Important Decisions

At the end of his letter of advice written to James Harmon for his book, Take My Advice, Alphonso Lingis writes “Never make any important decision out of depression, a sense of needs, of dependency.” He continues to explain that when you make choices because of fear, those choices typically end up being poor choices.  According to Lingis, decisions that are made during happy moments are decisions that are made with more clarity, and more closely align with your true inner feelings.
For Lingis, when we make decisions because we are afraid of negative feelings or because we believe that it is what is expected of us, especially when those feelings don’t align with our own desires, we end up making hasty choices that in the long run will lead us to more difficult situations.
For me, this has been something that I have experienced multiple times.  There was a point in college where I was not happy and I was uncertain about my future.  I decided to switch my major to business because I was afraid of not finding a job immediately out of college. I was depressed, and scared, and made a decision without truly looking at what I waned and was best for me.  The major only led me further into depression.
What I later learned was to follow a major that I enjoyed and that made me happy. I switched to Spanish and found more ways to become connected and involved on campus. By taking risks and putting myself in situations where I enjoyed what I was doing, even if it was not what all of my friends were doing, I was able to grow in new ways by becoming a more engaging person. I learned to value decisions that aligned with my inner purpose,  despite the fact that those decisions were not easy and would not clearly lead to a job, .
I think that Lingis’ message is to find areas that will help you grow and feel at peace with you inner self.  By making decisions because we are afraid of what the future will hold, we act hastily and make choices that we think will make us happy, rather than making decisions that we know will make us happy.


For his book Take My Advice, James Harmon collected letters from creative professionals who had carved our an independent career through art, writing, music, and other crafts. Alphonso Lingis is one of the creatives who sent Harmon a letter with advice on living life.  One sentence from Lingis’ letter reads, “The ecstasy of going into the ocean, into the skies, into the rock core of the earth, into the ice is a pleasure radically different from the contentment that simmers over possessions.”
I really enjoy this quote but in my own life I fall drastically short of actually living it.  I am terrible at traveling, and while I do spend a lot of time out doors hiking, running, and cycling, I have trouble stepping away from possessions and work to enjoy exploring new places.  I truly do wish that I was better at planning vacations and escaping from the world I know, in order to explore new cities, majestic oceans, or different cultures.
What Lingis is saying in this quote is that if someone wants to know reality, they need to step away from their possessions, and give up a dream of making money to have more things.  Reality, in Lingis’ views, is the adventure of life that includes meeting new people and cultures, challenging our body’s limits and posture, and experiencing great joys, pains, laughter, and tears.  Trips into nature pull people away from the isolation of the city to connect them with the planet, and with people who live simply.  The bank of memories that one will gain, Lingis says is greater than the monetary and material possessions that one obtains through a life of work and societal demands.  For Lingis this bank of memories creates a special place of contentment within the soul, and allows the body to rest, while careers and material drives keep us wanting for more, and leave us in a place where we cannot be happy with what we have.

Into the Ocean

Alphonso Lingis wrote a letter to James Harmon for Harmon’s book, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People who Know a Thing or Two. In his letter he has a single sentence about the ocean that I enjoy, “When you go into the ocean you realize that until then you did not know the planet.” I like this quote because I am currently working on a podcast with a friend of mine about ocean science and marine biology. The show is called the Blue Pulse Podcast, and it is a great journey for me to learn more about the mysterious oceans. The one thing I keep hearing as I read deeper into the ocean is how little we understand our oceans. The oceans have been studied since the beginning of man-kind, but still so much of the ocean remains unexplored and we literally only have a surface level understanding. A popular refrain is, we don’t need to explore space, and we don’t need to look for intelligent life on other planets, we only need to look in the ocean.
The quote from Lingis speaks to me about discovering ourselves in new places.  By literally putting ourselves in new situations and unique places, such as a the ocean, we are able to see how narrowed and limited our perspective is.  Being around an abundance of life and strange and ancient creatures shows us how interconnected we are with all life on the planet. The oceans are great for Lingis to use for this metaphor because on land we so often act as though we know and understand our planet and our selves, but once we get into the ocean to see the inner parts of the planet that are not open to everyone, we realize how much has always been hidden from our knowledge.

Knowing Life

In James Harmon’s collection of letters, Take My Advice, Alphonso Lingis in a section of his letter writes, “Our life is by nature destined to know life.” When I think of this quote I think about all of our questions, assumptions, stories, explanations, and understandings of life. For me it is not so much our own life that this quote speaks about, but life as in in living things.  Ourselves, other people, animals, fish, plants, and bacteria.  Lingis himself continues on with the quote to write about the ways we see human characteristics in animals and how we can sympathize with the life in the world around us.  The quote is to me a simple reflection of man’s curiosity regarding the living world. it is a reminder that there is so much out there in the world of life that I do not know, cannot imagine, and could learn about.
I am currently hosting a podcast about marine biology, despite the fact that I know nothing about marine biology. The show is my way to explore the sea and the life within it. Learning about these animals opens ones eyes to the importance of other ecosystems and how we treat the world. By learning more about life and other life forms on this planet, we begin to feel more connected to Earth. We learn about the strange things that life can do, and it inspires us to think in ways we didn’t think possible.  The more I have sympathized with and learned about the life in the ocean the more I have been able to learn about my own life, and to peer deeper into my spiritual side to ask what connection I have with life that lives so far away from the high desert where I live in Reno, Nevada.


Howard Zinn wrote a letter to James Harmon for him to publish in his book Take My Advice, and in his letter he wrote about the incredible connections between people and the power that unified people can generate. He encourages the reader to find their own truths in life, and to seek an independence built through mindfulness. Zinn writes, “Understand that money and weapons are fragile forms of power.” He is criticizing institutions and their leaders in this statement.  To me, this sentence builds the idea that the most powerful people are the people who are connected with others through real and meaningful relationships.  These people are not powerful in the way that the winner of Shark Tank or high profile attorney’s are powerful. Their power is not built by influence, but rather empathy and a true concern for the people around them.  While money can dwindle and is not a true representation of the value of an individual, and weapons can be used by government to coerce and intimidate people, Zinn writes that people, when united, become more powerful through relationships than weapons and money (the use of both weapons and money against a united people will only strengthen the bond which empowers those people).
A book I plan to read is called, Generation Me, and it focuses on the psychological differences between generations.  The author was recently on a political podcast that I listen to frequently, and she stated that as our society becomes more individualistic our attitudes towards institutions, government, and other people begin to become more negative.  We loose trust in each other and in institutions, adopting an every man for himself attitude where we focus on obtaining our own wealth regardless of the state of others.  This is interesting to me because it seems to slightly contrast Zinn’s message while at the same time supporting it.  Zinn is advocating that we try to connect with more people to build powerful and lasting relationships, yet he is decidedly anti-institutional.  The author of Generation Me would certainly advocate for greater social connections and interactions which would strengthen our sense of community through relationships, yet she would not implore people to hold such a rebellious attitude towards government and other institutions.

The Power of a Wide Vision

James Harmon’s book Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation From People Who Know a Thing or Two is a collection of letters that Harmon received when he asked creative people for advice. The advice came from writers, poets, independent film actors, and artists.  Poet Robert Creeley was one of the writers who gave Harmon advice and he started his letter with, “What seems most significant is the way in which one takes the world as existing.” What I believe that the poet is saying is that our individual ways of thinking about the world, our place in it, and how things work, is the most important difference between us.
The poet continues his quote adding that our interpretation of the world is impacted most heavily by the time, place, and people around us at birth.  In my mind this means that our economic, social, and political status at birth and as we grow to young adults will impact how we view the world.  What is powerful about this quote is that it opens up the idea that we can all have different perceptions of the world, and that our perceptions are built by factors that we do not control.
This is why having a broad view of the world and a strong sense of awareness is important.  Being able to understand that we have individual biases that shape our outlook on life allows us to look at the world from new perspectives. When you have only a narrow view of the world it becomes easy to criticize people for not living a certain way, or not thinking in a specific manner.  Opening up your awareness and seeing the world from a wider lens that captures the viewpoints and understands the backgrounds of others will help one have more empathy for others, and more appreciation for the life they live.

The Long Haul

In the book Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People who Know a Thing or Two, James Harmon organized a collection of letters from creative people he admired, even though most of the world would not call them celebrities.  Richard Meltzer is one of the many writers who sent Harmon a letter to be published in his book, and one of the themes in Meltzer’s letter is accepting that success and becoming good at something takes longer than what we would like. Meltzer writes, “it will in all likelihood take you much longer than you expect— an unfair percentage of the time you’ve got left — to get much of anything right.”  This is an important quote for young people today to understand since so often we want success to happen immediately.  “You have to factor in the LONG HAUL,” Meltzer continued as he explained that in order to achieve the goals and desires, we must plan for the unavoidable periods of mundane and hard work.
I know that I have felt a lot of pressure to succeed and to reach certain milestones very quickly. The pressure comes from the outside as well as the inside as I criticize myself for not having achieved goals, whether they relate to exercise, finances, or personal hobbies. From the outside we are all driven to achieve a level of success that other people expect from us. We see the lives that our parents have and strive to reach or exceed their lifestyle, and we compete against our peers and high school classmates to be impressive.  All of these pressures can be damaging, especially if we expect to achieve success overnight.
Factoring in the long haul means that you are aware of the hard work that it will take to build the experience necessary to grow.  It involves showing up, being self aware, and re-organizing your desires so that you can have alignment in your life.  The amount of time it takes to reach the level we all desire takes longer than what seems fair as we spend our younger lives preparing ourselves to become the person we want to be. Constant self awareness and accepting the fact that the hard work is not sexy will help us continue to grow and reach for new opportunities, no matter how slowly we seem to progress towards our dreams.

Correcting Mistakes Continued

Bob Schacochis continues in his letter to James Harmon published in Harmon’s book Take My Advice to explain a lesson he learned about making and correcting mistakes.  As a young college student working as a carpenter Schacochis learned a lesson in excellence when his work was corrected by a carpenter he was shadowing.  Schacochis had put something together and not taken the care and time to go back over his work to fix his errors, which led to a brief lecture that stuck with him his whole life.  The carpenter explained that the worst carpenters and the best carpenters all make mistakes, but that the best carpenters find their mistakes and know how to correct them.  Years later when Schacochis was standing on scaffolding inches away from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the carpenter’s words came back to him. He gazed in awe at Michelangelo’s work, and was amazed by the fact that up close, you could see the spots where the artist had repainted and corrected his mistakes in an attempt to perfect his art.
What Schacochis learned is summed up in the following quote, “In fact, I don’t even think learning from mistakes is the right focus to begin with, since it infers there is such a thing as a path to infallibility, which is both a simple-minded and dangerous notion.” This quote helps me see that it is ok for me to make mistakes as long as I can correct those mistakes.  Learning from the mistakes is an important thing, but I should not approach life as though I can learn from one mistake and forever avoid making similar mistakes and lead a perfect life.  For Schacochis mistakes are to be expected if one is constantly pursuing excellence and trying to be the best that they can be.  When you try to do more, and push yourself to new levels you will make mistakes as part of the growing process. There is definitely learning involved, but mastery of anything means that you know how to correct mistakes, as apposed to knowing how to avoid all mistakes.  A world without mistakes according to Schacochis is a world of complacency and mediocrity where one settles into a routine that does not change nor challenge the individual.  The mistakes are not admitted or even noticed, so there is nothing for the individual to correct.
Schacochis’ quote shows that it is ok for one to make mistakes, and that it is even expected that one will make mistakes as they pursue excellence in everything they do.  If one sets high expectations and pushes themselves to constantly improve and be better, then they will learn how to correct mistakes, not how to live a life that is free from mistakes.  When we stop striving for excellence we stop making mistakes because we stop trying to achieve more. A life of no mistakes is one where we let mistakes slip by, even though we know how to make something better or improve what and who we are. In this way Schacochis is encouraging us to push ourselves and accept our mistakes since life will never be perfect. Along the way as we continue to grow we will learn not how to live a perfect life free from mistakes, but how to correct our mistakes as we demand excellence.

Correcting Mistakes

A lesson I have learned from the podcast Smart People Podcast is that successful people are always learning and always taking away something positive away from whatever situation they are in.  In a letter to James Harmon for his book Take my Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People who Know a Thing or Two, Bob Schacochis writes about one of his first jobs as a carpenter.  Schacochis explains a lesson he learned when working with a carpenter.  The carpenter who was guiding him and helping him learn how to be great at the craft said, “How many times I have to tell you college boys, when it comes to making mistakes a bad carpenter and a good is the same.  The only difference is, the good carpenter figures out how to correct his.”
This quote speaks to me on multiple levels; about the difference between being good and great, about bringing lessons form one area of life into other areas of life, and about the importance of recognizing and avoiding your own sense of entitlement.  As a young college student Schacochis did not have the patience necessary to be a great carpenter.  He focused on his work and took the time to put a full effort into his work, but the problem was that he did not have the patience to double check his work and correct his errors.  As the carpenter explained, good carpenters and bad carpenters both make mistakes, however the good carpenters make an effort to repair their mistakes.  Schacochis was a poor carpenter not because he made mistakes, but because he tried to hide his mistakes without correcting the original problem.  As I write this, I am thinking about all of the times recently where I have slacked at work, made small mistakes, or rushed through my work.  By keeping this quote in mind at work I can re-focus on what will make me great, and what will make me average.  I believe that keeping this quote in mind will help me avoid allowing my work to slack, which in turn will make me more confident while avoiding the anxiety that comes from hoping that supervisors don’t notice my mistakes.
When the carpenter working with Schacochis says, “How many times I have to tell you college boys,” it show how entitlement affects young people in the workplace.  For college students the work they do to get through college is often times not meaningful work, or at least it does not appear to be meaningful work.  Physical labor and difficult tasks are easy to slack on for students who are studying to reach higher places.  The carpenter is calling out Schacochis for his entitled attitude, and how that attitude impacts his approach to physical work. Entitlement for younger generations is not just an expectation to have material things, but it also manifests as an expectation to not do difficult work.
With the lesson from the carpenter Schacochis was able to overcome his entitlement and begin focusing on being great.  He took the lesson he learned from working with his hands and double checking his work, and applied it to other areas of his work.  Successful people as I have learned from Smart People Podcast, are self aware enough to see where they need to grow and apply lessons from other areas of their life to those areas.

Searching for Answers

In his book Take my Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People who Know a Thing or Two, James Harmon shares the advice he received in letters from people who are silent success stories. He reached out to many creative artists, independent film stars, writers, and poets, to ask why and how they continued their craft, even though they never became so famous that their names were known in every house. What he learned from the letters is how to take lessons from other people, and apply various opinions, ideas, and points of view into guidelines for living life.
In his introduction he quotes another author, “Don’t search for the answers. The point is to live everything.  Live your questions now. Perhaps, then ,someday far in the future you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answers.” Harmon offers this quote as a summation of what he learned from all of the letters. By finding a way to avoid being a robot, and to make sure that you are aware of how you live your life, Harmon believes that you can actually have a life worth living.  In this quote Harmon shows that he is interested not in seeking out an end goal, but having confidence that the end state the he reaches will be one that he enjoys, if he focuses on living each moment with intention.