Book Review: Linchpin; and, How to Create a Self-Study Course to Master Anything

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[caption id="attachment_1872" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Vola Vale on Flickr"][/caption]

“The best contribution one can make to humanity is to improve oneself.” - Anon

I’ve always felt that learning is one of the best ways to improve oneself (I guess you could get philosophical and point out that self-improvement is essentially learning in one form or another). Reading books is one of the best ways to learn, which is why I include a lot of book reviews here.

This latest book review is on Seth Godin’s Linchpin. It’s a quick, easy read, full of inspiring essays on the meaning and importance of work.

If you’ve never read any of Godin’s writing, it’s definitely worth checking out. Every sentence he writes is full of insight and thought-provoking ideas. This was my first of his books, though I’ve followed his blog for a long time, and there’s something even more mind-expanding about the long form writing that you just don’t find in articles.

Linchpin’s subtitle is “Are You Indispensable?” and the book revolves around answering this question and figuring out how to make yourself indispensable if you’re not.

What makes someone indispensable to their job or their community? A lot of things, says Godin, but one thing that stuck out to me was that indispensable work is not replicable; it is basically art. To this end, Godin discusses the requirements and the obstacles for creating work that matters/art. His discussion ranges from the meaning of gift-giving and its role in creating and distributing art (art must be a gift for it to be valuable and always worth more than what people pay for it), to overcoming internal resistance, the importance of marketing and selling with integrity, and questioning what you think is a valuable job.

The book is frustrating at times, because he asks questions that are uncomfortable to answer. He also gives a new perspective on some aspects of work that we take for granted, showing us how absurd they are and how much they are really designed to stifle creativity and keep us in a box.

I finished the book with a lot of ideas, though no concrete plans. I think the value in it was getting me to see work, money and value-creation through a totally new perspective, one that meshes more comfortably with my worldview. It helped me get over my hangups about making money, and to conceptualize generating wealth through valuable contribution, and why that is okay and in fact desirable.

Since it’s such a short book, meant purely to inspire and provoke thought, Linchpin is worth taking the time to read. I plan to read the rest of Godin’s books, since it doesn’t seem like a mammoth undertaking, compared to some other authors.

Have you read anything by Seth Godin, or follow his blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what he writes. Say hello in the comments.


Bonus Post!

Since the book reviews are generally short, I’ll be including an additional post along with them, along the same lines of self-improvement.

Today’s topic is creating a self-study course.

There are a number of reasons you might want to create your own self-study course.

Even in school, your education is your own responsibility. Your professors can provide the material and the environment, but you’ve got to find a way to get the information into your head in a way that integrates with your life.

I’ve spent a lot of time directing my own self-growth, both because I needed to learn something and because I wanted to change something in my life. I’ve created more fitness training plans and schedules than I can count to accommodate changing circumstances and schedules. I’ve learned and implemented the nuances of three different major diets (Paleo/Primal, Weston Price, vegetarian). I’ve gone from knowing absolutely nothing about a bunch of topics to practicing them regularly and even making money off a few.

When I was mired in self-hatred in high school, I studied Buddhism and positive psychology to learn to accept myself.

When I was sick of how all my girlfriends took advantage of me, I taught myself how to meet girls who were worth my time.

When I wanted to become strong and athletic, I taught myself how to exercise, studied weightlifting, begged a great teacher, and got myself a job as a CrossFit coach so I could learn more and have access to a gym whenever I wanted.

The Components of Self-Study

There are some steps I’ve always followed in undertaking a self-improvement project. The first is to do research and gather information. The second is to find a teacher if appropriate. The third step is to integrate practice into your life. The fourth is to use your skills, assess what more you need to learn, and bring it back to your practice.

Learning and Research

The first step is to learn what you can about a topic. Read. A lot. You need to learn how to progress more than anything else. This means understanding the path from neophyte to practitioner. Learn what kinds of mistakes you will/should be making and the basics to master before trying to grasp the more advanced aspects.

For example, in martial arts, you aren’t expected to be able to defend yourself immediately, so you shouldn’t even worry about that. Instead, starting off, just focus on learning the movements.

Research also involves learning what constitutes good practice and good teaching. A good way to get this kind of information is to read memoirs of other people who have made the transformation and learned the thing you are trying to learn.

This is also where you gather details. Try to form as complete a picture in your mind of the topic you’re studying. Often, it’s fairly easy to visualize expertise, even though you still have a long way to go before your express it.

There is almost definitely someone out there blogging about what you’re trying to do. Follow them. Get to know the community.

Create a reading list, based on what others are reading, and start working your way through it.

Don’t get stuck in this step! Especially for the scary things, it can be tempting to delude yourself into thinking you’ve got more research to do before moving on. There is always more time to research. As soon as you’ve got the basics, move on.

Find a Teacher

Every major self-improvement project I’ve undertaken has involved a teacher (except my study of Buddhism and psychology, which would have been much easier with one).

A teacher is useful more because they can give you an idea of what your own eventual mastery is supposed to look like rather than because they can directly teach you the skills you need.

Of course, they can also provide you with the actual knowledge and practice of how to do what you’re trying to do, but unless you find a teacher who is as good at teaching as they are at what they do, this is less likely.

More likely, you’ll find someone who is expert at the subject you want to learn, but who is mediocre at teaching. It’s up to you to glean the most important parts of what they’re showing you.

Some teachers will try to teach you everything at once, and some won’t teach you enough. In these cases, you will need to ignore some of what they say so you can master the foundations, or you will need to ask for more details.

Trust your own judgement about what you need to learn.


Find a way to integrate the practice from your teacher with the knowledge you acquire from your own research.

Regular (not necessarily daily) practice is the key here. Plan what you're going to do, set a schedule, and start practicing.

In martial arts, the one thing that made the biggest difference for me was practicing regularly for short periods, rather than practicing for longer periods less frequently. You want to keep your learning front and center in your mind.

Also, from your research and your teacher, you should have developed an idea of what basic skills need to be learned through repetition. When I was learning how to approach girls, one of the biggest things to work on simply meeting people in general. So every day, I made a point of approaching a minimum number of strangers and starting conversations.

Also, keep in mind that this will feel awkward. Often, making progress in your regular practice isn’t as important as simply doing it over and over and over to get comfortable.

Test What You’ve Learned

The most important step, and the one most people seem to neglect, is actually applying your skills. This means putting yourself in a situation where you need to use your skills.

If you don’t need them, you’ll revert to something more comfortable, and then you’d won’t learn.

This is really uncomfortable; while you may have the knowledge and skills needed to cope, you’re still not confident you can use them.

But it’s really important to get from understanding something ins theory to actually being comfortable enough to apply it.

This might mean different things for different skills. Learning to approach girls, I simply had to go out and approach girls, practicing my new social skills as I did it. Learning to fight, I had to find a good martial arts class to practice fighting with enough safety precautions to avoid injury but not so many to make it a pointless exercise.

Learning a language, you’d do best to put yourself in a situation where you need to speak that language.

Once you’ve tested what you know, you will be able to go back to your teacher or self-practice and focus on improving areas that need correction.

Anything in particular you're trying to wrap your head around? Post self-improvement projects to the comments.

- (**