The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Book Review

The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, by Charles Murray

This is a short book on the basic guidelines to live your life by in the corporate world. It is the “dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, tough thinking, clear writing, and living a good life.” Charles Murray starts off by saying he himself is a Curmudgeon, the premise is that most corporate organizations are run by Curmudgeons like him. A Curmudgeon as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary: “Full Definition of curmudgeon. 1 archaic : miser. 2 : a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man.” A better, more telling definition is “Crotchety old man.” What is this books relevance to me? How do you succeed in a world run by Curmudgeons? The assumption here is that I would either work in, or see myself working in a business run by curmudgeons. While neither of these statements are true, there are a lot of valuable lessons to be learned from this book. Ranging from proper use of words/grammar to how to stand out in the eyes of a curmudgeon and an outline for manners. It outlines the “lost art” of a lot of behaviors that have been lost over the generations. It is a worthwhile read, and there are definitely some good points to take home. I would say that it gets a bit nit picky at times, but that is the nature of the curmudgeons.

Takeaways/Action Items

  • Don’t use cliches, or words incorrectly. See pages 23-25
  • Insetead of saying “no problem” when responding to Thank-You. Say “my pleasure” or “glad to help” There is nothing wrong with “no problem” but it implies that it is a burden.
  • Manners are outlined in pages 48-50. It is more than just saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you”. It is being genuinely happy to greet someone when they walk in a room. The C.S. Lewis quote here was “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, its thinking of yourself less”
  • On standing out: be extremely thorough in everything you do, put in the extra hours when not asked (and not for the sake of extra hours, but to get something accomplished)
  • Writing is the most valuable tool for creativity- aligned with other things I have read/heard (Agile)
  • Knowing what you want to say is not the same as saying it well
  • Delete the word “very” from your writing vocabulary- when you look at your writing it can almost always be deleted or replaced with a better word
  • On writing for creativity: “don’t assume that you are aware of all you know before you have written it”
  • 3 things to look for when editing your own work- page 77-78
    • Sentences not in the right order
    • sentence has more in it than one sentence can hold
    • Transition between paragraphs is rough
  • Don’t wait for inspiration. He is referring to writing but this advice can be applied to anything creative. Set a time, put in the hours, just start writing and the creative juices will start flowing naturally.- Aligned with Agile
  • Learn to love rigor- or being exhaustive, thorough, or accurate. Be pushed to the limits of your intellectual potential to grow. And love the challenge of rigor
  • Change your perspective on TIME: if you start your career at 30, you still have 35 years to “make it”. He says that if you don’t make it in 35 years, you weren’t going to make it in 40 or 45. Your twenties are a time to do things you won’t be able to do when you have a spouse and children.
  • On making it early on in life- you do not have the life experience yet. If you look at people who are successful really young, they are the anomaly. Look at Steve Jobs, he started Apple young, then was kicked out of Apple and returned when he had more life experience to create what we all know of as Apple today.
  • Another note on “peaking early” you don’t necessarily want to hit 40 years old knowing that your best days are behind you. Read pages 90-91 again for more of a story on this.
  • Exercise your “elastic limit” via extended travel, life experience with people outside of your typical social group. Have them challenge you, if you are always with like-minded peers, you will have a limited life experience and the lens you view the world with will be too focused. He sited military, extended travel, and living on your own in a different socioeconomic group than you were raised.
  • Two accomplishments will almost surely produce happiness: Find work that you enjoy and a soul mate
  • How to find that itch that needs scratching –> passion. Look on pages 101-104
  • Living the good life: Realizing the best that we as human beings can be- Maslow’s self actualization
  • Discussion on being judgmental as a good thing. There are things that we should be judgmental about, read 106-110. This does not mean being “intolerant” but rather than not wanting to plant your flag on a judgment, you should do it because it matters. See examples of Art, Wine, and marriage in the book
  • Distinction of can do vs. may do – pages 111-113
  • Bring back words with hard edges. Instead of saying “inappropriate” be more specific and hard edged: that person is vulgar, unseemly, or dishonorable.
  • Nice person vs. Good person are different things.
  • 4 cardinal virtues- page 115
    • Courage
    • Justice
    • Temperance
    • Prudence (practical wisdom)
  • There are 4 lasting justified satisfactions: pages 121-122. tap all four to be happy
    • Family
    • Vocation
    • Community
    • Faith
  • Show up- pages 122-123. This is based on the 4 lasting justifications above. You have to show up for them for them to have a positive impact on your life.
  • Take the cliches about Fame and Money seriously- pages 126-128
  • Take Religion seriously, even if you have been socialized not to- pages 129-134. Worth a read here. And defining what that means for yourself
  • Take the cliches about marriage seriously
  • Watch Groundhog day repeatedly. This is an interesting one. Basically he is saying that you can read the Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, but you really won’t. However the movie Groundhog Day is a “profound and moral fable that deals with the most fundamental issues of virtue and happiness.” it is about experiencing deep and lasting justified satisfaction with life as a whole even though you only have one day to work with.
  • “Try hard. Be True. Enjoy. Godspeed.”


RG – 5/9/2016

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