined by their passion and their commitment to writing and their subject matter.

    Yen, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your comments…


  3. If you would like to implement some of Stephen Covey’s best ideas, you can use this aplication:

    You can use it to manage and prioritize your Goals (in each of your life’s categories), projects and tasks, in an intuitive interface. It has a Checklists section, for the repetitive activities you have to do, important but not urgent (Quadrant II, for example your routines/habits). Also, it features a Schedules section and a Calendar, for scheduling you time, activities and for the weekly review.

    Some features from GTD are also present, like Contexts and Next Actions.

    And it’s available on the mobile phone too, so you can access it wherever you are.

  4. Thanks Dan from

    I actually just had a look at their website and the free option looks pretty good. It’s like time-management on steroids! I recommend that you take a look at what these guys have done.

    Let me know your thoughts.


  5. Hi, Silvana

    They are wonderful recommendations. I will certainly pick out a few of those books and read through them when I embark on my two months break in Bangkok as a celebration for finishing law school. Yes, I have come to the end of the tunnel!

    On the subject of word of mouth, many years ago, you recommended a book to me called ‘Who moved my cheese’ and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It became one of those books that stayed with me up till now. I can’t say much for myself whether I have put the principle into practice that much. Nevertheless, this is the kind of book that I am talking about, it has an impact on one’s perception or even, to exxagerate a bit, on one’s course of life. It left a mark in my psyche. Come to think of it, even though I have not consciously employed it in a work environment, I probably have used it in other aspects of my life. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for ‘The Tipping Point’ which to me demonstrate quite the opposite. Mind you, one has to admit the whole idea surrounding the book is a marketing genius, let’s give credit where credit is due.

    I shall continue to read your blog and once I have read some of the books you recommended, I may get back to you and tell you what I think of it. Happy reading!

    By the way, speaking of book exchange, do you know there’s book exchange website call Book Mooch? (disclaimer: this is not my site) This is a good site for those who go though a lot of books.


  6. Interesting point, but I tend to believe that you read (or watch) what you already believe. Conservatives watch FOX news and liberals watch CNN to feel supported in what they believe.

  7. Hi Silvana,
    Once again….brilliant! I’m going through a big life change and I find your articles inspiring. Organization and focus are the key to the life that we want for ourselves and I think that you present this in a way that the words just jump out at you.
    “Good reading” as you say, for me is the kind that speaks to you…and to anyone who reads it. Thanks for speaking to me with your article.

  8. So STUPID!!!! WE don’t become what we read… If we read something scary, does it meant that we will be scare. What a stupid writing. WE WILL NOT BECOME WHAT WE READ!!!

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