Archives for October 2016

October 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Commonplace #0038

Commonplace #0038

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.

Thinking – especially thinking in words and sentences – is a form of internal communication. In thinking, you-in-the-present communicates with you-in-the-future. But though thinking is a private and covert activity, it is influenced by external interactions – in particular, by how you communicate with others. Communicative patterns become mental habits. The implication is that counterproductive – closed, oblivious, disconnected, narrow, hermetic, rigid – ways of communicating are thereby internalized and become counterproductive ways of thinking.

If you want to think differently, first learn to act differently.

I’m always looking for some kind of competitive advantage, like some type of unfair ability to compete in the marketplace.

The fact is, few business school professors have ever managed anything, and their lack of hands-on experience shows in their students. Medical school faculties, in contrast, are comprised of the best and most respected practicing physicians.

We take other men’s knowledge and opinions upon trust; which is an idle and superficial learning. We must make them our own. We are just like a man who, needing fire, went to a neighbor’s house to fetch it, and finding a very good one there, sat down to warm himself without remembering to carry any back home. What good does it do us to have our belly full of meat if it is not digested, if it is not transformed into us, if it does not nourish and support us? — Montaigne in The Complete Essays (“Of Pedantry”).

Why, within Eurasia, was it Europeans who conquered the world and colonized other people, rather than the Chinese or the people of India or the Middle East? Why was China chronically unified, and why was Europe chronically disunified? Why is Europe disunified to this day? The answer is geography. Just picture a map of China and a map of Europe. China has a smooth coastline. Europe has an indented coastline, and each big indentation is a peninsula that became an independent country, independent ethnic group, and independent experiment in building a society: notably, the Greek peninsula, Italy, the Iberian peninsula, Denmark, and Norway/Sweden. Europe had two big islands that became important independent societies, Britain and Ireland, while China had no island big enough to become an independent society until the modern emergence of Taiwan. Europe is transected by mountain ranges that split up Europe into different principalities: the Alps, the Pyrenees, Carpathians — China does not have mountain ranges that transect China. In Europe big rivers flow radially — the Rhine, the Rhone, the Danube, and the Elbe — and they don't unify Europe. In China the two big rivers flow parallel to each other, are separated by low-lying land, and were quickly connected by canals. For those geographic reasons, China was unified in 221 B.C. and has stayed unified most of the time since then, whereas for geographic reasons Europe was never unified. Augustus couldn't do it, Charlemagne couldn't do it, and Napoleon and Hitler couldn't unify Europe. To this day, the Europe Union is having difficulties bringing any unity to Europe. Europe's fragmentation was a great advantage to Europe as far as technological and scientific innovation is concerned. Innovation proceeds most rapidly in a society with some intermediate degree of fragmentation.

October 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Commonplace #0037

Commonplace #0037

Boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there as opposed to reasoning by analogy.

The CEO who misleads others in public may eventually mislead himself in private.

The world is much more interesting than any one discipline.

The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and coherent action. The guiding policy specifies the approach to dealing with the obstacles called out in the diagnosis. It is like a signpost, marking the direction forward but not defining the details of the trip. Coherent actions are feasible coordinated policies, resource commitments, and actions designed to carry out the guiding policy.

Culture eats strategy.

Something not worth doing well is often not worth doing at all.

If you would persuade, appeal to interest and not to reason. The man changed his view when his incentives made him change it, and not before.

To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks pretty much like a nail.

I specialize in simple problems.

It’s not bringing in the new ideas that’s so hard. It’s getting rid of the old ones.

Curiosity. Concentration. Perseverance and self-criticism.

Better roughly right than precisely wrong.

You can get in way more trouble with a good idea than a bad idea, because you forget that the good idea has limits.

The Feynman Technique:

  1. Choose a Concept
  2. Teach it to a Toddler
  3. Identify Gaps and Go Back to The Source Material
  4. Review and Simplify

October 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Commonplace #0036

Commonplace #0036

The writer Umberro Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have. How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point is that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendages but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means … allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at your menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it— which comes to the same thing— is by writing in it.

Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake— not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.

Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.

October 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Commonplace #0035

Commonplace #0035

Originality depends on new and striking combinations of ideas.

An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements and the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. While education is important for building up a repository for which you can connect things, it’s not enough. You need broad life experiences as well.

To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles.

Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

A man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES.

We take other men’s knowledge and opinions upon trust; which is an idle and superficial learning. We must make them our own. We are just like a man who, needing fire, went to a neighbor’s house to fetch it, and finding a very good one there, sat down to warm himself without remembering to carry any back home. What good does it do us to have our belly full of meat if it is not digested, if it is not transformed into us, if it does not nourish and support us?

October 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Commonplace #0034

Commonplace #0034

If You’re Not Hungry Enough to Eat an Apple, Then You’re Probably Not Hungry. Eat All the Junk Food You Want as Long as You Cook It Yourself. Eat Only Foods That Have Been Cooked by Humans. Don’t Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother Wouldn’t recognize as Food. Stop Eating Before You’re Full.

Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.

Biological systems tend towards what is comfortable.

If you do what everyone else does, you’ll get what everyone else gets.

Listening is among the scarcest of all human skills. Listening requires concentration, skill, patience, and a lot of practice. But such practice is a very sound investment.

What the pupil must learn, if he learns anything at all, is that the world will do most of the work for you, provided you cooperate with it by identifying how it really works and aligning with those realities. If we do not let the world teach us, it teaches us a lesson.

Remember that everyone we deal with has their own goals, feelings, aspirations, and motivations, many of them not always immediately obvious. We must construct human systems with human nature in full view, fully harnessed, fully acknowledged. Any system of human relations that doesn’t accept this truth will always be fighting the world, rather than getting it to work for them.

The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamored with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

In the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own.

Ramo believed that tennis could be subdivided into two games: the professionals and the rest of us.
Players in both games play by the same rules and scoring. They play on the same court. Sometimes they share the same equipment. In short the basic elements of the game are the same. Sometimes amateurs believe they are professionals but professionals never believe they are amateurs. But the games are fundamentally different, which is Ramo’s key insight. Professionals win points whereas amateurs lose them. If you choose to win at tennis – as opposed to having a good time – the strategy for winning is to avoid mistakes. The way to avoid mistakes is to be conservative and keep the ball in play, letting the other fellow have plenty of room in which to blunder his way to defeat, because he, being an amateur will play a losing game and not know it. If you’re an amateur your focus should be on avoiding stupidity.

It’s the strong swimmers who drown.

October 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Commonplace #0033

Commonplace #0033

Eliminating stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance.

Understand deeply. Don’t face complex issues head-on; first understand simple ideas deeply. Clear the clutter and expose what is really important. Be brutally honest about what you know and don’t know. Then see what’s missing, identify the gaps, and fill them in. Let go of bias, prejudice, and preconceived notions. There are degrees to understanding (it’s not just a yes-or-no proposition) and you can always heighten yours. Rock-solid understanding is the foundation for success.

Make mistakes. Fail to succeed. Intentionally get it wrong to inevitably get it even more right. Mistakes are great teachers — they highlight unforeseen opportunities and holes in your understanding. They also show you which way to turn next, and they ignite your imagination.

Raise questions. Constantly create questions to clarify and extend your understanding. What’s the real question? Working on the wrong questions can waste a lifetime. Ideas are in the air — the right questions will bring them out and help you see connections that otherwise would have been invisible.

Follow the flow of ideas. Look back to see where ideas came from and then look ahead to discover where those ideas may lead. A new idea is a beginning, not an end. Ideas are rare— milk them. Following the consequences of small ideas can result in big payoffs.

Change. The unchanging element is change— by mastering the first four elements, you can change the way you think and learn. You can always improve, grow, and extract more out of your education, yourself, and the way you live your life. Change is the universal constant that allows you to get the most out of living and learning.

can extract from human history a couple of principles. First, the principle that really isolated groups are at a disadvantage, because most groups get most of their ideas and innovations from the outside. Second, I also derive the principle of intermediate fragmentation: you don’t want excessive unity and you don’t want excessive fragmentation; instead, you want your human society or business to be broken up into a number of groups which compete with each other but which also maintain relatively free communication with each other. And those I see as the overall principles of how to organize a business and get rich.

Look for and study natural experiments, the more controlled, the better. I propose to try to learn from human history. Human history over the last 13,000 years comprises tens of thousands of different experiments. Each human society represents a different natural experiment in organizing human groups. Human societies have been organized very differently, and the outcomes have been very different. Some societies have been much more productive and innovative than others. What can we learn from these natural experiments of history that will help us all get rich? I propose to go over two batches of natural experiments that will give you insights into how to get rich.

Competition between human societies that are in contact with each other is what drives the invention of new technology and the continued availability of technology. Only in an isolated society, where there's no competition and no source of reintroduction, can one of these fads result in the permanent loss of a valuable technology.

The principle that really isolated groups are at a disadvantage, because most groups get most of their ideas and innovations from the outside. I also derive the principle of intermediate fragmentation: you don't want excessive unity and you don't want excessive fragmentation; instead, you want your human society or business to be broken up into a number of groups which compete with each other but which also maintain relatively free communication with each other. And those I see as the overall principles of how to organize a business and get rich.

Shine on you crazy diamond.

October 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Commonplace #0032

Commonplace #0032

Great men are almost always bad men.

Developing the habit of mastering the multiple models which underlie reality is the best thing you can do.

If you have more than one model, you can look at problems from a variety of perspectives and increase the odds you come to better solutions.

The Creativity Question published in 1976, preserves Wallas’s “Stages of Control” and presents his model of insight: (1) preparation; (2) incubation; (3) illumination; and (4) verification.

Intuition is the use of patterns they’ve already learned, whereas insight is the discovery of new patterns.

Stories are a way we frame and organize the details of a situation. There are other types of frames besides stories, such as maps and even organizational wiring diagrams that show where people stand in a hierarchy. … These kinds of stories organize all kinds of details about a situation and depend on a few core beliefs we can call “anchors,” because they are fairly stable and anchor the way we interpret the other details.

One of my favorite questions to probe thinking is to ask what information would cause someone to change their mind. Immediately stop listening and leave if they say ‘I can’t think of anything.’

Let me think about that for a bit and get back to you.

Acquiring knowledge may seem like a daunting task. There is so much to know and time is precious. Luckily, we don’t have to master everything. To get the biggest bang for the buck we can study the big ideas from physics, biology, psychology, philosophy, literature, and sociology. Our aim is not to remember facts and try to repeat them when asked. We’re going to try and hang these ideas on a latticework of mental models. Doing this puts them in a useable form and enables us to make better decisions. A mental model is simply a representation of an external reality inside your head. Mental models are concerned with understanding knowledge about the world. Decisions are more likely to be correct when ideas from multiple disciplines all point towards the same conclusion.

October 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Fact Sheet #0001

Fact Sheet #0001

Corals derive their astonishing colors, and much of their nourishment, from symbiotic algae that live on their surfaces. The algae photosynthesize and make sugars, which the corals feed on. But when temperatures rise too high, the algae produce too much oxygen, which is toxic in high concentrations, and the corals must eject their algae to survive. Without the algae, the corals turn bone white and begin to starve. If water temperatures soon return to normal, the corals can recruit new algae and recover, but if not, they will die in months.

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Guns arrived in Japan around 1543 with two Portuguese adventurers who stepped ashore, pulled out a gun, and shot a duck on the wings. A Japanese nobleman happened to be there, was very impressed, bought these two guns for $10,000, and had his sword-maker imitate them. Within a decade, Japan had more guns per capita than any other country in the world, and by the year 1600 Japan had the best guns of any country in the world. And then, over the course of the next century, Japan gradually abandoned guns. What happened was that the Samurai, the warrior class in Japan, had been used to fighting by standing up in front of their armies and making a graceful speech, the other opposing Samurai made an answering graceful speech, and then they had one-on-one combat. The Samurai discovered that the peasants with their guns would shoot the Samurai while the Samurai were making their graceful speeches. So the Samurai realized that guns were a danger because they were such an equalizer. The Samurai first restricted the licensing of gun factories to a hundred factories, and then they licensed fewer factories, and then they said that only three factories could repair guns, and then they said that those three factories could make only a hundred guns a year, then ten guns a year, then three guns a year, until by the 1840s when Commodore Perry came to Japan, Japan no longer had any guns. The banning of the guns could work only in isolated Japan, where there were no neighbors as a threat, and where there were no neighbors from whom to reacquire the technology.

As of the year 1400, China had by far the best, the biggest, and the largest number of, ocean-going ships in the world. Between 1405 and 1432 the Chinese sent 7 ocean-going fleets, the so-called treasure fleets, out from China. Those fleets comprised hundreds of ships; they had total crews of 20,000 men; each of those ships dwarfed the tiny ships of Columbus; and those gigantic fleets sailed from China to Indonesia, to India, to Arabia, to the east coast of Africa, and down the east coast of Africa. It looked as if the Chinese were on the verge of rounding the Cape of Good Hope, coming up the west side of Africa, and colonizing Europe. There was a new emperor in China in 1432. In China there had been a Navy faction and an anti-Navy faction. In 1432, with the new emperor, the anti-Navy faction gained ascendancy. The new emperor decided that spending all this money on ships is a waste of money. Okay, there's nothing unusual about that in China; there was also isolationism in the United States in the 1930's, and Britain did not want anything to do with electric lighting until the 1920s. The difference, though, is that this abandoning of fleets in China was final, because China was unified under one emperor. When that one emperor gave the order to dismantle the shipyards and stop sending out the ships, that order applied to all of China, and China's tradition of building ocean-going ships was lost because of the decision by one person. China was a virtual gigantic island, like Tasmania. Now contrast that with what happened with ocean-going fleets in Europe.

October 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Commonplace #0031

Commonplace #0031

Dear Sugar,

I read your column religiously. I’m twenty-two. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early forties. My question is short and sweet: What would you tell your twenty-something self if you could talk to her now?

Love, Seeking Wisdom

-- -- -- --

Dear Seeking Wisdom,

Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.

In the middle of the night in the middle of your twenties when your best woman friend crawls naked into your bed, straddles you, and says, You should run away from me before I devour you, believe her.

You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.

When that really sweet but fucked-up gay couple invites you over to their cool apartment to do Ecstasy with them, say no.

There are some things you can’t understand yet. Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding. It’s good you’ve worked hard to resolve childhood issues while in your twenties, but understand that what you resolve will need to be resolved again. And again. You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.

One evening you will be rolling around on the wooden floor of your apartment with a man who will tell you he doesn’t have a condom. You will smile in this spunky way that you think is hot and tell him to fuck you anyway. This will be a mistake for which you alone will pay.

Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.

You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.

Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin, you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.

Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.

When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t “mean anything” because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life.

Say thank you.


October 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Commonplace #0030

Commonplace #0030

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal— to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect— between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.
But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer— and, in a sense, the tragedy of life— is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors— but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires— including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know— is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo— this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that— no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain, your friend,
April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
 New York City