I’ve started combing through the survey responses (it’s still open, you can take it here), and was struck by one question that kept coming up over and over again: how do you read so much?
I’ve talked about this a little before: these are my best tips for making time to read in the midst of a busy life. While these tips—seize the moment, find a rhythm, always keep plenty of good books on hand—can help most people read more, they don’t truly explain how I manage to read so many books.
That’s because when it comes to reading, I have an unfair advantage.
I first heard the phrase “unfair advantage” in an early episode of the StartUp podcast, when a venture capitalist asked entrepreneur Alex Blumberg what it was that set him apart from his competition. Blumberg’s advantage—that he had 15 years’ experience working on Planet Money and This American Life, that he was a trusted, well-connected source—was unfair only in the sense that not everyone could have it.
An unfair advantage can’t be bought; it can’t be easily copied. It’s uniquely yours.
Back to reading. I’m a naturally fast reader; I always have been. I love story. I enjoy reading—it’s something that (usually) revives and refreshes me.
I live very close (and right next door for 15 years!) to an excellent library system.
I’ve been reading a hundred books a year for a very long time, which means that I’ve read a whole lot of books by now—many more than most people.
When I explain it like that, my advantage seems obvious. But I didn’t see it for a long time: it’s difficult to spot your own unfair advantage, because it’s so much a part of you. It’s not something that stands out—to you.
The only reason I spotted my own unfair advantage was the timing. I was recently helping a friend think through some big-picture issues with his business, and pointed out his unfair advantage. He couldn’t see it—he was too close to his work to realize how unique his advantage was—but it was crystal clear to me.
Pointing out his unfair advantage primed me to realize my own, as soon as I read those survey questions about reading.
Your unfair advantage can take limitless forms, and can be put to work in any way imaginable. (While this phrase is most often tossed around in career discussions, that’s just the beginning.)
It’s hard to spot your unfair advantage, because it’s such a part of who you are. To help you spot your own, here are some examples of what others’ unfair advantages look like:
We’re remodeling our kitchen right now; our contractors gutted it while we were at the beach. Yesterday I met the son of the father-and-son operation for the first time: we chatted about remodeling, and how construction had always come easily to him. He credited his father for his good eye, strong skills, and broad experience—because he’d been helping him in one way or another since he was in grade school. Unfair advantage.
My mom knows every contractor in the city (or at least it feels that way), treats them well, and pays them promptly. Whenever I need a toilet fixed, a sink repaired, a tree limbed up, she tells me who to call. I get amazing service because they love my mom. Unfair advantage.
When a friend started a style blog and it took off immediately, she joked about how she was such a cliché—a style blogger married to a pro photographer. But there’s a reason so many successful style bloggers have boyfriends or besties that are photographers. Unfair advantage.
In a book I just finished, a character landed a job because of his obscure knowledge of 20th century literature, plus his punctual habits. Unfair advantage.
My friend makes amazing family scrapbooks. Her sister’s job is creating layouts for a scrapbooking company. Unfair advantage.
A fabulous interior designer planned out my living room—using cheap stuff from IKEA and a few investment pieces—for free. Because she’s my sister-in-law. Unfair advantage.
Your unfair advantage could be anything that sets you apart: a great sense of smell, an eye for detail, a brother who’s handy with tools. It could be your experience in the family business, your engineering degree, ability to thrive on only 6 hours of sleep each night. It could be your personality, your height, or your crazy family history.
If you’re like most people, you don’t have one unfair advantage—you have many. To put it to work for you, the first step is to spot it.
Do you know your unfair advantage? Tell us about it in comments.