Monday, 26 September 2022

"Against all odds" -- twelfth book by John Vespasian

In life, everybody has to face obstacles. Will you panic and fall apart, or take the necessary steps? By using real-life examples, this book will teach you:

  • How Teresa of Avila, a dirt-poor nun, raised funds to start thirty-two monasteries.

  • What enabled Cabeza de Vaca to survive and thrive after being shipwrecked.

  • How Franz Josef I kept an empire running smoothly for 65 years despite constant problems.

  • Xenophon's method for dealing successfully with life-or-death problems.

  • What enabled Cagliostro to rise to fame and fortune after 19 years of dismal failure.

This book provides practical advice for solving difficult problems and remaining effective in good and bad times.


Table of Contents




Chapter 1 - Prerequisites of high effectiveness

Get better results by applying this perennial recipe

The fountain of enduring strength rediscovered

If you want a robust performance, here is how

A foolish habit that is harming your interests

You can remove this fundamental problem right away


Chapter 2 - The key to remarkable results

Deal better with adversity by using this metaphor

Stay away from this unworkable approach

Pointless crusades for the abolition of foolishness

This powerful technique prevents defeatism

A controversial strategy for getting things done


Chapter 3 -How to overcome discouragement

Getting unstuck in unpromising situations

The best way to escape boredom and despair

Can you turn seemingly worthless assets into gold?

Do this right now in order to stop sinking

A false theory that is causing widespread mayhem


Chapter 4 -Growing a little stronger each day

Double your opportunities by adopting winning routines

If you are being rejected, here is the solution

What you need to know about finding new chances

The fastest path to remarkable improvement

Get rid of losing propositions definitively


Chapter 5 -Sentimentality is a curse, not a virtue

Why human beings often misperceive reality

The key to a resilient personality in every season

Don't let overblown emotions prevent you from winning

Embrace strategies that work and let go of the rest

Unscathed by lies and propaganda


Chapter 6 -What you can do to become unsinkable

Facing dozens of problems but still highly effective

Do not let clever acting deceive you

Beware of the downside of extreme measures

There is no excuse for taking inordinate risks

Decisions made without margin are likely to bite you back


Chapter 7 -An inspiring example taken from real life

Still victorious despite being cheated and betrayed

The key to staying safe in perilous situations

Use protective routines to prevent disaster

Learn to love imperfect solutions

Concealment can bring you large advantages


Chapter 8 -Advice for thriving during hard times

Twenty-four years trying to get a break

How to make good decisions with little information

A controversial method to enhance your effectiveness

Resourcefulness in the absence of support systems

Survive and thrive against all expectations



Recommended  reading

Sunday, 10 July 2022

In times of trouble, problems spread like wildfire --- use good principles to multiply your effectiveness

There is no deeper disappointment in life than seeing your thoughtful, well-prepared plans overturned by unexpected events. When disruption turns your projects upside down, disorientation will inevitably ensue for a short while. In those situations, problems can spread like wildfire across your whole life, leading you to wonder whether you can still achieve your goals.

How is it possible that your projects are falling apart? Have you perhaps overestimated your capabilities? Are disruptions forcing you to give up your ambitions, values, and accumulated assets? To whom can you turn for orientation, or at least, for reasurance?

Nowadays, millions of individuals are asking those questions. The last two years have been particularly challengeing for hard-working people with large ambitions, people who had placed their trust on their own enthusiasm, persistence, and resilience. The issue is whether those virtues have lost their sense and purpose.

Adversity prompts you to question your principles

Adversity and misfortune prompt you to question your principles. The spectacle of large financial losses incurred by hard-working, competent people is not motivating. In this context, it is perfectly fair to doubt your abilities to achieve your goals. In a world that seems to reward chance rather than constancy, should you remain faithful to your principles?

Indeed, you should. Take heart and do not give up. The current disruptions are only giving you an incomplete picture of the story. Doom-and-gloom, defeatist views are not going to help you surmount the obstacles on your path. If you give it enough time, the disruptions will wane and balance will be restored. Rationality and constancy will lead to victorty, as they have always done.

Learn to view short-term obstacles for what they are. Do not blow them out of proportion. Temporary disruptions do not invalidate the law of cause and effect, but make it harder for you to connect the dots. Alone the principle of causality governs reality, even if short-term challenges can create lots of noise.

None of us can escape reality, ignore it, or dream it away, but in times of trouble, it is hard to distingish fact from fiction. This is why it's so important to remain loyal to good principles and keep trudging forward in the direction of your goals.

Good principles always work, even if disruptions may lead you to think otherwise in the short term. The whole point of ethics is to provide guidelines to help you find the way, especially during difficult periods, so that you can keep discouragement at bay.

Take heart and do not give up

The law of causality always works, but this does not mean that connections between effort and rewards are linear and automatic. Epecially in times of trouble, disruptions can be wide-ranging and overwhelming. Sometimes, the rewards for your efforts will only materialize several years dow the road, but so what? The pace of history is not designed to fit human impatience, for instance:

(a) An employee who has worked competently and loyally for decades may lose his job during an economic recession and find himself on the street. Was he wrong in devoting so much effort to his work? Instead of performing excellently
in his job, should he have done as little as possible?

(b) A middle-aged professional who has been saving laboriously all his life, is now suffering the consequences of a stock market crash. He is watching in disbelief half of his assets evaporate in smoke. Was he mistaken in saving for decades in order to secure his retirement? Rather than investing, should he have spent his income on frivolities?

(c) A loving wife who has dedicated her best years to care for her family is suddenly confronted with her husband's infidelity. Has she been too naïve in trusting him? Should she grow sceptical of all human relationships in the future?

(d) A couple who has lived frugally for decades in order to pay off their mortgage, now see their home burned down by vandals. They feel devastated and paralyzed. Instead of saving money every month, should they have spent everything they earn? What was the point of sacrifycing themselves if disruptions can now take everything away from them?

No wonder that people are feelingoverwhelmed

In the face of severe adversity, it is no wonder that people will feel overwhelmed and begin to doubt themselves. If you lose your job, savings, home, possessions, social and family connections, it is natural to go through a period of disorientation.

In the face of catastrophic disruptions, the best strategy is to extend your range of vision. If you stay loyal to your good habits, the law of cause and effect will always work in your favour, even if it takes longer than you wish. 


In times of trouble, it pays to remind yourself daily that great victories are always won at the margin, that is, by applying good principles one more hour, one more day, one more week, and so on. When short-term events turn against you, do not abandon your good principles. Instead of throwing them away, use them as a source of reassurance and hope.

History shows that no individual destiny is exempt from a fair share of troubles. This is why you should not lose your hope and give up your dreams. Remind yourself that, given enough time, sensible principles will lead you to recovery and victory. 

If your investments have suffered a setback, their value may be restored when the economic conditions return to normality. If you have lost your job during the recession, keep sharpening your skills each day, while you keep looking for a suitable opening. Despite the distruptions you are encountering now, you were right in performing your best every day because excellence is the best way to live.

Keep practising good habits during bad times

Do not stop practising your good habits during bad times. Remain calm in the face of adversity and remind yourself of your long-term goals. It does not pay to be overly pessimistic because recovery might be around the corner. Instead of discarding your dreams, learn to look beyond the present disruptions and keep looking for ways to regain the lost ground.

Remenber that, during a crisis, a steady mindset becomes even more valuable. Keep practising your honesty, frugality, and productivity. They will enable you to seize the next opportunity and get back on your feet. Instead of growing discouraged,
stay alert. In history, great victories have always been won precisely at the moment when everything seemed lost.

Great victories are always won at the margin

Linear thinking, so natural to the human mind, is insufficient for surmounting large obstacles. In fact, linearity will prevent you from grasping the fact that circumstances do not change at a steady pace. A turnaround will seldom arrive at the moment you expect, but if you keep practising good values, it will arrive all the same. Success is the outcome of relentless, focused action carried out day after day.

In times of trouble, you can still win if you keep pushing at the margin by hanging on a little longer, making an extra sale, and saving an extra dollar. Virtues such as productivity and frugality will multiply your effectiveness and help you overcome disruptions, obstacles and setbacks.


[Image: Photo of classical painting; photo taken by John Vespasian, 2018]

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Sunday, 6 March 2022

There is not such a thing as overpreparedness --- it's a mantra worth repeating ten times a day


"Men should avoid the distractions of pretence and delusion," wrote the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in the year 1842. "Impossible expectations, desires disconnected from reality, will always result in disappointment and sorrow." 

Indeed, impossible expectations can sink any ship. They can sink even ships that look solidly supported by their captain's personnal connections, social tradition and public reassurance. They can bring down large institutions that nobody would have suspected to be frail, empty and unreactive.

A strong belief in historical continuity constitues the ultimate delusion, the archetype of impossible expectations. I mean continuity in the widest sense. Continuity of one's profession or employment. Continuity of one's good health and lucky star. Continuity of the prior year's income level and revenue sources. Continuity of all friendships that one has cultivated over the years.

The events of the last two years should have cured us from our belief in continuity. They should have enlightened us about the true nature of reality, society and history. They should have reminded us that human nature never changes. That some people will keep looking the other way because they cannot stand the truth. That others will rather endanger their life than face social discomfort, negative criticism or outright ostracism.

Learning to see the truth

Learning to see the truth is seldom easy and free of charge, but so what? Even in the worst of times, you can grow better, sharper, stronger. You can learn to solve problems faster and more effectively. You can develop an accurate perception of the world, a tightly integrated philosophy, and a waterproof self-reliance. If you learn to face trouble with a clear mind, you can earn unlimited rewards down the road. 

Conformity is a bank from which you can borrow short-term conveniences, but only after you have taken a mortgage on your soul. It is not a good deal. Not a deal that you should take, irrespective of the level of pressure you are facing. Many people are realizing now that the spiritual mortgage they have taken in the last years is going to prove horribly expensive to repay.

Sometimes, you are going to have to push yourself to face reality, acknowledge the threats, and adopt defensive measures, even if everybody else keeps pretending that no action is necessary. Problems are often unexpected and inevitable, but preparedness is hundred per cent under your control. If you prepare yourself financially, professionally, socially and philosophically, you will do well in the long term, even if you occasinally go through a rough patch.

It is unfortunate that most people do not prepare for the worst. By willingly ignoring threats, they have placed themselves in a fog of ignorance, increasing the likelihood of making dire mistakes. They have practically guaranteed that they will be wiped out by the next storm because of their lack of alternatives, margins and effective routines.

Doing much better than average

Consider these five examples of unpreparedness, five examples of the delusion of continuity that is currently wiping out large numbers of people. The radio and television are giving us daily stories of how incredibly unprepared people are. Their expectation of historical continuity keeps them trapped in a bubble that is likely to become their coffin.

First, unhealthy food: Despite being aware of the long-term negative effects of some foods, people keep consuming them in the expectation that, somehow, they alone will be immune to the consequences. They expect magic, miracles, statistical exceptions. You can do much better than average if you improve your diet today and preserve your health for the next decade.

Second, a decaying work environment: People close their eyes to signs of decline in the company that employs them. They choose to ignore clear signs of danger, often for years, because they do not want to make the effort to search alternative employment or start their own business. You can do much better than average if you keep your eyes open and change jobs (or careers) before the situation becomes unsustainable.

Third, wrong relationships: Individuals will choose to ignore major character flaws in someone they find sexually attractive because they do not want to question their choice. They
will not hesitate to attribute non-existent virtues to their beloved because they do not want to assess him or her realistically. You can do much better than average if you remain honest with yourself at all times. Call a spade a spade, and avoid delusions like the pest.

Fourth, unreliable friends: People prefer to avoid confronting dishonesty because confrontation is too uncomfortable. They choose to ignore obvious disloyalty because they do not want to rock the boat. Those are terrible choices. You can do much better than average if you hang around only with people who deserve your friendship, and if you do not have enough of those, then keep seeking until you find them.

Fifth, unsound investments: People often choose to trust prodigious promises made by reckless money managers. In doing so, they are placing their savings at risk, sometimes their whole life's savings. That's not the right way to prepare for the future. You can do much better than average if you learn about investing and make prudent choices. Those will increase your peace of mind and help you enjoy life more.


A sharp perception of reality

We all make mistakes, but that's not a valid excuse for remaining unprepared. When it comes to learning, there is no substitute for experience. I know today many things that I did not know two years ago. I also know that I am going to keep learning each day, preparing myself for whatever challenges may arise. Every experience, positive or negative, is helping me develop a sharper perception of reality.

Preparedness is about developing good habits and staying alert. If you wish to increase your effectiveness, you need to force yourself to stand still from time to time, and question everything that looks too good to be true. You need to recheck the strength of the pillars that sustain your existence, reinforce those pillars, and ensure that they will withstand the next storm.

"Only an unclouded perception of reality enables man to learn the truth," observed Schopenhauer. "If you make decisions based on facts, you will grow more self-reliant, which is the key to happiness." Every bit of effort that you make today to increase your preparedness, will be generously repaid in the next crisis.

History shows that prejudice, conformity and ignorance are the main reasons why people choose to remain unprepared. They choose the easy way in the short term, only to pay a horrendous price down the road. Do not fall into that trap. Preparedness depends on the  courage to face reality and on the constant acquisition of knowledge. Make those your daily habits and restate at every opportunity your right to a better future.


[Image: Photo of classical painting; photo taken by John Vespasian, 2018]

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Exaggerated prudence is a bad advisor

Exaggerated prudence is a bad advisor, hardly better than ignorance. We all love to hear words of reassurance, but a rational risk assessment would serve us much better. If we face reality with courage, we can spare ourselves the high costs of immobility. 

Temerity has the capability of short-circuiting logic. Beliefs that project excessive modesty should be examined with suspicion. Never accept at face value the idea that you cannot overcome your deficiencies, since it might contain more conformity than substance.

Never let prejudice render you blind to opportunity. When we start a new venture, ambition motivates us to move forward and overcome obstacles. Experienced entrepreneurs know how important it is to pursue opportunities with conviction. Never let overblown deficiencies bring you to a standstill. More often than not, you can find a way to remedy those problems and attain success.

In the year 1820, Bertel Thorvaldsen, an acclaimed romantic sculptor, travelled back from Rome to his native Denmark. Thorvaldsen was then fifty years old and at the pinnacle of his fame. During his stay in Copenhagen, he talked to many aspiring artists, giving them generous advice and encouragement.

One night, when Thorvaldsen returned to his hotel after a reception in his honour, he was told that a boy had been waiting for him all day. Intrigued, Thorvaldsen looked around the hotel hall and found a poorly dressed kid asleep on a chair.

He walked up to the boy, shook his arm gently, and whispered to him: "It's late, kid, go home." Startled, the boy opened his eyes and jumped to his feet. "I was waiting for you, Herr Thorvaldsen. I have been waiting for you all day."

That must be true, thought Thorvaldsen, since the boy looked so exhausted and hungry that he was pitiful to see. "I wanted to ask you for advice on my career," the kid went on. "I cannot decide whether I should become a novelist or a poet."

Out of compassion, Thorvaldsen ordered a glass of warm milk for the boy and listened to his story. It was a heartbreaking tale. With adolescence, the kid had lost the striking voice that had gained him praise and a small income in his home town, and had joined the thousands of unemployed youth roaming the streets of Copenhagen. 

"This is why I have thought of becoming a writer," the boy explained shyly, taking three ruffled pages out of his pocket and handing them over to Thorvaldsen. Strangely enough, the idea of asking a sculptor for literary advice seemed to fit the kid's pathetic situation.

Thorvaldsen devoted a few minutes to reading the text and was appalled to see that it contained dozens of grammar and spelling mistakes. It was obvious that the boy had no chance of becoming a writer. Even if it was cruel, it was better to tell the boy the truth right away, so that he could at least learn a trade.

"What is your name?" asked Thorvaldsen, returning the pages. "Hans-Christian," replied the boy full of hope. "Hans-Christian Andersen." A silence ensued, as Thorvaldsen searched for the least hurtful way to express his judgement.

He stared at Hans-Christian Andersen for a long while as he remembered his own artistic ambitions as a young man, many years ago, but of course, his own situation had been different. Thorvaldsen took a deep breath and shook his head. "Look, Hans-Christian," he began, "I don't know how to tell you this."

At that moment, Andersen nodded and gave the sculptor a crazy smile. That was what he had been waiting for. He was about to hear the words of encouragement that he needed so badly. He was sure that an artist of the calibre of Thorvaldsen would be immediately able to recognize his literary talent and point him in the right direction.

"What do you think, Herr Thorvaldsen, should I become a novelist or a poet?" he asked again, this time full of confidence. Fascinated, Thorvaldsen looked at the kid's bright eyes and realized how foolish he had been. "I have no doubt, Hans-Christian," he answered softly, "that you can become both."

My best wishes to readers for the year 2022.


[Image: Photo of antique sculpture; photo taken by John Vespasian, 2018]

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Sunday, 14 November 2021

The inevitable hassles of life


"A wise man is not for or against anybody; truth is his only concern," wrote Confucius in the year 510 B.C.  Learning consists of turning facts into true principles, and using those principles to choose the right course of action. For managers and entrepreneurs, whose success depends on making correct decisions at great speed, true principles are essential.  

Ethics is the science of making wise choices. Unfortunately, in the last sixty years, ethics has drastically narrowed its ambitions. Instead of dealing with general concerns, discussions have been focusing on marginal issues, similar to discussing what should be done about shipwreck survivors stranded on an island with limited food and too many mouths to feed.  

A pathetic sight

In such anti-intellectual environment, it is no wonder that many people have given up all attempts to use universal rules. If you open a newspaper or turn on the television, you will see what ethics has been reduced to. The sight is pathetic. 

On the one hand, we have ruthless pragmatism without principles, defending a course of action that does not make any sense. On the other hand, we have positive thinking, defending empty optimism without any connection to reality. These days, positive thinking is also being called "neurolinguistic programming" or "the law of attraction," but the ideas are the same: great pronunciations unconnected to facts.

Those two doctrines epitomize the abdication of philosophy, of true principles based on facts. Pragmatism represents reality without principles, and positive thinking represents principles without reality. Both doctrines are equally inadequate, self-defeating and harmful. Unfortunately, they enjoy a wide popularity, in particular when people find themselves in dire straits:

  • YOUR PROFESSION: You lose your job. You cannot pay the mortgage and bills begin to accumulate. There are no other jobs around and the prospects are bleak.
  • YOUR HEALTH: You become ill and cannot work any longer. Your medical costs skyrocket. You do more tests and the worst case is confirmed. You are declared severely ill with few chances of recovery.
  • YOUR BUSINESS: Competition forces you to lower the prices, and your company begins to lose money. Profits evaporate, and the company experiences a negative cash flow and liquidity problems. Then, you are pushed into bankruptcy, and lose the company that you have spent decades building.
  • YOUR RELATIONSHIPS: Due to external pressures, things at home begin to go from bad to worse. The situation reaches a point where your marriage cannot be saved. Your spouse files for divorce. As a result, your standard of living and your social life are shattered.

Repeating the same mistakes

Pragmatism will prompt you to pick up the pieces and rebuild, but without giving you a blueprint. It will not tell you which pieces are relevant, nor how to choose them and weigh their relative importance. Without the guidance of true principles, it will not take long before you start repeating the same mistakes.

Positive thinkers will tell you to disregard tragedy, assuring you that a bright future lies ahead. Since positive thinkers consider facts irrelevant, no explanation will be provided about why you should expect a bright future. After a while, you will realize that, without connection to reality, cheerful affirmations are emotionally draining and inadequate for solving real problems.

What sustains the popularity of pragmatism and positive thinking is that both doctrines can work sporadically. Like a broken clock, they can tell you the right time twice a day, but will mislead you the rest of the time.

The alternative to inadequate ideas is rational philosophy. It will often paint uncomfortable pictures in the short term, but those are going to be truthful and reliable. The rational approach to solving difficulties can be summarized in a few sentences. 

The workable approach

First, use rational principles to choose the right course of action. Make correct choices every day, long before any sign of trouble appears in the horizon. For instance, sensible eating and exercise will reduce your health risks. Continuous learning will reduce the chances of your becoming unemployed. Savings and frugality will help you get through difficult periods.

Second, look at problems in perspective. Unless you are suffering from terminal illness, you still have time to rebuild your finances, social life, business or profession. Steer away from short-term reactions that will make the situation worse in the long term. Avoid taking random decisions, use reason to define your long-term plans, and implement them steadily.

Third, accept the inevitable hassles of life.
Catastrophes will sometime hit you for no good reason. Even the most talented individuals make mistakes. Nobody knows everything, and many factors are outside your control. That's life. It is better to face it and accept the unavoidable hassles. Stay calm and make the best of the circumstances.

As Confucius put it, "a wise man is sound in thought and diligent in action."
Ethics should not be discarded, but built on reason. What you need in your business and private life is a science that allows you to make good choices. What you require are logical premises, solid arguments, and workable plans. That's something that only rational philosophy can provide.


[Image: Photo of classical painting; photo taken by John Vespasian, 2018]

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter