Want a rich, full, productive life? My advice today is simple. Read more. And write more. Maybe even draw more.
Yes, I know you are busy. But I have to wonder if you are busy with the right things. Or even if you are reading the right things. Facebook updates are not the key to your future or your success. More and more we don’t even read on social media—we post pictures and watch videos.
reading is your job right now
So first, read more. I’m talking about actual books, but magazines or newspapers also help. It’s OK if they are digital, as long as the device does not distract you from reading and comprehending. (For this purpose phones are practically worthless.)
What I’m suggesting, though, is more long form reading in a world of Twitter. Essays, articles, chapters. Find intelligent people who can sustain and support a point of view. Learn from these people.
You can always start by reading your textbooks, although they are often a poor distillation of other people’s ideas. So if it’s helpful to read Griffin’s summary of genderlect theory in COM 200, it’s more helpful to read a book by Deborah Tannen. If her theory interests you, make the time to read one of her books.
Ask your professors what they are reading. Find out what magazines or newsletter people in your industry or field read. Check out the best selling books on business and communication so you can have an intelligent conversation with your boss some day. Listen to books on Audible while you work out. Read the classics. (Aristotle has been translated into English, you know.) Keep a list. Set some goals.
And certainly read your Bible, not just books about it. (f you read 10 chapters a day and take the weekends off you will read it through twice in one year.) You have not understood what it means to be a Christian because you read (or heard) some breezy critique or inspirational self-help book. God still speaks to us through His Word. It is the Word itself which calls our spirits into the presence of God.
But if you want to read something topical, there are older, more thoughtful things to read than the self-accommodating, trendy drivel that often passes as Christian literature today. Read Augustine, Wesley, Calvin, Chesterton, Tozer, Spurgeon. You have much to learn and the time is short.
Again, I know you are busy. But be busy with important things. You have more discretionary time now than you will ever have. although you don’t know it. If you get through college and have not read anything that was not required of you, you have squandered your youth.
Add a real job, a spouse and kids, PTO and a church volleyball team to the equation and you will feel the regret of not having grounded yourself in a thoughtful, reflective understanding of the Word God spoke and the world he made. The same is true if you end up digging wells in sub-Saharan Africa. This is the time to prepare. Reading is your job right now.
write to remember. and to understand
You won’t take your next job seriously if you don’t take this job seriously. Yet more reading is only part of what you need to do. You must reflect on what you are reading and learning, which means you also need to write more than you do. Writing helps us remember, but it does more than that. It helps us understand.
So spend more time on your writing assignments. Get help if you need it. Read what you write out loud and see how it flows. Write about things that matter to you and care about how clearly and effectively it comes across. Find a good critic. Ask someone who doesn’t love you to read it. Ask someone who does love you to read it too. Listen to what they say. Don’t defend it or explain it. Fix it.
Write outside of class. Write all the time. Dr. Patton carries a journal with him everywhere he goes. I write every week for my blog. Writing forces you to draw conclusions and ask questions. This is healthy and this is good.
So get a journal or sketchbook and jot down the things you read or hear that make you pause and wonder. Frankly, most of you don’t even take notes in class. Shame on you. You spend $60,000 on a college education, most of it borrowed against an uncertain future, and all you have to show for it is your Instagram account?
the change that matters
Find more serious friends, read more serious stuff, and write more serious comments. Collect better ideas and practice putting them down on paper, or sketching them out on story boards.
You will become more persuasive, engaging and interesting. But more that that, these habits will change your conversations, your country, your culture, your church and your children. They will certainly change you.
So read more. Write more. Be good stewards of your many gifts.
Note: This was originally delivered as a talk at the beginning of the school year iin September 2011 and was posted then and has been revised.