If the term ‘degenerate reader’ ever becomes a term, I would put my hand up for it. This is why.
A degenerate is someone who bets for the rush of the action above all else, and who isn’t capable of making good, mathematically sound bets that have a long-term expectation of profit.
The word degenerate points to a sense that there is a loss of rationality in one’s actions. Books and bookshops, if not for being socially approved of, would be considered my personal vices. I can’t help myself but to buy more books all the time, to visit and revisit bookstores — all of these habits would surely be frowned upon if not for the word ‘book’.
The temptation of obtaining new books is relentless, and it literally does not end. Because we only have a finite amount of time, there are always going to be more options than the amount of ‘to-be-read’ decisions that can be executed.
After a typical visit to a bookstore, I would return home and find myself in a curious situation. There are already books stacked everywhere! On the table, on the floor, half read, unread, unopened — the whole spectrum.
Now, you might ask, ‘why in the world, Julian, would you buy more books when you already have so many to get through??’
Degenerate reader Julian would respond, ‘well, each book is a new world in and of itself, and I enjoy jumping in between worlds while learning all along the way.’
I first started reading books when I was 15. Even though nobody had ever told me explicitly, the thought of not finishing a book from cover to cover felt really bad. Subconsciously, there was this ambiguous pressure to commit wholeheartedly to a single book, from start to finish.
Over time, what I came to realise is that there were plenty of uncomfortable moments when I would be so bored midway through a particular book that it would be a painful grind to push through and reach the back cover. Not only was it uncomfortable, but it also meant that I would reach a point where I would be disengaged and no longer actively learning — the pressure of finishing the book from cover to cover had become more important than understanding and absorbing the knowledge that was being presented.
Then one day, I learnt about Tim Urban and his writing in ‘The Tail End’, a blog post that made it visually explicit how short life can be, and that any remaining time that can be allocated towards reading books is even shorter than that. This meant that there was only ever going to be a finite number of books that one could cover in an average lifetime. This was frightening, and a terrible realisation. Previously, I had been fumbling along with the blind assumption that I had all the time in the world to grind through books that I had lost interest in.
This realisation helped me to remove the fear of ‘dropping books’, and so now, I incessantly jump between books all the time, picking up whichever that is most conducive to learning at any one particular moment.
I do want to highlight that ‘getting bored’ with books is a subjective journey, neither the author’s work or the reader’s capacity is to be blamed. The mind can be quite finicky, so rather than work against it, it is better to work with it in such cases. There are also other moments, such as when reading a great book, where it is in fact worthwhile pushing through the duller moments and experiencing the whole story from start to finish. There are no definitive solutions here, unfortunately.
On the topic of mentorship, Ryan Holiday spoke about how the people we seek to emulate can range from the people who we get to interact directly with all the way to people from ancient times — a perspective I have come to appreciate.
Find someone you want to be like and has what you want to have and learn from them.
Sometimes that’s directly — by working for them, by volunteering for them, by establishing some official relationship.
Sometimes that person died 500 years ago, so the way you learn from them is through their works or through their writing.
- Ryan Holiday
The people who we could learn from can either be dead or alive.
A term associated with the latter is ‘networking’ which, especially in a workplace or professional context, can be quite loaded with negative connotations. For me, the first few words that come to mind are: ‘cold’, ‘transactionary’ and ‘boring’.
Instead, I find this lens on ‘networking’ more interesting.
Imagine a network diagram of sorts, consisting of many, many individual but interconnected nodes — let’s say that this is a primitive visual representation of ‘what we know’, of ourselves, of others, of the world and everything else.
Then consider the question, ‘but how about the regions that cannot be seen?’ This is where networking can be quite powerful, the process of expanding the existing network landscape to be greater tomorrow than what it is today. Sure, we can go off and learn about these unknown territories at our own accord, but remember, that our time is limited.
By deliberately reaching out and genuinely getting to learn more about others, it is almost like having a glimpse into whole new networks — that they have cultivated for themselves over time.
You think you know something about anything? Just wait till you see what all these other people know — about themselves, others and the world around us. We are just getting started with a glimpse into a single node, now imagine multiplying that by 10x, 100x or even 1000x. What would the landscape look like then?
This is not to say that this process of introducing new networks to the existing one means that it is easy (or possible) to fully integrate them together, but at the very least it forms a base level awareness of new and unfamiliar aspects of reality that you would have never gotten to know about otherwise.
With this lens, doesn’t networking become an interesting journey of exploration and learning?
In exploring why these were the first words that came to mind, it struck me that there was an underlying mentality of one-sidedness in networking interactions that typically involve at least two, but possibly even more, people.
This would be the case if the participant entering a networking environment has the question of ‘what can I gain?’ and the expectation of expanding his or her own network at the front of mind.
Knowing this, it is not difficult to see why ‘cold’, ‘transactionary’ and ‘boring’ would be associated with such interactions.
What if, instead, the question of ‘how might I share my network with others?’ was at the front of mind of every participant? Network, not only in terms of relationships and people we know, but also of the self and the world around us.
Perhaps, this tilt towards generosity, transparency and openness on an individual level leads to the formation of a broader environment where knowledge flow can go two-ways and open up the surface area for luck to strike. A win-win result in the end.
“Win, and help win.”
— Balaji Srinivasan on The Tim Ferriss Show: The Future of Bitcoin and Ethereum, How to Become Noncancelable, the Path to Personal Freedom and Wealth in a New World, the Changing Landscape of Warfare