The book — the ultimate symbol of how our times have changed
Books carry a special place in our world — they move the culture forward.
There was a time when you needed permission and approval to write a book. It was not so long ago in fact. A publisher needed to agree to bring your idea into the world and stock it on shelves.
There were gatekeepers. There were people who got to decide. People other than you.
As Seth Godin says, that barrier has now disappeared. In 2021, you can write a book and put it online any time you like. Did you know that? You can put it on Amazon right now, without paying a single cent in upfront costs. You can begin selling it right away…
Or, you can write a book and tell no one about it.
The book is a symbol of how our times have changed. The book symbolises the expansion of your possibilities. As I say, all the excuses are gone, and there is less and less need for permission. The gatekeepers are being whisked away, and now the only obstacle is you. You need only give yourself permission.
There is no devil nor miscreant in your path, only a mirror, a conscious reflection of you, scared of what it sees if it persists and moves forward. You must avert your gaze from the mirror, from your reflection of yourself.
Once you avoid that reflection, the remaining barriers slip away. You’re not self-conscious anymore, and so, no longer worried about how you’re perceived… you are simply left to do.
As Dom Bullock says, so much of running is just overcoming ego. As Ryan Holiday says, ‘ego is the enemy’.
Our education system, which is, by the way, the factory in which our culture is produced, mirrors this evolution of the book. To get into the good jobs, you had to get into university or college. You had to go through the grades. You had to get picked. There were gatekeepers.
Yet Tara Westover became a leading academic without any schooling — she overstated her homeschooling and got into college, eventually Harvard, and is now a top-selling author.
We don’t need the gatekeepers anymore… the book shows us that we no longer need permission, no longer need to ‘earn our stripes’… we can just do. Now. Today.
In Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he points out that there is an advantage to being 6’3 if you’re a basketball player. Statistically, being 6’3 seems to be a significant factor in determining whether or not you’ll make it.
And, no matter how talented or able you are, this is one thing you can’t change about yourself.
The thing is, after 6’3, height doesn’t make that much difference. 6’4, 6’6, 6’10… these are diminishing returns as far as advantage is concerned. It’s like the minimum height requirement for a children’s ride at a theme park — it doesn’t matter how much you beat the cut-off by, only that you beat the cut-off.
It doesn’t matter how much you clear the bar by. Just clear it.
Let me distill this into a final metaphor for you. High jump.
The way high jump works is that you need to clear the bar to make it through to the next round. As long as you clear the bar, you stay in the race. It doesn’t matter if you clear the bar by a country mile or a rat’s whisker. Clearing the bar is clearing the bar.
So if at first the bar is set at four feet, all those who can clear it continue on to the next round. Then it will be raised to five feet… and so on and so on.
My point around high bars and gatekeepers is to say that the bar once began somewhere extremely high — say six feet. The majority of the population were four feet in height — they took one look at the bar, thought ‘forget about it’ and walked away.
Now the bar has been lowered — a practical example of which is making a book now versus thirty years ago, explained above — and as a result, possibilities have expanded. Yet, most people have walked away from high jump, had children, and raised those children far away from the possibilities of high jump too. They know not what they don’t know.
In 2021 it is easier to write and publish a book with eight everyday people than it is to get a university degree. Thirty years ago, it was easier to get a degree.
If you can clear the bar, you build momentum. You gain experience and a sense that you can ‘do high jump’, or, whatever it is you’re trying to do. Then, you have more wind in your sail to practice, and to build up your confidence for the next jump.
Where my high jump analogy falls short is in the ceiling — there is a limit to what height a human can jump, a physical barrier. But in the more creative pursuits, such a ceiling is unknowable. There is no telling who the next Jeff Bezos, Jennifer Douda, Ernst Hemingway or Elon Musk could be, or what they might accomplish.
Life and opportunity is about clearing the barrier-to-entry, and building the momentum to propel you onto greater and greater things.
18 & Lost? So Were We
With our book 18 & Lost? So Were We, we lowered the usual bar to writing a book, by sharing the challenge amongst eight people — this made it less intimidating and smaller time commitment than encouraging someone to write a book on their own.
Yet, once complete, the momentum from having ‘cleared this bar’ has propelled everyone in the book onto bigger and better things.
The problem is not the height of the bar anymore… it’s that people have walked away, limited by the memory of a mountain that looked too tall to climb. But that impression is inaccurate.
Look up at the stars in the night sky.
Because of the time taken for light to travel, you are receiving a delayed signal and not a live update. For all you know, many of the stars you look at are already dead, and you are just looking at the old signals, the remnants of what was, that make it appear that those things are still in place.
You don’t know what obstacles remain, therefore, lest you move towards them.