Reading Biographies Will Change Your Life

I have only read a handful of biographies and autobiographies in my life but their profound impact on me made me believe anyone’s life would be made better if only they acquitted themselves with more biographies.

At the beginning of 2019, I picked up “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” to read. I chose it among many others simply because I’ve seen a lot of people recommend it as a great read. And hey, why not lean on the judgement of the crowd and see what’s in it?

As it will turn out, the book immediately added to the group of books that caused a pivotal change in my life, “How To Win Friends and Influence People” being the first of them. What was profound to me about Ben Franklin was how he rose from obscurity to a national icon all by the power of his pen. Simply by accumulating knowledge and making his thoughts known via the newspaper, he accomplished what should have taken 2-3 generations to accomplish. It occurred to me to ask what a great fit such a man would have accomplished if he had the distribution power that I have today through social media. That was a defining moment for me.

It was why I decided to take writing seriously and even embrace it as something to invest in when necessary. I stopped seeing it as just one of those things that I can pick up and drop but something I must be committed to getting good at. See where it has brought me thus far. Profound. If I’d not read that autobiography, maybe you won’t have this blog to read.

I also read “Long Walk To Freedom” on Nelson Mandela. The truth is that I can’t recollect much of the lessons from it again. Not because the story is not profound, I will be naive to think that. But that it takes the coming together of different variables for one to have pivotal change by some information. I didn’t get that from Nelson Mandela, maybe I should read the book all over.

I read Shoe Dog of Phil Knight, and that of Elon Musk, both were great and they showed me how seemingly inconsequential decisions or actions can be the catalyst of a great life one would later have. It reminds me of the words of Rory Sutherland “leave from surprises in your life” he said. I saw how those surprises could potentially be one’s catalyst. I have since put myself in a place where surprises are the norm.

I read “Surely You’re Joking” about Richard Feynman. Although not intended by the author to be a biography, but largely it was like one to me and a host of others. The book humbled me, it showed me that intelligence doesn’t mean seriousness all the time without fun. In fact, intelligence should be why you should have more fun. Feynman had the best of it all. So much fun and incredible work. He was one like no other.

From all these (auto)biographies, I was able to see that we are all the same as humans. The best among us have the same struggles that the least among us have. I learnt that no one is excluded from the laws of nature and that in the end, we all can architect our life by the choices that we make. It was profound to learn that those who seem to reach the echelon of human affairs didn’t start with such aim but most were just failing, rising, never stopped being curious and giving room for surprises in their lives. Most importantly, I saw that each has their path to travel. You can’t run on someone else’s clock. I had comfort, hope and optimism. That’s what you get from reading books of those nature. It’s not about motivation, and it’s not about some scientific discovery. Rather, it’s about how someone lived their life enough to warrant a biography. It’s why I believe we all should be acquainted with it. At least one in a year would go a long way of shaping us.

Currently, I’m reading the autobiography of Shimon Peres, “No Room For Small Dreams”. Reading through each page just gives me more joy. It confirms to me again that all I have to do is give room for surprises in my life, do my best at everything that I do in life and wish no harm for anyone.

Life can be fickle and it is highly unpredictable. In the words of Jim O’Shaughnessy, “we are a deterministic creature living in a probabilistic world”. We want things to be linear but the world we live in zigzag and that can be extremely terrifying. You don’t know what the next day will bring you despite all your efforts, prayers and preparation. Sometimes, we think we are alone in this. Reading biographies will show you how far away from the truth that can be. We all go through the same struggles.

You should read one to confirm all these. My life has been blessed immensely just by reading this genre of book. I’ve mentioned a couple of names, you may start with those. Importantly though, fill yourself with the thirst for knowledge. That’s the common denominator for everyone who even cares enough to have a biography.