by Niall Doherty

One of my goals this year is to read at least one book every fortnight. As it turns out, I’m doing much better than that, having finished my 29th book last week. Assuming I keep up the pace, 2012 will be the first year that I’ve consumed more books than movies. I’m pretty happy about that.

Book 29 was also the one that resonated with me most this year. Ikigai by Sebastian Marshall. I got a lot from it, and I think you will, too. Which is why I’m giving away five copies (see below).

Mostly I appreciated everything in there about greatness, the pursuit of excellence, and how to form strong habits that help you get shit done. I’ll write more about the latter in a post next week, as a few tips from Marshall and others have been working remarkably well for me lately.

In this post though, I’d like to quote a few of my favorite passages from Ikigai on the topics of excellence and greatness.

“If you try to become excellent, normal people will judge you. Fuck them. Seriously, I said it and I meant it. Fuck ’em. I gradually quit drugs, drinking, tobacco, refined my diet, quit sugar, etc, etc.–every time I heard discouragement and crap from people. Fuck them. When I dropped out of high school, I heard discouragement and crap from people. When I dropped out of university to start building a company, I heard discouragement and crap. When I started traveling, I heard warnings and discouragement and crap. If you try to be excellent, you’re going to constantly be hearing warnings and discouragement and crap. Listen a little if the person seems to know what they’re talking about, but don’t be discouraged. If you’re trying to be expansive and they’re telling you to be cautious, they’re probably wrong and you’re probably right.”

Ikigai book“Greatness is something you do, not something you are.”

“Who am I? I’m nobody. I’ll probably become the greatest strategist of our generation, make great works of art, write books, found a virtuous dynasty, sponsor artists and scientists and engineers, build schools and hospitals and universities, improve and serve good governments, serve law enforcement and military and other guardians of society, perhaps liberate some people from tyranny … I don’t know, I’ll do those things, but why aren’t you? Who am I? I’m fucking nobody. I’m just trying.”

“Do you think that “greatness” is the domain of “great people”? Look, when General Washington had to go to the bathroom, he pulled his pants off and took a shit. So did Tokugawa Ieyasu and Miyamoto Musashi. So did Cosimo Medici. So did Meyer Rothschild. So did da Vinci. So did Jefferson and Franklin. So did Sejong and Zhuge Liang. So did Augustus and Marcus Aurelius and Aristotle and Socrates. All those guys got bitten by a mosquito from time to time and had to scratch the itch and were aggravated. Sometimes they’d be walking and step in a muddy puddle and they’d curse. What’s the difference between them and us? Nothing. Except they tried.”

“If you want to make excellent stuff, you need to make a lot of stuff. If you want to make a lot of stuff, you’ll make a lot of crap. If you want to make excellent stuff, you need to make a lot of crap. And my personal opinion here: And that’s okay, because you get judged by your best work, not your bad work.”

I believe in EXCELLENCE, and IMPROVING, and if you believe in excellence and improving, you’re going to wind up better than people who do not. I don’t believe in equality. What sort of cowardice would you need to feel to wish for everyone to be the same? Isn’t it obvious that 4 out of 5 don’t even bother trying to improve the world and themselves? If so, isn’t it obvious that if you try you’ll wind up better than 4 out of 5 people, almost automatically? No, the believers in equality don’t want to pull those 4 out of 5 up, they don’t say, “Embrace strife, and suffering, and challenge, and live on the edge of your capabilities. Suffer for your ethics, and enjoy suffering, and grow stronger and become excellent.” No, they try to tear down the 1 man in 5 who tries to be better.”

“Who am I? I’m a little crazy to tell you the truth. You kind of have to be to get anything done in the world.”

“My main principle? Everyone will value my time extremely highly, treat me very well, I’ll deliver the highest level of service and ability that I can to them, they’ll honor that and use it immediately, I’ll be treated with extreme respect and gratitude, I’ll be extremely grateful too, we’ll but gifts for each other, I won’t accept any pay from someone that they don’t willingly excitedly give… I would like to make a generational impact on the world. This requires that everyone around me treat me very well, or get out of my life.”

“I barely figured out my calling in the last year or two. All I knew before that was what I didn’t want, which is what normal people have. I looked at the normal person’s life and was horrified, and wanted nothing to do with it.”

(By the way, for those of you who think all this talk of excellence and greatness is over the top, read this: We’re Not Broken)

Win a copy of Ikigai

I’m giving away five. As far as I can see, it’s only available on the Kindle, so don’t enter this contest if you don’t have a Kindle but anyone can download the free Kindle app for Mac/PC and read it that way.

To enter, here’s what you need to do: Tell me your favorite story. Something with a lesson in there. Doesn’t have to be your own original story. Actually, I’d even prefer that it wasn’t. Tell me a fable or a story from history. Shouldn’t be too long.

As an example, here’s Derek Sivers’ favorite story:

A farmer had only one horse. One day, his horse ran away.

All the neighbors came by saying, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses. The man and his son corraled all 21 horses.

All the neighbors came by saying, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, breaking both his legs.

All the neighbors came by saying, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted.

All the neighbors came by saying, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

Drop your story in the comments. One per person.

I’m heading off on a 10-day meditation retreat on Wednesday, so I’ll pick the winners when I get back.

In the meantime, go do something great.