How The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy changed my life.
A Little Story
Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. Every day he worked on his blog. He had made this blog because he wanted to share his ideas with the world. After the three first posts, he thought by himself: “Well, what am I writing about?”. It was a complex question. He wanted to share his ideas, but did he want to share all his ideas? No, of course not, then he would turn into a human spam and Austin Kleon had learned him not to turn into a human spam. But how would he know what to share and what not?
“Maybe start with stating some key values for the blog,” said a voice in the back of his head. “Great idea! Thank you, voice in the back of my head!” said the Read More Warrior out loud. Suddenly he stumbled upon a beautiful book. He took it from the shelf, turned the front cover to his face, and read the title: The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy.
The 3 Key Values
Everything starts with Curiosity. For me, the boy in the book symbolizes Curiosity. As a child, we all are infinitely curious. Everyone goes through a phase in which they will ask their parents over and over “Why?”. I think we can all benefit from staying with one foot in this Why-phase. Keep asking these Why-questions. Try to get as close to the truth as possible. Talk with people. Listen actively. Experiment. Read. Write. Share your ideas. Share them clearly and creatively.
The observant reader noticed I wrote “with one foot” in the previous paragraph. What about the other foot? Well, I think Curiosity is a good thing although if you only keep asking questions like: “Why do I want to read more books?”, “Why can’t I have my creative ideas at a time I don’t have to sleep?” or “Why do I have a hole in my sock?” you would stay in a kind of passive mindset. But when you use your other foot (with a hole in its sock) to ask “How” questions like “How do I read more books?” “How can I use my creative ideas?” or “How can I fix my sock?” you will be one step closer to an active mindset that will keep you going.
In my opinion, this is the most brilliant quote in the book. For me, the fox symbolizes Honesty in this book. Letting a fox make such an honest statement is very cleverly done by Mackesy. Just think about the expression “As sly as a fox”. My mind was blown when I realized that.
To break the ice, I will start by telling you something. I honestly thought that the writer was a woman. Both men and women can have the name, Charlie. Somehow when I read the book and saw the beautiful drawings combined with the very vulnerable writing style, I convinced myself that Charlie Mackesy was a woman. A visit to his website proved the opposite.
Why is telling the truth so important? When you’re honest with people, you can form a far deeper bond with them. I’m certainly not the only one who thinks Honesty is important: the eighth rule of Jordan Peterson’s book 12 rules for life is “Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie” and Sam Harris has written a book called Lying about why you shouldn’t lie. I cannot explain it any clearer than Harris does in his book:
I’ve spent much more time thinking about this third value, than the other two. I first thought that it needed to be gratefulness. Somehow I couldn’t find myself writing anything about gratefulness, although it’s important to me. So I thought “Maybe there is another value that is more important and is blocking my writing in some way”. Then the invisible blockade showed itself suddenly the value Courage.
For me, the horse symbolizes Courage in this book. Why is Courage so important? Why did I first think that gratefulness was more important? When you are grateful for someone, it often takes Courage to say it to that person. It might be the reason why I first thought that gratefulness was important. But Courage is also important for other things. Asking for help when you need it requires Courage. Being honest even when you think that a small white lie will make everything easier, requires Courage. When you go on a curious adventure to challenge your own beliefs, you need Courage.
I like to see it in this way. I don’t see myself as particularly courageous, but I try to act courageously whenever possible. My best friend says it best:
Like asking your crush on a date, reaching out to your greatest example, or signing a contract that will force you to read more.
Extra: Have Fun in the Process
When you keep the three above values at the front of your head, keep some space at the back of your head for a fourth smaller, but not less important value: “Have fun in the process” For me, the mole and his cake symbolize this value. I even laughed out loud once while I read a page about this mole and his obsession with cake. I had never laughed out loud while reading a book before.
Having fun in the process by making some jokes or taking yourself not too seriously will elevate all the other values and makes them also easier.
I don’t mean this in the typical economic sense but see “the rising tide” as “Have fun in the process” and “all boats” as the three values Curiosity, Honesty, and Courage.
Think about your own key values. Write them down somewhere where you see them often. It’s okay if you steal one or multiple of the above.