Closing out each year, as the unofficial (and not self-titled) “King of Continuing Education,” I do a short (historically anyway) end-of-the-year recap and then share my favorite books, courses attended, and continuing education that I consumed that year.
This year there is a little bit more to recap.
Year In Review
Not sure anyone could have predicted this past year. Except post-apocalyptic fiction writers with a knack for conspiracy theory, I suppose.
But even then, that’s a stretch.
It’s taken me a bit of time to collect these initial thoughts as close to succinctly as possible, but my adult coloring book describes it best…
Less succinctly, let’s unpack and reflect on this shit show before we formally get to the continuing education goodness.
This might initially come off as one of the more pessimistic things I have written, but bear with me and know that is not the intention.
Or just scroll around a third of the way down to get to the lessons and the lists.
The 2020 Rant to Get Off My Chest
I do a good job of avoiding getting lost in social media news feeds and being too affected by the negativity. Being a bit of an “un-friender” and quite a big “unfollower” helps as well.
However, quite a few posts I’ve seen reflecting on 2020 have slipped through. While not intended as negative per se on their part though I can only assume, it has resulted in quite a few thoughts of complete disagreement running through my head.
Preface with this caveat. One could consider me, “Mr. Gratitude”. One could also argue gratitude has saved my life and they would not be wrong.
Since some time in 2018, I’ve had a diligent gratitude practice as part of my morning routine where every morning I list three things I am grateful for from the previous day or in general.
But more impactfully, I keep gratitude top of mind as often as I can, to always appreciate what is in front of me and that which I am grateful for, before anything else.
It is one of the primary ways I am able to not dwell on the negative and get brought down by the negativity as a lot of people succumb to. (In addition to having strict rules on social media scrolling and consumption, of course.)
Buuttt… I would be lying if I said that the posts about, “How 2020 just exposed what you were hiding”, or that “2020 was a blessing because it made you address the things you were ignoring”, or “2020 gave you more than it took!” etc, are so tone deaf it makes me want to piss and moan like an impotent jerk, then bend over and take it up the tailpipe!
(Bonus points if you know that movie reference.)
There are of course, things in 2020 one can be grateful for. I think about them often. We had our third child, our second daughter.
I made a lot of progress on things. (Sleep wasn’t one of them, obvi.)
I developed a lot of things. I created a lot of things.
I fixed a lot of things. I streamlined a lot of things. I reinvented a lot of things.
I learned a lot of things (which you will read below).
There are a lot of things from it that I am proud of.
But it was not because of 2020.
I would have made all of that progress and growth plus some, or likely quite a bit more, were it not for 2020 and its myriad bullshit, hurdles, and rigmarole it threw at us.
I did, progressed, and accomplished all of those things DESPITE 2020, not because of it.
2020 in all its apocalyptic shit storm made any and all progress harder. From small hurdles, to big hurdles, to fucking landmines.
Am I glad I survived?
Am I glad my businesses survived?
Am I grateful for it?
It gave me nothing, it only took from me.
I had to scavenge for rotting lemons and do my best to make rotten lemonade. I would have accomplished way more and grown way more had it not been for it.
So no, I am not grateful for it.
Not complaining, but it is what it is.
I will practice gratitude because it makes me a better, more well rounded, capable, alive human being. But never in my gratitude practice will you find any of the hurdles or landmines planted by 2020.
Possible Pessimism Warning (If it wasn’t already) To be honest, not only am I not grateful for anything it gave, but the reality is that while it isn’t worth time, energy, resources, and stress to worry about, there is a lot to be pessimistic about the things 2020 showed us, the bad precedents it set, and the new path it has diverted the world onto.
We should be talking about how to manage that pessimism, not to shame people for the things 2020 has done to them.
There is little reason to be super optimistic about the future. We will find reasons to be, because that is what we do.
But 2020 gets credit for fucking none of it.
Onto the fun stuff…
3 Learning Evolutions In 2020
Having done something like this in the year’s prior, I had started one in the beginning of 2020, chronicling continuing education consumption, books, seminars, etc.
But making the same mistake I make every year of not chronicling what I was doing as I was doing it, thus having to go back and put everything together…
Plus a busy beginning of 2020 as is for any ‘gym owner plus fitness/gym marketing agency owner’ can imagine…
Combined with some staffing issues in that busy period…
And of course followed by the apocalypse and the world ending in March/April…
Lead to it never happening.
However this past year I, possibly for the first time, chronicled as I went along. (Well starting in March anyway, haha.)
And obviously didn’t travel any where near as much as I would normally. So I had more time to do non-traveling related continuing education, reading, etc.
Finding Fiction Again
I believe it was in 2017, after chronicling my reading, traveling, cont ed consumption, etc, for 2016, that I took a break from reading.
I had been in full ‘pretentious business owner’ mindset, only reading non-fiction and things that would make me a better business owner.
I had bought into the Audible trend but audiobooks just weren’t a great way for me to actually consume and digest the information I was reading with my ears though I tried to force myself into it being the case.
It became just reading (with my ears) for the sake of reading and not getting too much out of what I was consuming.
That transitioned into a similar philosophy of the books I was actually reading with my eyes. It became how many books can I get through, how many books can I read, check off the list, etc, and it turned into reading for the sake of reading. Which resulted in not actually learning from it and then not even enjoying it, so I just stopped reading altogether.
That pledge which started in 2017 lasted about 6 months. Just long enough that the desire to read came back.
However at the time, being genuinely busy with three businesses, a one year old, plus a second child on the way, but realistically mostly just not making it a priority, resulted in some reading, but not all that much.
In 2019, I got back into the reading swing of things. Even allowing myself some fiction here and there to break the monotony of the non-fiction, but still primarily non-fiction.
Then in 2020, while consuming all the writing MasterClass (on to that further down), reading books on writing, and overall making it a point to learn how to improve at writing…
The theme of reading fiction as a way to improve your writing, and improving your writing being a way to improve your marketing, was not only prevalent, but one of the most common recommendations.
Fiction was a big part of my upbringing and something I always came back to in multiple aspects. (Working on an article related to that now.)
But as I “grew up”, as mentioned but particularly when I got into all the business ownership rabbit holes, “I didn’t have time” for reading fiction anymore, as it fell into the ‘I don’t have hobbies, I just have work’ myth/trap as well as the genuine ‘there is only so much time, things have to get prioritized’ hurdle we all face and it kind of just went away.
Upon reading and learning from many sources that reading fiction would help me be a better marketer, it now had a genuine place in business development.
In addition to realizing or finally accepting that not having any hobbies and only doing formal work things as both one’s work and hobbies makes one a boring, potentially unhappy, and definitely burnt out human being, reading fiction returned to my life. And a big part of my 2020 reading.
MasterClass To Curb The Addiction
When the apocalypse happened, it wasn’t long before I was an addict in withdrawal for some continuing education and the rejuvenation from learning new things that traveling and attending continuing education events gave since there was no travel.
I turned something I was doing on occasion and informally into something I was formally doing, consistently.
This was reading something as a first thing in the morning to kickstart my creativity for the day, which turned into the “AM Cognitive Kickstart” which is 30 min of cont ed consumption followed by 30 minutes of a daily writing practice. (Daily Writing Practice also being a great way to always be creating content without having to “think about it”.)
From that, came formally going through all of the MasterClass that were on writing, starting a workday with 30 minutes of MasterClass followed by 30 minutes of writing.
The AM Cognitive Kickstart, credit to David Pennington for assisting in giving it that moniker, has been a true gamechanger in so many ways. I highly recommend it. I will write about it in depth at some point but will mention that an hour may seem daunting, but it actually gives you time instead of costing you time.
My confession as a lover of physical books, stacks of books, and beautiful bookshelves…
I am officially a Kindle/e-reader convert.
Even though the amount of books I read on Kindle but then buy the physical copy also is probably alarming, but…
Not needing external light, being able to easily read in bed again,
Being able to buy in 1-click and start consuming immediately,
Being easier to hold,
Being super easy to bookmark/know where you left off, not having to dog ear,
Being able to not only highlight without having to have a highlighter but also then upload them to a word doc,
My kids couldn’t rip pages out or damage the book itself,
Among other reasons, lead me to the Kindle world and I’m not going back. It is likely a big reason for being able to get back into reading so easily and with the volume I did.
The danger in being able to buy in 1-click and having it immediately accessible to the device has shown beautifully problematic, especially when adult beverages are involved, but small price to pay for all the pros.
Well small price in terms of theoretical opportunity cost, large price in terms of actual dollars…
2020 Reading and Cont Ed Recap
Since I was going through all the MasterClass, my consumption of non-fiction books dropped a bit from 2019 to 2020 but my fiction reading went from a small handful, to quite a bit.
2020 Totals were…
Including… 9 Non-Fiction, 6 Poetry, 6 Memoir, 44 Fiction.
Including… 18 Writing, 10 Film/Filmmaking, 8 Business.
Whether one thinks 65 books is not that high at all or super high, I often get questions about how I read so many books with multiple businesses and three children 4.5 and under.
I don’t really think it is that impressive or that high, mainly because it is second nature and effortless now.
It became that way from,
- Making it a habit.
- Keeping it top of mind / a priority.
The habit is, 30 minutes of reading in bed as a night time routine, typically being fiction here so I don’t have to worry about learning something new getting my mind going, but some memoir and poetry too.
This alone amounts to 182.5 hours a year of reading.
Not including if the kids went to bed early and that time can be longer.
The priority is taking advantage of downtime opportunities to get some reading in. Again, being a Kindle person has made this way easier.
Waiting for an appointment, in between appointments where there is too much time to do nothing but not enough time to start something, plane or car rides, etc.
Also worth mentioning that I’ve watched far less than 100 hours of non-kids related television in the year 2020. Time a lot of people spend watching TV, I spend reading.
Systemic Racism / White Privilege
“White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo + “Between The World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In early 2020, well before the George Floyd catalyst, one my mentors, coach, and friend Mark Fisher had recommended some resources for people looking to learn more about systemic racism.
Being this was something I felt like I didn’t know a lot about and wanted to learn more about, though not knowing that 4–6 months later it would be one of the biggest non-COVID topics of the year.
I read “White Fragility” around April and “Between The World and Me” around May and also bought and planned to read “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum and “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad.
A crew of friends and I even planned to “book club” “The Racial Healing Handbook” by Anneliese A. Singh, but then everything kind of went off the rails.
I would be lying if I said that while not the Black Lives Matter movement itself, but people’s reactions to it and all the negativity and craziness that ensued didn’t deter me from reading and learning further at the time because it did.
But, I am currently reading “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin as my current memoir read. As well as “Me and White Supremacy” and “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” are on my 2021 reading list, so I am still learning and attempting to do my part here.
I don’t think you necessarily have to agree with it (though honestly I think a lot of it is kind of hard not to), I do think everyone should be educated and do their research here.
After all, something you either don’t know much about the other side of or don’t agree with is something you should be learning more about than the things you agree with.
If you haven’t done some reading in this realm, I believe you should.
Side Micro Rant I never understood how (or why) people enter conversations without being educated on the topic. It is okay to say you don’t know enough about something to have an opinion on it. It is still okay even if that thing is your race.
My “continuing education project” for 2020 was to learn all the writing, as seen with 18 writing MasterClass. In addition to those, I also dove into the classic,
“On Writing” by Stephen King
As well as the released in 2020,
“Consider This” by Chuck Palahniuk
I certainly have superfan/fanboy bias when it comes to both authors, particularly Palahniuk, but I found them both beneficial and worthwhile.
Particularly in that through the 18 writing MasterClass there were a lot of similarities and overlap, but both King and Palahniuk talked about different areas as well as similar areas differently that I took a lot away from.
I know that is kind of vague and I planned to come back to this spot and add more, but this shit is already over 4,000 words and I could probably write 1000 on each of these books.
126 Days, 11 Minutes by Larry Indiviglia There is again, some bias here as Larry is one of the coaches of, and sort of #2 in the Todd Durkin Mastermind, which is one of the business coaching groups I am a part of.
I am not sure it would have caught my eye and interest if I didn’t know Larry based on the topic, but I am glad it did and now I’m telling you if you don’t know Larry, this is a worthwhile read.
The book is a true story that introduces you to Larry and Gayle, who meet in their 60s and fall in love, independent of the fact that Gayle is battling Stage-IV cancer.
The title is the amount of time Larry chronicles of their relationship. There may be some tears, there were for me, but definitely nuggets of wisdom and knowledge as well.
Of Walking In Ice by Werner Herzog This is as much poetry as it is memoir or journal as it chronicles Herzog after he hears news that a mentor and friend is gravely ill and embarks, on foot, to a three-week pilgrimage from Munich to Paris in the winter. The intention being that the act of walking it will prevent her death.
Poetic quotes include…
“After these last few miles on foot I am aware that I’m not in my right mind; such knowledge comes from my soles. He who has no burning tongue has burning soles.”
“A black morning, gloomy and cold, a morning that spreads itself over the fields like a pestilence, as only after a Great Calamity.”
Likely an acquired taste, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.
As mentioned I went deep in the fiction this year. Primarily in the mystery/thriller and crime thriller genre.
Going through David Baldacci’s MasterClass introduced me to his books and I kind of ran with it there, both because the mystery/thriller genre is one that interests me, but also to see and learn how to build suspense into one’s writing and how he (among others) do it.
My favorite fiction read of 2020 was probably,
The Ocean at The End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman
In his MasterClass, Gaiman mentions in reference to “The Ocean…”,
“Once it was published, over and over again, I had people coming up to me, people writing to me saying,
“You wrote my childhood. None of those things happened to me. My childhood wasnt like that. But you wrote about my childhood. You wrote about me.”
And I did because I was writing about me, because I was being honest, I was being specific, telling the truth in fiction…”
And that’s probably as good a summary of it as I can think of. There is something nostalgic, perfect, and relatable about it that just makes it great.
Having been a superfan or a fanboy of the instructor prior, what prior knowledge of the topic one comes in with, recency bias, what people are interested in, among multiple other factors, make it is challenging to talk about the “top” ones.
So for this article, I’ve lumped them into specific categories to give you an idea of where I feel they fell and elaborations, if appropriate.
(I also plan on doing an article of specific take home lessons from individual ones in the near future.)
I think the biggest takeaway at least for me is the MasterClass structure as a whole is a good learning medium for me to digest and absorb optimally.
Also, there really weren’t any bad ones or ones that I flat out wouldn’t recommend.
There were some that the “teaching” style didn’t fit the way I learn and absorb, or (as a couple of business ones) would have been really beneficial if I were less knowledgeable but were largely things I’d learned already.
But even in those, there were still takeaways and I have yet to go through one where I would turn someone away from going through it.
Which I would say is not a common thing overall and certainly not with me, so that is saying something.
3 Great Ones But Which I Had a Pre-Existing Fanboy/Superfan Bias
Aka I went in with an extreme fondness for them and their material so I would be surprised if I didn’t like the class a lot or get a lot of takeaways from it, so my objectivity is questionable.
But also, I thought were all really good, if not some of the best.
Neil Gaiman Teaches The Art of Storytelling
Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing This tends to be where I start people (business owners, content creators, etc) when they ask for a recommendation for a writing MasterClass. One, because it is really good and he goes into a lot of depth, but it’s really the only non-fiction one, which is the most easily relatable to what we do.
Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
3 Great Ones Where I Had Some Positive Bias
Aka those who I knew and had consumed their information before and had a fondness of them, though not in a “fanboy can do no wrong” kind of way…
David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humor Likely the most applicable after Gladwell in terms of being super easy to relate to how we create content.
Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry
Daniel Pink Teaches Sales and Persuasion Another one universally applicable and beneficial to pretty much everyone.
5 Great Ones That Made Me Their Fanboy/Superfan
The only one who I don’t think I had really heard of was Walter Mosley, but I wasn’t really familiar with any prior to their MasterClass.
David Baldacci Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
Walter Mosley Teaches Fiction and Storytelling
David Lynch Teaches Creativity and Film
Werner Herzog Teaches Filmmaking One of my favorites overall, I think.
Steve Martin Teaches Comedy This is one of the most universally applicable and beneficial ones with a ton of gems.
6 Worthy Mentions (That Havent Already Been Mentioned)
Where I can recommend them overall as ones I think there are takeaways for everyone.
Dan Brown Teaches Writing Thrillers + James Patterson Teaches Writing I have these together only because they support the same point. In the type of writing most of those who will be reading this do directly aka for content creation, the “suspense or thriller writer” MasterClass (these and Baldacci) have a direct correlation to each other. They are all worth a go through to get some useful, applicable tips on writing more engaging, which can be synonym for “suspenseful”, content. (More engaging content gives you a more engaged bought in audience, better content, better ads, better marketing, etc, etc.)
Salman Rushdie Teaches Storytelling and Writing May be some recency bias here as this is the most recent (December) writing one I’ve done, but at the same time to hear some new things or things differently or hear the same thing land more impactfully, after having been through 17 writing ones before it, says something.
Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking Great haircut. Great class.
Chris Voss Teaches The Art of Negotiation On the same level as the Daniel Pink one.
Bob Iger Teaches Business Strategy and Leadership His sections on “brand”/“branding” were great.
Everything Else I Cont Ed’ed in 2020
(In a no particular yet particularly ordered kind of way…)
Joyce Carol Oates Teaches The Art of the Short Story
Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing
David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing
RL Stine Teaches Writing For Young Audiences
Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing For Television
Judy Blume Teaches Writing
St Vincent Teaches Creativity and Songwriting
Bob Woodward Teaches Investigative Journalism
Judd Apatow Teaches Comedy
Spike Lee Teaches Independent Filmmaking
Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking
Mira Nair Teaches Independent Filmmaking
Ron Howard Teaches Directing
Jodie Foster Teaches Filmmaking
Neil deGrasse Tyson Teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication
Robin Roberts Teaches Effective and Authentic Communication
Goodby & Silverstein Teaches Advertising and Creativity
Sara Blakely Teaches Self Made Entrepreneurship
Howard Schultz Teaches Business Leadership
Usher Teaches The Art of Performance
Phil Ivey Teaches Poker Strategy
Natalie Portman Teaches Acting
Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography
Jimmy Chin Teaches Adventure Photography
Penn and Teller Teaches The Art of Magic
Daniel Negreanu Teaches Poker
Frank Gehry Teaches Design and Architecture
Paul Krugman Teaches Economics
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson (Re-Read)
Start With Why by Simon Sinek (Re-Read)
Everything is Fucked (A Book About Hope) by Mark Manson
The Creative’s Curse by Todd Brison
The Unstoppable Creative by Todd Brison
Can You Go? By Dan John
Attempts by Dan John
We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
The Art of Drowning by Billy Collins (Re-Read)
Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry by Billy Collins
180 More: Extraordinary Poems For Every Day by Billy Collins
The Trouble With Poetry by Billy Collins
Whale Day by Billy Collins
Speaking In Tears by Grace Andren
The Innocent (Will Robie I) by David Baldacci
The Hit (Will Robie II) by David Baldacci
The Target (Will Robie III) by David Baldacci
The Guilty (Will Robie IV) by David Baldacci
End Game (Will Robie V) by David Baldacci
Memory Man (Amos Decker I) by David Baldacci
The Last Mile (Amos Decker II) by David Baldacci
The Fix (Amos Decker III) by David Baldacci
The Fallen (Amos Decker IV) by David Baldacci
Redemption (Amos Decker V)by David Baldacci
Walk The Wire (Amos Decker VI) by David Baldacci
Long Road to Mercy (Atleen Pine I) by David Baldacci
A Minute To Midnight (Atlee Pine II) by David Baldacci
Daylight (Atlee Pine III) by David Baldacci
The Girl in Cabin 13 (Emma Griffin I) by AJ Rivers
The Girl That Vanished (Emma Griffin II) by AJ Rivers
The Girl in The Manor (Emma Griffin III) by AJ Rivers
The Girl Next Door (Emma Griffin IV) by AJ Rivers
The Girl and the Deadly Express (Emma Griffin V) by AJ Rivers
The Girl and the Hunt (Emma Griffin VI) by AJ Rivers
The Girl and the Deadly End (Emma Griffin VII) by AJ Rivers
The Girl in Dangerous Waters (Emma Griffin VIII) by AJ Rivers
The Girl and the Secret Society (Emma Griffin IX) by AJ Rivers
The Girl and the Field of Bones (Emma Griffin X) by AJ Rivers
Vanishing Girls (Josie Quinn I) by Lisa Regan
The Girl With No Name (Josie Quinn II) by Lisa Regan
Her Mother’s Grave (Josie Quinn III) by Lisa Regan
Her Final Confession (Josie Quinn IV) by Lisa Regan
The Bones She Buried (Josie Quinn V) by Lisa Regan
Her Silent Cry (Josie Quinn VI) by Lisa Regan
Cold Heart Creek (Josie Quinn VII) by Lisa Regan
Find Her Alive (Josie Quinn VIII) by Lisa Regan
Save Her Soul (Josie Quinn IX) by Lisa Regan
Breathe Your Last (Josie Quinn X) by Lisa Regan
Dark House (Lucy Harwin I) by Helen Phifer
Dying Breath (Lucy Harwin II) by Helen Phifer
Nine Elms (Kate Marshall I) by Robert Bryndza
Shadow Sands (Kate Marshall II) by Robert Bryndza
TC Boyle — East is East
Honeymoon by James Patterson
The Summer House by James Patterson
Three Women Disappear by James Patterson
The Eye Thief by M K Farrar