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Make Sure You Write Down Everything Interesting That You Find

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When he was young, James Mattis hitchhiked to San Francisco to meet Eric Hoffer, the philosopher most famous for his book, The True Believer, and as Mattis said, “Eric was the one who told me, ‘Make sure you write down everything interesting you find,’ and I have ever since.” 

It’s wonderful advice. We’re lucky, for instance, that 2,000 years ago a student named Arrian sat in on some lectures in Nicopolis on the coast of Greece and decided he would jot down the sayings that he heard his teacher Epictetus say down. We’re lucky that Marcus Aurelius jotted down his own thoughts because that’s how Meditations survives to us. We’re lucky that Seneca chose to write those letters to Lucilius, for without them not only would we be without his wisdom but we’d be without many of the quotes from the early Stoics that are preserved only because he jotted them down. 

General Mattis has followed Hoffer’s advice his whole life. One of his former speechwriters recently described the incredible treasure trove of wisdom that Mattis accumulated. To bring his speechwriters up to speed, Mattis gave them access to a closet in his office, 

There, he kept many years’ worth of meticulous notes in black Moleskine notebooks from his time in uniform. Each page included a small printout of his daily schedule, along with handwritten notes. Lined up on the shelf above them were three special journals in old, worn three-ring binders. These he referred to as his “Books of Wisdom”…This treasure trove held decades of personal thoughts, plus correspondence from his mother, friends, and colleagues. 

Isn’t it interesting? That when Mattis needed other people to get to know him well enough to craft his speeches, he didn’t call a meeting and sit down with them for hours and try to explain who he was and what he believed. Instead, he showed them. Through this treasure trove—a more thorough representation of who Mattis was than he could possibly articulate… or have enough time to.

If you haven’t read Call Sign Chaos yet, you’re missing what is itself a kind of Book of Wisdom, a collection of all the lessons Mattis learned and observed in his career, a compilation of one great man’s lifelong voyage into the interior. And if you haven’t yet started your own Book of Wisdom, you’re missing out on so much more than wisdom. Seneca said it brilliantly: “We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application—not far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech—and learn them so well that words become works.”

P.S. If you want to start keeping your own Book of Wisdom, watch the video above to learn about Ryan Holiday’s system for collecting and organizing everything interesting that he finds. We also talk a lot about this practice in our course, READ TO LEAD: A DAILY STOIC READING CHALLENGE. It walks you through 13 actionable challenges that will help you elevate your game as a reader, learn how to read more critically, discover important books, and apply what you read in your actual life. Learn more about it here!