There are certain values you hold which can make your life better, more fulfilling, more meaningful, more helpful. Starting right now you can be greater.
Yes, greater is not a superb word. I could have also written “more x” or “more y.” In the spirit of this post, I won’t belabor this point. Whatever it is that is possible, you have within you the potential to be more like that later today than you are right now. That is an incredible kind of potential. If I were a religious man, I would use the word awesome to describe that possibility and the feeling associated with the insight.
In this blog, I want to share some of my process, and then console myself. Ideally, you will find something in it of value. Hint: values are the key.
I was laying in bed, feeling a little meek. A bit glum. You see, I have tried hard for years to garner attention for my work (with Values of the Wise). At times, I have had some very special persons say some wonderful things about my books – and on occasion, about me. I never really ask for feedback about myself, but apparently, the books I have edited have made some feel that I have tried hard, been indefatigable, or succeeded in some sense of the word. While I am fleshing out this paragraph, allow me to share two that have meant the most. Michael Toms, a real polymath with degrees in theology, books to his name, and a journalist/interviewer extraordinaire (from www.newdimensions.org), said: “Like a medieval monastic scribe illuminating manuscripts for the few, Jason Merchey is compiling the wisdom of the ages for the many – a cornucopia of insightful treasures.” Now that I think of it, I almost shudder to add that the second person I quote is now dead as well! “Jason Merchey has done it again; a feast of thoughtful, carefully compiled words of wisdom to nourish us all. Combined with his intriguing website, he has now truly entered the noble realm of helping others to learn.” , Co-Founder/Director of the Mortimer J. Adler Center for the Study of the Great Ideas, author of How to Think about the Great Ideas: Great Books of Western Civilization (with Mortimer Adler). I’m proud of that because of the nature of the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas, and Mortimer Adler. That someone else values us is one of the clearest routes to self-esteem; we are truly social creatures.
However, I have faced a mountain of rejection in my efforts to have my books recognized. I think part of it is the nature of the modern era; in the past, I probably could have had my $hit together and written to someone like Thomas Jefferson or Marie Curie and gotten a hand-penned response. It’s not that they weren’t terribly busy, it’s just that in days such as ours, with Twitter and throngs of adoring fans and the 24-hour news cycle, persons who try something in the public sphere get inundated by requests, supplications, offers, etc. From phishing emails to any number of the 800k-900k authors who put out a book a year (no joke!) trying to get a favor, people are just too busy and harried to “help a brother out,” as it were. So, most of my emails requesting permission to send a free book have been ignored. Even former professors or people whom I know held it in their hand and respected the work it took wouldn’t cough up an endorsement. I tested the principle of reciprocity to its breaking point by just going ahead and sending books to those few public figures who have an address published, or to book reviewers who don’t automatically rule out reviewing self-published books. It has been very difficult to receive so much rejection. I know writers know exactly what I am talking about.
The point is, I have failed to garner the attention required to successfully get my books into peoples’ hands. This has kept me awake at night. I engaged a woman who is a big deal in the field of books, publishing, book marketing, and so on. The Meryl Streep or Kamala Harris of literary stuff. I had an appointment with her once, and we talked through some of my hang-ups and my potential. It wasn’t great news, but it was what it was (she felt, for example, that my new book just simply wasn’t very marketable). So, the other day, I received a review for the book that was fantastic; really great. I shared it with her via email (this being maybe the fourth or fifth time we had had any contact) and she replied, I kid you not: “I haven’t heard of that reviewer before. I assume you paid for it?” End of email. Wow. So this is the kind of thing that all writers (and artists) and many persons trying to “make it” have to deal with. It’s a tough row to hoe, getting a book conceived, written, published, and publicized.
Let me also tell you about a young philosopher I know. Let’s call him Samuel. I took a class at Harvard University this last year, and he was the teaching assistant. The professor was Michael Sandel, a heavy-hitter in the field I kinda consider myself in. Sandel is Famous with a “capital-F” and Samuel is, well, not. I mean, he’s no slouch by any means – he speaks two or three languages fluently, is a dedicated and pretty skillful teacher, works for Harvard, and positively impacts students (in government, his specific expertise).
As I lay there in bed, my mind wandered to Samuel, and his situation. He was planning on possibly leaving Harvard, where is a lecturer, for a college or university in Colorado. He noted that it isn’t as cold there. However, my hunch is that he has looked at his situation, gone interior, and felt that he probably has a ceiling at Harvard (the best, or at least, a top-tier university) and is just never likely to “make it to the top.” Harvard is a tough place at which to become a professor. I think he figured: I have to make a decision; I’m 45 and not getting any younger. Tupac Shakur had seven platinum albums when he was 25, and Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook at what, 21? If I want to get a tenure-track position, I will have to accept what I am capable of and make this difficult decision.
I am just guessing, mind you. I assume that Samuel values success in his professional life, and realized that he was just not likely to become another Michael Sandel, or write a Principia Mathematica, or come up with the next categorical imperative. If he wants an academic life, downshifting might be the best option. We cannot all be geniuses, heralded thought leaders, or famous artists. Most of us will not become wealthy, most of us won’t star in a movie, and most of our sons and daughters will not win the national chess championship. We are going to face “life on life’s terms,” as A.A. members are wont to say. Life can be tough, and perhaps it owes me nothing, as it were. I just got on Twitter to try to make my social media promotion work, and I have 47 followers. It feels awful to have something to say to the world and have 47 people who might see it (with the mean number of readers being 2). I suppose everyone who isn’t famous goes through that with Twitter. And, as I said, the feeling sucks.
So here is where I am going with this blog: a) there is some element to a well-lived life in which one comes to grips with the fact that there are some things one can succeed marvelously at, that there are some things that we will just never be “a baller” doing, and some things that we are going to fail at. Despite what the life coaches and the inspirational consultants of the world say, there are some things that just aren’t in the cards – and we cannot be expected to turn in incredible performances in our fields. “Lives of quiet desperation,” as Thoreau put it, might be a bit maudlin, but still, how can each of 340,000,000 persons in this country alone all be stupendous successes? Some of us are just going to have to live with plumbing, bowling, being married to what’s her name, being so-and-so’s mother, working at that one job, and having you-know-who as her husband. It’s just how life works.
Okay, so that isn’t very inspiring. But here’s the kicker: b) we can be successes – without fail – in certain other areas of our lives. How? Our values. I was meditating/obsessing on: “Am I going to need to accept that Values of the Wise is just never going to have the kind of web traffic that I want? Am I going to be marginal? Would my dad be proud? Should I accept my lot? How to be happier? How to be more successful?” Those are perfectionistic, glass-half-empty, external-locus-of-control, career-oriented goals, and they can leave one feeling empty or dispirited. Here are some examples of how I (you) could better access (my) your values, successfully, today:
- I could go downstairs right now and find two dogs who will be VERY happy to see me
- I can volunteer to make someone’s life better like tomorrow. “Nothing will hinder you more than thinking only about yourself” ~ Thomas a Kempis
- I can give a book to someone and then – voila! – they will have it, can benefit from it, might very much appreciate it, could tell someone else about it, and will certainly be exposed to wonderful ideas and quotations. My mother, in fact, has been very much affected by the quote attributed to Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”
- I have five new books just waiting to be read. There is no chance that I won’t understand, and possibly, love them. They will make me more learned, wiser perhaps, and you know me – I will take pains to find great quotations and put them into the Wisdom Archive, like I have been doing with unimpeded success for 13 years now (it is 26,000-quotes strong)
- Think of life as a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey, and don’t focus as much on the results. My friend Bob Lloyd always quotes – I kid you not – the Masters of the Universe movie: “Live the journey, for each destination is but a doorway to another.” Oprah Winfrey, no stranger to disappointment and a life-long believer in self-growth said: “I don’t believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.”
- Exercise, diet, hobbies, and the right attitude are mine if I just put in a little effort
- I was feeling down once about all of this career stuff, such as my ability to have my site be found by search engines, and I thought: “You know what, I am going to reframe my goal and work on doing the work, and ideally, the rest will come.” I set out to write 1,000 blogs in 1,000 days. I take great inspiration from the story of the rock group, Rush. I figure if they can sleep in vans and open for KISS and tour like 250 days a year when they were starting off, I can take out my quill once a day.
- I gave my wife a book last night that I thought she would like and went ahead and bought. It wasn’t her birthday. I also cooked dinner, like I do five or six nights a week. She was suggesting we have a date night tonight right before she left for work. She sees me get up early and often, do my writing, and stay up late, often watching DVDs about philosophy, Western civilization, psychology, and other subjects. She wants to connect with me and wishes for me to be happy
- Think about the value of values such as endurance, perseverance, and will. Perhaps life is not supposed to be easy. Maybe it is the struggle which not only gives life its meaning but which makes us better. Perhaps “suffering for one’s art” is indeed part of the whole process. “That which does not kill me makes me stronger,” Nietzsche famously put it. Here is a blog on the virtue of failure, a nice dovetail with this one.
- I can’t make people follow me on Twitter, like magic. But I can keep trying. I can keep commenting and reaching out and putting myself out there. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and In the end, the tortoise wins. Oh, here are the other morals of Aesop, in case you like that kind of thing.
- If you’re alive, which I assume you are (: then you still have time. “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot. If you haven’t yet succeeded in some endeavor, or aren’t the person you want to be, keep striving, keep pushing. “A failure establishes only this, that our determination to succeed was not strong enough”
- If religion works for you – if you believe – then bully for you. It can be a big advantage and full of consolation. Talk of “you are my rock” and such. I myself prefer The Consolation of Philosophy to The Imitation of Christ, but to each their own. Here is one quote from Jesus (or is it the Father, I’m not sure): “How can I bear up myself in this miserable life, unless You strengthen me with Your mercy and grace?”
- Philosophy exists. Love is possible. Today has never, ever happened before.”The sun also rises” ~ Ernest Hemingway
- “One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself”
- My values are the backbone of what gives my life meaning. I can access many of them very successfully, right now, and no person or force out there in the world can stop me. Who can prevent me from smiling at someone? Why can I not kiss my wife on the lips? Can I not start working on having children this very weekend?
- Perhaps this emphasis on having my work read, wishing it to be meaningful to many, is folly. “Fame is a vapor. Popularity an accident. Riches take wings. Only one thing endures, and that is character,” said
- “Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values”
- Don’t give up on your self-worth, and keep your eye on self-confidence. Self-esteem is at your command if you aren’t a lazy or creepy person. “Self-worth comes from one thing – thinking that you are worthy,” Sometimes, we need to stick your chest out, keep your chin up, and realize that from our particular perspective, the world is not probably going to be kind to us if we wilt in front of it. Think of a Nietzschen approach. Stare into the gale-force wind and claim your presence! “You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering”
- Activism, protest, and struggle are ennobling. We live in trying times, for sure. Consider this, though it isn’t perhaps cheerful: “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do”
- “Art is not a means by which we escape from life, but a stratagem by which we conquer life’s disorder”
- If Helen Keller can live an amazing life and overcome huge obstacles, so can I. “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it”
- I’m not dead or dying (anytime soon, I hope). That is something special. I have lost my grandparents, my father, my beloved dog Atlas, my great friend John, and a lot of others whom I respected, and whom I miss. Aristotle, the hard-working farmer of ideas, is long-dead. Never again will he write one single, solitary word. Monticello sits vacant. I, however, still have a shot. I have, at least, today
- Perhaps success as an author or philosophical thinker is not the middle of the target, anyway. “It is in his pleasure that a man really lives. It is from his leisure that he constructs the true fabric of self”
- “O Hope! dazzling, radiant Hope! – what a change thou bringest to the hopeless; brightening the darkened paths, and cheering the lonely way”
- Do something nice for someone. Pitch in. Do the right thing. Even simply being moral is a potentially-powerful thing. Consider philosopher Immanuel Kant: his view of ethics is nothing short of rarefied. But it is extremely important that we try to retain our honor, and prioritize our character: “While conscience is our friend, all is at peace; however once it is offended, farewell to a tranquil mind”
- Flow: “the secret to happiness,” it is claimed. Happiness is about optimism, according to one notable psychologist. “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain,” quipped
- I will end with a fantastic thought from none other than my wife: “Let’s just be and enjoy one another’s company and be happy we have enough money to live a more than comfortable lifestyle and we are lucky enough to love each other and not have a terminal illness, as of yet or hopefully ever, and have pets and delicious food when we want it and have the luxury to be lazy sometimes and just breathe and rejoice that while we don’t deserve it, we’ve been blessed with a fantastic spot on this planet for the small time we get to be on it, and remember that this may change in the coming years, so now is the time for rejoicing before any of the sorrow”
Here are some success stories of folks who endured more marginal existences until they hit on success later in life. Think of Ray Kroc, for example (of McDonald’s fame). I mean, stellar work (if you take the morality out of it!) in his 40s and 50s. His values were ingenuity, hard work, vision, strength, partnering, out-thinking, and cutting corners. He succeeded amazingly.
Look into existentialism if you aren’t familiar with it. It’s a robust self-affirmation. It is a human being saying “I am faced with a difficult life in a cold, silent universe, but I can make my little plot right here, and find happiness.” Think of Viktor Frankl, one of the heroes of finding meaning in a dark world.
Ironically, though this author says he is too busy to consider endorsing my book (cue the small violin!), he is a major proponent of slowing down. It’s not as boring as it first sounds. Check his books out here. He points out: “Work devours the bulk of our waking hours. Everything else in life—family and friends, sex and sleep, hobbies and holidays—is forced to bend around the almighty work schedule” According to the International Labour Organization, workers in Belgium, France, and Norway are all more productive per hour than are Americans. The British clock up more time on the job than do most Europeans, and have one of the continent’s poorest rates of hourly productivity to show for it. Working less often means working better.”
Here is another cool web page about slowly, surely becoming a success, which has much to do with values.
Why don’t you explore your own values using the Wisdom Archive? Try the “ValueSet” Fulfillment, Meaning, & Optimism
He who values principles and exercises control,
Faces the omnipresent threat of adversity.
Perceived as odd, foolhardy, and droll,
Despite the failure of respect from his society,
By crushing the dice rather than letting them roll –
He can sleep at night sure of his integrity.