Connections

When I read James Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s letter spoke to me on many levels as it addressed many of the thoughts, questions, and ideas that I have been churning over for a long time.  One section that I highlighted reads, “The meaning of life is inherent in the connections we make to others through honor and obligation.” I love this quote and Schlessinger’s idea because it puts other people, not ourselves or money, at the center of our universe.  When we live for our connections with others then we go out of our way to develop meaningful relationships with other people.

Dr. Schlessinger’s quote reminds me of an old track coach who was always focused on relationships.  He spoke about them in the same way as Dr. Schlessinger with a message that in the end, all we have are the relationships and the impacts we have made on other people’s lives.  For me the idea “through honor and obligation” means personal sacrifices for others, and performing acts that will not just benefit you, but those around you as well.  I think that this mindset can help build a sense of community and provide something that many are missing in this day.  Our culture is very individualistic, and what has happened is that our sense of others and connection to others has become more instant with technology, yet more fractured and distant.  If we were to adopt the ideas of Schlessinger, and put others at the center of our world, we would adopt a new identity that would shape us in a way where we are confident in ourselves, and understand that we depend our community for real support.  This idea could override the individualistic attitude of our culture, and help repair our fractured view of community.

Avoid the Self-Focused Mindset

Dr. Laura Schlessinger continues in her letter of advice to James Harmon for Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, and writes, “Life is not about personal aggrandizement, acquisition, and self-fulfillment.  In other words, man cannot live by “me, me, me,” alone.”  In this passage Dr. Schlessinger is writing about having a full and meaningful life, and she explains that a life focused on ones own personal existence, having lots of things, or always having fun does not translate into a meaningful life.  It is difficult, but once you begin to understand that life does not have to be a competition to show how successful one can become, you start to feel more attached to the things that you do every day, and you begin to appreciate where you are each moment.
As I have entered the working world out of college, I have had a struggle with trying to identify my goals and understand what success really looks like.  On the last episode of the Mindful Creator Podcast host Brett Henley talked to a guest about being confident with oneself and where you are in your journey at whatever point of your journey you find yourself.  The guest brought up the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”, and argued that a happier life is one where you give yourself permission to not want the lifestyle that is projected in movies, television shows, and advertisements.  The two talked about how liberating, both mentally and economically, freeing yourself from materialistic desires can be.
I think that Dr. Schlessinger would agree with everything the two talked about on the podcast.  It is important to be self aware and recognize when you are focusing only on yourself and doing things only for your own personal and materialistic gain.  Understanding that you have desires for things and certain lifestyles because you have seen them projected through mass media or across your friend’s Facebook is an important step in realizing how to live a better life.  Being continually focused on impressing others with your lifestyle and possessions will place an unfair amount of stress on yourself, and will alienate you from people who you could otherwise share a deep connection with.  Learning to be happy with who you are, where you are on your journey, and to drop the pressures from visions of what your life should be will open you up to become a more compassionate person. Beyond that point you become a person who can share more meaningful moments with people around you.

Forget Balance

Dr. Laura Schlessinger wrote a message to James Harmon for his book, Take My Advice, and in her book she hits on many topics including goal setting, putting others first, and time management.  The following quote really dives into the idea of time management, “Forget balance, Think choices.  You must order your priorities, and only do what you can do well.” I really align with this quote because I have recently begun thinking of time and time management in new ways. I grew up imagining the idea of balance and being able to do an equal amount of things that I enjoyed, found important, or helped me sustain myself.  Recently however, I have come to see that balance is just a myth and that there are better ways to think about time management.
The first new way of looking at time management for me was imaging a tilt rather than a balance.  In this way, we are always not quite balanced, but we are tilting one way or another.  We lean towards things we are putting more time into as opposed to staying balanced with all of our time and activities nicely weighed out on a scale.  When I first read this quote that was the idea I had in mind, but that idea is still a balance. What is worse is that the idea of tilting is just an unstable balance.  We may be tilting one way or another, but then we are trying to add extra weight on a system that is already unstable.  In my opinion it would be better to strive for a good balance rather than a good tilt.
The most recent idea of time management that I have been exposed to, and now that I return to this quote I see it as an idea that Dr. Schlesinger would agree with, came to me from Beyond the To Do List Podcast.  Sheranosher compared time management to packing a suitcase, and she did so by having everyone imagine a trip to Alaska.  The best way to pack a suitcase she explains, is to lay out all of the things you want to take, and then to pack the most important things first.  When you do this, you see everything that you have and make sure that you don’t leave behind anything crucial.  First you tackle the most important items that you will need (your jacket, a pair of snow boots, gloves) and then you see where those extra items will fit (swim trunks & flip flops).  If your most important items have taken up all of your space, then you simply leave out the swim trunks and move on.  Her comparison to time management is brilliant. If you examine everything you need and want to do, then you have an easier time identifying what is important and what is not. You can take the items that you know you need to get done in your day, and pack those in your mental suitcase first, then you will see where (if at all) the extra things can fit.
Dr. Schlessinger in her quote was telling us to handle time the same way as Sheranosher, just without having to plan a trip to Alaska.  She encourages us to examine our choices and be honest about which choices are priorities, and which choices are superfluous.  In addition, she says to focus on those choices that we can execute fully and completely. If we can not do a choice well, then it does not make sense for it to be a priority.  If we want to take that electric blanket, but do not know how to fold it into our suitcase in an efficient way, it may take up too much space and force out our more important gloves.

Momentum Towards Virtuous Goals

In James Harmon’s collection of letters, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People who Know a Thing or Two, author and radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger writes, “When you do less than your best with any aspect of your life, you lose the respect and trust of others, momentum toward your virtuous goals, your will to persevere against evil, and finally, the opportunity to do the good.”  This part of her advice relates to the idea that one should always live so that in 20 years they can look back on their life and respect the person they were.  Schlessinger compares bad habits to splinters in our rationalization and our whole self, and to her, these splinters damage our integrity and make it difficult to continue along the arduous path moving us towards out goals.

 

When I read this quote I left myself a note saying that it is important to find ways to build momentum towards virtuous goals.  Schlessinger would say that the way to do this is to always be the best version of ourselves at this moment, with a goal of continually growing through good actions.  I think a second cornerstone idea to this quote is having clearly defined goals that align in a positive way with your inner self. Greedy goals and material desires that are simply meant to build the facade of a lifestyle that you want to project are not virtuous, and will not have the foundation necessary for one to achieve any form of balance.  Obstacles will pile up when our goal is to obtain wealth to impress others, and while we may be able to persevere, we will not do so with confidence, and we will not appreciate the end result.

Simplicity

In his letter to James Harmon for Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, Scott Russell Sanders comments on the things we desire. Sanders writes, “Love simply. By that I mean, think about what you actually need for a good life, not what friends or ads have taught you to want.” This is a very meaningful quote to me because it speaks of the importance of self awareness, and of getting away from the pressures to buy and have things.

 

As a recent college graduate I love reading quotes like this one or hearing people talk about the importance of realizing what goals and desires you actually have.  Television shows portray a certain lifestyle, and advertisements fill your mind with ideas of how you should live and what things you should buy to be happy.  If one can spend time to understand that having lots of things will not translate to happiness, then they can begin to live more free.  I am not suggesting that anyone should abandon all desires for material items, but rather that having a BMW does not need to be ones goal or benchmark for success (especially at a young age out of college).  As I read back through this post, I am currently reading a book called Insight Out by Tina Seelig. In her book Seelig talks about entrepreneurs and motivation.  In a similar sense to what was discussed by Sanders, Seelig encourages asking yourself and anyone who wants to create something, “What motivates you?” and “Who are you?”  These two questions force someone to understand what forces driving them, and what they expect and need for happiness.

 

What Sanders quote also hints at is our competition with and comparisons against our friends, co-workers, and those we went to school with.  Striving for a lofty job title, a big house, and fancy cars just to be able to impress other people is damaging to yourself, your relationships, and ultimately your future.  I think Seelig would agree with my interpretation of Sanders’ writing, and could reach the same conclusion.  Having motivations that are external and based on rewards and social praise will drive you towards goals that don’t align with what you actual desire or what will really make you happy.

 

The drive to achieve greatness should not be based on what you want your external projection to be.  Learning to step away from television to avoid projections of what success and happiness look like will allow a person to be more flexible in their decision making and to become more happy with the lifestyle they already live. In addition, Sanders would agree, learning to be confident in the person you are and letting go of comparisons against the people around you will help you develop real relationships with them rather than having a relationship based on impressing someone with material wealth.

Reacting to Invisible Forces

In a letter written to James Harmon to be published in his book, Take My Advice, writer John Shirley writes, “What if we’re a lot more unconscious than we know?  What if, even when we think we’ve got everything worked out and planned out, we’re actually, in certain ways, just reacting to things?”  In this quote Shirley hits on the idea of being present in the moment without directly stating it.  His quote talks about how much of the world is hidden from us and impacting our decisions, and how much is influencing us without our knowledge.  When we begin to work on being present in the moment, we become more aware of what shapes the decisions we make.
I recently read Grant Korgan’s book, Two Feet Back, in which he describes his recovery following a spinal cord injury.  What Korgan explains is that his injury gave him the chance to pause his goals, plans, and desires while he worked towards regaining feeling in the lower half of his body.  He explained that he went from being someone who tried to plan every part of his day and life, to someone who had to enjoy the simplicity and spontaneity of each moment.  His injury taught him the importance of being present in all that you do.
I think that Shirley’s quote speaks to the same understanding of presence that Korgan came to understand.  When we focus and plan each detail of our lives, we spend a huge amount of energy and effort in a single direction, and we are then not aware of the little things that sway and move us away from that direction.  When we focus on presence, we begin to understand what forces are trying to shape our coarse, and we can be more responsive to those events.  These forces that we may not be consciously aware of may push us towards our goal, though possibly towards our goal in what seems like a less direct path, or they may push us to new goals that ultimately align better with who we are.  Gaining presence helps us identify our emotions and reactions, and helps us understand our place relative to others.

An Important Task

Scott Russel Sanders continues in his letter of advice for James Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, writing about self awareness, spirituality, and philosophical ideas.  Towards the end of his letter he writes, “To understand as well as we can who we truly are and in what sort of world we have been set down may be our most important task.”  What I like about this quote is that it takes away the importance of obtaining material things and addresses the questions or doubts that we all constantly sift through.  For Sanders, what he is showing in this quote is the value of objectively understanding ourselves, the world, and our place in it.
The first part of Sanders quote speaks to me about the purpose of self reflection.  Being able to think about what we are good at, what we enjoy and why, and what we truly want in life will help us find a path that is comfortable and appropriate for us.  This is a truly important task for each of us, because an increased self awareness will allow us to begin to live our lives intentionally rather than living in a reactionary way.  We do not have to chase the goals that our friends, the media, religion, and family tell us we need to chase. Self awareness and knowing who we are and what we truly desire will allow us to find a meaningful path to follow to a destination that we will be happy with.
The second half of Sanders quote seems to be a little more difficult in my opinion.  I have come across many people who write and speak about self awareness, and while the road to self awareness is bumpy and full of obstacles (especially when you first set out) the road to a true understanding of the world we are in is more challenging and subjective.  Self reflection (examining your goals, desires, motivations, and skills) takes practice and it can be hard to learn that life should not be judged by the sports car you drive, but there seems to be something more challenging about finding true sources for understanding the world.  We will each approach the world with different perspectives and experiences, and we will each appropriate separate values to ideas and topics.  I do not think we can honestly understand the world if we have not first mastered honestly knowing ourselves, and then it is a constant practice to source out the good and bad information.  I am not saying, and I don’t think that Saunders would either, that we should just look for positive information about the world, but that we should search for objective information about things that will actually matter and have meaningful impacts in the world.  With the avalanche of information on the internet, it is easy to get lost among fake news stories that do not represent the true world we live in.  At the same time we can all have so many unique niche interests that we investigate and learn about, and each of these interests build new experiences and perspectives through which we can understand the world.
I think that Sanders in reaction to my writing would say that the first step to fulfilling our important task on this planet is to understand ourselves, including our perspective and how our experiences have shaped our perspectives.  Next, Sanders would argue that we absorb as many other perspectives as possible, to help us begin to view the world in a new and meaningful way. This would involve vigorous research on our part to sift through the nonsense and gossip.

Appreciate Earth

Scott Russell Sanders writes about having a true sense of appreciation for Earth in his letter to James Harmon for Harmon’s book, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two. The advice he gives is what he constantly tells his children, and how he tries to live his life. The passage from his letter that I love about the planet is, “Remember that the Earth, with its manifold life, is primary, and we are secondary.  The Earth precedes us and will out last us.” In this quote Sanders is talking about how devastating we can be towards the planet when we live self-centered lifestyles and forget about life outside of ourselves.  Sanders continues, “The Earth has made us possible, and moment by moment it sustains us.”
What I take from this quote is the importance of having a true appreciation for everything on the planet.  Earth has provided us with nature, beautiful mountains, life sustaining rivers, and majestic coasts, but Earth has also given us places to build cities, the materials needed to surround ourselves in sheltered homes, and more.  For Sanders the important idea when we reflect on the Earth is the ability to make considerations about what is good for the planet.  When we only think of ourselves and are unwilling to make sacrifices to that will in the long run benefit the planet, we begin to damage the world we live in.
I don’t think that Sanders is asking us to abandon our well lit homes or get rid of our cars, but he is simply reminding us that we do not control the Earth as much as we like to believe we do.  His quote is more of a call to awareness than a call to action.  What Sanders is hoping we understand is that taking care of the planet, or at least making more decisions with the longterm health of the planet in mind, will help it sustain us for much longer.  The more we begin to appreciate Earth and understand how it provides what we need for life, the more likely we are to begin taking part in actions to clean and protect our planet.

Avoiding Self-Centeredness

“Don’t be self-centered.  The world is much bigger and much more interesting than you are.  If you spend your time thinking g about yourself, you forego most of what exists.”
The quote above is from Mark Helprin in the book, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two. James Harmon, the book’s author, solicited advice from independent film stars, writers, philosophers, and creative individuals, avoiding seeking the advice of celebrities and people who we might decide are highly successful based on their bank account.
I love this quote because it speaks to our position in a world that is full of interesting people and amazing places.  For me it is easy to get settled into a routine where I focus on what I am doing on a day to day basis, and I begin to get stuck in a rut.  What Helprin’s quote is urging us to do is to look out into the world and constantly explore, even if that means we are just reading, listening to podcasts, and exploring what others are doing and thinking.
Helprin’s quote tells us that our lives will be much more fulfilling if we can focus on others and see the world objectively rather than constantly worrying about ourselves and fixating on our personal being.  Worrying about our problems, feeling pity for our selves for our situation, complaining about our work, or feeling bored and stuck in a rut comes about when we close ourselves to the outside world.  When we put others first, focus on meeting new people, and can find a way to be grateful for the opportunities we have, then our lives begin to become more meaningful.  By interacting with others and focusing on them, their interests,  and trying to discover more about the world we see our place in the world with a more positive light, and we can become excited about what is going on around us.

Friendship

Continuing from my last post, philosopher W.V. Quine in his letter to James Harmon for Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, ends his letter with a note about friendship.  Quine writes, “Above all, cultivate easy and sincere friendships with kindred spirits and enter into them with generous sympathy.  Sharing is the sovereign lubricant against the harshness of life.”  I love this quote because it is all about putting others first so that one can build real relationships to not just serve themselves, but to serve everyone and help everyone enjoy their life to a greater extent.
Quine’s quote addresses the challenges and difficulties that result from the dull and tedious nature of hard work, and how friendships can ease those difficulties.  What he is saying is that good friendships, where neither person is trying to gain something from the other but both people are openly sharing, are what help people through the rough, mundane, and tedious parts of life.  What Quine is talking about is not the type of friendship where one seeks the help, advice, or aid of another simply for their own benefit.  The friendships which he discusses, the friendships which build meaningful relationships and help people overcome challenges, are built not on an expectation of returns, but on a true interest in knowing  another person.