When I submitted my recent column “Why is everything either amazing or awesome?” in which I ranted that two adjectives, amazing and awesome, now represent the extent of many people’s ability or effort to communicate and that there are career consequences attached to poor communication skills and practices, I was pretty sure I’d made a strong point.
Well, let me tell you, judging by the volume of feedback, I sure did. This was probably in the top five of all 1,000+ articles I’ve ever published (although I’ve never kept actual counts).
What I can tell you, though, is that I received 23 emails from English teachers alone, at all levels, every one of whom agreed with great vigor, some with intensity and even ferocity. That ought to tell you all you need to know.
One of those emails is the reason for today’s follow-up. Following her hearty endorsement, Barbara sternly reminded me that I’d identified a problem but failed to offer a solution. “And you and I both know what that one solution is,” she stated, allowing no room for what would be a fool’s argument.
Absolutely right. One solution: Read! The most effective way to take in the world — and to become better at expressing it — is to read.
And while I could give you endless expressions of that conviction from the greatest minds in history (such as Mark Twain saying, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them,” or Ray Bradbury saying, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”), I won’t. Also, I’ll resist the temptation to go with all the warm and fuzzy stuff about reading — although not easy for me to do — and stick with the practical side of this issue.
Without question, there’s a direct correlation between reading level and writing (and speaking) level. The more you read, the better material you read, and the more diverse content you read, the better you become at expressing yourself, the skill (let me remind you) that’s No. 1 on virtually every hiring manager’s list. In the long run, your career will be better served by your communication skills than by your technical skills.
Reading, unlike every other form of intake, is active; watching a screen is passive. Do I have to tell you what researchers find when they do EEGs of brains reading and brains watching TV (even good TV, if there is such a thing)? The graph lines are completely different.
It’s not for nothing that Groucho Marx (that great 20th-century philosopher) said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
The benefits of being a devoted reader are (in no special order and certainly not limited to): knowledge, mental stimulation, increase in creativity, vocabulary enhancement (that’s what started this whole discussion), memory improvement, stress reduction, mental agility and strength (just like going to the gym for your body), improved focus and powers of concentration, and — ultimately — better communication skills (writing and speaking).
But here’s the catch. Reading takes time. And patience. It’s a commitment, and too many of us (maybe all of us) lead frenetic lives, paying continuous partial attention to too many things at once, always wired and reacting to a constant barrage of texts, Instagrams,and so forth, and letting the chips fall where they may. Those chips, unfortunately, are what we should be reading.
So here’s my three-part suggestion.
Read every day. Don’t think you’ll find the time; you have to make the time. And don’t say you can’t. The average American spends 10.7 hours per day on screens, so you can cut into that. By how much? Start with an hour a day. You say you can’t? Yes, you can.
Read a diverse body of material: a couple of newspapers, at least one good book, a magazine and some literature (poetry) should be part of your daily intake.
Read quality, including stuff that’s challenging to understand. No sense in not stretching yourself. It’s a thrill to be elevated by good writing.
I’m sure there will be some who will discard this as being off the career advice mark. But those who get it — and get with it — will see the fruits of your labor sooner than you think.
Better career advice I couldn’t give.
Career coach and corporate adviser Eli Amdur has been authoring his weekly “Career Coach” column since 2003 and is the author of his acclaimed career advice book “It’s Not So Far From Here to There: The thinking person’s guide to well-managed career.” Adjunct professor of two graduate-level leadership courses at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, he also is active on the speaker circuit, delivering presentations on today’s critical employment and leadership issues. Visit his website www.amdurcoaching.com.