It’s a good thing everyone’s so narcissistic and self-obsessed these day; it’s so much easier for me to blend in and appear normal.

If you’re wondering what brought that up, I was checking out some of the negative reviews of my book. One reviewer called it, “A paean to himself.” I had to look it up; it means “A work that praises or honors its subject. Another wrote, “Wow. This should have been titled, ‘The Real Ego of Steve Tobak.’” Pithy, right?

Thankfully these were few and far between. If they were prevalent I’m not sure my fragile ego could take it. JK. Actually I have pretty thick skin. Besides, it’s important to get honest feedback on your work, good and bad. It’s surprising how “on the money” most of it was, except for one guy who’s clearly a raving socialist.

One of the gripes I did find perplexing, however, is that the book has a preponderance of anecdotal stories, most of which come from my own personal experience. Well, duh. What more can I offer than genuine experience working with real entrepreneurs and executives in the real business world? What’s more valuable than first-person experience from a guy who was actually in the boardroom?

Here’s the thing. English may be my first language but writing is not my first career. I haven’t been at it for very long and it’s definitely a work in progress. And while I continue to grow as a writer (one can only hope), my value proposition has always been observations, insights, and entertainment from real world experience. My experience.

Speaking of which, there’s a particularly instructive and perhaps endearing untold story about how I ended up spending my days in a lounge chair with a computer on my lap.

To say I’ve been an avid reader my entire life is like saying Warren Buffet likes to invest or Bill Gates likes to code. It’s sort of my thing.

From the moment I could read, my folks indulged me with an endless stream of How and Why Wonder Books to feed my insatiable curiosity and keep me from driving them nuts with perplexing questions like “Why is the sky is blue?” and “Where did the dinosaurs go?”

After that came countless science and science fiction books. Week after week, I’d walk out of the library with stack after stack, as many as I could carry, and spend all my time devouring them when I wasn’t at school or playing with friends.

Over the decades I’ve graduated from one genre and author to the next: From Robert Ludlum and John Grisham to Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. From Plato and Tolstoy to Vonnegut and Crichton. From Stephen King and Clive Barker to J.D. Salinger and Ayn Rand. From Bradbury and Asimov to Heinlein and Herbert. From Mark Helprin and Michael Chabon to Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson.

Together with music, books became my escape from the angst and anxiety of growing up, the chaos of a dysfunctional family, the turbulence and violence of the streets of New York, and later on, the stresses of climbing the corporate ladder and carrying the responsibility of a senior executive.

Over the years, books became my sanctuary. They kept me sane. And in a very real sense, they were my salvation.

In retrospect, it’s apparent that I’ve somehow managed to romanticize – no, probably fetishize is a better word – the writing profession. And while I was not the slightest bit aware of that, looking back on it, I can’t really understand how I might have missed it.

And when I finally quit the corporate world after 23 years in the high-tech industry, a seed began to sprout. A dozen years later, here we are. If you’re wondering what’s next, join the club. I’m sort of wondering the same thing. But I do have two or three book projects in mind; we’ll have to see which one germinates.

I said this would be instructive for a reason. Like me, you may have a passion growing inside you, whether you’re aware of it or not. Don’t be impetuous; timing is important with this sort of thing. Writing, for example, is not a lucrative profession. And it helps to have experience to draw from, even if some don’t get why that’s relevant as opposed to egotistical.

The point is, had I put the cart ahead of the horse, I’d probably be just another starving writer. Good thing I didn’t. Everything happens for a reason and in good time.

  • Danny

    I finished the book last week, and I think it was an excellent book full of some great advice for anyone interested in what it takes to be a leader. I’m not that smart of a person, so I probably missed the deep seated sophisticated main message of the book, but to me, the main message and best piece of advise that makes it universal in being a good leader is to work hard, do work you are good at and passion about, that will earn you a living and contribute to society, and be yourself every step of the way. I found it to be personally refreshing to hear someone say that being yourself is OK, and that there is no predefined all encompassing recipe for an effective leader, contrary to what popular literature would have us believe. We live in a culture and day-in-time where almost everyone is a phony in one way or another, usually various ways at once, and they have really learned to play their part well. Conformity is the rule of life that most everyone seems to work toward, and being a leader is no different. And it seems they never connect the dots to why they were not successful when they followed all the conformance rules of phoniness. The reason is phony leaders are easy to spot and see through long before they reach the top.

    To some, it may have sounded like it was all about personal experience, but Steve showed his readers some real leaders, men and women who were highly effective, how they think and behave, and the fact that they are not like any of the leaders described in all the “how to” books. Having been in the tech business in one form or another most of my career, I can attest to the fact there are some great leaders in the industry, and the ones I have known, reflect the qualities and principals in this book. Some other great books on leadership are written by Navy Seals, and I think the reason great leaders come from the Seals is because their decisions usually carry life or death consequences. In high tech, innovation and business occur at such a high rate of activity and change, leaders decisions carry corporate life and death consequences as well, and usually in very short order. History validates that truth. Therefore, high tech is as close to the same principals with which the Seals deal as it gets in business. I thought the book did a great job of revealing those principals and showing how well they work. Anyone aspiring to a leadership role, would be wise to read this book.

    • Steve Tobak

      Thanks Danny! You’re the man.

  • Paulette Chung

    Some people are unkind – this is the world we live in. If you ask some of the critics what they have accomplished in their lives you might be surprised at their answers. Enough said.

    • Steve Tobak

      Indeed, there’s certainly a lot of thinly veiled jealousy and envy out there in comment / review land. That’s why it helps to have a large number of reviewers so the outliers essentially disappear.

  • Ovidiu Moraru

    In my opinion, even if sometimes reading through you see that Steve often talks about his experience, his accomplishments and so on, let’s face it, he does have the experience to back up the things he’s saying. And it’s not like the things he’s saying are total BS. I mean, the best thing about this is that it actually gets things straight: people, cut the BS and get on doing real stuff and then we can talk about Leadership.

    I’m tired of online guru’s that can sell almost everything but lack the actual experience of a real life conflicts, mentoring people, fighting through crisis, etc. You don’t get that from blogs or online articles. These kinds of things are the things you get from real life experience and it seems to me that Steve actually has this.

    I really enjoyed the book not because it said what I wanted to hear but because it made me realize that the world out there is a tough and you need to bust your ass to get up.

    • Steve Tobak

      Thanks and well said, Ovidiu.