Extensions of Who I am

I have a thing for the word. Spoken; written; doesn’t really matter. I’m just taken by the fact that something as inert as letters strung together hold the potential to power unprecedented to the point of being the basis of who we are. Words shaped our beliefs. Words by way of re-enforcement we received in childhood, dictate our self-esteem as adults. Words can do entire 360s on courses of our lives, like completely alter the way we feel about people. And things. And sometimes when we feel like giving up, it’s words that give us comfort and keep us going.

Now… books. I choose to call them extension of who we are because one does not simply read a book and stay the same. A book always poses the challenge for you to be ‘more,’ to be better, having you live the book even after you’re done with the pages.  Fiction or non-fiction, the books we read become us. Or at least part of us. I’ve often referred to myself as an avid-learn-it-all, a title I’m yet to earn, because I like to know things. That’s mainly because there’s a lot I still haven’t figured out, so I have to. Here’s a couple of titles that I think became me and gave me that sense of clarity on different aspects of my journey.

  1. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

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This book was published in 1937 and still holds up. It comes as no surprise that it’s referred to as the grandfather of self-improvement. Like literally, every self-improvement book I read after it, I can always attribute aspects of it to this book. That’s no surprise because Napoleon Hill spent more than 25 years studying great personal achievement and success in that matter.

The preface to this book starts with;

WHAT DO YOU WANT MOST?

Is it Money, Fame, Power, Contentment, Peace of Mind, Happiness?

Then continues to offer the shortest dependable philosophy to personal achievement ever presented for the benefit of the man or woman who is searching for a definite goal in life. This book wasn’t written to entertain. It conveys the experience of more than 500 men of great wealth, who began from scratch with nothing to give in return for riches except thoughts, ideas and visualized plans. Names like Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Theodore Roosevelt among many others. This book circles around the fact that for you to achieve anything in life, it all must start in your mind. But it would be unfair to dismiss it as just that. It’s so much more than that. It also would be unwise to try to summarise all the lessons from this book into a single post so here’s just one thing:

‘Thoughts are things,’ and powerful things at that, when they are mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence and a burning desire for their translation into riches or other material objects.

When a man really desires something so deeply, he is willing to stake his entire future on a single turn of the wheel in order to get it, he is sure to win. And what a different story men would tell if they would adopt this definiteness of purpose and stand by that purpose until it had time to become a consuming obsession. The most common cause of failure is quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat.  You see the trick about opportunity is it has a sly habit of slipping in by the back door. And often it comes in the form of misfortune or temporary defeat and many fail to recognize it as opportunity. Failure you see, is a trickster with a keen sense of irony and cunning. It takes great delight in tripping one when success is almost within reach. And one sound idea is all one needs to achieve great success. Think it in your head, commit, put in the action like crazy and don’t care for how it comes to pass. Success comes to those who are success conscious and failure comes to those who allow themselves to be failure conscious. You are “The master of your fate, the Captain of your soul.”

And that’s just the first chapter.

Now, I read this book at a more confusing phase of my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I still don’t. Well, not definitely. All this time I had just been like a cloud, floating wherever life would take me, weightless, without purpose. Now I knew that I wanted to do something big and important and it was really eating me up what that would be. I was also struggling with the how’s of every idea that I would have and the lack of faith in myself didn’t really help either. It was a vicious circle. Think and Grow Rich built this armour of positivity and optimism around me where I learnt to fully trust in my ideas. Like it all is possible. Knowing that my job is to have ideas and see them through while leaving the rest to the universe, in my case, God. Now, I haven’t figured everything out, I do not have the answers but at least now, I’m wise enough to know that it doesn’t matter and I’m more open to what life has to throw at me.

2. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

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“We cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it and move forward with renewed purpose. For to live is to suffer, to survive is to find the meaning in the suffering.” That’s in a nutshell what this riveting read is about.

We’ve all at some point felt like we’re living a life with no purpose. It is this lack of purpose that makes us despair that we’re living unfulfilling lives. You’ve probably heard of the quote the purpose of life is to give life a purpose. It’s a dumb quote but well meaning.

Man’s search for meaning was published in 1946. It is Victor Frankl’s memoir on his horrid experiences in a Nazi death camp where he lost his entire family and barely made it through. He observes that with time, man adapts to any situation he is placed in provided he has something he deeply desired to get or to achieve. In the words of Nietzsche,” He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

How a person finds meaning in life will differ from person to person but the definite way is to do something beyond yourself. Live in service of others.

At this point in history, many suffer from an existential vacuum where we are haunted by the experience of the inner emptiness and void within themselves where they lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. Use your strength in service of others. That’s where you start.

In time of suffering, time is a paradox. Days seem longer and weeks shorter. Time moves faster when viewed as a block. So, never despair and have high hopes for the future, this too shall pass.

This book taught me to live responsibly: “Live as if you were living for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as you are about to act now!”

3. Give and Take by Adam Grant

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This book groups people according their reciprocity style, where there are 3 types of people in this world; givers, takers and matchers. Now givers, are the people who give without a care of what they’ll be receiving. Takers: these are the people who ensure they get more than they give and matchers: the ones who make sure they get back exactly what they give. This book brings into play on which of these styles is the long-term path to success. Through Adam Grant’s cutting-edge research and compelling stories, he totally debunks the myth that greed is the only path to success and that nice guys “can” actually and “do” finish first. That is what happens in the long-term.

This book is however more than a persuasive argument for a counter-intuitive approach to success, it’s brimming with life-changing insights in how we deal with people, manage our careers, raise our kids and how to be a giver without being taken advantage of.

Some of the best world leaders like Lincoln were givers. Givers are also the most essential unsung people behind every world-class performing act. Here’s a passage from the book that I really like;

For many years’ psychologists have believed that success depends on talent first, motivation second. To groom world-class athletes, experts looked for people with the right raw abilities and then sought to motivate them. But in recent years, psychologists have come to believe that this approach is rather backward. In the 1960’s a pioneering psychologist named Raymond Cattell developed an investment theory of intelligence. He proposed that it’s interest that drives people to invest their energy and time in developing particular skills and bases of knowledge. Today we have compelling arguments that interest precedes the development of talent. It turns out “motivation” is the reason that people develop talent in the first place.

In the 1980’s, another psychologist Benjamin Bloom led a landmark study of world class musicians, scientists and athletes. Bloom’s team interviewed 21 concert pianists who were finalists in major international competitions. When the researchers began to dig into the eminent pianist’s early experiences with music, they discovered an unexpected absence of raw talent. The studies show than early the pianists only seemed “special” when comparing them with others in the family or the neighborhood but didn’t necessarily stand out on a local, national or regional level- and didn’t win early competitions either. When Bloom interviewed the world-class pianists and their parents they were met with another surprise. The pianists didn’t start out by learning from piano teachers who were experts. They typically took their first lesson from a piano teacher who lived around in their neighborhood. Despite all this, overtime they managed to become experts through deliberate practice. Malcolm Gladwell mentions in his book “Outliers” that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at something. But what leads people to practice at such lengths in the first place. This is where Motivation gets into the picture. When the pianists and their parents talked about the first teacher, they focused on one theme “The children had a very positive experience with their first lesson. The kids had met an adult outside of their family who was warm, supportive and caring. The world- class pianists had their initial interest sparked by teachers who were givers, motivated them, and this served as an early catalyst for the intense practice necessary to develop expertise.

Same goes for the scientists and world-class tennis players where they found out that their initial coaches weren’t exactly exceptional but tended to be good with children. What this first coach did was provide motivation for the child to become interested and spend time practicing. Each of the individual attributed their success to the motivation provided by the first teacher.

Without givers we are likely to lack all these celebrated people in their different fields.

Now this was among the first non-fiction books I ever read and it has left such a huge impact on me. The idea that if I give too much, I stand to I lose or the ones I give might become better than me is something I don’t believe in and should be shunned. The world is wide enough for all of us. We actually want to motivate people to be better than us so that than they can do what we were not able to do. That’s how we end these cycles of ignorance bequeathed to us through years of societal programming.

4. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

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This book was published in 1936 and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. A sizeable chunk of our time on this earth will mainly be human interaction. Now you might dismiss this book as one for the socially awkward due to its title but it’s not. This book covers ground like techniques in handling people, winning people to your way of thinking, how to effectively communicate as a leader: Change people without giving Offense or arousing resentment.

The take-aways from this book extend far and wide but one that particularly stands out to me is that when dealing with people, we must remember that we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.

The one secret to dealing with people is to become genuinely interested in them, listen to them, make them feel important and be sincere in that, talk to them about their interests and most importantly make them talk about themselves. People love to talk about themselves.

I usually tell myself I don’t like people. I do like individuals but people as a whole… not really. Anyone who knows me will tell you that can’t be true cause I’m around people all the time. And it’s true, I actually do like people. That’s mainly just me convincing myself not to confront my social anxiety. This book has been of huge help to me and the lessons from it have been nothing but survival skills which have made social interactions a whole lot easier and even more bearable.

5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

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So, like many people I picked this book because I am an introvert. This book explains introversion as seen from a cultural point of view concerning itself with the age-old dichotomy between the man of action and man of contemplation. For a society like mine, Mombasa…you’re either an extravert or just plain weird. They really push for the extravert ideal. So, this book was an eye-opener for me gaining me deeper relatable understanding to my default introverted self.

Here are some of the few things I picked up on the course of reading this:

  1. A third to a half of the population are introverts, for a number so large you’d think people wouldn’t impose on us to conform to extroversion. I’ve never been a huge fan of conformity by the way but for the masses fitting in has become a basic necessity, no wonder the self-esteem problems.
  2. Introverts living under the extrovert ideal are like a woman in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are.

Our culture has made a virtue of living as extraverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a centre. So, we have to find it again~ ANAIS NIN

The secret is to put yourself in the light. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight, and the rest of us, a lamplit desk.

This is not a feel-good book for introverts, Susan Cain lets the facts and statistics speak for themselves without favouring the introvert or the extravert cause they both have an essential part to play, it’s just that the extravert is louder. Introverts are mostly thinkers and will thrive in situations that rely on the input of a team because they are more likely to listen to the other members and implement their ideas.

A quote; There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas

And I’ve always been flying the introvert flag high after this book.

 

We read to escape to galaxies not so far far away. To places with the most accessible of mentors and wisest of counsellors. To open ourselves up to new ideas and experiences, giving our minds feet to wander in an ever-expanding universe. “Education,” Said John G. Hibben, ”is the ability to meet life’s situations.” Making books the most patient of teachers. I only dream of a day when we’ll be sitting down in circles deciphering the wisdom imparted through great books the same way we talked about the last episode of game of thrones.

 

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What books would you refer to as extensions of who you are? I’m always open to book recommendations.

And you’ve made it this far, won’t you hit the subscribe button!

Adam Grant, books, Dale Carnegie, Give and Take, How to Win friends and Influence People, Man's Search for Meaning, Napoleon Hill, Non-fiction, Quiet, Reader, Susan Cain, Think and Grow Rich, Victor Frankl


Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

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Hassan Kassim is a Kenyan-based Creative non-fiction writer, blogger and translator of Kiswahili works with over 2 years of experience. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa, and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management.

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