Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Theory and Practice of the Philosophy of Life,

When I was growing up I absorbed the idea from my high school counselours that what I really needed to do was develop a career plan and sit down and send off a lot of resumes and apply to internships that I liked. Working my way up the "ladder" of success would then lead me to happiness, fulfillment, and riches. Or at least a secure middle management position at a firm with a good pension plan.

The thing is that this theory will in fact work. I know many people who subscribe to this theory. I used to be one of them. They go out there, separate their emotional and professional lives, and climb the ladder or at least straddle the network of success and hobnob themselves into great position. I think that's great. There's nothing wrong with that.

Except that most of these people end up with gnawing feelings of having missed out and discontentment somewhere in middle life. I was lucky or unlucky in that I had my midlife crisis pretty early before I had entered my midlife in fact. So I did what any self-respecting person would, I tried to find something satisfying figuring that it was my over competitive and overly materialistic nature that had brought me down. That did bring me happiness for a while living as an idealistic teacher without tenure and without roots.

Then I realized the great truth which is that while money does not make you happy neither will a lack of money make you happy. As a matter of fact it's not about money at all as far as I can tell. It's about that saying printed over the door of the Oracle in the Matrix film and also more classically though perhaps just as fictiously over the supposed door of the Oracle of Delphi.

Nosce te ipsum.
Know thyself.

Life is all about not fate but destiny. Destiny isn't something that forcibly happens to you. Destiny isn't a predetermined set of events. Destiny is character. This does not mean to imply in a Calvinistic sense that material success is the sign of God's favor, it means to imply that our happiness in life and the kind of life we lead depend entirely upon our not very predictable natures and our ability to be true to them no matter how awkward they are.

Of course we are responsible for our actions, but insofar as they do not deprive others of health, liberty, or property we are mandated to be true unto ourselves.

Of course the trick is that this is not easy. The reason why this is not easy is because of the old conundrum: If no one can be stronger than themselves, why do people fight with themselves all the time?

So it is that no matter how aware you are, you can be no more self-aware than your own awareness. Imagine your mind as a box, no matter how big it is, it will have a hard time fitting something bigger than itself in it. Make sense?

So too our self-awareness no matter how aware we are is self-limited by the very nature of our awareness. This is why it's very hard to get to know yourself and see how you fit into the big picture. When you see other people it's easy to give advice for them, but it's much harder to be objective about ourselves because it is always easier to be aware than be self-aware.

The reason why I'm talking about this is that I give great advice about networking and finding jobs to other people. On the other hand, I'm having trouble finding the proper career path for myself. Isn't that both ironic and awkward?

You see the real secret to finding a really great job is not to look for one. By that I mean that there is a hidden emotional order to life. I'm not arguing for a mystical force field that forces us into certain events. I just mean that behind the scenes people have ideas of what they want and how they want it to work out. Then they go and fix things so that they work out in accordance with their ideas.

The secret to finding a great job therefore is to just be yourself and expose that self to others and let them signal to you where you should go looking or offer you the job outright. I've seen it happen dozens of times. Most of the time when hires are made, people already have an idea of who they want or at least what kind of person they want. Then they go looking for it.

Of course you can always groom yourself to fit into somebody else's idea of what they want. That risks you waking up one morning two decades down the road and thinking you missed out on life though. Alternatively you can just do the resume and credential and qualification grind and technically ace any standard set for you and probably somewhere someone will just quick need somebody and you fit the bill and they'll select you. You can also try to hob nob it, get into all the right schools, go to all the right parties, get your pictures taken with all the right people and you'll get hired and promoted up the line. No doubt about it those kinds of methods work.

However I don't think that they can ever make you truly outstanding. By outstanding I mean that you will make the absolute most amount of money that you can make and get the most done and get the most recognition you can possibly handle while remaining balanced and having a happy personal life. I call that the "good life". Now the fact is that a lot of people don't want the "good life". Maybe they have something to prove. Maybe they're willing to let their emotional lives stagnate in order to accomplish some great goal. Maybe they're just not content until they have a trophy spouse, a condo to vacation at, a yacht, a bank account with seven or eight zeroes, four heart attacks, etc.

Having the "good life" means potentially settling just for relationships with whomever naturally comes into your life and treats you well and quite probably a whole lot less money than you think that you might have been able to potentially earn in your wildest dreams.

The problem is that in real life you can't separate your emotional life and your professional life. It just doesn't work like that.

So strangely enough, the best way to find a job is not to look for one. Instead you should try to do what will make you the best that you can be and let the job look for you. Of course you shouldn't turn away opportunities. That's the whole point though, to pay attention to who wants you instead of chasing after that which you think you want. I've seen this work many times. Many more than many times. I have spent the last several years cataloging all the times I have seen this happen.

Most of us are afraid. Fear of failure, of success, of change, of being rejected permeates our thoughts. When I talk about denying ourselves, I'm not talking about the mad scheme to rob a bank you had when you were twelve. I'm just talking about when the glory and the glamor and the hype and the accusations are all stripped away about you, just you, and nobody else but you.

Who are you?
What do you want?
Do you have anything worth living for?

Know thyself. Nosce te Ipsum. Be true to thyself. Such simple words. So hard to live it. So hard to see yourself as only others can. So hard to see yourself and see it in the big picture all at once.

In practice it is so much more difficult. What I know is this. I'm behind in my bills because I've been giving money to my family, but am making payments on my credit card to huggle it. I know that my current job evaporates in less than six months. I know that I have absolutely no plans for what to do about it afterwards. I'm not looking for a job. But I still don't have a job!!!

LOL. This is why it's easy to hand out advice but hard to take it. I'm taking it but it's not easy. Isn't that weird? But that's life. That's real.

There are so many things I want to do. There are so many things I need to do. There are so many things I could do. There are so many things that it would be very easy for me to do and would be completely ruinious for people I don't like very much. Yet out of all these things, I only get to live one life.

So I quietly work away at what the spirit moves me to work on here. I expressly do not look for a job. I am letting the work find me. I don't have anything lined up yet. I do have greater appreciation for all the times in the past when people have found it hard to take my advice even though I and they knew it was the right thing to do.

Psychologically I'm starting to feel a bit like Hank's fictional character cooped up in the Terminal. My patience is not so benign however. I feel like a hungry hawk moving serenely through the air, agonizing because it's been a while since he's eaten but knowing his only chance is for the rabbit below to betray itself with some movement some small mistake something to give it away before the hawk can stoop. This is the why of life, and this is why it's not easy to follow it, and only people of real courage can. Because only someone with the courage to just accept themselves for who they are can bear the agony of waiting and not knowing, certain that sooner or later something that matches their nature will make itself apparent and then that is when they make their move.


At November 17, 2004 at 7:10 AM, Blogger Anthony said...

I am going to try to take what you have said to heart because it does strike me as wise.

At November 17, 2004 at 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The path to salvation is narrow, and as difficult to walk as a razor's edge . . .

Continue to soar, Oldman.


At November 18, 2004 at 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you can be so bold as to propose a "Theory and Practice of the Philosophy of Life", please humor my bold observations of your character as I receive them in your writing.

You pride yourself as a contrarian, that much is obvious. You convey in this post and others a certain qualified sense of moral superiority. I don't believe that you are guilty of a narrow, unreflective moral superiority. If you feel that I am being unfair, I remind you that what you hold so highly as your character is a product of a process which you do not control.

Your writing is superior in a slightly Calvinist way -- you are chosen, your salvation is predestined and therefore you are ultimately blameless. You might point out that you are indeed a sinner, as all Calvinists do, but you do so in a way to distance yourself from the guilty, the unchosen, the hell-bound masses. You are most likely prone to minor peccadilloes of haughtiness and suspecting the worst of others. You have been accused perhaps of a Cassandra complex, but your ready rejoinder would be that Cassandra was always right. Once having been gullible you now pride yourself on your ability to discern others' intentions and hidden goals. You do not suffer fools gladly. Simultaneously, you suspect that those with greater authority, with real power, do not hold you in high enough esteem. You have convinced yourself that the judge will escape judgment.

All of this is understandable and you are not party to this -- you are intelligent, have always been recognized as such, and your achievements are most likely notable. They are not as notable as you wish however. You however confuse your need to make the right choices, and the recognition you have earned as virtue. The need to be virtuous however is starting to cause you pain, and something has to give. To bend the famous Jung quotation a bit, would you rather be virtuous or whole?

I fear your cause is hopeless. Maybe this can be comforting to you to some degree. You will continue to confuse virtue with the virtual. You will do so until life wrenches something you hold dear in an unfair and unrelenting way. You are lucky if the only thing that life takes from you to help you discover virtue is your own need for virtuosity.

Fail miserably, shamefully, badly, with no recourse, and as soon as you can, it's the best thing you can do at this point to preempt the coming onslaught.

With love,


At November 18, 2004 at 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done and worth pondering Oldman.

Reading you at times reminds me of the works of E.F. Schumacher of all people.


At November 18, 2004 at 9:11 PM, Blogger Oldman said...

Dear Anonymous,

If you actually knew that much about Jung you would know that Jung would never countenance the analysis of others in rude, dismissive, or trivializing terms. The tendency and assumption of interpreting the lowest conceivable psychological development to another person is in fact a flawed approach both in terms of practice of psychology and in profiling of personalities for commercial, intelligence, or law enforcement purposes.

While it can serve a titillating and puerile egotistic function to attempt to "take down" one's opponent or subject, it is often a form of self-kidding.

That having been said, I am amused to note that your assessment of my character is in fact an uncannily accurate portrait of myself - when I was about 10. Since then I have failed and worse I have succeeded many a ruinious time. I have found as Kipling noted neither is the measure of a man, and indeed found it elsewhere after long struggles and hard lessons.

You will pardon me therefore if I disregard the attempted cutting wit of one so dedicated to verbal cuttery that they do a hack job out of a simple character assassination. If you'd aspire to cut down others you'd best get a better wit than that for it fair leaves you witless.

At November 18, 2004 at 9:11 PM, Blogger Oldman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At November 19, 2004 at 10:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Oldman,

Some truth, and some ignorance. Some meanness, and some generosity of spirit. I am pleased with your recognition that my comment was all of these things, mixed up in what struck you as a vague, unsettling, and personal way. The venal sin of intelligence is the compulsion to "choose between", and I apologize if in paying penance of inferred motives we found ourselves on a very high mountain.

But I thank you for giving me pause to reconsider my motives for commenting on your theory and practice. I do not wish to see you in distress, the fact that our interaction is reflexive is a point that I see is not lost by your venal intellegere. This is enough: it would not be proper of me as Anonymous to betray more than you already know, perhaps now you understand more of my intentions.

I do in re-reading your post owe you this: you are curious to see what happens next in the theory and practice. All else will follow.



At November 20, 2004 at 12:28 AM, Blogger Oldman said...

Dear Anonymous,

I want you to understand something. I have been destroying men, in every sense of that word, who were "better", smarter, more experienced, much more wealthy, and far more practiced at wickedness or saintliness than me from about age six.

I do understand that this doesn't make me right or better than anyone else. But unless you want to join the list of the extinct I suggest you highly reconsider the fact that you are not offending me or injuring me one bit but are sending the signals that cause me to begin thinking of you the same way a cat thinks of a mouse when it wants to play with its food.

I don't have to understand you to come out and drop the mask. So get lost.

At November 20, 2004 at 1:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Oldman,

If you are testing my reaction, I am not surprised by your annoyance. I take that as a compliment. Getting under your skin takes some intellectual effort that I don't often have the opportunity to exercise.

But your aggression, sir, is unacceptable to me. If you were simply angry at my ability to manipulate your reaction and utilize all the unknowns in the situation to my advantage, I apologize, but that's the way truly life is sometimes. If the stakes were indeed higher and I were indeed malicious, you know we could play this out for a while, but no, the stakes are miniscule in this particular instance and you have let me know that it does indeed bother you to be playing this particular game. You evidently just aren't used to playing a cat and mouse game when you aren't the cat.

Let's play another game instead: full disclosure.

Your aggression was a signal that you that you were ready for the masks to come off. The problem is, there is truly no one behind the mask that you would recognize or feel threatened by in the least.

If in fact you do feel malice toward me, it is undeserved. You do not know me. I am as the lack of the name states, Anonymous, a blog reader simply trying to understand your area of expertise of which I've grown increasingly interested. I initially enjoyed your postings,and until this point have never bothered to comment because of my own ignorance of the subject matter. Though I wished to learn from you and offer my own nascent insights, I did not wish to play the game that is so often played here.

So I chose to play this one to get your attention and maybe get you to lighten up. You left yourself open to it with a rather pointless sounding navel-gazing post about the theory of finding ones purpose in life. My grudge is this: you so often seem to treat your work, the presentation of which so many of us recognize as interesting and necessary, as a zero-sum game in which you must come out on top at someone elses expense , and it does not have to be. I understand men, but I cannot abide the game at times.

You do not suffer Fools gladly, and it takes something like this frothy exercise for a Fool to get your attention.

It is quite sad to me that you would in a situation that is completely asymmetrical, where nothing than a few easily constructed open comments (and often poorly and blindly at that), you could so easily see an enemy skulking in the shadows.

The operative word Oldman (and I would guess you to be about mid-20s to early 30s), is 'chill'. You're doing great things here, the world you desire will sit up and take notice, but try to be a bit more flexible in those automatic responses, they are too easy to play and you need to keep that wit about you.

And I apologize for the rather flat characterization in that first post, it is a gross caricature of the persona you project on here and not to be taken as a statement to be made of your personal life. I feel badly for letting things get to the point where you might misconstrue this. Like all of us, you most likely have a lot of things going on that might give you cause to be a bit protective, and I should not have played those cards in quite the same way.

If you do indeed wish me to 'fuck off', then I am pleased to do so, otherwise I will stick around and comment in a more conventional manner under the screenname 'a Fool'.


a Fool, Anonymous

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