Unexpected side-effects

In praise of reading better stuff

A peaceful scene of a person sitting on a park bench in a lush green park, engrossed in reading from a Kindle. The park is vibrant with blooming flowers and tall trees, casting soft shadows on the pathway. A gentle breeze is rustling the leaves, adding to the serene atmosphere. The person is casually dressed, embodying the relaxation of a leisurely day spent outdoors. Birds can be seen in the background, and the sun is setting, casting a warm glow over the scene. The image should capture the tranquility of a moment spent alone with a book, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

When I started 7 Takeaways, my intent was to force myself to read more, better content, by establishing a weekly public deadline where I’d publish something about the items I had come across.

Three and a half years later, I’d say it’s been working. I haven’t missed a week (though there have been a few Saturday cram sessions), and I’ve come across some interesting stuff.

And I have 600+ subscribers to whom I feel a responsibility.

What’s interesting, though, is that it hasn’t affected me in quite the way I expected.

I expected that among the 1,190(!) takeaways published so far, I’d stumble across a handful that I would truly and specifically take to heart and incorporate into my life.

That hasn’t really happened.

Instead, I’ve encountered writers and authors that I enjoy and respect, whose content I look forward to and read every week, whether or not it becomes takeaway-worthy. This alone has made the effort worthwhile.

But there’s something more.

I was discussing personal growth with a friend the other day, and 7 Takeaways kept coming up. That surprised me. It kept coming up not as an activity that I do, or as something I publish, but as something that has, slowly, subtly, caused me to grow in unexpected ways.

The specific takeaways haven’t changed me as much as the overriding themes of all these great writers have. The threads that I see time and time again are making their way into my psyche somehow. My attitudes and opinions have slowly shifted in subtle, but now noticeable, ways, at least to me.

This might be the single greatest argument for consuming great content. Be it classic books and essays, modern fiction and non-fiction, or contemporary essays covering the topics of the day, it can’t help but have an impact.

I think we can see it working the other way as well. I’m sure you can think of many people who consume what we might loosely refer to as “crap”, who’ve become … well, let’s just call it “poorly informed and questionably mannered”.

This is one reason that, besides choosing sources that appeal to me, I also keep an eye out for things that challenge me or my world view. I often learn a great deal from those I disagree with. My understanding of their position often becomes better, but more important to me is that it also causes me to improve my understanding of whatever it is I think or believe.

I pay attention to the recommendations of others, which often results in picking up material I would never have encountered on my own. (I’m in the middle of such a read right now, as a matter of fact.) Particularly valuable are the friends, acquaintances, and other sources whose leanings you understand, so that you know which of their recommendations might appeal, or challenge. In a time-constrained world, that lets you make informed choices.

I suppose the obvious takeaway from all this is “read more”, or “consume better content”, or something along those lines. The problem is that those verge on platitudes we all hear more-or-less constantly throughout our lives.

I think my real takeaway is that after having done something like this for a length of time, look backwards and appreciate how you’ve grown.

And then keep consuming better content.

3 thoughts on “Unexpected side-effects”

  1. Leo, great observations once again. While I don’t write for publication, over the past ten years I have grown more mindful about what I read. That mindfulness includes being open to good — to me, meaning fact-based and well-reasoned — writing that challenges me to grow whether I agree or not. I too expected to remember some of the nuggets but found that once they find their home in my mental structure, I lose track of where they came from.
    Please keep distilling the content you consume and sharing your meaningful observations with us.

  2. I’m curious, Leo, how you curate the variety of reading material you consume. Do you cherry-pick each week or have a standard subscription to numerous newsletters and magazines? Do you seek opinions that seem to be contrary to what you think, chance into them, or avoid them? For example, I have a friend who won’t open anything Fox-related and another who seeks out Fox as a balance to other sources she consumes; which would you be?

    Thanks for the reminder to take stock of where we’ve come from to see our growth. It’s a nice path to look back on.

    • Other than avoiding Fox on principle (there needs to be a line somewhere) I don’t really have a clear answer. It’s kind of a mix of everything you mention. I have some subscriptions that tend to be good, reliable sources. There are specific writers I follow. But often I find things in completely random and serendipitous ways. Sometimes they’re a one-off, but sometimes they get added to the regular rotation. I can’t say that I explicitly spend time trying to find contrarian ideas, more that it’s not avoiding them when I inevitably run across them.

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