A new year brings hope and wonder. What might we accomplish with some ingenuity and a bit of elbow grease? It’s a clean slate, a fresh start. Kind of. It’s not like Sam Bankman-Fried’s charges get wiped away now that it’s January. The Norm Macdonald bit about Las Vegas comes to mind:

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, they say. Of course, that’s not true. You can’t kill a person and leave. They’ll follow you across state lines, bring you back, and you’ll face a jury of your peers.”

Fair enough. You have a past to reckon with, but your future—that’s yet to be written. You could start working out, eating better food, and reading more books. That sounds healthy. The popular podcast host, Lex Fridman, chose the “read more books” option. He decided to read one a week in 2023. An innocent, harmless goal that a person with Lex’s intellect and curiosity could seemingly accomplish.

Oh, the naivety.

Lex made the critical error of posting his reading list on Twitter. Rookie mistake. Never go full sincere. The good people of Earth immediately began scrutinizing this nice man’s list. Haven’t you read any of those books before now? How will you find the time to read a book a week? Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, Brothers Karamazov, can’t be read in a week. Well, maybe it can be read in a week, but you need way more time to digest and truly understand its meaning. Why is Sapiens on your list?

It’s his list. That’s the obvious answer to every question or critique, but as we’ve learned over the past decade, we no longer live in an obvious world. Lex’s reading list was trending on Twitter for more than 48 hours. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, one of our greatest living thinkers, wasn’t above joining the fray. He tweeted: “If you don’t get why, between 2019 and 2022, I turned down exactly 10 requests to be on his podcast, this will provide a succinct explanation.”

Taleb’s tweet seemed to imply the masses were wondering why he hadn’t appeared on a podcast. No one was wondering. Those who may have had a passing moment of reflection on the matter couldn’t possibly care enough to give it a second thought. In his standup special, Humanity, Ricky Gervais aptly describes this new trend spreading amongst our species:

“People take everything personally. They think the world revolves around them, particularly on Twitter. I’m not tweeting at anyone, I’m just tweeting. I don’t know who’s following me—I’ve got 12 million followers. They could be following me without me knowing, choose to read my tweet, and then take that personally.

That’s like going into a town square, seeing a big notice board, and there’s a notice for guitar lessons. And, you go, but I don’t f@$%ing want guitar lessons! Fine, it’s not for you then. Just walk away. Don’t worry about it.”

It’s relatively easy to secure a large social media following by pointing out the flaws and pitfalls of others. It’s darn near impossible to do it by being sincere and empathetic. We’ve got it backwards. We should reward sincerity and compassion and dismiss those who hunt for likes and follows like a bad lawyer chasing an ambulance.

You don’t need to look far to find someone who portrays themselves as nothing more than a witty observer of the world’s random happenings. That person is not worth listening to; if they’re a writer, they’re not worth reading. To care does not expose a flaw in one’s character. Detached amusement has a place and purpose, but we shouldn't resist our innate desire to be sincere. Find someone who cares, and you’ve found someone with something interesting to say.

I’ve been thinking about my own New Year’s resolution. In business, particularly in tech, we often hear that a company or entrepreneur will “change the world.” I’ve always admired the audacity of that claim. It’s bold, exciting even. And I’m not about to say it’s impossible or arrogant to strive to achieve it. Entrepreneurs and companies do change the world. Quite often, in fact. No, what I’ve been wondering lately is if—once again—we’ve got it backwards. What if the goal shouldn’t be to change the world, but to change your world?

It often takes a tragedy or near-death experience for our world to shrink down to the people, events, and accomplishments that matter most. I’m not sure why. Maybe we get so caught up in our past successes and failures we allow those things to define us over time. My working theory is we simply forget. The mundane, habitual succession of life grinds us down to the bone. We begin to think in terms of to-do lists, calendars/scheduling conflicts, and how to be as productive as possible. That, and food. We spend an awful amount of time thinking about what we’re going to eat next.

What might happen if we focused on changing the world we interact and live in daily instead of the world that's portrayed to us on social media or the news?

I’d like to spend the next 12 months finding out. That’s right, folks, I’m going full sincere.

In Tall Buildings
By John Hartford

Someday, baby, when I am a man
And other's have taught me
The best that they can
They'll sell me a suit
And cut off my hair
And send me to work in tall buildings

And it's goodbye to the sunshine
Goodbye to the dew
Goodbye to the flowers
And goodbye to you
I'm off to the subway
I must not be late
Going to work in tall buildings

Now when I retire
And my life is my own
I made all the payments
It's time to go home
And wonder what happened
Betwixt and between
When I went to work in tall buildings

And it's goodbye to the sunshine
Goodbye to the dew
Goodbye to the flowers
And goodbye to you
I'm off to the subway
I mustn't be late
Going to work in tall buildings

Further Reading

  • Week of Jan 2 – 1984 by George Orwell
  • Week of Jan 9 – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Week of Jan 16 – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Week of Jan 23 – The Stranger by Camus
  • Week of Jan 30 – Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  • Week of Feb 6 – On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Week of Feb 13 – Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • Week of Feb 20 – The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  • Week of Feb 27 – Old Man and The Sea by Hemingway
  • Week of Mar 6 – 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke
  • Week of Mar 13 – Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Week of Mar 20 – Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel
  • Week of Mar 27 – Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Week of Apr 3 – Metamorphosis, Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka
  • Week of Apr 10 – The Plague by Camus
  • Week of Apr 17 – Player of Games by Ian Banks
  • Week of Apr 24 – Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Week of May 1 – The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • Week of May 8 – Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky
  • Week of May 15 – Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  • Week of May 22 – Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Week of May 29 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Here’s some other suggestions I’m considering. Others are welcome:

  • The Dead by James Joyce
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekhov
  • Anthem by Ayn Rand
  • The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
  • The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • Nightfall, Last Question by Isaac Asimov
  • The Little Trilogy by Anton Chekhov
  • The Nose, The Overcoat by Gogol
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Prince by Machiavelli
  • Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  • A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
  • Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman
  • Dead Souls by Gogol
  • 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
  • Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  • Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadter
  • The Idiot by Dostoevsky