This is the Too Many Trees newsletter, where I share what I’ve been writing and reading in the realm of leadership and personal development. My coaching practice is centered around the idea that we are more effective in moving towards our goals when we become more conscious and intentional in focusing our time and attention, and learn how our unconscious patterns are holding us back. If you know somebody that could benefit from my perspective, please forward this to them or let them know they can set up a free intro chat with me.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, my Kindle offered me lots of deals on popular books, so I bought a few books that I’d been curious about. One was The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, for $1.49 on Kindle. The book purports to be the distillation of Toltec wisdom from a long line of shamanic warriors in what is now Mexico. I had always dismissed the book as hokey hippie woo woo crap based on that description, but for $1.49, I figured I would at least check it out.
And I loved it. I read it in less than a day, highlighting passages in every chapter, and I am continuing to reflect on the deep wisdom embodied in the titular Four Agreements.
What’s funny is that if I had read this book five years ago, I don’t think I would have gotten past my own preconceived notions about the book so that I could actually read and reflect on its wisdom. I would have dismissed it as dumb, and probably given up after a chapter or two (as did many reviewers on Amazon). Ironically, I would have been breaking the Third Agreement (“Don’t make assumptions”), but not realizing it because I wasn’t ready. Instead, this time I was in the right place to receive the book’s message, and really appreciated the agreements as useful guidelines for living my life.
I had a similar experience with Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People, which I tell here. Short version is that I read it as a teenager, and dismissed it as pablum and platitudes for stupid people. I read it again in my 30s, and realized I had spent the intervening twenty years re-deriving the ideas in Carnegie’s book for myself through my own experience. Oops. I could have given myself a shortcut if I’d only been ready at the time.
This happens again and again to me. Last year I picked up Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People as another of those self-help books that I’d long dismissed. And I appreciated the wise and effective habits it shared as principles for leading a better life. But I don’t think I would have appreciated them without having the lived experience to see how my lack of those habits made me less effective.
Maybe that’s just a function of my personality - I tend to trust my own experience more than than what I read in a book. This tendency correlates with another of my theories that I have different experiences even when re-reading the same book, because _I_ change between readings, and therefore what I get out of the book is completely different based on what experiences I’ve had between re-readings, as was evident in the experiences I shared above.
It also points to part of the value I can offer as a coach. One of my clients said that he’d read all the leadership books, and knew all the ideas, but had trouble applying them to his day-to-day actions. I helped him figure out how to translate the general principles in the books into his specific context. I’ve improved at that skill over the past few years in my work with clients, and I wonder if that’s why I’m now able to gain value from a wider variety of books, because I can translate the principles to my own specific context as well.
I’m curious if these experiences resonate with you. Do you find yourself revisiting the same source material and having different experiences?
And now for the normal personal development content:
LinkedIn: These are ideas or questions that have helped my clients (or myself), and that I share via LinkedIn to help a wider audience. Only two posts this time because one was the blog post I shared in the last newsletter, and then I only posted once during Thanksgiving week.
“Much is lost for the want of asking”. It’s easy to limit your requests to what is “reasonable” to ask for, but we don’t know what is “reasonable” for others to do without asking. So ask for what you want, and you may be surprised how often “unreasonable” requests get granted.
Appreciate what is, and keep working to improve. It’s easy to get cynical and frustrated when there is little progress, particularly in the space of justice and equity. It’s also easy to get dreamy about a potential hopeful world that doesn’t exist. We choose where to focus our attention, and I think we should aim for “both and” - appreciate and be thankful for what we have, while never giving up on the better state that we know is possible.
Articles and resources I’ve found interesting:
A Native American shares what Thanksgiving means to him. He outlines the harmful lie “which fabricated a peaceful depiction between the colonizers and the tribes and neglected to mention the amount of death, destruction and land-grabbing that occurs against the first peoples, setting the tone for the next 200 years.” And yet he still celebrates the holiday by focusing on the values that bring us together: generosity, gratitude and food.
The McDonald’s Test - a former Wall Street banker shares his story of learning to value places like McDonald’s that his former coastal elite self once scorned.
Assembling a Tulip - Charlie O’Donnell, a Brooklyn VC, shares his skepticism of DAOs (code-driven organizations) based on his experience with more organically developed communities, using an analogy of gardening vs. assembly. In one case, people ”planted a seed in good soil, watered it, gave it light and grew a flower” and in the other case, people just want to follow an algorithmic set of rules.
How white supremacy tried to divide Blacks and Asian American - “White supremacy is what created segregation, policing, and scarcity of resources in low-income neighborhoods, as well as the creation of the “model minority” myth — all of which has driven a wedge between Black and Asian communities.”
Thanks for reading! See you in a couple weeks.