Living a Good Life

  • Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture) — Randy Pausch was a brilliant computer science professor at Carnegie Melon who gave “The Last Lecture” a year before he died. The Last Lecture is a conceit at Universities with the premise that speakers give a presentation like it were the last lecture they ever would give. Pausch hits is out of the park with a talk called Achieving Your Childhood Dreams., This fantastic and heartfelt lecture is meant as final communication for his children after his death. After The Last Lecture he also gave a great talk on Time Management, pulling from Stephen Covey and David Allen.
  • Make sure you are in the right Mindset. Carol Dweck is a university professor with probably the single biggest finding that can change your life. She has learned that how you think about challenges and failure can have a huge impact on your life. She classifies people into those that have a fixed mindset and those that have a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time proving their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. The Growth Mindset is significantly more helpful but most people are in the Fixed Mindset. She wrote a book on the topic. Another take on this is Brene Brown who talks about Guilt (I’ve done something bad — a growth mindset) and Shame (I am bad — a fixed mindset). Listen to her great speech and at about 17:20 she discusses this. Po Bronson wrote a great magazine article on how this applies to child rearing. It’s also a great and short introduction to the Mindset concept. The upshot from Po’s article is that you should praise children for how hard they try, not their innate qualities like how smart or pretty they are. Po expands upon this in the book Nurtureshock. He’s also wrote other great books like Nudist on the Late Shift where he convinces people to join the internet boom at the turn of the century and What Should I Do With My Life? Where he apologies and attempts to help people figure out what to do after the crash.
  • Allow Yourself to be Vulnerable: Brene Brown gave a number of very powerful presentations about how to listen to others. Check out these animated shorts on Empathy and Blame that are taken from her presentation at the Royal Society of the Arts. She also gave some great TED talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame.
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People (Audiobook). This was the FAVORITE book of Barney Liebman, my mother’s father. When I listen to it, I can hear him giving me the same advice. It’s a surprisingly good book that’s still relevant and not nearly as manipulative as the title makes it sound. On the audiobook the narrator is great – providing a strong a wise tone – my grandfather would be proud.
  • David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is the current standard on life and time management. Almost everything that David recommends is powerful and useful. I find the most powerful tool to be the Weekly Review. I try to do one every Friday. I found the GTD methodology a bit overwhelming at first but found the Getting Started on the GTD Path extremely useful.
  • Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Audiobook) is a great book. Many of the ideas may seem cliche but at a minimum, they are a wonderful reminder to focus on what’s important in life — both to yourself and those that you love and work with. At it’s best, they provide you with tools to live a better life.(1)I’ve read the book so many times that I got a bit tired of it. There’s a series of videos that sums up all the habits extremely well on their website.
  • The Sunscreen Song. If you were in college or thereabouts in the late 90’s, no doubt you’d seen the fictitious MIT commencement address by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s simple, humble advice for everyone and only a few minutes long. It actually wasn’t by Kurt Vonnegut but a hypothetical address (if she were to give one) by a Chicago writer named Mary Schmich. It was later turned into an international hit song by Baz Luhrmann. I like to listen to it for advice every so often. Remember that many things in this site are my opinion, trust me on the sunscreen.
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is one of the earliest books to describe the quintessential American. It also has a nice little bit on self improvement. Franklin listed 13 virtues that he thought were the most important and focused on one each week. He would write in his notebook each time he lapsed on the focus virtue. My grandfather Norman Schlaff was a big fan of Benjamin Franklin the entrepreneur and scientist.

Footnotes

1 I’ve read the book so many times that I got a bit tired of it. There’s a series of videos that sums up all the habits extremely well on their website.