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8 Mind-Changing Books I’ve Read in 2014

Just before I start, I must admit that I’ve listened to most of these books, rather than read them. I’ve just used the word “read” in the title because I couldn’t find a better word, and “finished” was too long and inexpressive. To me, it doesn’t matter what the method was, as long as I’ve gained the knowledge, but Audible has been a great addition to my life in the past 2 years.

I’ve always loved books. I love browsing through libraries and bookstores, I have a notable affinity towards places full of books from ground to ceiling (literally), I was just never self-disciplined enough to read when I was younger. I love knowledge, and I always have, but as a kid, I just always felt overwhelmed by long books, and I usually didn’t commit to reading the books I bought.

In the past few years, this has been gradually changing, and a few days ago I realized I’ve finished 27 books in 2014. If you’re a reader, I’m pretty sure you’ve finished more than that 2 and a quarter books per month. However, as I’ve stated earlier, I’m a person who’s always loved books, I just always kept them stored, so this is the year’s proudest accomplishment.

Unfortunately, with my current obsession, I’ve realized that my life won’t be long enough to read all the books I’m interested in as well as still have a life outside them, so I’m becoming more picky and experienced in choosing my books, and this year I’m aiming on selecting books with a deeper meaning, and which help me go through an even deeper level of exploration.

I’m writing this blogpost to share my top 8 books of 2014, promising that they will not be a waste of time for you, or at least I hope they wont. So here they are in random order:

Quiet – Susan Cain

I’ve written a whole post dedicated to this book and how it made me start questioning many things in my past, present, and future. What I’ve learned most through time is that being an extrovert is not ideal for everyone, and that I should feel comfortable in my own skin, not always strive to fit in that ideal. What I’ve learned from the book is that most people think the same, but that introverts have so many natural benefits that we can learn from, and that when communicating with others, we should be empathic enough to understand where they’re coming from.

This book is worth a read, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert or something in between.

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

If I would choose one of these books as my favorite, it would be this one. This book was the most influential for me this year, to the extent that I recommended it to many friends, and even bought it as a gift to a dear friend of mine, with complete conviction that she will love it.

In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield discusses his ideas regarding procrastinating on our biggest dreams, and how our fear (like fear of failure, or even fear of success) creates resistance which gets us stuck. He criticises the artist in us who’s often a dreamer, a perfectionist, and not a doer, at least not consistently. This book is perfect for you if you’re always dreaming about what you want to accomplish, but you’re not doing anything about it. It’s going to intrude deeply and within your soul and show you how to connect to your inner being. This book isn’t about being more productive, it’s a guide to connect to your creative self and really break the barriers of resistance.

Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder

Know nothing about philosophy but want to at least have an idea? Sophie’s World is gonna give you more than that. Jostein Gaarder tells a story of a little girl who one day gets a letter asking her, “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?”.

Ignore what I said about learning philosophy, yes the book does help with that, however, this book will feed your mind with questions, and confuse you. It’ll ask you the same questions it’s asking Sophie. You will realize that everything you thought you knew is actually an infinitesimal amount of knowledge you can know, which is way less than what you will never figure out. You will find your story in Sophie’s.

What Are You Hungry For? – Deepak Chopra

If being healthy, fit and light is a priority for you and something you’re willing to focus on, this book’s definitely for you. Deepak Chopra helps you realize that hunger doesn’t have to be hunger for food, and that the reason you’re unhappy with your body is most probably not even related to the fact that you overeat. This book taught me a lot about how my view of myself, self-limiting beliefs and insecurities are the real reasons I fill myself up with food, which is only a short term satisfaction. Dr. Chopra has guided me into digging deeper and getting to know myself more rather than just my body, and that our bodies follow our innermost courage or fear. This book fed my soul.

The Secrets of the Power of Intention – Dr. Wayne D. Dyer

The Secrets of the Power of Intention is actually a lecture presented by Dr. Dyer. It might seem a bit too religious or spiritual for some, but I personally loved the concept of the field of intention. Dr. Dyer discusses the difference between “doing” and “being”. We all know that doing is very difficult, we barely start new projects, and when we do, we barely finish them unless we absolutely have to. In this lecture, Wayne Dyer turns doing into being, being part of a field of intention, an energy field and the choice to feel good that give us the effortless momentum we often lack when we’re just focused on action. Loved listening to it, and I would do it over and over again.

One More Thing – B.J. Novak

Some might argue that this book doesn’t teach you a lot because it’s a couple of comedy, short stories. I completely disagree, because I’ve enjoyed this book beyond any other form of entertainment. The stories were so unique and interesting, and I fell in love with B.J. Novak, that I’m now convinced I should watch all of his creations.

If I have to say what I learned from this book, it would be the fact that you can always take something further, creatively. A lot of the stories here are based on other, older stories, but the way they changed throughout really astonished me. This book is bold, the ideas in the stories are things you probably never ever thought of.

David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is one of my most respected authors. He’s the perfect example of how you can provide scientific research and results in the most fluid manner. It was difficult for me to recommend David & Goliath, because I love all of Gladwell’s books including Blink, the Tipping Point, and Outliers, and I think they’re all worth reading. However, this one’s the most meaningful to me.

Gladwell discusses the advantages of disadvantages and the disadvantages of advantages, it helped me comprehend that I can find positive things in my hardships, and that I have to use my privileges right so they don’t go to waste. It also makes me believe in everyone, no matter how unfortunate or fortunate they are. With plenty of stories presented as examples, Gladwell will also ask you reflective questions which might help you set new values and find unfamiliar ways to approach some major life decisions.

Creative Confidence – Tom Kelley & David Kelley

And last but not least, Creative Confidence. Before you skip to the end, this book doesn’t target creatives only. On the contrary, this books tells everyone that whatever they’re doing, they can be creative and they can change the world with that. Design thinking is a huge part of this book. The book is also rich with examples and stories from all over the world of how people created impactful products, services and startups in a very short time, and how they’ve pivoted along the way, away from their initial solutions.

This is a great read for creatives and non-creatives, but especially for people in or approaching the startup life.

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Happy New Year: The 12/13 St. Catherine Hike

“You’re going to suffer,” my brother said. “I’ve climbed Mt. Moussa and I was tired, St. Catherine is a lot harder.”

“I know! But I’m totally doing this, so what? I’ve been running lately, and I’m working on my fitness, I’m better than I used to be, I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m totally doing it.” That’s what I said when I was mocked by my brother when I told him I’m going on a trip to hike up Mt. Saint Catherine, the highest peak in Egypt. At that moment, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, not the slightest idea!

I didn’t know what was coming!

Days later, on the 31st of December, 2012, I was hiking up the mountain, and I wasn’t just tired, I was exhausted. It was cold, dark, and challenging. The group I started with was way ahead, I couldn’t see them anymore. I wasn’t alone though, my best friend Sarah (who’s fitness is way better than mine) didn’t leave me behind, even though she could have been ahead with the rest of them including her little sister. And Hussein, a very supportive, 47 year old Bedouin guide originally from St. Catherine, was taking care of us and leading the way. All I could think about was, “Why did I get myself into this? Why am I doing this to myself?”

A few hours before, I was given two choices. 1. After an hour and a half of brisk walking in the valley before reaching the mountain, I could go back to the camp and give up, since I was already aching, or 2. After that same tiring hour, I could tell myself it’s only been an hour, I’m sure I’ve done more physical effort than that before, and start the actual hike. The group was supportive, yet understanding. One friend said, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Obviously I looked very tired already and they were all worried I might get stuck on the way up, and not make it to the end, or be able to go down again. I didn’t want to hold anyone back, yet I knew my pace was a lot slower than everyone else’s. But I sucked it up and stayed positive, which was a value I always practice, and it was being tested, quite severely.

“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

“I didn’t come all the way here to give up now! This is what the trip’s about, it’s about the challenge, and I’m going to do it!” Again, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

A very helpful new friend offered to take my backpack, which was initially light, but got heavier on the way, and my shoulders and back were already starting to get sore. We kept on going, I was still with the group, but I was the last one, which sort of brought me down, but I reminded myself that I have to keep on going, and resist resting as often as I felt the urge to. It worked for a while, and my breathing was definitely getting better, but I was losing energy and getting more tired. I’d forgotten that my only energy source, a chocolate bar, was in my backpack, which was now far away in front of me, too far to reach.

Thoughts of giving up now rushed to my head, what was coming next was still a lot more than what I had already achieved, and going down is definitely easier than going up, but no, I didn’t give up. I started resting more, and Hussein and Sarah were now the only ones with me, everyone else was a lot higher than we were. I frequently looked at the other mountain peaks around, and saw how every time I looked, the sun shining on the peaks decreased. I couldn’t define what was kicking in my head, but it wasn’t fear. Or at least not fear of the obvious things like darkness. I wasn’t alone, I saw no scary animals anywhere, I knew I could still keep going. Now I realize it was fear of failure. I was worried about not making it to the summit, even though I had already taken the decision that I’m going up there, no matter what.

My mind was starting to play tricks on me, telling me I’m a loser, everyone’s faster, and I’m holding 2 other people back with me. My heart rate was getting faster, and my legs were hurting, but it wasn’t that bad, I’ve been through all of that before. It was all in my head, and I hated my head at that moment, because it was pulling me back. What’s wrong with me? I’m always in control, I’m always optimistic, I always win if I want to, why am I losing now?

Sarah was trying to help, but my head blocked her out. She tried everything. She tried being strict and she tried being supportive. She suggested that I listen to her iPod, offered me biscuits, and gave me endless hugs, but my head still blocked her out. I now despised my head. I could hear everything she was saying, I wanted to befriend Hussein like she was, I wanted to join in the interesting conversations they were having, but my head didn’t let me.

We were spending some time in the city before the hike.

We were spending some time in the city before the hike.

I wanted to join in the interesting conversations they were having, but my head didn’t let me.

Hussein was also trying to help, he was being strict at first, but then realized that I was really trying my hardest, and he offered that I hold on to him while we climbed, and so I did. The speed I was going at on my own was too slow, but when I held on to his arm, I was forced to go faster. I was still stopping them too often though. Sarah and Hussein kept motivating me, telling me we’re almost there, only 2 more hours to go, and that I’ve already done a lot more than that. I panicked, and I started demanding that I see the peak we’re heading to, because I could now see neither the beginning or the end.

By then, my mind had complete control over me, everything I’ve been preaching about for the past years about persistence, optimism and positivity was being shattered. My feelings were starting to surface. I broke down, and I started crying. I had so many mixed feelings of weakness, apologies, and depletion. Anything my mind was blabbering to me, I was saying out loud. I found myself saying things like, “I’ve gone insane, why am I doing this? Why am I crying? I don’t want to cry! I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

“No! Don’t cry, don’t cry! You’re strong, you’re doing this!” Sarah started telling me. “Cheer up, we’re not moving from this spot until you’re smiling.”

Again, I refused to smile, I hated myself because of how I was reacting, and how I wasn’t succeeding in keeping the negative thoughts out. Panic was taking over me again and again. We kept on going, hiking up, until I was totally out of energy. This time it wasn’t my mind, it was physical. I had the will, because we could now see the peak, but my body couldn’t handle anymore. I was now very cold, to the point of shivering, so Hussein started a fire and I sat next to it.

To our luck, and surprisingly, there was signal on Hussein’s phone, even though we were too far up. And with even more luck, his other Bedouin friend at the top of the mountain had signal too. Hussein asked him to send a camel so I could ride it up. We had one more hour to go, but at my pace it would have been two. We climbed and climbed, until we finally met with the two boys walking down the mountain with the camel. I was saved!

Thirty more minutes and I’ll be up there! There will be a fire, I’ll have my backpack and put more clothes on, and I’ll get to sleep. The last of my insane emotions were finally leaving my mind. I talked to the camel, I thanked the camel, and by that I mean I was really talking to the camel out loud. I can’t remember a moment in my life when I felt more grateful. It’s over, or at least I thought so.

I reached the summit on the back of the camel. I was relieved, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy because a part of me still felt like I gave up, and I let the circumstances overwhelm me. I let my mind control me instead of me controlling it. Aren’t the tough times the real tests of our values? But then the other hikers saw me, and they made me see everything differently. Everyone was being so supportive, asking me how I feel, telling me I did it, I succeeded.

When cold penetrates through 3 blankets, a sleeping bag, and 9 layers of clothes, you know something’s wrong!

After a long freezing night spent at the peak, the sun was finally shining again, warming us up slowly. At 8 am, everyone was helpful, offering each other food and tea. We started walking down the mountain. “This should be easier,” I thought. I can do this, it’s going to be different. This was easier! And definitely more enjoyable. I was still the last one, and everyone was still ahead, but pride was keeping me going. I stopped at the spot where the camel picked me up the previous night, and I looked up, realizing it was difficult.

4 hours of walking and more interesting conversations with Hussein, we were done. We were at sea level now. All we need is a car to drive us back to the camp, and 10 mins later, we were there.

This was the most physically and mentally challenging activity I’ve done in my whole life. The process wasn’t as smooth as I thought it would be, and I wasn’t as mentally successful as I always thought I was, but this definitely taught me a lot.

I learned that when you’re genuine, everyone appreciates it and supports you instead of bringing you down. I learned that when you think you’re going to push a certain limit, you need to push a lot more than you think, and probably push to even more limits. Also, that I need to practice what I preach more often, and always challenge myself to develop. I’ve learned that pain leaves you eventually, and that when you’ve done something and succeeded, you’d want to do it again, no matter how hard it was. When my body was aching, I kept reminding myself that I should never do this again. Now, I’m definitely doing this again.

Dead tired, sleepy, but look at how much I hiked yesterday!

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