The Book in Three Sentences

It is more important to live fully than to live in a straight line. The surest gauge of the impact a life makes is how many other lives it touches. Nothing in life looks the same once you truly understand that you are not exempt from death.

Not Fade Away summary

This is my book summary of Not Fade Away by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton. My notes are informal and often contain quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts. This summary also includes key lessons and important passages from the book.

  • On taking time to find yourself: “What’s unworthy about working to understand who you truly are and what you really want from life? What better use can a person make of his youth?”
  • A side effect of taking time to find yourself and goofing off: you gradually find that you are becoming ready to be mature, responsible, hard working, etc.
  • “Nothing which gives comfort [to someone in need of comfort] should ever be despised.”
  • “Money needed to be worked for but not fretted over. It would appear when required. In the meantime, better to climb trees and build snowmen. In other words, to live.”
  • “The big things in life are best understood by way of small things.”
  • Be careful what you tell children. They can be easily hurt and we remember how we feel for a lifetime.
  • There are many people who hurt, physically or emotionally, on a daily basis. For them, normal tasks require monumental effort. Remember this and be compassionate and patient.
  • How many of us truly grasp the simple fact that we will die before it is thrust into our face?
  • “Truthfully, my mistakes don’t seem to have mattered very much. They were dumb, not evil, and dumb is part of every life.”
  • “People of our generation seemed to agree it was more important to live fully than to live in a straight line.”
  • We often talk and think about what we have done, but what really matters is that we are there. That we show up at all. It’s a shared sense of community and connection that matters most, regardless of the cause.
  • “A problem that can be fixed by money … is not a problem.”
  • “If you’ve got your health, you can always make some money. But all the dough in the world can’t buy back your health.”
  • “Isn’t it clear that the person who compromises his health in the name of making money is cutting himself a really lousy deal?”
  • Everyone says that health is really important but if you look at how people actually live they seem to believe the opposite.
  • “Maybe the single best thing about having money is that it makes money seem a great deal less important.”
  • “I mistrust rigid definitions. They’re the beginning of dogma, and dogma is the start of narrow-mindedness.”
  • It can be easy to get trapped in life. “Staying on a track can kill, one easy day at a time.”
  • It is often easier to amend your own beliefs than change an organization. Thus, you convince yourself to work somewhere you don’t really want to work or do something you don’t really believe in.
  • “By increments so exquisitely gradual that they might have passed unnoticed, I could have ended up being totally untrue to myself and living a life I hated.”
  • “Wealth is a great deal more enjoyable if you’ve already taught yourself that you can have a good time without it.”
  • “I promised myself that I wouldn’t have a bad day for the rest of my life. If someone was wasting my time, I’d excuse myself and walk away. If a situation bothered me or refused to get resolved, I’d shrug and move on.”
  • “Mortality doesn’t limit us only in time. It limits us, as well, in what we hope to understand.”
  • “Nothing looks exactly the same once you truly understand that you are not exempt from death.”
  • “The truth is that getting ready to die is tough and painful–more so, I believe, than the merely physical torments that define a bad disease.”
  • I love how he describes old age as “the leisurely adventure of growing old with my wife.”
  • “…their obsession with detail was a way of masking cluelessness about the bigger picture.”
  • His discussion of happiness in bleak circumstances on pages 140-141 is a personal anecdote that resonates with the science shared in Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert.
  • His three rules for finding a job: 1) I would only work for someone I thought to be wildly smart. 2) I would only work for the head of the company. 3) I would only work in an up-and-coming industry.
  • He went into the cable television business because, in 1982, it’s best years were still ahead. “The industry was essentially a government-subsidized monopoly, financed by huge tax breaks. It was young and fragmented–there was big money to be made in the process of consolidation.”
  • “Giving up is when you’re in a contest and you acknowledge that you’ve lost. Acceptance is when you graduate to a different way of looking at the situation.”
  • “Illness has always been a temporary setback… Nothing prepares us for that one illness that doesn’t go away.”
  • Fun idea: he wore the same shirt at all three of his children’s births. “My birthing shirt.”
  • Each moment is a life. Life is renewed every time we are walloped by beauty, every time we are shaken up by gratitude and love.
  • He set a rule to be home every day by 6pm to see his kids and stuck to it nearly his entire career despite helping to run a multimillion dollar company.
  • He created “field trips” for his kids and their friends organized around different topics like grease (fast food), garbage (garbage men and recycling), luggage (luggage factory and airports). Sounds fun and cool and the kids loved it.
  • If cancer beats you it is “such a hollow and inglorious triumph. Because the moment I die, the tumor starts to die as well. The cancer will have killed itself as well as me.”
    “The surest gauge of the scale of a life is how many other lives it touches.”

Not Fade Away by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton

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