It’s 2007. Few people in your neighborhood read blogs. Depending on where you work, you may have coworkers who don’t know what a blog is, much less a “blog reader”. Most people you know read more each year from magazines, trade journals, books, and newspapers than they ever read from a blog.

Not me.

I’m going to tell you why reading blogs is absolutely crucial if you want to be smart, well-informed, and street-smart. Moreover, I’m going to show you how reading blogs will make you more sociable, friendly, and confident.

First, a bit about me. I’m very smart. Maybe that sounds conceited (or rude!), but most people view me as intelligent, if not hyper-intelligent. Most people find me able to grasp new or complex subjects easily. Most people believe that whatever I’m doing at any given time, in terms of work, is somehow beneath me, or that I’m not developing my “full potential” (a nefarious phrase if there ever was one).

It’s a bit of a curse, I will admit. Sometimes, I’d like to be the dumb guy who flies under the radar a bit. Maybe not dumb, but to be the guy from which no one expects great things. Thankfully, I’ve made enough mistakes in my 37 years to at least damper some peoples expectations. As these mistakes were made, I originally was crushed, disappointed, discouraged, and depressed. Now, I’m starting to turn the corner. Mistakes aren’t so bad. I don’t like them much, but, at least for me, they have bought me some breathing room from people and their hidden expectations (Note to Self: Future Article on Topic of Hidden Expecations).

But back to my topic. How did I get this way?

Well, naturally some of it has to do with genetics and blessings from above. I wasn’t born with a learning disability, and I had well-educated parents who emphasized performing well in school. But, so do a lot of people who turn out to be uninformed social misfits, barely capable of holding their own in a conversation. What was the difference with me?

One of the key differences with me is that I love to read. My mom instilled reading into me at a young age and it has never left me.

As I’ve aged, I’ve met lots of otherwise bright people, capable of designing satellite systems, or fixing a dishwasher, or surviving the Alaska wilderness for three days without food. But, sometimes these near-genius types are not capable of being in the same room with “regular” people. These are the folks who largely missed the point of a well-rounded education, who barely passed the courses that didn’t pertain to their degree. They are strong in a few areas, and horribly weak in most others. Typically, this might be the doctor who you would turn to if you had a severe medical problem, but you wouldn’t call to invite over on SuperBowl Sunday.

On the other hand, I’ve met people who are capable, competent, and able to hold their own, but only on “what they know”. That subset of knowledge varies greatly from person to person. Listen to talk radio on any given day, and you’ll hear one of these types call usually starting their conversation with some variation of the following: “As a former school teacher”, “I’m married to a 20-year veteran of the Marines”, “I’ve used Zanex for two years and…”. Their own experience is the benchmark for most of their knowledge.

And we’ve all dealt with the occasional person, who when presented with information contrary to their personal beliefs, behaves irrational and emotionally. Yes, mostly women do this, but men have their own way of behaving. 

A good example is this: I recently received two email responses from two men in their 40’s. I had previously sent these men an email that was largely critical of some of their past actions. Although both emails were written in a spirit of cooperation and forward-thinking partnership, both men responded very differently. The first spoke openly and honest, saying he disagreed with me, actually corrected me on one fact I had wrong (oops!), and thought we should meet sometime to discuss it further in person. The second sent me an non-explanatory request to remove him from my email address book. Obviously, both men didn’t agree with me, but one handled it well and chose to take the path that would help him (and me) grow in a positive direction. The other man decided to cut off all further communication, not explain why, and forever be left in his current state of mind.

I recently had a nice breakfast with my Dad and he brought up the topic of a matrix that he had heard about sometime ago. We were eating a continental breakfast in a nice hotel lobby. There was a large plasma screen that was showing the weather channel describing the massive cold front that had blanketed the south part of the country. A lady eating at a table in front of the screen, stood up and begin having a lengthy discussion with her friends. Her back was to the screen (which had the audio on) and she was facing a room of some 40 people, many of whom were watching the news. She stood there for quite some time, involved deeply in her conversation, and apparently oblivious to her surroundings. If you suddenly walked into the room, you might think she was the guest speaker getting ready to give a presentation. My dad observed that if someone were to politely suggest that she move, she would probably have been shocked to learn that she had been blocking the television - blissfully unaware of the effects of her behavior. She would likely have apologized and felt bad. I agreed with his assessment and thought it was an interesting observation, as other types of people would have responded differently, but I could sense he was correct on pegging her personality type. My dad went on then to verbally graph out this matrix describing the four types of people. I’ve crudely summarized it here: 

4 Types of People
  Smart Not Smart
Not Aware    

As you can see, you can pretty much put yourself in one of these categories. Overtime, you might evolve into a different category. For instance, for a long time, I was in the lower-left category: smart, but not aware that I was smart. Even though many people, assessments, and other things consistently told me that I was smart, I didn’t feel too smart, and I let my mistakes in life keep me from believing that I was smart. Even though I had long been surrounded by morons at work, I thought it was mostly bad luck at picking jobs. About 3-4 years ago, I started waking up.

But here I come to the crux of the article. What if you are that lady in front of the television, blissfully unaware of the stuipidity of your actions until someone points it out to you? Sure, you feel embarrassed and stupid as you sit down. But how does that affect you as it happens to you over and over again throughout life? Well, as I see it, it affects mainly three things.

  1. Your confidence begins to decrease. When you do take the time to think through a decision, you second-guess yourself more than the average person. You hesitate. In other words, you waste time and energy accomplishing nothing, all the while not really getting any better than you were before. All it takes is for one person to point out a mistake you made (right or wrong) and you fall back into the abyss.
  2. You withdraw. Yes, you might be a social butterfly, but you withdraw from the areas in life in which you could do. You begin to believe that you are only capable of so much, or that this is just the way you are. You might have a few skills that keep you in the game, but you take away all the great things that you could be doing and chalk it up to dreams, or more likely, pipe dreams.
  3. You stop gaining knowledge. You stop doing the one thing that you could do be doing that would help you improve. You actually begin to discover that being a little “blonde” doesn’t hurt. Just saying things like, “I really don’t understand why that repair guy charged me $700″ is an acceptable way of dealing with things. You claim you don’t really “get” certain things. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of things. See if you have said something similar about any of these topics: Europeans, Pro-Football, Anything Mechanical (automobiles, refrigerators, plumbing), Computers (Spyware, Linux, Bill Gates), Anything Historical (The French and Indian War, The War in Iraq (pick either), Starvation in Cambodia), Music (Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Metallica suing Napster), Geographical (How to get to ______, Five largest cities in your state), etc..

By the way, I’m no expert on any of the above, so I’m being fair.

If you found a few things, now ask yourself, how many of these have you stated an opinion about or would be willing to state an opinion about?

Now, ask yourself (honestly!), how many of the items above, in which you would state an opinion, have you substantially read about and/or researched? The five paragraph blurb in your local newspaper doesn’t count. If you are like a lot of people, you are likely more willing to state an opinion about something in which you have done very little research. In fact, you are probably more likely to state an opinion if you have some personal experience, even if you have not done any research at all.

Now, before you beat yourself up and say, “Woe is Me - I’m the Worst of Uninformed Dolts”, let me offer some positive advice: You can’t know everything. You simply can’t. But, you are a human, and you will likely continue to spout out advice that makes you look dumb in front of more informed people. Two results of this: Either you will become known as the Uninformed Bellowing Dolt (hopefully not!), or you will begin to shrink back as you realize your errors, talking less, offering less, and going through the three effects I outlined above. That isn’t good either.

Some self-help gurus will tell you to master your tongue, and help you to become a polished professional who fits into any occasion. Maybe. Personally, I always find a passion-less person a little fake. I can better identify with the guy who occassionally puts his foot in his mouth. I feel like he is a bit more human - a bit more like me. You like something? Don’t chew on it until the subject is cold and come in two days later and give me a well-researched opinion on… the retirement of Michael Schumacher from Formula One. It isn’t a business presentation - it’s a conversation.

So, here is what you need to do to be smarter, more confident, more well-rounded, and to feel better while doing it: Read Blogs.

Why? Because I did essentially did the same thing growing up. Yes, I’m 37, but the precursor to blogs were magazines and trade journals. If I wanted to know more about Model Railroading, I wouldn’t pick up a book about “Beginning Model Railroading”, I’d pick up a magazine and flip through it. Sure, I wouldn’t understand half the stuff, but it helped breed not only curiousity, but timeliness. The advertisements were very informative. Questions arose: Is this supposed to be the best set out there? Why are there different model sizes? What is the best historical period to build a track around?

By the time I picked up the book “Beginning Model Railroading”, my mind would be teeming with questions? I’d fly through the book in a day. Then, I’d go back to the magazines.

In my life, I probably have read well over 3,000 books, and probably 10,000 magazines (not every page of course). And in many ways, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.

But, the beauty of blogs is that, within seconds, you can immerse yourself into the minds of other people - both big and small, both great and not-so-great. I don’t have to read just published works that have been poured over by a team of editors (sometimes scrubbing out some of the passion). I don’t have to spend any money - other than an internet connection. Today’s generation has it so much easier than I did. And they can do it at home, on the road, and even on cell phone and other portable websurfing devices. You needn’t spend four hours at a time in the library like I did (not that I’m knocking libraries - I still love them, too).

So, if you want to improve, what should you do? Should you read blogs about self-improvement, about becoming smarter, about social graces? Well, maybe. But, I think a better approach would be to find topics that you already find interesting and subscribe to blogs about those. Then, after you have exhausted that, find topics that friends and family find to be of interest and subscribe to those. It can be nice when you subscribe to the exact same blog. Instead of talking to your friend about the article in the paper, you can say, “Did you see that blog posting about…”, and share a conversation about it.

For instance, I read Dr. George Grant’s blog. This is amazing to me: that a man whom I admire so much almost daily posts his various thoughts on things. It’s like being the cashier at a local bagel shop where Dr. Grant comes and shares a few thoughts or bits of conversation with me. Wouldn’t I naturally grow as a person by having a brief chat with him each day? And since it is one-sided, no time is wasted with me babbling about my own personal life. It’s all Take - Dr. Grant gives and I take. Of course, I’d love to chat with him in person (other than the one time I ran into him at in a bathroom - but that’s another story for another time).

I do web design for a living. So how cool is it that I get to read the blogs of heroes of mine like Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric Meyers? Normally, I’d just have to wait for their excellent books. But little things in the meantime get to absorb in my head via their blogs. I get to read blogs from CEO’s of companies I admire, people in my industry who I don’t work with, musicians I like, just ordinary guys, other family guys, and much more. I’m hoping more of my heroes start creating blogs. Come on, Dan Marino!

Most of these people are very transparent and even share their mistakes (knowingly or not). That gives me added benefits when I think of the Three Types of People and Their Mistakes.

  1. The First Person makes mistakes, but doesn’t learn from them (the Fools).
  2. The Second Person makes mistakes, but learns from them (Most of Us).
  3. The Third Person learns from other people’s mistakes. (Rare).

Wouldn’t we all want to be that Third Person? How much more so when we can learn from people who aren’t just drinking buddies or coworkers, but people who are leading in their fields, who are doing great things, who are our heroes, who are ten years down the road from where we are today?

Blogs are the new cutting edge to allow you to immerse yourself in these other people’s world and start becoming a better person today. Don’t spend all your time on the internet reading the news and watching the stock ticker. Become a daily five-minute recipient of wisdom, foibles, and anecdotes from some of the most interesting people in the world. You’ll be better for it.

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