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Skip the Cliff’s Notes

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

If we wanted to get better at throwing a ball through a hoop from fifty feet away, how would we do it? Think about the question. We might ask someone who has thrown a lot of balls around. Maybe a sibling or a parent. We might read a book on how to have better accuracy and how to throw. We would watch a video. But we would almost certainly at some point throw the ball. Many, many times.

Because to be good at anything we have to stand on top of a pile of failures.

Let me repeat that because it warrants repeating. To succeed at anything requires a large number of failures.

Cliffs Notes

Reading is a skill like any other skill. It gives us access to the greatest minds of human history, books which represent the collection of a life’s work, and experiences we may never have directly ourselves. We can’t experience these things if we don’t practice reading.

It is more important to read well than to get good grades. The longer you are alive the truer this becomes. If you must pick between doing well on an exam today, or doing well at life, chose the second one. That is why I say skip the Cliffs notes. 99.9 % of the time, skip them.

What are Cliffs notes? They were old yellow and black books that gave summary versions of things back when I was in school. While the company may not have the sway that it once did the idea is stronger than ever. Do you want to understand Hamlet? Wikipedia. Do you want to understand physics 101? Google the homework question. Do you want to understand human phycology, watch a 20-minute video on it.

What do you want to know about? There is a shortcut to all of it. The problem is none of those things make you an expert and none of those things impart two very important things. The first is the amount of effort it took the creator to know enough to generate the content. They are often speaking or lecturing or teaching from a position of decades we never see. The second is that you are shortchanging yourself. If you ever want to know something deeply, in a way that inspires other to watch your twenty-minute videos, or read your book, you are going to need much more than those excerpts and blurbs. You need to wrestle hard with big ideas and you need to fail. You need to read a thing and say “huh?” and then read it again, and read it again until in combination with other texts and sources you say “I get it!”

Because anyone who has ever succeeded at anything had the ability to communicate and the ability to communicate comes foremost from reading.

Skip the cliffs notes.

Skip the summary.

Get to the meat of the matter. Go read. Read long.

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