Why You Should Read 50 Books Per Year

I’ve never been much of a New Year’s Resolution type of guy. Really, I hate the swarms of new people in my gym January through Mid-February. But, I did come up with a resolution of sorts a few years ago that totally revolutionized my life. Now I set this goal each January 1st: read 50 books per year (roughly one book per week).1

“There is no friend as loyal as a good book” – Ernest Hemingway (Click to tweet)

Why Reading?

Obviously, I don’t have to sell myself too hard on reading’s benefits. But just in case, here’s a roundup2:

  1. Mental Stimulation
  2. Stress Reduction
  3. Knowledge
  4. Vocabulary Expansion
  5. Memory Improvement
  6. Stronger Analytical Thinking Skills
  7. Improved Focus and Concentration
  8. Better Writing Skills
  9. Tranquility
  10. Free Entertainment

When you read 50 books a year, it’s a measurable goal. Personally, my goals need to be measurable. I can’t just “lose weight,” “read more,” or “try new things” I need to lose 10 pounds, read 50 books, or go to Brazilian Ju Jitsu classes twice a week. I think most people are the same. If you really want to change, you need something to measure, something to define whether you’ve succeeded or failed.

But, why 50 books per year?

Well, I like 50 because some weeks you might slip up. Some you might binge read and get a little ahead of schedule. But also, if I am too strict on “1 book per week” then I’m less likely to pick up overly challenging books. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged would be difficult to get through in a week (unless I played hooky at work). Therefore, I make my goal a more rounded 50 to account for the variance in complexity and length.

What happens when you read 50 books per year?

Here’s some math: 50 books times 200 pages per book equals 10,000 pages. 10,000 pages equal a lot of words, and some of those words are going to help you out. It’s almost guaranteed that throughout the course of the year you’ll read something that specifically relates to a problem you’re trying to solve. It seems like a lot of effort to find a very specific solution to a very specific problem, but if you make reading a habit it will come naturally. You won’t even need to look for a solution when the time comes. That makes the entire process worth it. There are other subtle benefits, such as those that follow.

Expanding Your Horizons

In addition to reading about specific things that will help you in specific ways, reading 50 books per year really broadens your horizons. Inevitably, reading will take you down a few unexpected rabbit holes and you’ll emerge with new interests and knowledge. I’m now weirdly knowledgeable on John F. Kennedy and American History during the Cold War. I mainly read to improve my marketing and business chops, and the Cold War has nothing to do with that. But it’s influenced a lot of how I think about certain things. I also went down a rabbit hole of the history of Hollywood a few months ago. Random interests like these help liven up your conversations, and reading classics helps you relate and converse with almost anyone.


Become Articulate and Awesome

You’ll become more articulate if you read 50 books per year. Once you read enough, you’ll distinguish patterns that make certain authors more eloquent than others. This includes organization, sentence structure, word choice and voice. Once you distinguish these patterns, you really don’t even have to work to incorporate them into your own communications. It sort of just happens.

Substance Over Noise

When you read 50 books per year, you’ll become successful. You’ll develop a depth and breadth of knowledge. Reading pithy blog posts won’t make you successful. Sure, reading Seth Godin’s blog posts can inspire you – but you should really read 50 books per year if you want to be a smart, capable person. Otherwise you’ll be full of inspiration and lacking on substance. The true recipe for both failure and charlatanism.

Most importantly, reading 50 books per year will defuse the power that click bait still holds. I hate click bait. Journalism is at a depressing low right now. When you read 50 books per year, sure, click bait still pisses you off. But you can be more zen about it because you know that real content awaits you in the form of a 800 page paperback about Teddy Roosevelt.


Reading 50 books per year defeats the illusion of knowledge. You’d think it would make you feel much smarter, but it really makes you aware of how much you don’t know. However, this is a good thing. I bet some of your Facebook friends think they’re political experts because they read a blog post that said Obama is a socialist without an American birth certificate. No, these people aren’t certifiably insane (but close). But they could probably pick up a book or two this week, and it would help them be less vitriolic.

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How To Read 50 Books Per Year

Let’s talk about the process. It’s not as bad as you think. All you need to do is create a habit.

Really, what 50 books per year looks like is about 45-60  minutes of reading per day. Maybe a bit more, if you add in weekends (I usually read about an hour on weekend days). How long is your commute? I walk 30 minutes to and from work and always throw on an audiobook. Done. The process really doesn’t take as long as you’d think, and if you eliminate an hour of TV and replace it with challenging books, you’ll be grateful.

There are many things you can do to improve your life, but reading 50 books per year might be the easiest. Actually, when I say ‘easiest,’ what I mean is that it’s the most effective. You get the most results out of what you put into it. If you’re looking for a new year’s resolution, don’t try to give up ice cream or go to the gym 8 days a week. You’ll fail. Try reading just a little bit a day, and reap the benefits that readers have enjoyed for centuries.

1I just recently discovered that I’m not the originator of this challenge. Not even close. In fact, Julien Smith wrote an awesome blog post about it a few years ago that I just discovered: http://inoveryourhead.net/one-book-a-week-for-2007/
2 http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-benefits-reading-why-you-should-read-everyday.html

10 Things a Successful Hollywood Mogul Can Teach You About Living Life

Jerry Weintraub is a Master of the Universe. In his long career, he has been a successful agent, movie producer, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He was self-made, growing up in the Bronx. His CV is absolutely incredible and is way too long to list here, but includes taking Elvis on tour, staging Sinatra’s comeback (including the legendary boxing ring show), producing The Karate Kid movies and the Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen movies, and so much more. 
His memoir, When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead, not only includes hilarious anecdotes from an outrageous life, but also includes key nuggets of advice and inspiration for living a successful life. The man’s a great story teller. Here are a few of his secrets to success in life:
Weintraub Life Lessons
1. Your Network is Your Net Worth (And Keep Good Company)
“Relationships are the only thing that really matters, in business and in life.”
I’ve talked about this in past articles, but it bears repeating. Life is all about connections. Not the vapid, shallow connections of a hungry shark, but real, value-based relationships. Be a human, and connect with other humans. This is the resounding theme of Weintraub’s book; simply put, his connections tread the path for his success.
On another note, don’t be so masochistic as to hang out with toxic people. Weintraub writes: “Besides, life is too short to be spend in the company of morons.”
2. Honesty is the Best Policy
When Weintraub worked for MCA, there was a phone line called the WATS line. It was to be used for business. At one point, however, Weintraub got caught in a vicious fight with his then girlfriend, and it was all through this business phone line. It was a terrible, bitter fight filled with nasty words and insults. The call went on forever. The next morning, Weintraub received a call from the President of the company, Lew Wasserman. Wasserman asked him if he was on the WATS line. Weintraub said Yes. Wasserman told him that his call lasted 3 hours and 12 minutes, and asked him if he enjoyed his call. Weintraub said Not Particularly. As Weintraub wrote in his book, “Wassermn had probably expected me to obfuscate, bullshit, stammer, or lie, but I instead told the truth. Which disarmed him immediately and made it so he would probably never forget me.” This lines up withRobert Greene’s 12th Law of Power: Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim. That law of power sounds evil, so let’s just say this: Own your mistakes and be honest about them.
elvis and jerry weintraub
3. Work for the sake of working
“At some point, you forget the object, and the means become the end. You work for the joy of the work.”
There’s no way to enjoy lasting success if you don’t love your work. It might start with materialistic desire, but it ends (hopefully) with your undying love of the craft that you have chosen. Weintraub wanted a red jacket like the one James Dean wore in Rebel Without a Cause. He worked to earn it. The jacket didn’t last forever. His work ethic, his means, did last forever. On the same note, Weintraub writes about loving the process (both wins and losses): “Well, it’s mostly a matter of temperament. You have to enjoy being in the world, mixing it up, reveling in the hits and misses.” 
4. Escape Your Comfort Zone
“This much I knew: As soon as you feel comfortable, that’s when it’s time to start over.”
Great things never came from comfort zones. Shake it up. In Weintraub’s words: “You have to be willing to walk away from the most comfortable perch, precisely because it is the most comfortable.” Beautiful.
Jerry Weintraub George Clooney Brad Pitt
5. Avoid Debt
“At the end of the day, write down exactly what you have. Put that number in your left pocket. Then write down exactly what you owe. Put that number in your right pocket. As long as the number in your left pocket is bigger than the number in your right pocket, you will have a good life.”

6. Find a Mentor
“Like every kid from the boroughs, I dreamed of Broadway. I put on a few small shows but realized that to be good, I would need a teacher and guide. If you want to learn, find a person who knows and study him or her.” 
No matter what your natural, raw capabilities are, they will never reach fruition without somebody to sculpt you and educate you. Find a mentor, learn as much as you can from the successful, read books, and then you can forge your own path. But learn from the best first. 
7. Persist
“I’ll tell you my biggest talent. When I believe in something, it’s going to get done. When people say, “No,” I don’t hear it. When people say, “That’s a bad idea,” I don’t believe them. When people say, “It won’t happen,” I pretend they’re joking.”
Especially in the cutthroat entertainment business, persistence is essential. As Winston Churchill put it, “Never, never, never give up.” Also, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
jerry-weintraub his way hbo
8. Admit Ignorance
“So many variables determine the fate of a film, some having to do with script and casting and marketing; but others are so mysterious and zeitgeist-related and beyond human control that the best posture is humility. There are three key words in business: I don’t know.”
In life, in business, in anything, no one knows it all. It’s obnoxious to think you do. Somethings, you have to throw up your hands and revel in the mystery of the unidentified. ‘I don’t know’ can be a powerful catalyst for avoiding misjudgments, fixing errors, and learning new things.
9. Don’t Do Things You Hate
“It was not making the calls that bothered me. It was having to make the calls. In a flash I thought, I will quit this business instead of making these calls. I don’t feel that way about my call list now–being successful means filling your life with calls you want to return.”
Weintraub had hit a wall. He came to the office but didn’t want to return any of the calls he was supposed to return. He didn’t want to deal with the clients he was supposed to deal with. He was at a loss of freedom. So in a flash, he decided to quit his very successful management practice to focus on movie production. It may seem crazy, but rather than quietly suffer through unrewarding work, you should really think about dropping out and doing something awesome, something that inspires you take wake up earlier than you have to and stay up later than you should.
10. Enjoy the Ride
“If asked my philosophy, it would be simply this: Savor life, don’t press too hard, don’t worry too much.”
Although Weintraub admits he had a hard time following this philosophy (too busy hustling), he always stressed the importance of the big picture and taking time to have some fun. Describing the process of making movies, he wrote: “It was like being a kid again, reliving the thrill of driving into movie land. Just because you get older, make money and lose money, does not mean you should forget about how exciting it all it.” Never lose sight of what is beautiful and exciting in life.

Learning a lot from being overworked and underpaid (my internship days)

Graduating college is weird. After years of free gym memberships, all-you-can-eat meal plans, fantastic parties, and football tailgates, I never thought the low-pay internships I worked would be something I would look back upon nostalgically. Don’t get me wrong–I’m thankful those days are over. But I’m grateful they existed. Because I learned A LOT from being overworked and underpaid. I was also blessed with some incredible opportunities. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t make the most of them.

I think the process of working these jobs is necessary. I wouldn’t even venture to say a ‘necessary evil’ because if you learn to shift your perception, you can learn to love the internship process. You can learn a lot. You can meet important people. Truly ambitious people benefit hugely from these roles. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way:

1. Follow the Bluntest Critique

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
― Aristotle

You’ll learn quickly that there are all different kinds of bosses. There are those that want to be your friend, and there are those that push you out of your comfort zone and into excellence. Avoid the former, latch onto the latter. The criticism from those tough bosses will sting. But it’s necessary to make yourself vulnerable, to learn from your mistakes, and to push through the process, loving the journey, into mastery. Early on in my work for Arctica Race, I butchered an in-store promotion. The planning was great, but the execution fell short. And I got a full ear of criticism, which is exactly what I needed. I listened, learned, and move on. Bosses that accept all of your shitty work without revision will not help you, no matter how easy they are to work with. If your boss is always nice, be wary: you’re probably not learning anything (which is the point of an internship.) Also, don’t cry when your work is criticizes. Use this as an opportunity to develop thick skin and grit.

2. Always Ask Questions

After you’ve learning how to deal with your boss’s tough love, learn how to pull some information out of him. You’re not working this job to coast. You’re not working this job for a resume bullet point (okay, but only partially.) Much better than a resume bullet point is the mentorship that the successful people above you can provide. “You don’t ask, you don’t get.” I heard that while perusing a Creative Live talk with Steve Rennie. Be curious. Be persistent. Learn as much as you can.

3. Nose Down, Study Up

“Ask yourself: “Am I saying this because I want to prove how smart I am or am I saying this because it needs to be said?” When you’re just getting started, it’s usually the former.”-Ryan Holiday

Your introduction into the working world will be marked by a considerable desire to ‘prove yourself,’ usually by talking more than you need to. Instead, try this technique (via Robert Greene): Always Say Less Than Necessary. Instead of throwing your untested opinions into the air, spend your time reading everything you can about your field, asking questions of your superiors, asking experts in your field, and attending webinars. Learn as much as you can, always be immersed in a book. Then, one day, when you’re ready, you can be the beacon of knowledge that your own future interns look towards during meetings.

4. Your Network is Your Net Worth

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”― Jim Rohn

The benefits of your internship are as follows: what you learn from the job, how it looks to future employees, and the network that you derive from it. The network might be the most important of the three. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,”is a a cliche because it’s been time-tested to be true. In the future, when you’re looking for a real job, you’ll be miles ahead of the competition with a few good, well-placed connections. So while at your under-appreciated internship role, be interested in everyone, and you will be interesting to them. Add value to their lives by sharing what you’re learning through your reading (previous tip), connect them to other people in your network who might benefit from meeting them (one of the best networking methods), and keep contact after you’ve made your impression.

5. Try Something New

While you’re young, and it doesn’t matter, you might as well explore what you’re actually interested in. I attended a speaker event for the J-School a few years ago, and the speaker made it very clear that it was important to take a few internships in different roles. The J-School has reiterated this multiple times–they recommended that you take classes in different disciplines than you think you’re interested in. You might plan on working in client services, but taking a copywriting internship might make you reconsider. Or it might just give a new skill and breadth of knowledge. So just because you think you’re going into finance, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t test the waters in a marketing position. Some internships might even allow you to experiment with different roles in the same company.

6. Impress People With Your Work

When I was a Freshman, I attended an orientation speech from some dude who started working at Google very close to their birth as a company. His drive home piece of advice: Impress People With Your Work. Talk less, do more. Promise less, deliver more. Or over-promise. But make sure you also over-deliver. Because that–not your charming personality or mastery of office politics–will make important people remember you.

7. Think Big Picture

An internship is the definition of a means to an end. So, think about your goals and how this is helping you achieve them. Maybe you wanted to score a career within the company for which you’re interning. Your trajectory would be totally different than if you were working this internship for another reason. You might want the coding skills that you’re learning for building your own business someday. Or maybe you wanted to work for an impressive company that will give you some stellar professional recommendations. Keep your long-term strategy in mind the whole time, and most of the time, keep it to yourself.“The grand strategy is just for you,” Ryan Holiday says.

So in summary, ask questions, stay humble, work hard, connect with connectors, and keep your grand-strategy goals in mind. It’s a tough time to be a college graduate–but that doesn’t matter–differentiate yourself and learn to love the grinding process of less than high-status work, and you’ll be a much more marketable person than your competition.

30 Things I’ve Learned Last Year That Were Stupidly Obvious, But Helped Me Anyway






(Article originally posted on rsvlts.com)

I never thought I would see the day. But here I am, writing a proselytizing article with advice aimed at twenty-somethings from my own Gen-Y perspective–and it’s in (true Elite Daily) list form.

Well, anyway, I’ve gotten over my squeamish fear of appealing to the mainstream, enough so that I wrote an article about all the nifty things I’ve learned this year. I’m sure I sound naive. And I am. All “twenty-somethings” that write “twenty-something” articles are naive. Because, they are “twenty-somethings”. Duh.

Being well aware of that fact, I still think some of these ideas can help you. They’ve helped me out over the last year. These ideas continue to help me still. I’m sure some of them will be replaced by better ideas, but so goes the nature of life and living.

Here we go:

1) Take advantage of free live music. Until I started marketing for a music venue, I never went to the free shows they put on. Why? I don’t know. But I go now, and I discover a lot of cool talent.

2) Drinking craft beer helps me appreciate the delicious experience of life. Craft beer is an adventure, and it’s one that has an incredible, and growing, community around it.

3) If I wake up a little bit early, say 2-3 hours before I have any obligations, and read, my brain feels twice as sharp throughout the day. Morning TV mitigates this benefit.

4) Late night exercise alleviates the day’s stress. Early morning exercise prevents it.

5) Cereal is a dessert. Eating dessert for breakfast is bad. Instead, I eat a heaping pile of bacon and eggs and grapefruit and coffee. Black coffee. I put some cinnamon in it sometimes.

6) Apparently, we’ve evolved to be runners, but running still sucks ass. But it’s great for the mind, body, and soul. Plug in your headphones, and don’t stop running until it hurts.

7) “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”-Aristotle. The scary thing is that the same thing is true for failure.

8) When faced with a decision, it’s usually better to choose the more difficult path (I got this from Paul Graham’s fantastic essay).

9) Life is too short for matching socks. If you waste time worrying about the little things, like conforming to silly “rules”, not only do you waste time, but you also waste precious opportunities to dazzle, to innovate, and to be remembered.

10) You may think you have goals, but you really don’t until you write them down and look at them every night before you fall asleep. Goals need to be internalized to be realized. Most are held up at the phase of whimsical dreaming.

11) When someone is lying or making something up (creating a picture in their head), their eyes turn up and to the right.

12) Save at least 10% of your income (preferably more, like 15-20%), no matter how much you make. This is your capital. Don’t spend it; only invest.

13) Write a bucket list on 100 things you want to do (could be big things, could be small). Every weekend, make sure you check off at least 1 item. (If your bucket list is too unattainable, like, every item is on par with climbing Everest, try scaling it down. Write down 100 things you’d like to do IN YOUR CITY.)

14) Whatever made you unique in your childhood has the potential to come back in the form of a really badass job. Hence my work with ski racing company, Arctica Race. I have a friend that makes a lot of money teaching piano lessons. I have another that gets paid to ride horses. Nobody ever told me I could make money doing things like that.

15) Do yoga. I almost forgot to write this one down, as I do it so often that I forgot that I just picked up the practice this year. I go with my roommate every Thursday, the start of our weekend (no Friday classes!), and it’s the most relaxing activity in the world. Yoga de-stresses you, builds your abdominal muscles, and makes you more flexible (and makes you better at sex). Namaste.

16) Read a book every week (or more). You won’t expect the crazy fucking benefits this gives you. This was the first year I took reading seriously, and every facet of my life has improved. Thousands of years of history have proved that the most willfully educated people prosper. It’s simply foolish to buck that trend.

17) 2013 was also the year I learned about Duolingo. Ho-ly sh*t this service is awesome. Because of it, now, nobody has any excuse to NOT learn a language. It’s free and fun and easy to use.

18) What you ask for is usually what you get.

19) Bad people can provide good lessons; good things can hide pretty overwhelming dark sides .

20) Journalism classes taught me how to write better. That’s just the obvious benefit. More importantly, they taught me how to listen to people (interview). I’ve learned more from my friends and from strangers this year than I ever have because of this crazy awesome ability. Dan Pink suggests an exercise: try waiting 5 seconds before you respond to someone during your next conversation. Will it be awkward? Fuck yes. But you’ll definitely be aware of the fact that, previously, you were only waiting your turn to speak.

21) Read David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Then, if you haven’t already, go back and read all of his other books.

22) Same thing goes for Mastery and Robert Greene’s books.

23) You can’t do it all alone. You need compatriots. You need mentors. You need to delegate. You need help, and you need to acknowledge the fact that you didn’t succeed on your own (Looking at you, hip hop).

24) Find ‘your spot’. That restaurant where all the staff knows you, that coffee shop, that whatever. A public home is a weird treasure to own.

25) Teaching is a good way to learn; writing is a good way to think.

26) Treat everyone like normal people, because they are normal people.

27) Sell the lifestyle (the story), not the product.

28) You can buy books incredibly cheap on Amazon by clicking on the title you want, then clicking to the ‘available used’ button. Sometimes, great books are sold for pennies. I’ll never buy a $200 textbook again (not that I usually bought those textbooks anyway.)

29) Find a mentor.

30) I’ll end with a saying that Ryan Holiday quoted in a recent article: “Be a good person, do what you love—those are the only rules for life”

Look Before You Leap (and How To Salsa Dance)

(Post originally published on Thought Catalog)


“Look Before You Leap.” For skiers and snowboarders, it’s common knowledge. It’s a warning that should we should probably heed. It’s safe.

Sometimes, though, inspection can turn into obsession, and we can spend our whole life studying as an excuse for avoiding action. In which case, I think we should just jump.

I think we should do insane, irrational things. I think we should look ridiculous. I think we should feel ridiculous. I think, sometimes, we should leap before we look.

After all, life inside a comfort zone is hardly life at all.

Here’s a story: when I shyly stepped into salsa dancing class wearing my mismatched socks, I was pretty nervous. I had never done something like that before. My dancing prowess goes about as far as that awkward flailing thing that white boys do. And dancing sober? Not a chance. In addition, salsa dancing is a partners’ game; I went to solo to group lessons. None of this sums up to a comfortable situation. However, it turned out well for me. I know, now, how to salsa dance. I’m not very good, but it’s a new skill under my belt and another experience for the chamber. I also had the unexpected pleasure of realizing that I was not the worst person in class.

Count on this: Any time you feel nervous about throwing yourself into an intimidating situation, understand that there will be someone there who is more awkward than you are. And they are brave. They’ll eventually be good, and they’ll eventually be teaching the next round of awkward and nervous learners. That’s the process: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Still, jumping into these things is daunting. Here are some things I’ve learned:

1. No preconceived notions allowed

If you jump in expecting one outcome, the only thing you can be certain of is that you’ll receive a different outcome. Folks in Ireland are not all drunk all the time, not everyone in Alaska is an Eskimo, and not everything is the way that our cookie cutter cultural narratives make them seem. Don’t let your past repertoire limit your thinking. This is a new experience and should be treated as thus. You’ll get the most out of BJJ if you allow yourself to soak up BJJ, in itself. Likewise, if I’d closed my mind to what I thought salsa/tango dancing was, I’d have deterred myself from entering those lessons in the first place.

2. Study

That being said, it helps to study. Like, really, immerse yourself in your new adventure. Buy a plane ticket to Rome in the heat of the moment, before you can give it second thoughts. Then, immediately, buy a bunch of books about Rome. Study its history, its people, its language, its culture. For salsa/tango/any skill, really: watch videos onlineSkiingstudy the greats. As Ryan Holiday said, “No one is ever going to teach you enough or hand it to you on a platter. Books and articles, and ask questions—an endless amount of them.”

3. Submit to the process

This goes along with the whole “no preconceived notions” thing. Go with the flow. Submit to the process by which your instructor teaches. Sometimes, it’s going to feel ridiculous. You’re going to feel like a fool. Learn to shrug it off and laugh at yourself. One of my favorite quotes is by Fyodor Doestovsky and goes: “I could not become anything: neither bad nor good, neither a scoundrel not an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. And now I am eking out my days in my corner, taunting myself with the bitter and entirely useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything; that only a fool can become something.” As Ludacris said, “Act a fool.” (100% wrong context for this quote, here, I know. Just go with it.)

4. Make Friends

You know, salsa dancing classes are a great way to meet people. The people that go are thrilling; they’re, at least for me, not who I usually run into during my daily routine. Some of them are fantastic salsa dancers. As I said above, some aren’t at all great at dancing. I find it to be a good practice in humanity to be interested individually in each person that I meet through classes like this. The benefit of taking a leap out of your comfort zone is quickly reduced when you hole up in a corner and close off your mind. You quickly eliminate most of the adventure that you signed up for. Plus, there are cute girls at salsa dancing classes.

5. Be present (practice mindfulness)

I wouldn’t consider myself a worrier. But I am human. If you’re human too, and if you’re at all like me, sometimes you have trouble staying in the ‘here and now’. What I mean by that, is that you probably have thoughts like:

  • Is there an essay I’m forgetting to write?
  • Am I going to get a job after I graduate?
  • What did she mean with that last text?
  • I wonder how many likes my profile picture got.
  • Am I going to get fired and kicked out of school and is the world going to end?

Fuck those thoughts; You’re here to dance. Shake ‘em out, breathe, and fugetaboutit. Focus on your feet. Your instructor will tell you not to do that, but it’s better than focusing on things that make you anxious. Focus on your breath. Better yet, focus on the music. That’s what you’re there for. The world has a funny way of sorting itself out without need for your anxiety.

6. Play

This is the most important thing to remember: you’re here to play. (Why do writers always save the best point for last, anyway?) So, go ahead, learn the basics, the twists, turns, steps, and then let go. Laugh. Smile. “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different,” Vonnegut said. In your average day, you can only be so productive, so serious, before you burn out and end up worse off for it. For this reason, I prefer to introduce a certain amount of ‘distractions’ into my life. I like the break the routine. These are hardly distractions, though; they are the life blood of my work. What I do in my leisure time is what inspires me to create and innovate in my work time. So instead of stressing about taking the leap, instead of completely dissecting it and turning it into work, I like to let go, and simply feel the music.

5 Public Relations Lessons You Need To Know From The Late Great John F. Kennedy

(Post originally published on rsvlts.com)

Politicians are excellent at a certain rhetoric device called “framing.” They know how to switch conversations to more favorable topics, they know how to avoid the ugly answers, and sometimes they can flip a public relations disaster into an underdog victory.

On the 50th anniversary of his assassination, I’m going to show you how JFK did just that, winning over the audience as an underdog even after some sharp criticisms from Harry Truman.

Background story:

In 1960, just before the Democratic National Convention, Harry Truman openly criticized his own party for favoring JFK’s presidential nomination. He attacked JFK on multiple fronts, including his age, lack of experience, his powerful political backing that “pressured” votes, among other things. This was the last Democrat president to hold office, not only contributing bad press to JFK’s political career, but asking him to step down from the Presidential race. Naturally, this was a public relations disaster

Kennedy now had a couple of options. What would you do if a leader in your industry attacked the very core of your business, of your character? Would ignoring it help you or hurt you? Is there a chance you could position yourself in a way that leverages the criticism as an advantage? You already know what I’m going to say.

Using some crazy form of PR Jujitsu, JFK took everything Truman said, and using the weight of Truman’s own words, came out on top. He presented his weaknesses as strengths. He did this on live television in the style of a Western showdown. It was dramatic. The end result was that JFK positioned himself as an underdog hero representing the emerging generation, his “new frontier.” And of course, he won the presidency.

So how did he do it? What lessons can we take away from his victory?

(The implicit 1st rule of his success here is that you must view your obstacles as opportunities. If the paradigm is always pointed to the positive and the possible advantageous outcomes, it is not difficult to turn a negative situation around.)

1. Pick Your Battles Wisely

The internet has made PR as confusing as it has ever been. At any time, from any angle, your image could be attacked. How do you deal with that kind of pressure?

Evidence suggests that often you can ignore it.

Ryan Holiday recently wrote a brilliant article about negative press. In it, he says that the first lesson is, “A significant portion of all criticism (especially online) is just trolling. It depends on and desires your participation. Opt out and you’ve robbed it of the oxygen it needs.” Smaller people bate larger people for a response. Don’t acknowledge it. You’re simply giving fuel to criticism that otherwise would not have taken off. Jay-Z never needs to acknowledge some loud mouthed no name, because nobody hears the dude. But if he does acknowledge, the position of the no name has suddenly been given a platform.

Look at it this way: you can save your energy for bigger battles. You can save your energy to make a better product.

However, JFK was criticized by the former president of the United States, the last Democrat to hold that office. That he chose to respond proves that Kennedy knew how to pick his battles wisely. John Hellman wrote that his response was so effective that his team was “grateful the attack had given them such a well-publicized opportunity to confront doubts about Kennedy’s qualifications.”

2. Play by the Rules of the Real World

There are about two schools of thought regarding public relations. Option A: all press is good press; Option B: positive press is good press. The real world is not so cut and dry. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of your press was positive? If everybody you knew said nice things about you all the time? Of course! But if the world is anything like the YouTube comments section (not the new boring one), it is filled with trolls, who are embittered and scornful people. The world is also filled with sneakier villains: competitive friends, friendly competitors, attention seeking (read: click baiting) journalists, and faulty team members. And sometimes, shit just happens. You’re going to want be able to respond when something does not go according to favor. It’s something that is really tough to plan for; I’m sure JFK didn’t expect Truman to fire into him with complaints. But bad news is something you should expect.

Sidenote: according to a study published in 2010 (Berger, Sorensen, Rasmussen), sometimes negative press can increase sales, especially when dealing with smaller brands. Here’s the link.

3. “Always Create Compelling Spectacles.”

Robert Greene’s 37th Rule of Power, “Always Create Compelling Spectacles,” comes in quite handy. Since we’ve already established that this is a necessary battle and that, in reality, there is no cut and dry way advice for a response, now we have a story to tell. And we’re going to make this story exciting. Ryan Holiday’s advice is perfect: “If you are to respond, remember this simple rule: The response must be more interesting than the initial salvo.”

John F. Kennedy baked compelling spectacles into all of his actions, which contributed to his public image as a young war hero, fighting for the new frontier for the next generation. This particular event was perfect for bolstering his image.

John Hellman said that Kennedy “chose not to downplay Truman’s remarks, but rather to heighten them into a dramatic crisis.” Furthermore, he said “Kennedy transformed the political problem into a dramatic crisis evoking the showdown toward which the western movies of the day invariably moved.”

Check out Truman’s initial speech:

Now watch Kennedy’s response:

Don’t have time to watch? Here’s what happened:

Kennedy confidently stated: “I do not intend to step aside at anyone’s request.” He then went on to say he had “encountered and survived every kind of opposition,” re-positioning himself as a bold war hero. Kennedy went point by point against Truman’s criticisms, and without emphasizing what Truman said, reasserted his own strengths. He expertly framed the situation in an exciting way. Which leads to the next tip:

4. Learn How to Frame Stories

“If we are to establish a test for the presidency, whereby 14 years in major elective office is insufficient experience, then all but 3 of the 10 possibilities mentioned by Mr. Truman last Saturday must be ruled out. All but a handful of our presidents, since the very founding of our nation, should be ruled out. And every president elevated to that office in the 20th century should have been ruled out, including the three great Democratic presidents, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, himself.”-John F. Kennedy (source)

“Kennedy shaped the problem of Truman’s attack into a scenario pleasing to both himself and the public.”-John Hellman

At stake was Kennedy’s reputation and image, and he was vulnerable. Here he stood, directly preceding the nomination, being harshly criticized by the most able person to do so: the last Democratic president. Truman presumably was everything that Kennedy was not: experienced, tactful, and most importantly, organic.

See, Truman actually had a point in his critique. He described Kennedy as a “victim of circumstances,” and blamed “some of his overzealous backers.” He actually said that Kennedy demonstrated ability and energy, but then turned to ask if Kennedy was ready for the country, or if the country was truly ready for him. Truman then urged Kennedy to be patient with his ambition. He hoped that someone with “the greatest possible maturity and experience would be available at this time.”

Kennedy’s response: flawless. He demonstrated his energy and vigor by framing his lack of experience by comparing it to Truman’s own amount of experience. Kennedy’s point: if Truman criticizes Kennedy’s amount of experience, then he is hypocritical. Smarter still, Kennedy ignored what he couldn’t frame: his candidacy’s “overzealous backers.” Instead, he focused on his own battles and experiences and ended up sounded brave, conversely making Truman sound old and bitter. This certainly reflected on his campaign image of the youth leader bringing America into the “New Frontier.”

5. Stay Cool: Smile Through It.

“Just remember this: the cliche “all press is good press” is a cliche because it is true. In six months, no one will remember particulars of a news story you’re freaking out about right now–it probably won’t even make it on Wikipedia. Unless you make it worse by overreacting, saying something stupid or pissing the journalist off even more”-Ryan Holiday

It’s probably a smaller issue than you’re making it out to be. Even if it’s a big deal, put on your actor’s mask and play it cool. Don’t ignite the fire; the spark will die out if you let it. Let’s say a small fire has been kindled: calmly put it out. What does freaking out do? Even if you get the issue under control, you look like a disheveled fool doing so.

John F. Kennedy was the denotation of confident the day he called his July 4th press conference. John Hellman wrote, “Kennedy’s heavy-lidded, detached stare and slightly ironic smile also suggested the young rebel’s attitude.” Robert Greene echoed this, saying he resembled James Dean, “particularly in his air of cool detachment.” Hell, Kennedy was known for his coolness. During the famous 1st televised debate against Richard Nixon, he showed up tanned, toned, and relaxed. This contrasted with a sweaty, anxious Nixon. This leads to the lesson: whether it is a crisis or not, act like it is not. The way it tends to be, you decide the tone of the confrontation. If you’re unreasonably emotional, prepare for some more shitty backlash. Kennedy played it cool, he parlayed his weaknesses into strengths, and he won the crowd. Heed his lessons, protect your image, and master every public relations event, planned or not.