Starting Fires

In 2007, I read a book that changed my life.

While the book itself is simple (borderline elementary now that I've gone back to reread it years later), there was a single idea that I couldn't shake at the time; one that still sticks with me today.

Before I explain what that idea is, I want to put this in context:

I first read this book when I was a 20 year old West Point cadet. At the time, I was double majoring in Russian and Human Geography with a track (like a minor, but not) in environmental engineering.

By academia's standard, I was slightly above average in the brains department, and I was soon to be entrusted the lives of 30+ soldiers in combat, which I can only assume means that somewhere, someone thought I was a responsible adult (or perhaps I slipped through the cracks...we'll never know).

Yet here was a book that a middle school kid could understand (and really, that every kid ought to read) that said something I'd never heard before.

Or perhaps better stated: never fully appreciated before.

What was the idea?

Everything in life is either an asset or a liability; it either puts money into your pocket or it takes money out of your pocket.

You want more of the former and less of the latter.

Of course, after finishing the book, I didn't put it away, smugly proclaim myself smarter, and move on.

Instead, I took a deep dive into the subject, spending years devouring more books in the same genre (finance and investing). More importantly, I took action on what I learned: I saved lots of money, kept my expenses down, invested in real estate and stocks, practiced options trading, and more.

Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn't - which was painful - but the important thing is that I gained an understanding of the material I was reading, not merely in concept, but in practice (this is the kind of experience that only comes from stepping inside the ring).

Finally, but no less importantly, this spurred my interest in other areas including business, publishing, and teaching.

It's hard to put a dollar figure to an idea, but I think I can safely say I'm thousands of dollars richer now than I would have been otherwise, because I read this book; because the idea resonated deeply with me; because it caused a spark...

And this of course is the point: an idea is a spark.

It has the potential to dramatically change our lives.

But it's also just that: a spark.

You still have to cut down the tree, haul the fire wood, and find the gasoline.

An idea is a spark, but you still have to cut down the tree, haul the fire wood, and find the gasoline.

Two points worth reflecting on:

1. If an idea is a spark, it is only as useful as your ability to make it into something more.

This requires resources (mental and physical - both of which you can create, grow, and increase over time) and hustle (accessible to every person on Earth at this very moment - if you choose to use it).

2. For an idea to reach us and cause an impact, it needs the right form and it needs the right conduit.

This idea didn't pass haphazardly to me through a college class (I took lots of those and was never taught anything close to this), nor YouTube, nor a podcast, nor a blog post, nor telekinesis (I'm not there yet).

It passed to me through a book.

For the purposes of message spreading, there is no better form than a book. And thanks to the internet, just about everyone in the world has the ability to reach just about everyone else in the world, making it the perfect conduit.

This means if you're in the business of spreading a message (and aren't we all?), you should sincerely consider writing and publishing a book; the impact you can create has never been higher, nor the barrier to entry lower.

But most importantly of all: there are people in the world who WANT to hear from you, who want your ideas, who need the spark...

And I think we do a disservice to the people who matter - not to mention, a disservice to ourselves - when we keep our ideas hidden.

The simple solution:

Put your ideas out there. Create a spark. Start a fire.



P.s. next week I want to share with you the book I wrote about in today's blog post, as well as 10 other books that have caused similar sparks in my life, and I hope you'll share your most important books with me too 🙂

p.p.s. I'm creating a new, free course on publishing to help people create and spread messages that matter. If you're interested, sign up here.

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25 comments on “Starting Fires”

  1. Good post Tom. The brainstorming session the free-basing of ideas/concepts are all ok, but just by themselves they're just talking in the dark at the end of the day.

    The next step, the first step into the arena of "doing" is indeed scary. I'm getting ready to get back into "my own business"'s been a while but I'm hoping and working to make this journey work well too.

    That first step though, can be a wild mix of emotions. Thanks again for the post Tom, appreciate. Be sure to practice your deep breathing.

    1. Yeah Joe the first step is always the hardest.

      Like a bike though momentum builds through those initial pushing of the pedals.

      And (sticking with the bike) you never forget how to ride one!

      Learned is learned.

  2. 'An idea is 1%inspiration, 99% perspiration' - Thomas Edison

    Your so right Tom. An idea is useless if you don't live it out. It just remains dormant and is no good to anyone - in fact it hurts you because you think about the lack of inaction you've taken on it!

    An idea that is alight not only lights the fire in you, it will almost certainly spark something in at least one other person. And if they spread that flame with someone else that's a really good idea!

    I've often sat on knowledge and ideas and not acted on them. As I begin this next stage of evolution I realize that there is only one fundamental power that can change our live and the lives of others.



  3. Hi Tom,

    Very thought provoking blog. It motivates me to go the extra mile. Thanks for doing many things to help people overcome THE RESISTANCE!!

  4. The concept that everything is either an asset or liability fits into almost every realm of our lives, not just money. Words are either assets or liabilities as in I shouldn't have said that and it will haunt me forever and assets--my works just changed someone's life. The concept fits food and health, relationships, nearly everything. I am an artist and a writer. I've considered writing a book but I've never got there. But I'm hoping my art which is simply words marked in paint will be an asset. Life is funny and scary. Nothing is easy and nothing is a sure thing.

    1. "Nothing is easy and nothing is a sure thing."

      Completely true. And that might be a scary thing for some, but I think it's worth considering: would it be worth it if it wasn't this way?

      I think not (but then I like a good challenge...).

  5. Nothing like books - and I don't mean E-books; I mean books that I can touch, feel, hold, smell and hug 😉 (In all seriousness, I love all kinds of books, but the boring, old paperbacks and hard copies will remain my favorites 😉 )

    I appreciate you, Tom, and will definitely sign up for that free course. Have fun envying a fantastic wife 😉 and inspiring millions <3

    Thank you

  6. I thought this was one of your best posts, and it is harder for me to benefit from it than any of the others. I simply cannot categorize things that way: asset or liability. I can't get that kind of sharp definition of the things in my life. For me, it feel as if everything is part asset and part liability.
    For example, I can see the lies in a political speech clearly, but when I start to explain them to people, I must dissect them to show the liabilities buried under the rhetoric designed to present them as assets. I always discover that somewhere in the mix is something that "depends." Maybe several interdependent somethings.
    How do you ever see things as either assets or liabilities so clearly that you know that you know which is which?

    1. Thanks so much Katherine.

      I don't always know - a lot of the things I thought were assets took money out of my pocket (bad investments)...and others just didn't pan out (businesses and projects that stagnated and died).

      I'm not sure knowing precisely which will add money to your pocket (as oppossed to taking it out) is as important as understanding prerequisites for action - *does this have a good shot of success?* *will this work?* *is this adding to my bottom line or detracting from it, directly and indirectly?*

      It's easy when it comes to things like new cars. I've even bought a new car before and realized after the fact - what a liability. That's not to say never do it - but to have enough awareness of what our actions ARE doing (so I suppose I mean to say: it's okay to buy a new car, or buy liabilities...just don't pretend they aren't what they are).

      Love the topic though...definitely worth exploring. Thanks Katherine!

  7. Brilliant post, Tom. It's just that simple thing, that spark, in the precise context, that can lead to a massive fire. As others commented, sometimes starting is the hardest point. I recently started to do something that works like a spark. Let's call it the five minutes spark. If we are told to burn a complete forest it sounds too much, too scary. If we are told to make a spark the task feels so much simpler and achievable. When I feel like nervous, anxious, lazy, coward or whatever, I just decide to commit myself to just do 5 minutes of that stuff and then I'm totally free to leave if I want to. The result is generally that I start that small spark and I end up doing a half, an hour or more of focused and super valuable work on that subject. The point is it was just a spark which started the rest.

    Thanks for your valuable blog and sharing your knowledge and experience. You're one of my "blog idols" but lots of time I just don't comment. I've learned lots from you. Thanks again.

    1. Roberto, thanks for the kind words - they mean a lot to me.

      I love this:

      "commit myself to just do 5 minutes ..."

      That's everything. 5 minutes is really all it takes to make massive change in our own lives because things COMPOUND, so 5 minutes today is worth 500 minutes a year from now.

      Start small. Keep going.

      Thanks again Roberto.

  8. I do like to read, however, I can't sit still long enough to consume (aka learn) all that I want. That's why I love podcasts, easy to listen to on the go!

  9. молодец Tom,
    Enjoyed the post and seeing how you exercised such humility and maturity. Most people would “smugly” brush off the book and look for ways to justify that they already know this information. It’s a sign of maturity to objectively digest new information and look for the pieces which will add value to your own life. Thanks for the up-lifting read.