Book learning

Way back in the day, I stumbled across a little secret at my company. Every year at Christmastime, a select group of people received a package from the CEO. It wasn’t filled with candy or fruit or logo-emblazoned business accessories. It contained books.

These weren’t books plucked thoughtlessly from the year’s bestseller lists or some bookstore’s recommendations. These books were hand-picked by the boss, The Big Man, because each one contained some lesson, some observation, some nugget he considered valuable. He was a voracious reader, and he had selected the books from his own literary journey.

There was no particular pattern to the books, which ranged from speeches to biographies to philosophical shifts to business strategies to travelogues, but there was always a letter tucked among them. In that letter, The Big Man gave a brief synopsis of each selection and some insight about his recommendation. This was not some mindless token; the gift was well-thought and meaningful.

Although I certainly appreciated it at the time–the reputational value of being on “the list” notwithstanding–in hindsight I realize that the Christmas boxes were about much more than the content of the books. They reminded people to never stop learning and looking for new ideas. They challenged people to tackle material outside their preferred genres and try something different. They exposed people to conflicting philosophies. They introduced people to parts of the globe otherwise unseen. Together they laid a path that led to the world beyond the horizon as The Big Man saw it unfolding and functioned as a vehicle for his passion. They made people think.

I won’t lie. I didn’t make it through every book that came in those annual boxes. Some were tedious and couldn’t hold my attention. Many others, though, were not just interesting and insightful, but also foresightful. And some I just plain enjoyed.¬†Regardless, over time I’ve realized that the content of the books was unimportant; the thing that mattered most was the passion they brought to my doorstep.

I don’t know how it happened, but I’m grateful my name made it onto that list.

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