Monday, 23 July 2018

A cure for pessimism -- Why you should practise Aristotle's advice every day

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More often than not, the desire to achieve ambitious goals immediately and easily is going to prove unrealistic. Important things, such as building your career, investments and personal relationships, demand substantial time and effort.

If you are feeling stressed because of your slow progress, remind yourself that it makes no sense to put pressure on the wrong places. Some things in life take as long as they take. The process of reaching ambitious goals is to be enjoyed day by day, not viewed as a waste of time.

Substantial skills, like learning a foreign language, require months or years of effort. Yet, the investment in effort, time and energy to pursue long-term goals is worth it. In life, you have plenty of time to find your own way. If you think that this is not the case, you may want to check your priorities.

"Some talents are innate, but others can only be acquired through practise," wrote Aristotle in twenty-five centuries ago. "The movement of animals is governed by the law of cause and effect, but the essential characteristic of human beings, rationality, can only be developed by choice." Are you aware of your choices and priorities? Are those rational and well-aligned with each other?

Slow progress

Rationality and alignment, personal or societal, should not be taken for granted. Centuries of decay followed the fall of the Roman Empire. For generations, fear replaced rational discourse as the primary means of human interaction. In many fields, knowledge remained inaccessible to the great majority of the population. As a result, life expectancy dramatically decreased.

Conditions only improved in the thirteenth century. The transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance opened a wide range of opportunities for talented individuals. Towns attracted tradesmen and merchants, who manufactured utensils, made clothes, and built houses.

In Italian cities, like Florence and Venice, the wealth created by entrepreneurs created a market for artists.
In the time of the great Renaissance artists, such as Botticelli and Michelangelo, upward social mobility became possible for an important segment of the population.

Problems and obstacles

In our days, despite problems and obstacles, our opportunities for personal development have multiplied to the extent that they are practically endless, making it easier for all of us to explore our fields of interest, grow in knowledge and skills, and find our own path.

Millions of men and women are now enjoying levels of prosperity that would have been unthinkable for the wealthiest prince in the Middle Ages. The Internet and global markets are opening new opportunities to entrepreneurship. We are living in a period of economic growth that offers countless opportunities for each person to build a better future for himself.

Ours is the century of the empowered individual. We inhabit a world where businesses can be started with negligible upfront investment, where innumerable doors are open to personal initiative, giving us plenty of opportunities to find our own way to success and happiness.

A cure for pessimism 

If you feel short-changed in any way, make a pause and look at things with perspective. If you are lucky enough to live in an industrialised country, you will not lack chances for personal development.

In moments of pessimism, remind yourself that digital media are decreasing our educational costs, that thousands of job openings are available on line, that inexpensive software apps are making our lives easier, and that the cost of starting a business remains low in many jurisdictions. Chances are that you have more opportunities than you think.

"Materials and substances are not enough to produce change," observed Aristotle. "The fact that something can be transformed, does not mean that it will. Without activity, there is no motion." 

Let us devote our days to staying in motion in the direction of our choice. Let us transform the assets and skills we have into something more valuable. Let us seize the opportunities, and turn ourselves into a motor of change.


Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here is the link to an audio interview just published:

Saturday, 7 July 2018

What should I do with my life? That's a question young people ask themselves all the time

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What should I do with my life? That's a question young people ask themselves all the time, especially when they have to choose a career. Adults will also ask themselves a similar question when they are considering embarking on a new career, starting their own business, or moving to a new city or country.

If you adopt a rational philosophy, the answer is straightforward. It does not matter much where you start your new career, business, friendships or relationships. What matters is the overall sense of direction, the overall motivation and drive. Let those define the details, so that you only have to worry about the great lines.

By all means, do not be afraid of selecting a demanding career as long as you stay away from narrow, negligible markets. What you want is a career, business, and social relationships that lead you to crowded markets, to places where there are plenty of new potential customers, investors, business partners, and friends.

As long as you avoid minuscule markets, you will do well if you operate rationally, that is, with steady persistence and motivation. This is why, before embarking on a long-term venture, you should make a pause, and assess how your project relates to the eight fundamental human needs. Here is a check list you can use. If you stay centrally or marginally within these eight markets, chances are that you will do very well.

1. Food: The objectives of new food technologies are to increase productivity, quantity, quality, and speed of delivery. Can you build your new career or business in this area? Population growth, in particular in developing countries, is requiring higher agricultural outputs at lower costs. In addition, consumers in industrialised countries are demanding higher quality. Research and development efforts in the food industry are focused not only on production, but also on distribution. Improved packaging and logistics are as important as improved agricultural techniques. Still today, large amounts of food are ruined during transportation and storage. If you can find a way to earn a living in any of those market segments, you can develop a successful career decade after decade.

2. Health services: In addition to the development of new patentable drugs, massive efforts are being devoted to improving hospital management. Pilot projects carried out in the last decade have shown that a better organisation of resources can slash patients' waiting time and hospitals' operational costs. Even if you are not a physician or scientists, there are plenty of opportunity to earn a living in health-related industries. Human beings will always be willing to pay good money to live longer and stay healthier. If you choose to develop a career in this area, you can also profit from low-cost training opportunities on-line.

3. Housing: The last decade has led to overbuilding in some countries. At the time of this writing, you can still acquire houses for a low price in some areas of Greece and Uruguay, just to name two examples. Thus new construction should concentrate on the most profitable segments of the market. Pre-manufactured housing is still underdeveloped in many countries, and can be expected to grow in our century. Without having to be an architect or engineer, there are plenty of opportunities to make a living in the housing market. I know personally some people who are earning high incomes as real estate agents just because they have chosen to work in hot housing markets. Will you consider relocation, so that you can also profit from high-growth career opportunities?

4. Clothing: The internet has changed how the fashion industry operates. The separation of design and production is bound to accelerate during the next decades with an emphasis on increased speed. It is conceivable that, very soon, the time that elapses from design to consumer purchase is reduced to a few days. If you feel affinity for fashion, colours, and human relationships, you may feel at home in the rag trade. Fortunes continue to be made by opening chain shops that appeal to a particular segment of the market. As the population grows wealthier, individuals are willing to pay more for clothes that fit their individual style and size, and clothes that incorporate the reliability of high-quality brands. Either in design, production o sales, opportunities are virtually limitless.

5. Communication and transportation: Ubiquitous internet access will continue to affect how we work, drive, and communicate. The capabilities of mobile phones are already surpassing those of laptop computers, improving our productivity and quality of life. Whether you want to design apps for mobile phones, or earn a living in anything related to transportation, hotels, holidays or event organisation, you will need persistence and imagination. Theme hotels are becoming hot because people are willing to pay more for unique experiences. The same goes for special theme holidays. If you like travelling or communications, you can find a niche in this huge market, even if you are not a engineer or software developer.

6. Culture and entertainment: Better digital audio and video technology will continue to increase the world's cultural output. Our century is already multiplying the world's choice in films, songs, books, and podcasts. What we have seen during the last decade is just the beginning. If you have any kind of creative urge, this might be the perfect market for you. You no longer need a large company behind you (such as a large record company) to launch your career as musician or entertainer. The market grows every year, and will continue to grow exponentially. Once people have covered their basic needs, they are more than willing to devote a good part of their income to entertainment. Will you take advantage of this major trend?

7. Financial services: The gap between professional and personal money management continues to diminish year after year. The quality and speed of financial information should increase further in the next years. Improved trading platforms on the internet are opening additional market segments to individual investors, leading to more transparency, and reducing their investment risk. If you have been investing for years for your private needs, will you consider doing that professionally. Money-management has become a global business. Once you have acquired the necessary skills, it does not really matter where you live in London, Paris, Frankfurt, New York, Shanghai, or anywhere else. If you have a quiet, analytic personality, money-management might be the perfect business for you, the perfect environment in which to build your career.

8. Legal and protection services: Pre-paid legal plans and litigation insurance, which have become successful in some countries, will continue to expand in the next decades. Conflict-resolution services should also experience growth in our century, since more companies are discovering the effectiveness of mediation and arbitration in commercial disputes. Protection and security markets are also growing exponentially, not only in terms of services, but also in terms of products, often composed of hardware and software. Even if you are not a lawyer, this market offers limitless opportunities to develop products and services, also with the advantage that those can be easily (with minor adaptations) rolled out in different countries and languages.

Irrespective of your choice of business or profession, those eight markets will determine your future. In fact, there is very little else in terms of large markets outside those eight areas. Our desires will always revolve around those eight domains because they meet the principal needs of what it means to be human. Those eight markets can be improved and enhanced, but they cannot be ignored. If you are about to choose a new career or business, make sure that you stay within those eight crowded markets.


Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here is the link to an audio interview just published: