Monday, April 27, 2009

Book: Outliers

Subtitle: The Story of Success

by: Malcolm Gladwell

What a fantastic book. Gladwell does it again. I love his writing and the topics he chooses. This book is one that I want to recommend to a number of people I know. Chris, Steve, Ken, Erica and Adi, all of you would dig this book. I even want my dad to read it, especially the part about the airplane crashes, because I think it might help him get over his fear of flying, although who knows, that could backfire and make it worse.

This book's most striking point to me is that one of the biggest determinants of success is just plain showing up. Do something for 10,000 hours and you'll be awesome at it. Sounds like a no-brainer, but I love that how long it takes to master something to the point of virtuosity is quantifiable. I mean, one can keep track of how close one is to 10,000 hours. It's a lot of hours, but it's not infinite. You're slogging away at some skill you're trying to master, and you think Am I there yet? Well, have you been at it for long enough? If not, just keep going, eventually you are going to get there. I like that. It appeals to me. Anyone can succeed if you just refuse to give up.

I also liked about this book the idea that a cultural legacy to behave in a certain way can be with you even if you don't know it. I'm descended on one side from Scotch-Irish Tennessee immigrant stock, and the whole chapter that dealt with how people from that kind of background, even generations back, often react in a predictable way in certain situations made a lot of sense to me. I always just thought it was my Scorpio rising and Pluto-Sun tendencies that made me the kind of person you do not want to piss off, but who knows, it could be some reptile part of my brain that was passed on in my DNA. Maybe it's both. Not that it isn't still something to work on and overcome-- I'd love to be more mellow, less irascible in certain situations-- but the idea that it's maybe not just some random personal flaw appeals to me.

Reading this book over the weekend was so timely, having learned this morning of the death of one of the world's most amazing swing dancing legends, Frankie Manning. Frankie was an outlier, a rock star in the swing dance world who achieved amazing success and the aforementioned legendary status, and a bunch of the factors that Gladwell discusses in his book might have had something to do with that. I'm a little fuzzy on Frankie's history, but I'm sure the 10,000 hour rule can be applied to his life. Opportunity in the form of living near the Savoy Ballroom at just the right age and just the right time in the history of music and dance, and then being asked to come out of retirement and teach dancing again back in the 80s. His own innate joyful attitude about life and dance that came through even to people who only met him briefly, like me, was clearly a factor in his success.

Frankie is a wonderful inspiration to so many people, and I don't know how anyone could look at the story of his life and think anything other than, Wow, I only wish I could touch so many lives for the better. Let's all try to be like Frankie, passionately returning to our dreams and our loves and using our talents to inspire others. Let's all be outliers to the point where there's no such thing anymore.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Book: The Spiral Staircase

Subtitle: My Climb Out of Darkness

By: Karen Armstrong

Another memoir, this book was a hand-me-down from my stepmother. I really enjoyed it. Very hard to put down; I was disappointed when I went to pay my cable bill in person the other day and encountered no line whatsoever so I wouldn't have an excuse to get some reading done. The author documents life after leaving the convent in 1969 after 7 years as a nun. What I loved about this book was how she hit so many dead ends and just kept going until she eventually found her way to a life that fit her. This book made me think of so many people when I was reading it that I recommend it to anyone, especially anyone interested in the idea of vocation and how we find ours. I'm looking forward to reading her first memoir next, about the time during which she was a nun, and some of her other books on religion. And if only I could get my hands on the BBC video she did in the 1980s.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Going toward something good

In the back of my mind I've been trying to think of a reason to exercise. The obvious health benefits just weren't motivating enough to me, too abstract, and I've never done it consistently or intensely enough to get addicted to the adrenaline or whatever happens to people who seem obsessed with working out. The reason I had been trying to use was getting rid of these new Ohio thighs that have happened to me (like I had nothing to do with it) since I stopped biking, walking and blading everywhere and started getting around in my car. Oh, and since I started eating more. I honestly never felt like I didn't eat enough before, but I think I must have been skimping, or maybe it really is just the lack of built-into-daily-life exercise that produced this change.

But coming at exercise from that angle, reduce my thighs, was just going away from something I didn't like. I knew this whole program would work better if I could go toward something I did like. Sunday it came to me. I want to go toward a flat belly. I have always been relatively thin, and my figure is pretty much proportional throughout. I loved having a nice flat tummy for most of my life, it made up for what I used to consider to be other deficits in my shape (small boobs, not very curvy/girly). I was honestly a little vain about my nice flat tummy, and well, I miss it. I'm still fairly proportional, so it's not a long way back to my former shape. At least that's what I'm telling myself, so if you know better, please refrain from bursting my little bubble. My legs work just fine; whatever happens with them, so be it, although I can't imagine they won't follow suit. So that's my new fitness motivator: flat tummy. Vain and shallow, perhaps, but if it's getting me to exercise, who cares. The loftier reasons weren't working for me. I want my nice flat tummy back. And I've done 4 miles of elliptical machine two days in a row since I had my epiphany. It's working so far.