2 out of 4 stars
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It's almost ridiculous how much people use their smartphones at every given moment of the day. It's not just Millennials by any means: I've seen everyone from young kids to adults to even grandparents get so sucked into their phones that they don't realize what's going on around them on a regular basis. This isn't just true of others, it's true for me too, and it took me far too long to realize just how attached to my phone I am. This is one of the main points made in The Lessons I Learned: Bring Back Old-School Communication to Succeed in Business by Paul R. Becker (which I'll simply refer to as The Lessons I Learned for the remainder of this review).
In his mid-50s, Paul has quite a history with various careers and managing people. It's with this experience and amassing information throughout his life that he wrote The Lessons I Learned, a hybrid that's part autobiography, part motivational/self-help and part career advice. The book begins with Paul discussing his own life, from grade school through high school, his first job and the many that followed, getting married and learning to accept himself for who he is instead of merely trying to make his parents proud.
Following this autobiographical portion of the book, the remaining chapters focus on various lessons Paul has learned or speak on various concepts important to him. Lots of these are rather short and focused on a single thing, but some meander a bit. For example, one chapter, Giving Your Best, is entirely focused on - you guessed it! - giving your best. Here he points out that most folks find a comfort zone and then just stay in it instead of pushing themselves to be the best they can be. Other chapters, such as A Simple Gesture, are more like Paul relating thoughts to the reader. In A Simple Gesture, Paul explains how people used to shake on a deal, but as times have progressed everything has gone to ridiculous contracts and terms and conditions that no one ever takes the time to read anyway.
Overall there are a few repeating themes throughout the book. Obviously one is the importance of "old-school communication": thank you notes for receiving gifts, actually speaking to one another in person or on the phone rather than email or text, spending time with family, friends and loved ones without everyone staring at their own devices, etc. Another is the author's repeated use of the phrase "Sit, Stand, and Kneel" as Paul puts it. As a former Catholic it's a phrase I can definitely relate to - in the Catholic church there are various portions of mass in which everyone stands, sits or kneels. Some folks, such as myself, end up going through the motions more than anything in Catholic mass. I would do these things reflexively after years of going to church and reciting words without considering what I was actually saying. This is exactly how Paul uses the phrase as well, to denote things in life we do on autopilot, or for situations where he did things the way he thought he was supposed to or to make his parents proud.
In addition to Paul's use of "Sit, Stand, and Kneel", there were several other things I could relate to on a personal level that he wrote. For example, Paul did lots of work that involved customer service, and so have I. He writes that he was great at calming down angry customers, but that once he's had enough when he's talking to his staff he often says “really." This, coincidentally, is what I as well, and I was always fantastic at calming people down too. Other lines that really struck a chord with me include (when discussing the future) "will the excitement of a Christmas morning become expressed with a text or selfie?" and asking "When did we lose our work ethic?" I can't count how many times I've seen absolutely terrible work ethics in coworkers or employees at various businesses, and it genuinely seems like they've gotten worse and worse over the years.
While there were plenty of times I wholeheartedly agreed with what Paul wrote, and I did enjoy the autobiography portion of the book quite a bit, there were also plenty of points where he got a bit repetitive. He makes his main points over and over throughout the book, and sometimes I found myself on autopilot when he did this. In fact, I almost didn't even notice that the last chapter (chapter 50) was absolutely identical to chapter 41 aside from the chapter name, and likely wouldn't have noticed if there wasn't the same weird error in both. There were also times when chapters seemed like they could've been in better order. For example, chapter 40 discusses some of the author’s neighbors having an estate sale and selling off items that had great histories for them. Chapter 41 is about people who influenced the author and the importance of person-to-person communication (not on social media), and then chapter 42 begins immediately after the sale was finished. There were also at least two dozen errors in the review, and since the book is around 150 pages total that means a little more than one error every 10 pages. Most of these are minor, but they did throw me off a bit when I came across them.
If I could give this book 2.5 stars I would; there are some good points here, the book was a smooth read (sometimes too smooth as I found myself not fully paying attention to the repeated lessons) and there were some things I really agreed with. I also learned a few things and was reminded of a great deal more, and I don't doubt the same will be true for others as well. Sadly, I feel compelled to give this one 2 out of 4 stars overall. Despite that, I still believe people who enjoy autobiographies, who want to improve themselves or who also think that people are far too focused on their cellphones may enjoy their time with The Lessons I Learned.
The Lesson I Learned
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