Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Letters to a young man 31

Hello my friend. I'm writing on the cusp of one year's end and another's beginning, I hope this finds you well.

You asked me to write to you on dealing with regret. It is at this time of year when you may find yourself looking back over the year that's just passed and also looking forward to the one about to start. Numerous opportunities may have presented themselves which you did not seize. And perhaps you have taken actions which you look back on and wish you hadn't. I know both of these well.

I cannot say with certainty which has troubled me more in life. At one point I might have told you that it was failing to seize opportunities. But in hindsight, I believe this was something I felt mostly as a younger man. And in truth, I think this makes sense and is as it should be: for when young, you are striking out on your own and trying to make something happen with life.

Yet, as I get older it is the mistakes I make that trouble me most. Perhaps it is because I see how easily I might have avoided them. Perhaps I gave into some desire, or gave into anger too easily. Damage can be done quickly and is very slow to heal. And, perhaps because I can see how I've developed that such simple mistakes seem such a waste of life and effort. If you make mistakes more than once they trouble you doubly as you feel more and more foolish for repeating them. Eventually, you see the trap set before you have stepped on it, but it may be a long time coming. In this way we are reminded of how little we know. We think we have a thing figured out and then behave like a fool once again.

In any event, you didn't ask me to ruminate about my own foolishness. You asked me about dealing with regret. It is difficult for me to unwind the two as they are inextricably linked for me. So I will tell you this:

The first thing is to recognize that you are but a man and bound to have failures. Whether this is from lack of action or wrong action, the feeling of regret may sting you. Yet ask yourself: Did the great men of the ages never make mistakes? Did Verus not fail to send Marcus Aurelius to the armies to experience battle and soldering? Certainly he left his adopted son and later emperor ill-equipped for what laid ahead of him. Did Marcus himself never err? These great men of the ages, pick one it doesn't matter who, have all had a hand in some failure of action or inaction. Do you expect more of yourself? To raise such a bar and hold yourself to it is too cruel. You must be lenient and forgiving of yourself—that is the first thing. And of course you should expect failures from those you love most. Deal with them with leniency and forgiveness.

But this is only the first step, the acceptance. To look coldly on your error and not to wince. For if you look away, you are likely to stumble on it once again. This won't do. So, having looked at yourself squarely, you must commit yourself to learning from the mistake. You must commit to doing better at your next opportunity. Yet be mindful of the fact that you may trip up again. Maybe not as wholly, maybe in a different way, but it may happen nonetheless. Do not despair if this happens, but remember what I have told you. You are no different than the great men of the ages in your errors. However, to distinguish yourself you must stay vigilant and honest in your endeavors to remain upright and true. Do not allow yourself to play the hypocrite. With each few steps forward you take, you may fall down. Rise again and take a moment to reflect, then carry on. Life is such.

I wish you all the best as this year comes to a close. May the next year teach you much.

Farewell for now.

My book on stoicism.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Letters to a young man 30

Hello my friend. Of late I have been very busy. As I've told you I am working on a new piece, my longest and perhaps my most important utterance. If I accomplish nothing else, that I finish it is of great importance to me. Yet, it is difficult to finish as I'm always learning more—being ignorant has its merits—for each day I become aware of how little I know. Understanding blossoms in this way. And of course I've been busy with husbandry, with work, and with common tasks. Just today I darned a sock which I'd worn a hole in. Some may say this is women's work, and while it may often be work for the wife, as I've told you before a man must be self-sufficient and prepared. There is no shame in being able to take care of one's self.

But enough of my excuses to you for not writing sooner. Recently I have recalled a friend I have not seen for some time. We met often to talk and discuss philosophy, our lives, our successes, and our troubles. On more than one occasion I acted as teacher. Though he is a little older than I he has steeped in his own misery and ignorance and has often sought my guidance. I do not look down on him in the slightest, let me be crystal clear about that. It is just the way it is between us. Many of my friends and closest counsels are much older, but there are times when a man is your junior yet has some wisdom to share with you. To increase your understanding you must take it from whichever well it comes from.

One such occasion has recurred to me and some of your recent events have made its import to you clear to me. On this night we were discussing some problem which he had, one of many at the time. I remember recommending some course of action. No sooner had the words left my lips than I saw him squint his eyes at me and recoil a bit. He then began to stammer and speak quickly to the point of refusing my advice. He became defensive at it. I did not labor my point further, but listened patiently to him as I quickly realized something that had escaped my grasp prior.

That which I grasped was this: a man may not be ready for certain ideas, solutions, or counsel, no matter if it be the solution which he ultimately requires. You cannot feed a man a cure if he cannot see the need for it. Rather than trying some new way to feed it to him, such as with honeyed words, it is best to remain silent, to hear him out and be a good and patient, listening friend than to force something to him. If you force it, he will not take it and will resent you. In time you may see that he has come around, or is ready for your counsel. Until then, you must remember he is your friend more than he is your pupil. Your key aim is to help him when he requires it rather than constantly admonishing him like some headmaster.

And so it is that you may often see men on some path you know well. They are rejoicing though you can see a coming fall. Very well then, let them. Do not spoil their fun. Let them go about their business. For who are we to say a thing when the thing is not ripe to be said? In all things keep an eye on yourself as much as you keep an eye on others. In this way you may learn and grow and be of most service to them. When they need you, they will call and they may even say to you, "My friend, remember when you said thus and so? How I wish I had listened then, but I was not ready to hear them." And you may reply in true and affectionate kindness to him, "Not at all, brother, I didn't have the words you needed then as much as your ears were not ready."

And finally, lest you think I have forgotten your question to me regarding how a man should behave towards his wife, or a woman he may wish to make a wife: I will be brief and ask you to wait for my coming work which will answer you more fully. Be a shepherd to your wife as to your children. Guide them and enjoy the fruits that they give you. Shield them from the troubles of life. Be patient and kind with them above all others, for they are the jewel of a man's life.

Keep well and take care. Farewell for now.

My book on stoicism.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Letters to a young man 29

Hello my friend. You've written to ask my advice. You tell me how you meet a girl, get to like her, and start to get close. Then you begin to feel paranoid that she will leave you, cheat on you, and so on. You tell me that a girl has never done this to you, but you suspect it is due to some childhood trauma or low self-esteem. Then, out of this desperation you cheat on the girl, a preemptive strike as you put it, and she finds out. Then it's over. You ask me,

"HOW do I stop the fear? The panic? The negative thoughts?"

Firstly, let me tell you that I've done the same thing in my past. I look at it as sabotaging the relationship. There could be many reasons why you're doing it. The paranoia that she's going to cheat may be a masking over the general fear of losing her and so you do the preemptive strike. Perhaps there are signs that she'll cheat. Perhaps they're all invented in your mind.

A central problem is a lack of understanding of what's going on within. This is just one manifestation of that problem. In what other ways might it be holding you back? Do you also sabotage employment or entrepreneurial opportunities? Do you fail to meet your potential in other regards because of this inner problem? Until you uncover the source of your issues, and uproot that source, your problems will continue to grow and cast a shadow on your life. Remember that you have much to work with that is positive. In allowing the darkness to take hold you are forgetting the inner strength that is always available. You may not see it— it may take much time, pain, and effort before you are able to see it and wield it.

I'll offer up this advice: it's running from the fear which is controlling you and getting the best of you. You should let it engulf you. What I mean is that you should try and sit with your fear and panic. Don't try to escape it. This is counter to every impulse you have, but you need recognize that following your normal impulses is leading you astray. For example, doing a preemptive strike is your way of trying to escape the possible outcome that she will leave you. This is all driven by your fear. These things feed on one another. Therapy was very good for me in dealing with these things and you should not shy away from it. I can also very much recommend reading stoic philosophy— there are links to works by Seneca and Marcus Aurelius on my blog. My book End Game may be of some benefit as well. Ultimately, reading is just one part of a whole. You must include taking stock of yourself and in trying to understand what is causing the fear and panic in the first place. Then, in letting it take hold you begin to eliminate its power over you.

As the saying goes, "Lose the battle and win the war".

I am writing a new book that I hope will shed some further light on the process as I have experienced it. Let me close by saying that you have better within you than you may think: in order to find it you need stop everything and sit quietly until your grief and loss subside.

Farewell for now, my friend.

My book on stoicism.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Letters to a young man 28

Hello my friend. You've written to ask my advice and after thinking over your situation, I have some things to say.
The first thing is that I cannot give you specific things to do or say in these situations. This would be much like the misguided martial arts teacher who gives his students particular forms to memorize and do the same way each time, hoping that if they are in a fight the attacker will use the same attacks they are used to seeing in training. Life is never like that, it's unpredictable. As soon as you learn a specific "move", you are challenged by the chaos and myriad forms that the other person will use.
So what can you do, then? The best way to proceed, with martial arts or situations such as yours, is to learn principles and to adopt them into your psyche.
The first question to ask yourself is, what would it mean to you if they did "make a laughing stock" of you? This is an important question, and not at all rhetorical. While being made a fool of can indeed be uncomfortable, the degree to which it disturbs you will depend upon how much you value the opinion of others. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that you never be bothered by the opinions of others, or that you never be bothered if others try to make a fool of you. What I am suggesting is that you may find that one day you are much less concerned about what they do because you feel stable and secure within yourself to such a degree that only the most extreme of cases will concern you.
Let me delve a little deeper into your situation. It seems pretty clear that your friends and co-workers are insecure. Their whole point in making such comments, and in trying to make others look bad, is to make themselves feel better about themselves. This is a hollow way, and they will never stand firm and tall if this is the source of their strength. This is because it is not a real strength but a crutch.
Don't allow yourself to fall into the same trap by lowering yourself to their level. This will only harm you in the long run. Instead, embrace the principle that you are worthy and in no need of their approval if they are being unworthy themselves. You may need to focus your friendship efforts on other, more worthy men. I appreciate your asking my advice, and I'm trying to be such a friend to you in return.
Therefore, here is my advice, and you will hopefully forgive the circuitous path I took to get here.
You must distance yourself from these things internally. Focus on yourself, and your development. Let them say what they want. The more you engage them on their level, the more things will escalate, and the more you will feed the fire of their purpose. They will be getting a rise out of you, and that is what they want. Instead, be the oak tree who is firmly planted. Their wind will come, and it may knock down a branch or two, but you will remain.
Over time, you will care less what they do or say. I think you are right to not engage them most of the time. I think you are already handling it well in that regard. However, should things ever get out of hand, you may need to defend your honor, and I hope it doesn't come to that. If they purposefully try to make you look bad in front of a woman, particularly a woman that you admire and have interest in, try to remain calm and answer in as humorous way as you can. This is in essence like deflecting a punch back at your opponent, or using their body weight to throw them off balance. This is much better than letting your blood boil, and letting them get the best of you. At first the humor will seem like a good weapon in your defense. Later, it will be a salve for your spirit.
Farewell for now, my friend.

My book on stoicism.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Seneca's Of a Happy Life

This could be considered required reading. Below is the text of Book 1. The entire work can be found here.

All men, brother Gallio, wish to live happily, but are dull at perceiving exactly what it is that makes life happy: and so far is it from being easy to attain to happiness that the more eagerly a man struggles to reach it the further he departs from it, if he takes the wrong road; for, since this leads in the opposite direction, his very swiftness carries him all the further away.

We must therefore first define clearly what it is at which we aim: next we must consider by what path we may most speedily reach it, for on our journey itself, provided it be made in the right direction, we shall learn how much progress we have made each day, and how much nearer we are to the goal towards which our natural desires urge us. But as long as we wander at random, not following any guide except the shouts and discordant clamors of those who invite us to proceed in different directions, our short life will be wasted in useless roamings, even if we labor both day and night to get a good understanding.

Let us not therefore decide whither we must tend, and by what path, without the advice of some experienced person who has explored the region which we are about to enter, because this journey is not subject to the same conditions as others; for in them some distinctly understood track and inquiries made of the natives make it impossible for us to go wrong, but here the most beaten and frequented tracks are those which lead us most astray. Nothing, therefore, is more important than that we should not, like sheep, follow the flock that has gone before us, and thus proceed not whither we ought, but whither the rest are going.

Now nothing gets us into greater troubles than our subservience to common rumor, and our habit of thinking that those things are best which are most generally received as such, of taking many counterfeits for truly good things, and of living not by reason but by imitation of others. This is the cause of those great heaps into which men rush till they are piled one upon another. In a great crush of people, when the crowd presses upon itself, no one can fall without drawing some one else down upon him, and those who go before cause the destruction of those who follow them.

You may observe the same thing in human life: no one can merely go wrong by himself, but he must become both the cause and adviser of another's wrong doing. It is harmful to follow the march of those who go before us, and since every one had rather believe another than form his own opinion, we never pass a deliberate judgment upon life, but some traditional error always entangles us and brings us to ruin, and we perish because we follow other men's examples: we should be cured of this if we were to disengage ourselves from the herd; but as it is, the mob is ready to fight against reason in defense of its own mistake.

Consequently the same thing happens as at elections, where, when the fickle breeze of popular favor has veered round, those who have been chosen consuls and praetors are viewed with admiration by the very men who made them so. That we should all approve and disapprove of the same things is the end of every decision which is given according to the voice of the majority.

My book on stoicism.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Letters to a young man 27

Hello my friend. I haven’t had much time to write to you recently. Life in the orient is fast-paced, full, and never stops. I’m not certain I’ll have much time to write going forward, but I will when I can. I’ve made a page where you can find all of these letters and you may find the link below [1] and in the top menu.

One thing I have had time for is reflection upon life now and my prior life. I have some things to share with you which I hope may be of use. These thoughts and advice may fly in the face of things you read elsewhere, and may contradict things I wrote to you earlier. All I know for certain is that what I’m saying to you now comes from honest reflection and assessment.

Recently I’ve been thinking over my past, and in particular, my twenties and early thirties. With horror I recoil at the mistakes, and above all, the wasted and mis-used time. While in some sense I was learning, if only through my mistakes, I do indeed wish I’d had better guidance through those years. And now, all I can do is look back and wonder what might have been if I’d made different choices. I humbly offer up these thoughts for you to consider.

More money won’t save you. It will make certain things in life easier, and open up certain doors. It’s better to have it than to not, I have no desire to glorify poverty. Past 50K USD per year, your happiness level won’t go up dramatically, though you will be able to buy more stuff. (Read Thinking, Fast and Slow [2] for more on this and more.) I used to make more money than I do now, but the place I was living was shit, even if I did enjoy my work. Now, I still enjoy my work, but I do so in cities I love, I travel, and the small hit in earnings is negligible. I can always earn more if I want to put in extra effort, but by and large, it’s unnecessary. Why do I tell you this? Because you’re reading everywhere about the high-roller lifestyle, and that money is the key to everything. I’m here to contradict that pretty lie to tell you the truth: money is just a tool and it won’t save you.

Don’t waste your youth in the pursuit of sex. The pursuits of the flesh are tempting, and you may think me crazy for suggesting that you temper your pursuits. Especially when you’re young, you may find it impossible to reign in your passions for women, and will go to great lengths to satisfy your desires. There are two urges: the physical urge, and the psychological urge to fill a void. Pursuing sex to satisfy the first is much less consuming than the latter, which can be a never ending cycle.

If you are having sex to fill a psychological void, I urge you to take stock of where you are, how you’re feeling and why you're pursuing sex. (Incidentally, it could be drugs or any number of other things that you fill the void with, and my advice applies to all of them.) The void that you are trying to fill is a deep hunger, and you won’t fill it with sexual passions, drugs, thrill-seeking, travel, or anything else. You’ll only fill it when you face that abyss. When you face the fear that engulfs you when you sit still and stop reaching out to fill it. I have no map for you, each man has his own path to follow, his own burden to bear. I do offer you hope, which may be more of a curse than anything, but I offer it anyway, because I have crossed through that abyss and come out the other side. Many men before us have done this, and have lived better lives for it.

Regarding sex for its own sake: every man, especially when younger, feels the need to sow his wild oats. How many oats you sow before this urge is filled will vary depending on many factors. As I mentioned in End Game [3], I’ve slept with more women than I’ve lived years. While I look back on many of those encounters as fond memories, there are more than a few that are so-so, and I could honestly have done without. A high number of sexual partners isn’t necessarily a good thing, and a low number is nothing to be ashamed of. In a woman, it’s an admirable quality. What matters is that you’re satisfied, that you’ve experienced what you truly want to, and that you’ve truly enjoyed yourself instead of having been running from some inner demon.

As a happily married man, I can honestly say that I wish I’d spent more of my 20s and 30s in the pursuit of things besides sex, which I used to fill a void. I turned to drugs and alcohol for this too, though nothing too heavy drug-wise. I speak to you as I would to a son, or a nephew, and implore you to cultivate your mind and your body, and not to waste too much time and energy trying to lay numerous women. By all means, sow your wild oats. That is your right as a red blooded male. If you find a woman who is relationship worthy, you may well consider your next move. I have more to say on this topic in End Game [3], if you haven’t read it already, and if you enjoy this series, you will find it useful.

Don’t avoid marriage just because the herd does. It’s popular to dismiss marriage as a viable option, and not without reason. In the United States marriage is a sham, to a great degree. My understanding is that this is becoming more the case in Western European countries as well. However, that’s not the complete picture. If you have your eyes open you may find a woman who hasn’t embraced the soul-killing, and vagina-stretching sickness of feminist slutdom. You may even find foreign women in the U.S. and abroad who are more attuned to your desires. Remember, if you’re seeking out sluts to have no-strings sex with, and that’s all your eyes are open to, you’re not going to find a woman you’d want to have a relationship with. And I pity the fool who confuses those two things. It would seem that many a man chooses poorly, and is surprised when the ticking time bomb of a slut wife explodes in his face, and utilizes the absurdly un-just legal system to pick him clean.

Therefore, if you do marry, marry wisely. For more of my thoughts on marriage [4].

Take your health seriously. Don’t smoke, do drugs, or drink to excess. In moderation drink is okay, and while I enjoy a pipe or cigar on occasion I haven’t smoked cigarettes for years. These things are all poisons, essentially, though they are enjoyable and can add something to the experience of life. However, because they’re poisons you should be wary of their effects on your health long-term.

Take your diet and exercise seriously, though not too seriously. Orthorexia is a real thing, as Dr. Kurt Harris has pointed out [5].

The bottom line is that your health is everything. If you need a lesson in this, go visit a hospital (you can volunteer) and you’ll see the look of regret on people’s faces as they contemplate years of treating their body poorly. If you’ve ever had an older loved one in hospital with something serious, you will have experienced something similar.

Take school more seriously. You may not want to hear this, and while I am not convinced that college is the best course of action for many people (i.e., worthless degrees), I can certainly say that I wish I’d taken school more seriously earlier in life. I did okay in school, but I could have done better. You may not see it now, you may not know what you really want to do. But, if at some point you decide that you want to be an engineer, or do something else that requires an advanced degree, and you never took school seriously, you may have shot yourself in the foot. If you want to contribute much to society, you may be able to do that completely on your own. For most of us, it means joining on with an organization that has resources, and they don’t just hand out those jobs to people who look cool or who are ‘alpha’.

You can still have an interesting and awesome life, sleep with girls, and do some partying while getting good grades and getting the most out of your education. I know plenty of young men who do just that. While many of their classmates are lost after school, they’re going on to grad school and have bright futures ahead of them. I’m proud to say I’ve mentored more than one of these men and have pointed out to them that after the party’s over, there will be much life to be lived, and they should position themselves with the best footing possible.

To thine own self be true. I'll close by saying that there is no specific template which one can follow in life, to fulfill one's destiny or to achieve the greatest contentment and happiness. The greatest of these things comes from the doing of your life, which includes the learning of lessons by making mistakes. There are some core principles that one can follow, and the most important one I can think of is to embrace reason as your guide, and let your passions push you forward. Together, they may allow you to grow, to achieve, and to be the best that only you are. If you have only one of them, you'll risk being an empty and dry husk, or a drifting, lost, and leaky hull. You've been given both naturally, through whatever grace lives throughout the universe. Do not squander either.

Farewell for now.

My book on stoicism.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Letters to a young man 26

Hello my friend. You wrote to me saying,

I'm seeing this one girl regularly now and I think you mentioned that you were in a serious relationship so I'm wondering if you can give me some advice for being in one. I've never really been in a long term one and I like this girl a lot so I'd like to keep it going. Only thing is sometimes I want to do my own thing. Plus a lot of girls keep hitting on me now that they know that I'm taken.

Thank you for your letter. I must admit that I've been long silent and somewhat remiss on the subject of relationships, I presume because you've so often wrote to me about your pursuits of women, among other things. And now that you've captured her affections, it is natural you may ask yourself, "What now?" Being in a long term relationship myself, and having been in more than one in my life, I have much to say on the subject, but I'll try and focus for now on the particulars that you've asked about.

The other women

First of all, be wary of women who show interest in you only because you're unavailable. You know the type: the moment you hit the market again, they cannot be bothered. Some of these women want you because the woman you are with is attractive, and it will bump their ego to be with a taken man. They will imagine themselves on the level of your girl, and will feel special if they've captured your attention/affections. Another breed of girl is the kind that will want to get with you and then destroy your relationship by letting your girl know. In either case you will need to weigh the cost/benefit of straying and decide accordingly. In my experience, it's generally not worth it, especially if she's in your social circle or likely to run into your girl. Not to mention the question of fidelity.


Whether or not to stray can be framed as a question of morality. I prefer to frame it as a question of what you are seeking and why. In some cases a man wants sex (or even just friendship and flirtation) because of novelty. In some cases because he needs a release (much like a massage) in the event that there is some separation, like if your girl is gone on a trip or something. In some cases, it is because the man is damaged and needs attention and an ego boost. Be wary of this last case, for if you are in the throes of a dalliance because you need something from the girl, you're at risk. At risk not only because the girl will have a certain power over you, but at risk in general because you do not have yourself together and may drift from scenario to scenario for your feeling of self-worth. I can speak of the risk of that situation because I am familiar with it personally. Take my advice, and be honest with yourself about why you're considering it. Then, you can ask yourself if it's really worth it. Moments of pleasure are fleeting. That isn't to say that they aren't worth it, but in some cases what you get isn't what you thought you'd get, nor what you wanted. In some cases, the fantasy is better than the reality. It all depends.

The 70% Rule

Others have written on the subject of how to keep things going well, how to remain the man in your relationship, and how to keep things stable, healthy, and fresh. I'll add my two cents to this canon. Those who practice Zen have a principle of never eating past 70% satiety. I think this is a good rule to follow with regards to many things, including relationships. In the simplest terms, you never go much beyond 70% in the romantic mushy gushy department. There's no need and it will only end up with her becoming both spoiled by your affections and resentful that you're giving her everything she asks for.

Examples of what I'll call the 70% rule in practice:

  • You buy her gifts at random which you happen upon, without premeditation. The gifts need not be terribly expensive nor of a "romantic" quality, but are gifts which she is not expecting and will give her more satisfaction than chocolates on v-day. When you give her these gifts you don't make a big production of it and quickly move on to the next thing. She'll be moved, surprised, and hold you in god-like appraisal. If she tells you she wants something, buy it a few months later, long after she thinks you've forgotten. You shouldn't buy her predictable gifts on predictable occasions, and your delivery and response to her appreciation should be 70%.

  • When she tells you she loves you, on occasion smile and say, "I know", and kiss her on the cheek. No need to do this every time, but do it on occasion. She may throw a mock fit, but she will love it. You shouldn't always reply with, "I love you too", and you should mix up your responses to keep things fresh.

  • Be helpful, on occasion, without asking or making a big production of it. There's no need to sell her on how helpful you were, let your actions speak for themselves.

  • Let her do things for you (like your dishes and laundry) and do not jump up to help her every time.

  • On occasion compliment her dress, her shoes, makeup, hair, or general appearance. Catch her off-guard with it, and keep it simple. You shouldn't tell her every day how beautiful she is. And when you do it should be 70%.

The principle is to temper your most romantic efforts to about 70% and to let your most affectionate and romantic gestures tower over and stand out from the norm. If a man is a gushy and romantic 100% of the time, it will sour the relationship, despite his best intentions. Obviously every woman is different and some will require more comforting and reassurance than others. And I'm not recommending you be a dick the rest of the time. The idea is that you never go past a certain point, except on very rare occasions. (When it's time to show up and be a man to help her, comfort her and support her, you'll know it.)

Do Your Thing

It's important in relationships to have your own interests and life. Setting aside the importance generally of having your own life and interests, you'll be a better companion (and so will she) if you have other things to focus on and work toward. A good woman will be supportive of these interests and goals, and will look forward to your updates on what's happening in your life. If she isn't, she's not good for you.

Compromise and Decision Making

It's also important to compromise. You're not going to go very far in a relationship if you're always my way or the highway. You'll be travelling alone if that's your approach. Relationships, in many ways, are an art form comprised of decisions, joint effort, and shared resources. It's important to be decisive and not wishy washy, but you must also be flexible and not hard-headed. It took many years for me to be comfortable making decisions and taking the lead, but I've learned the value and importance of it. It becomes second nature and fun. If you're not as comfortable being the decision-maker, you just need to give it a go. Commit to something, and if your plan doesn't work out, don't sweat it. It's better that you took the lead and then tried something rather than sitting there saying, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" Repeat these words after me,

Tell you what, why don't we do this: ____.

You'll notice that it isn't framed as a question. It's just a way that you can phrase something and proceed from there. Insert your plan into the box. In some cases it's best not to even revel what your plan is. You can just say, I'll pick you up at 8, it's a surprise. Even in a long term relationship, women love this kind of thing. Surprises and mystery are your friend.

Friend or Foe?

A relationship with a woman can be many things. For some, it is a constant battle. I recommend against this, and if you find yourself in such a place, you should consider ejecting. The most rewarding type of relationship is one where you are friends and partners in crime with the girl, where your interests are her interests because she makes them so. And you will do the same, obviously, because it is rewarding in and of itself, and because it is also in your best interest to do so.

Put Your Foot Down

Sometimes, you have to be the man and put your foot down. Women can be temperamental and unreasonable and they need to be corralled. They respond well to having a man take charge, even if they might say otherwise. Observe how they respond when you put a stop to their carrying on and you'll see that they in fact crave that behavior from you.


A long term relationship with the right woman can be immensely satisfying. I think for most men they just need to temper themselves a little, and resist the urge to play out the mindless romantic gestures 100% that they see in date movies. I think the 70% rule is helpful in this regard, and is a good mindset to have about life generally. One more thing we owe to the Orient. Consider well your options before you stray, be strong, surprising, flexible, and have your own life, and enjoy the ride.

I hope this finds you well, and that it in some way has been helpful.

Farewell for now.

My book on stoicism.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Letters to a young man 25

Hello my friend.

I have been thinking over your situation. For starters, I am sorry to hear about your breakup. I'm sure there was emotional investment and this kind of thing is never easy to deal with and I can understand your ire at the situation.

Firstly, I recommend that you try not communicating with her, especially in your current state. I can see that no good will come of it. This is of course easy for me to say, as I'm removed from the situation. However, judging from my life experience I can say that you'd be better off staying away from confronting her in any way. As you said yourself, it's over.

Also, there's nothing to be embarrassed about. I would say that every man has dealt with such a thing, and I'm no exception. Sometimes we see what we want to see in people, and overlook obvious clues that something isn't quite right. Again, I know this from personal experience.

The hardest lesson in all of this, perhaps, is that you'll have to accept those feelings. You'll have to accept that maybe you were wronged, and maybe you were duped. I have a good personal friend who's dealing with just this same type of thing right now, in fact. I've asked him these questions, and I'll ask you,

So what if it's true that she duped you? What would that mean to you? What would that tell you about yourself?

My point in asking these questions is to get you to reflect on them fully. The point I hope you will arrive at is that everyone, even the smartest, boldest, strongest men, has been duped and wronged. It shouldn't take anything away from who you are. Whether or not it does, is ultimately up to you. This is where your power lies. It's something that no one can take away from you, nor give to you.

Believe me, I know it is easy to say and harder to put into practice. But this is only so because men try to force something out, rather than let something remain within.

It hurts, and it will hurt. I think you can make great strides forward if you embrace it, feel it fully, and them move forward. I know that's maybe not comforting, and it would be nice if I could offer a panacea, but I think we both know that's not possible, nor in the long run even desirable.

Going forward, you may start to look back on the relationship and see things you didn't see before. There's no need to beat yourself up over them, though that is commonly what men do, but you can certainly learn from them. Consider that at the very least, as you go forward you will have your eyes opened and will likely see things differently in the future.

Finally, regarding your concern that you may see her again when school resumes. My guess is that by the end of Summer you'll feel much less anxiety about running into her. Over time, you'll probably see her flaws more and that will make it easier to deal with knowledge of her being with other guys. For now, you might try to put it out of your mind. An alternative might be to think about it fully so that you embrace the rage/bitterness/pain of those feelings so that you can put them down and not be affected by it any more.

I hope this finds you well, and that it in some way has been helpful.

Farewell for now.

My book on stoicism.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Letters to a young man 24

Hello my friend. I appreciate your kind words about my book and want you to know that I've thought carefully about your letter. It is indeed a difficult place you find yourself in, to have put so much effort into your creative endeavor only to find the world is less than interested or supportive in what you're doing. I know this is hard, for I've experienced this myself in life. Though you may not find this much of a comfort, I have some words that I hope you will think on. They are,

The world is full of people who judge themselves based on other people's opinions. Don't be one of them.

I wish that I could change people's minds and perspectives, to bend them for a moment away from their concerns and convince them to give you and your work the attention it deserves. However, we both know that this is not possible. In fact, you should be glad that I cannot do this. Why? Because the strength you'll gain from this adversity will temper you and make you stronger for any further insults that are hurled your way.

It took me many years, frustrations, and let downs, to finally understand that being happy with my own endeavors and the enjoyment of achieving them is what counts. You are the person that has to live with yourself every day. Imagine that you had a hit song, or a best-selling book. What then? What about the days when you have no ideas, when there's no work to be done, and what happens when the initial rush and spotlight have passed? If you cultivate good work habits and learn to enjoy the process itself without worrying about any rewards that may or may not come, you will always be the master of your fate. Yes, the world will sometimes kick you in the side, and spit on you, but it may also be kind to you. The point is that you should focus on what you're doing with your time, and not concern yourself too much about what the world brings your way.

All things move towards their end. All things gravitate towards the middle, the average. Some days luck finds you on one side, on some days, the other. Don't take it too personally.

My book on stoicism.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Letters to a young man 23

Hello my friend.

I want to address your latest concern that you sent to me. You've approached a girl who made eyes at you, and then when talking to her, she seemed to clam up and get very serious, not saying much. This in turn made you feel nervous, and threw you off. It seems the whole thing disintegrated quickly. You ask me what you did wrong.

Listen, you did nothing wrong. So often it's not a matter of what you did wrong, or right. She no doubt became very nervous, most likely because she finds you attractive, and because she was probably surprised you actually came over to talk to her. Given her age, I'm guessing she's in her early twenties like you, she probably had a flood of hormones and emotions going on. Of course, perhaps you mis-interpreted her looking at you, but I say that you should trust your instincts, which gave you the impression that she was interested. Don't start second guessing yourself the next time an attractive girl gives you the eye.

You should be proud of yourself for taking action. Don't beat yourself up and ask yourself what you did wrong. If I have any advice for such situations it is to say very little, and when it seems that things have run their course, just introduce yourself, say it was nice to meet her and then leave. If she can pull it together enough to keep conversation going, hang around. If not, she's only going to continue feeling awkward, and so will you. Remember, you'd already made a joke which she giggled at but she was just too enamored of you to say much else. There's no point to hang around trying to make jokes, to tease her out of her awkward and shy place if she doesn't budge out of it quickly.

Conversation can't bloom if only one person is talking.

And remember, not everything has to happen right away. Consider this a first meeting. Maybe the next time you see her she will be less nervous and will have kicked herself for not making more of the opportunity. You sailed your ship to her harbor. That's just the first step.

There's a bit more on this in End Game. I hope you will find it useful.

Farewell for now, my friend.

My book on stoicism.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Baumeister and Vohs research

In case you missed it:

Indeed, the world of work is a daunting place for a young man today. Feminists quickly point to the continued dominance of men at the top of most organizations, but this is misleading if not outright disingenuous. Men create most organizations and work hard to succeed in them. Indeed, an open-minded scholar can search through history mostly in vain to find large organizations created and run by women that have contributed anything beyond complaining about men and demanding a bigger share of the male pie.

Brilliant people shooting feminism right between the eyes, as well they should.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Letters to a young man 22

Hello my friend. It has been some time. No doubt you may have forgotten our last correspondence, so let me remind you of it, in case that is so.

I did receive your reply and you have some interesting thoughts on the matter. Was there never a box? Is it that one should grow one's own food in the box so that sustenance is not needed from without?

Both of these are on the right track, but let me tell you one thing more that may clear things up, if I do my job correctly.

The box is as real as you believe it is.

There are no walls per-se, yet if they are there of your own constructing, they are very real to you. You may indeed be unable to eat without assistance from others. So, in that way, you may eventually see that the box isn't real. And yet, how real it was when you were inside of it.

My book on stoicism.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Letters to a young man 21

Hello my friend.

From my travels I have learned much. There are many things I wish to tell you. But first I must answer your question. You've asked me about how you may deal with rejection. In particular, you've asked me how you may deal with the rejection of some girl that you fancy. A girl you have decided you must have. And you tell me that you feel the sting of rejection when you are friendly to passers-by and they ignore you.

First I want to tell you something about rejection:

Rejection is neither something to be feared, nor encouraged.

I tell you that you are doing both, and you have given this girl the power to harm you, even if she has no idea that she does so. She has only the power over you that you place in her hands. The same goes for the passers-by. Why do so? I realize you cannot help it, and I see that clearly, so I wish to help you to see it:

You have placed yourself in a box. The box has walls that are so tall that you cannot get out. All day you peek over the walls and see people walking by. They look down at you as you sit in the box. You hope every day that someone will put a rope down and help you out. At the very least, you're hoping for something to eat, to get you through to the next day. Some stop and look in. Some say hello, but continue on. At the end of each day, you are alone, in your box, and feel rejected.

How do you imagine you will solve this problem?

Think on it well my friend, and tell me your mind. I will speak further on it next time.

My book on stoicism.