Simple Secret to Learn from the Greats

Who are you? Do you want to create something? A work of art, a company, a film, a book or maybe…. a global movement? Keep reading if you have even the slightest itch to create something while you are here. If not, you can still keep reading but it may not be as fun.

We have near-instant access to the greatest entrepreneurs, activists, leaders, politicians, artists, scientists, writers, and thinkers who ever lived. We can get to know them intimately, like a close friend. Even if this person died hundreds of years before we were born! Yea I know… it’s wild! 

What if you could say as a painter that Leonardo Davinci is your mentor? Or as an entrepreneur that Richard Branson is your mentor? As an activist, Nelson Mandela? You can! In lots of cases, their lives have been covered in detail in a biography, autobiography or memoir.

If you could have anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would you want as your teacher? As your guide to help you navigate the world.

Do you see yourself as an activist? You want to impact the lives of millions with a movement. Or do you see yourself as a writer? You want to tell a story that reaches millions. Or maybe you want to discover the secrets of the universe as a scientist or physicist? Regardless of your desires, there is a human who exists or has existed with a journey similar to your own.

Think about this for a second. What if you could read a book of your entire life as a 3rd party? Your life from start to finish all in one book. All your wins. Your f**k ups. Good times. Hard times. Really hard times. The people you cared about and the people who cared for you. But you have one key advantage as a 3rd party. Your life isn’t over yet! You can mark that shit up. Make changes and write a better plot for yourself. This hypothetical scenario, in a way, can be compared to studying another life that you would like to model.

Learn from your mistakes they say… learning from other people’s mistakes is almost as good 😉

Why humans over ideas?

There’s a ton of incredible books on ideas, topics, history, frameworks for living, building business etc… but, biographies, in my opinion, act as better guides for decision making. Why? Well… they are about humans. You are a human right? Here’s 5 reasons to pick up a biography right now.

1) Where do I spend my time?

It might be one of the most perplexing questions we have to ask ourselves. Am I doing the right thing? Am I wasting my time? Is this thing providing the greatest impact for myself, my family, my friends, my community? Reading about someone’s life gives you a glimpse into how they answered these questions for themselves.

2) Emotional vs. Technical

Sam Parr, CEO of The Hustle has said that starting a business or any creative pursuit is more emotionally difficult than technically difficult. Understanding how to read and write musical notes is a small part of becoming a musician. The hard part is sitting in front of the piano every day for 6 months. The same thing applies here. In a biography, you learn from someone’s emotional battles not just the technical ones. How they overcame them. Who they looked to for inspiration. Habits they formed etc…

3) Develop empathy

Opposing ideas are hard to learn from when they are presented to you without context. It’s hard to be empathetic to an idea by itself. When you learn about the human before the idea you develop empathy. You can care for the human yet disagree with them entirely.

“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

4) Cultivate belief

Belief in yourself may be the most powerful thing you can cultivate. We all know the power that belief and faith provide us. Reading about someone overcome doubt in themselves will help you find the right tools to overcome doubt in your own life. It’s that simple.

5) They are more entertaining!

Storytelling is king. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase or a variation of it. It’s the truth. When we are children we are mostly taught through narrative. Green Eggs and Ham type stuff. We remember stories better than ideas or topics. In a biography, you get to connect intimately with someone’s life and learn from their mistakes.

How do I choose who to learn from?

Open Instagram. Scroll through your feed for 5 min. Pick someone who has the insta lifestyle you want. Shoot them a DM.

Maybe not the best advice but I’ve definitely participated. This is a common way people choose who to learn from and follow. Not that there aren’t incredible people to follow on social platforms. In fact, if you like Instagram, go follow @houstonkraft, @zack.thecreator, @markmetry, @yestheory and @tombilyeu. Thank me later.

Here’s how I prefer to do it. Since not all of us are certain about our path I find it best to work backward.

  • Pick a few traits you admire in others. Empathy, grit, optimism, curiosity, whit. If you need to you can look up a list of traits on google like I just did.
  • Pick a skill or topic you are interested in. Writing, design, leadership, public speaking, politics, entrepreneurship, comedy… really just anything you find interesting.

Now start googling. “Most empathetic entrepreneurs”, “Most empathetic politicians”, “The most curious people of all time”. You get the point. If the person doesn’t have a biography and is still living. Don’t be shy. This is the time to slide into their DM’s 😉 Don’t leave the people you follow up to chance.

Here is a great list that Ryan Holiday made to get you started!

Thank you for reading my rant on biographies 🙂 I hope I inspired you to explore the life of someone you admire or want to learn from.