Monday, 23 July 2018

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

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: