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Joys of Lifelong Learning with Tom Vanderbilt (ep. 382)

Tom Vanderbilt

John O’Leary welcomes Tom Vanderbilt, New York Times bestselling author of Traffic, to the Live Inspired Podcast to share the benefits of being a lifelong learner.

Tom Vanderbilt, New York Times bestselling author of Traffic, is known for writing about the mundane to the obscure, shedding light on surprising patterns of human behavior.

Through his extensive research + first-hand experience, Tom shares the remarkable benefits of pursuing new skills and hobbies, the pressure-free approach we had as children and its transformative impact on our lives.

Whether you’re 17 or 70, today’s conversation will inspire you to take the next right step in unlocking the joys that come with being an adult beginner.

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  • While at University of Wisconsin – Madison, Tom dropped out of the journalism department finding working at the school newspaper was the best way to learn the craft of journalism and allowing time to study other intriguing subjects.
  • Tom’s work focuses on insightful research of everyday life such as design, technology, science, and culture and how things really work.
  • New York Times bestseller Traffic is an eye-opening investigation at human behavior while driving. Get a copy here.
  • Compliancy effect: There is a simple mantra you can carry about you in traffic: When a situation feels dangerous to you, it’s probably more safe than you know; when a situation feels safe, that is precisely when you should feel on guard. Most crashes, after all, happen on dry roads, on clear, sunny days, to sober drivers.
  • While writing Beginners, Tom visited the Infant Action Lab at New York University to see the pressure-free approach children have to learning.
  • In his quest to learn new skills, Tom broaden his social circle and found inspiration from others in his community
  • Falling in love with learning: Studies show that couples learning new skills together can reenergize a relationship.
  • The only limit apart from your own body is your own imagination.
  • We often interrupt people at the beginner stage, forgetting that talent can take time.



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  1. Q. What is the best book you’ve ever read?
    A. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan.
  2. Q. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today?
    A. The promise of new chapters being written in life; endlessness.
  3. Q. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be?
    A. A family photo album.
  4. Q. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be?
    A. Barrack Obama.
  5. Q. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
    A. Don't try to write a book and have fun with it.
  6. Q. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
    A. It will be okay.
  7. Q. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read?
    A. He was a good listener.