The Acton Experience: Book Selections.

In December 2018, I stumbled upon the chance to apply for the Jordan Peterson MBA Fellowship at the Acton School of Business. At the time, I just thought it would be a great opportunity and I should try for it, win or lose. Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is one of my favorite thinkers and although I have reservations on some of his thoughts and approaches, but the overall goes to his favor in my book.

The application process was a series of intelligence and psychological tests and written assignments. I only thought of giving it my best effort, without expectations. I was pleasantly surprised when I passed the first filtration phase and advanced to the second. As there were supposed to be only three phases of selection, I started to get excited when I passed to the third assignment. I didn’t hold my breath though; I simply thought it was great personal honor to reach the final stage. Well, it turns out I was shortlisted and progressed to the secret stage four of the selection process. Well, you can imagine how I felt then. A sudden spike in my hope meter took hold over me. I never expected to get this far with literally thousands of applicants from all over the world.
Well, I got the last email a month later to let me know I didn’t make the final cut. But, I really think it was a valuable experience for me. Warren Buffet speaks about the inner scorecard which matters the most, and this experience most certainly counts as a high mark. Although, it would have made a better story had I been admitted to the program and allowed the chance to pursue something intellectually stimulating as well as a good milestone in my life path, but I have no regrets and I feel no negative reactions towards the whole experience whatsoever. Now, almost a year later, I decided to share a few of the thoughts I expressed in a selection of the written assignments I had to go through during that time. I hope you enjoy it.
What are the three most transformational books you have read and how did they impact your life?
Although the top spots for the books which had the biggest impact on me will definitely change as I go through the list of books I have yet to read, however here are the top 3 thus far. “Total Recall” by Arnold Schwarzenegger, “12 Rules for Life” by Jordan Peterson and “The Obstacle is The Way” by Ryan Holiday. Each of these books and all the rest of the books that I am going to read has been suggested by some other books or recommended by one of the many authors and business people to whom I pay close attention. I do not read something off the shelf as I once did, my reading has purpose and it is to improve my understanding of the biggest ideas in the world and anything that will help me with self awareness and self mastery.
Total Recall by Schwarzenegger is a brilliant book about an exceptional human being. It is a biography of a person who has diligently and deliberately built himself from the foundation up to become an iconic figure and one of the most famous and influential people on the planet. The book details the journey of Arnold from the time he was a little boy being pushed by his father to learn and study hard in school, all while living in poverty. The Hero’s journey story recounts how he managed, through wisely choosing his friends and the people he associated with, to take on working out and bodybuilding as his passion. He painstakingly pursued his passion for bodybuilding for years with pure dedication until he took the stage to receive the number one trophy in the world of European bodybuilding. Arnold set his sights on going to America as he thought it is where he can achieve all of what he can be and he did his best to put himself in the position to be able to achieve exactly that. Arnold kept on repeating the same trick time after time again in his life; he became a master at achieving his goals. He aims at some high achievement, goes after it with every fiber of his being, with relentless dedication and laser-like focus and indomitable patience. Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to become the best possible bodybuilder in the world and only then decided that his next move would be to immigrate to the USA. In America, he worked diligently until he created a real estate business from nothing and grew it exponentially until he became a wealthy millionaire. The almost unbelievable part that not many people know about is that he became wealthy long before he even started his movie career. Arnold Schwarzenegger never auditioned for ANY roles, and because he had the habit of creating his own opportunities and literally manufacture his own luck, his first role was the leading man in Conan the Barbarian, which was succeeded by the Terminator and he ultimately became the number one star and highest paid actor in Hollywood. Arnold does explain how he had done the very same act of persistent pursuit of his passion when he married into the Kennedy’s and later pursued a political career and managed to become the governor of California. I have no single bit of doubt that the only reason why he is not the President of the United States of America is because the law doesn’t allow it. I always go back to this book to re-read the Arnold rules he wrote in the final chapter on how to properly live life. He makes me think that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, there are no shortcuts and everything in life is about hard work and repetition, to be able to sell is a meta skill that serves you in any endeavor and that you need integrity to make it all happen. This book is a master class on how to reach greatness in life.
12 Rules for Life is an amazing book about finding your way through life and not getting lost in chaos. Dr. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and a person of great intellect. He explains that the fine line between what you know for sure, your comfort zone, and the unknown space outside of your knowledge, experience and expectation is where you should be to be able to live a meaningful life. The antidote to evil and misery in the human soul is basically due to leading a nihilistic aimless existence without a sense of purpose. Dr. Peterson thinks that most of the acts of pure evil witnessed by lost human beings can be staved off by making people take ownership of their lives, bear a load of responsibility and fix themselves before blaming the world for everything. Looking inward, having self awareness is the road to personal sovereignty and achieving a life of meaning. Dr. Peterson’s book is a deep dive into the soul and it took me a long time to finish it because I had to reflect on so many things that he talked about in this priceless book. This book changed my perspective on life and how to live a life of meaning. I am still going through some of the chapters in this amazing book to journal about my thoughts and reflections. It is not easy, it is a heavy book to go through and I believe I will revisit the ideas in it several times in the future as he touches on so many issues I am personally struggling with. I am a huge fan of Dr. Peterson and regardless of whether I qualify for his fellowship at Acton or not, I will do any writing exercise to which he guides me. Simply, by writing this very essay, I am doing an act of self-reflection which is how I believe I will get closer to self-mastery.
The Obstacle is the Way is a great book about overcoming any adversity in your life. The book is mainly a distillation of the main concepts of Stoic philosophy and how to deal with hardship. The title of the book is from a quote from Marcus Aurelius. “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” It guides you through a journey of figuring out the things which you can control and teaches you never to worry about that which you cannot control. Any hurdles in your path are tests put in your path to prove to yourself that you are capable of overcoming your problems and are worthy of your triumph. The book starts off with the story of the king who wanted to teach his subjects a life lesson through placing a big rock in the main road where people go about their daily business. Most everyone did nothing, they turn around and go to find another way or stand there cursing at the rock and the king, some tried to move it but quit quickly and ultimately these people all left without dealing with the huge obstacle in the way and were at a loss for hope to move it and go about their business. One peasant was on his way and found the rock blocking his road and decided to find something to leverage against the rock and finally moved it out of the way. I saw that story capturing the very soul of the whole book. This peasant basically represents what could be an enterprising entrepreneur or simply a man on a mission. He found a problem in his and everyone else’s way, figured out how to solve that problem and he was rewarded handsomely for it. Of course, the king left a treasure of gold under the rock for anyone with a sense of personal agency who would take it upon himself to find a solution to his problems. Ultimately, life is all about solving a series of problems and the obstacles thrown in our way; those are not there simply to be a source of discomfort, a reason to curse at god or the government, or a lifetime sentence of helplessness and apathetic depression. These problems are yours to solve, because your purpose and meaning in life is attached to solving your own problems and then your family’s and later the world.
The things I learned from the kind of books I read, especially these three, revolve around self awareness, living a life of purpose and meaning, aiming high, taking stock of your issues, taking ownership and bearing the responsibility for everything you can control, go through, over, under and around the obstacles life throws at you. Life is a series of perpetual championships and wars, and if you want to succeed in life, you have to prepare yourself for the long haul ahead. I believe that in my missive in life, I have to overcome obstacles and once on the other side, not rest on my laurels. I, then, must detest mediocrity and even when I reach the top of my personal highest mountain, to look further. For there are, for sure, yet higher mountains to climb. I will teach my son this.
Tell us the one reason you might not complete the Acton MBA program and your Peterson Fellowship, if accepted.
The one possibility I can foresee that I might not complete the program would have to be something about my family. As we progress along in our pursuits in life certain things remain important and take the priority. Although I see in myself the power and stamina to push through the finish line and get through the whole program, if at any point I felt like that I’m at a crossroads between my personal investment in myself and taking care of my son, I believe that I will choose my son as my first priority.
What will you do next with your life if you are not selected for the Peterson Fellowship?
Everything! I am on the right path. I am aiming higher than anyone else. I will work on attaining skills, study myself, and work on the life I can create for my family. I want to be able to see everyone I love live a fulfilling life, and I can only guide them along the path if I walk through it first. My vision for myself is to be the kind of mentor and guide to my son that my father could not be for me. I will do my best to plow through the obstacles in my path. Try to get to a place where I can make a difference in the lives of people and change their lives. My life hasn’t been like everyone else I know. I kind of always like to walk my own path alone. I stumbled a lot, fell through ditches of depression, nihilism, aimlessness, false entitlement, ego inflation, humility and humiliation, and sober reckoning of my life’s decisions that led me to this low dark place. I know I have ways to go and I know that to let up means to tumble down to the base of my mountain. I will summit my first big mountain and straight away start on the next higher mountain. I see myself, in essence, willingly rolling my boulder of responsibility up a steep hill like King Sisyphus. Such is the human endeavor, to bear a load and push it to great heights and keep going until the end. The Stoics speak of “Amor Fati”, loving your fate. To carry oneself as the fire that consumes all which is thrown into it. I will create something great.


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