Saturday, 1 May 2021

What is the point of being frugal? -- To live better with fewer resources


Defending poverty as virtue lacks credibility unless the preacher himself is destitute, healthy, and happy. That phenomenon is so rare that few men attempt to embody it. Monks living in monasteries in Italy or France do live in relative poverty, although their situation cannot be compared to the extreme indigence of the population in some African countries.

While poverty seems an unattractive lifestyle to most individuals, frugality is increasingly gaining ground. The idea of living better with fewer resources appeals to those concerned with philosophical questions. The personal freedom that ensues from thoughtful consumption possesses the charms of a sound philosophy and the practicality of immediate benefits.

It is unfortunate that the issue of cost reduction does not cross the mind of most people when times are good. Frugality, as a lifestyle choice, generates its greatest advantages precisely during favourable periods, in times when saving seems superfluous, worry unnecessary, and modesty redundant.

Indeed, one should ask, what is the point of being frugal? Why should you miss any opportunity to enjoy yourself to the maximum extent? You only live once. Should you not try to have as much fun as you can? Should you not devote all your resources to pleasurable activities? 

As long as you can afford it, why should you not savour your days travelling around the world, staying at the best hotels? What is the purpose of making money if you cannot spend it on doing what you enjoy?

Those questions are losing sight of a larger context. A man who complains about not being able to exhaust his possibilities lacks proper perspective. Every choice implies renunciation to a number of alternatives. Every expenditure will consume resources that you could have employed otherwise.

Three mistaken beliefs

The uncompromising search of immediate pleasure rests on three mistaken beliefs. These delusions exert an irresistible appeal on people who think only short-term. If you expand your range of vision, you will realize that an easy life has a dark side. You'd better watch out because the following three delusions can wipe out your career, health, and material resources:

First, the delusion of stability: the belief that the future will be similar to the present and that little change is to be expected. Second, the delusion of invulnerability: the conviction that you can cover all your risks through insurance and social security. Third, the delusion of moral neutrality: the idea that all lifestyle choices are fundamentally equal, that there are no superior or inferior ethical values, and that anything you may decide is perfectly fine. 

Those deceptions have generated the exaggerated consumption that is burying thousands of persons under debts they could have easily avoided. Those delusions permeate our culture and conversations. The time has come to face them with courage, and assert the truth.

The delusion of stability

Sooner or later, chances are that your life will go through a major upheaval. Such disruptions might be of a nature you cannot imagine at present. New technology may render your job obsolete. Global competition could devalue your education. A major economic shift might put you out of business.

If you commit yourself to saving regularly, you will create a margin of safety. Accumulated resources will allow you to face calmly any disaster that the future may bring. Reducing your present cost of living can be achieved in many ways, for example, by spending less money on food, lodging, transportation, energy, travel, entertainment, or insurance. The subtraction from your present enjoyment will be more than compensated by gains in your long-term security.

A man who feels confident and serene will enjoy his life more than an anxious short-term thinker ever can. Too many are those who live under the threat of a mounting pile of debt. They are paying a high price for giving away their independence in exchange for momentary pleasures.

Do not fall prey to the delusion of stability. Reduce your current cost of living and create a financial reserve for difficult times because, sooner or later, they will come. If you are undecided about what expenditures to cut, make a linear reduction of 5% in all your budgets and take it from there.


The delusion of invulnerability

No matter how good your health insurance is, its coverage will not be complete. Similarly, your protection in the field of liability might be lower than you need. And what would happen if, due to some unfortunate event, you lost your protection altogether? Do you have a back-up plan?

You will be better off if you reduce your current living costs. Aim at creating an emergency fund to which you can resort in times of need. Even a modest financial reserve can do wonders to alleviate misfortune. Assess your risks objectively, and
discard the delusion of invulnerability. Commit yourself to saving at least 5% of your net income every month.

Overspending is frequently caused by overconfidence. People feel sure that nothing bad can happen to them. They overestimate their strengths and underestimate their risks. They place their future at jeopardy in order to enjoy advantages that will be quickly forgotten.

The delusion of moral neutrality

Do you believe that all decisions are ethically equal? That individuals who gamble away their salary are ethically equal to those who
save for years in order to buy a home? That taking a loan to pay for an exotic holiday or a recreational boat is morally equal to borrowing to pay for your medical studies, or start your own business?

Actually, there is no moral neutrality. Decisions taken with a short-term view tend to be routinely inferior to those taken with a long-term perspective. Random purchases, or those made for short-duration enjoyment, tend to deliver much less happiness than those made with a lifetime perspective.

When you align your decisions with your long-term goals, you will maximize your prosperity and happiness. Thinking short-term is morally inferior to thinking long-term. Rationality demands that, when you take important decisions, you take the perspective of a lifetime, not just a day or a week. Happiness requires foresight and consistency, and those go hand in hand with frugality.

You will enjoy your life more

You will enjoy life more if you reduce your living costs and create financial safety for yourself. Pick up pen and paper and make a list of ten items or expenditures you can cut without any negative impact on your lifestyle.

Live better with fewer resources by adopting an entrepreneurial approach to life. If you are committed to searching for better alternatives, you will find them. If you remain alert to better opportunities, you will seize them. Give priority to your long-term safety over short-term pleasures. Increased serenity and self-confidence will result from reducing your costs and adopting a relatively frugal lifestyle.


[Image: Photograph of classical 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

Here is the link to an interview just published: 

John Vespasian interviewed by Ian Pierce on "Noble Knights" about rational living.

Friday, 19 March 2021

The opposite of perfectionism -- the way forward in times of adversity


The opposite of perfectionism is rationality, the virtue of eliminating impossible demands and accepting a blemished reality. Rationality entails openness and flexibility. Instead of expecting perfection, a wise man takes continuous steps to improve his results, even when he is confronted with a hostile environment. When he is sailing, he watches the weather without getting angry at the changing wind because he knows that he can correct the course of his ship as often as he needs.

A good mental exercise against perfectionism is to imagine what you will do if all your current projects fail catastrophically. How would you feel if, after working on a major sale for three months, the transaction fails to take place at the last minute due to factors that you had not foreseen, and that are outside your control?

Lessons learned

The irrational response would be to fall prey to depression and lose yourself in self-recriminations. A more realistic and practical approach would lead you to accept that your expectations had been exaggerated in the first place. What will be the lesson learned for the future? That a deal should be considered closed only when a contract has been signed, not before.

More lessons learned: Don't stop pushing before you have crossed the end-line, but at the same time, strive to maintain your serenity each day. Do not rely on half-cooked plans and always have a back-up solution. Do things fast but check them long beforehand. Take reasonable precautions, but leave perfectionism to the obsessed. You only have one life to live.

Thinking ahead and taking precautions will help you minimize preoccupations, and might even save you a fortune down the road. Spread your bets, whether private or professional, and never place all your hopes on a single event that might or might not happen.

Do work in an organized and persistent manner, but once you have done your best, stop worrying about results. Sometimes, things just don't work. Pushing beyond reasonable limits will only make bad situations worse. By the way, the same principle applies to dealing with difficult people and difficult environments. If you cannot make a relationship or project work after investing reasonable efforts, let it go and do something else.

All resources are limited, including also your emotional resources. Set clear priorities, but do not overextend yourself. Write down your plans, but also write down your alternatives in case of failure. Buy insurance against major risks instead of trusting your luck. A flawless world does not exist. Sooner or later, bad things will happen, seemingly competent people will make horrendous mistakes, solid structures will crumble, and progress will come to a standstill temporarily. 

Increased effectiveness

Learn to judge events and people sensibly, so that you won't overreact to problems. The search for perfection is a delusion that will obscure facts and waste your energies. Reminds yourself that most things will not matter much in the long term. Make choices and work on the few things that will really improve your life. It is in your interest to stay sane, especially when other people have fallen prey to panic. Rationality, although seldom easy, is the very best response to adversity.

You will do much better if you abandon unrealistic expectations, and assess people and events accurately. Strive to see things as they are, unpolluted by false ideals. If you do so,  your self-confidence and your effectiveness will increase. Perfectionism does not work because it is ignoring the crucial role that realism and persistence play in achievement.

All learning begins with openness and curiosity. Rigid expectations and impossible demands will only prevent success and lead to anxiety. Instead of agonizing about your reputation, you should focus on your strengths, not on what other people are doing. Define what is important for you without using statistics as guidance. Use your own values, rational ones, and they will tell you where to concentrate your resources.

Mistakes come in all sorts and colours. They are an inevitable part of life. Learn to view them as stepping-stones leading you to a higher plateau. Accept your errors and use them to your advantage. If you go with the flow, there is no limit to how far you can row. Abandon perfectionism right now.


[Image: Photograph of classical architecture. 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

Here is the link to an interview just published:

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

I never asked for permission


I was once a kid who turned around
to ask strangers in the crowd
what should I choose,
where should I go
but wrong directions got me lost in the snow

Someone must know, someone should tell
every chicken when to break the shell
maybe a wise old man in Tibet or Brazil
I sought long and far, but still I found nil

Time passed and I grew tall but insecure
since for my curiosity, there was no cure
always on the look for a sign I could trust
to determine what I should and what I must

Please, Sir, may I, under conditions
work day and night and hold some ambitions
I posed my question, but got no audition,
not even a chance to ask for permission

Without credentials, all doors are closed
I was told repeatedly by friends and foes
but since we live in times of transition
I shrugged my shoulders and ignored tradition

Without contacts, you cannot succeed
I was told by experienced men of every breed
but since I was too impatient to submit a petition
I just moved on to the next position

From all the people that I've left behind
I never saw one really able to find
the strength and passion to go on a mission
for which there was no clear price of admission

On some occasions, I have stopped to ponder
if I was on my way to make a huge blunder
but both my feelings and my volition
discouraged me from requesting permission

So here I am, so close to the top,
after turning every doubt into an early crop
Would I have pushed my dreams to fruition
if I had waited for the right disposition?

It is through your mistakes that you will learn
nothing is more precious than what you earn
It is what you do that deserves recognition
not what you renounce due to imposition

It is through your actions that you will see
if your goals are worth paying the fee
Are you ready to let go of inhibition,
willing to stand up despite opposition?

Wake up, drop your hesitations, and move,
do not waste time trying to prove
that you need permissions you didn't request
or ardent supporters to sponsor your quest

Instead of hanging around at the station,
jump on the train to your destination
Take this cue and wait no longer,
grow stronger through what you do
because your future
belongs only to you


[Image: Photograph of classical print. 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

Here are the links to three interviews just published:
  1. John Vespasian interviewed by Sheryl Glick on "Healing from Within" about how to deal effectively with disruptions.
  2. John Vespasian interviewed by Jolie Downs on "Fresh Blood" about rational living.
  3. John Vespasian interview on World-Class Performers on about life's lessons.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

The relentless pursuit of long-term goals will render short-term annoyances insignificant

No writer was ever such a failure in life as Henry Miller before his mid-forties, and seldom has any successful contemporary author ever received such limited financial compensation for his books during his lifetime. Nevertheless, his rise as a literary power in the second half of the 20th century was as unstoppable as a tidal wave.

The first contact with Miller's novels leads most readers to an overwhelming silence, the nervous quietness that comes over the savannah after an antelope has just been taken down by a lion. 

Why is Miller's work so different from anything that had been published until that time? How come that it generates such deep feelings of admiration?

The answer does not lie in the storylines of Miller's books, since, to the extent that his novels have a plot, it is usually a messy one. His narrations remain far away from the classical three-act structure of beginning, middle and end, because Miller's purpose was to explore every bifurcation of the road before e
stablishing a definite direction.

The growing popular appreciation for Miller's work reflects the awakening of modern culture to the concerns of the individual, namely, his self-fulfilment and philosophical integrity. Miller did not describe each character's motivation, but provided the necessary details to enable readers to gain important insights.

Miller composed his books using a portable, mechanical typing machine. The manuscripts, which are now deposited at public libraries in the United States of America, show some corrections made by hand here and there, but all in all, relatively few. Unless the original text contained grammar mistakes, Miller tried to keep it, as dictated by his inspiration.

Whether you are attracted to his books or not, there are important lessons to be drawn from Miller's work methods. Those teachings will prove of interest, not only to writers, but to anyone pursuing a demanding long-term goal. 

Like old-time travelling salesmen, Miller never hesitated to propose his work to any potential customer he could find, in his case, book and magazine publishers. More often than not, he received quick rejections accompanied by unfavourable comments. 

Decade after decade, Miller shrugged his shoulders at negative reactions and kept searching for  readers that would appreciate his work.

Despite difficulties, he maintained a constant purpose throughout his life. Have you ever been evicted from your home? Or close to starvation because you could not afford a meal? Have you had your books prohibited from publication in your own country?

Tragic as these events may be, experience shows that people will react differently. A few individuals are going to suffer a nervous breakdown from which they will never recover. Many men and women are going to be psychologically paralysed for months. Yet, others will immediately get back on their feet, and start rebuilding their lost fortunes.

In the case of Miller, he experienced poverty for decades, and had his novels rejected countless times before publication. In addition, he had his best-selling novel "Tropic of Cancer" forbidden in some countries for years for reasons of public morality. 

Without the ability to maintain a lifetime perspective, Miller would have given up his ambitions a thousand times along the way.

How much your dreams mean to you is a question that no one can answer without knowing the reasons underlying your motivation. In any case, if there is one thing that you should learn from Miller, is that it pays to choose a passion that allows you to exert your talents every day, during good and bad times.

Miller worked relentlessly, especially in times of adversity. When he was not working on a new book, he would devote his energies to painting. His watercolours did not earn him millions, but he sold many of them, and created a second source of income.

How persistent are you in pursuing your interests? What are you doing today in order to improve your skills? I have read that passion and dedication will often help people reach old age in good health, and live for many years. Henry Miller was the living proof of this principle. He lived to become 89 years old.

Whether medical advances will one day extend the human lifespan to 120 years is a matter of speculation. In the meantime, chances are that you will live longer than your ancestors. Keep your long-term goals in mind, and make each day count. Happy New Year.


[Image: Photograph of classical tiles. Photo taken by John Vespasian, 2016]

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to four audio interviews just published:
  1. John Vespasian interviewed by Casey Bell on "CSB Television" about writing techniques.
  2. John Vespasian interviewed by Shelley Johnson on TCN Radio Live about stress reduction.
  3. John Vespasian interviewed by Michael Edelstein and Thomas Bateman on "REBT Advocates" about using history for philosophical guidance guide.
  4. John Vespasian interviewed by Skyler Collins on "Everything Voluntary" about the principles of rational living.


Tuesday, 8 December 2020

The high value of alertness in difficult times

"Inquiring about prices is sinful," wrote Hugh of St Victor in the year 1130 CE, "since it only serves to aid the vice of avarice." Medieval scholars like Hugh of St Victor saw the world as immobile. For them, human beings were just passive spectators. Life was something that happened to them. No wonder that they regarded silent acceptance as a virtue.

Since Hugh of St Victor, nine centuries have passed. The universe has not changed, but humanity has accumulated a great deal of wisdom and knowledge. We have gained insights on areas that were totally unknown to medieval scholars. We are also able to solve problems much faster and less expensively that our ancestors.
In our century, people devote a good share of their time to looking up prices, comparing alternatives, and reading product reviews. We cut off coupons from newspapers, and compare the discounts and extra features offered by car dealers. We listen to commercials on the radio and participate in auction sales on the internet.

Indeed, most individuals will exercise due diligence before taking major decisions such as purchasing a home, enrolling in university, or getting married. It pays off to consider the pros and cons of various options, the advantages and disadvantages arising from today's decisions. Cost, energy and time will always play a role in well-reasoned choices.
In contrast, children and fools tend to ignore costs when they make decisions. Their mentality remains anchored in the Middle Ages. They are too lazy or inexperienced to seek price information. They are too emotional, impulsive and naive. Occasionally, thoughtlessness works in their favour, but more often than not, it will lead to disaster.

Infants and children never care about price because their priority is to get what they want right now, irrespective of the consequences. A good education should instil in them sound economic judgement, so that they learn to perceive the connection between effort and reward. They also should learn to value their talents, skills and potentialities fairly, especially when confronted with opposition.
Unfortunately, many adults will routinely behave like children. They give up projects too easily, sell themselves short, and discard assets they could have exploited. In fact, they convince themselves, falsely, that they have no opportunities or that they cannot build a better future. They pursue short-term advantages or enjoyment at the expense of horrendous long-term consequences.
I am afraid that I must count smokers and heavy drinkers in the latter category. How many of them are unaware of the health risks of smoking and alcoholism? How many of them have never heard of the suffering generated by lung cancer and liver failure, and the high costs of medical treatments? Hardly anyone. Yet, millions of people will continue to smoke and drink heavily.
The refusal to take costs into consideration will also manifest itself in other ways. At the time of this writing, we can all witness the consequences of decisions for which costs have not been properly assessed in advance. When faced with dire losses, alert people will admit their mistakes and correct their course. It is part of human nature to commit errors, but there is no excuse for adults to persist in failed strategies.

Even in periods of adversity, it is in your interest to remain conscious of prices and opportunities. If you have lost twenty per cent, do not throw the rest down the toilet. If you have lost one year, do not waste the rest of your life. Stay alert, keep your eyes open. Markets go up and down. What looks like a short-term catastrophe might open the door to great improvements.
Depressed prices or exaggerated valuations should not prompt rational individuals to lamentations, but to cautious action. Take your losses if that's the right way to proceed, but do not lose heart. You still have God knows how many years ahead of you. There is no reason why you should render yourself blind to opportunities.

Acquiring consciousness of prices and fair valuations is part of the process of growing up. When we become adults, we learn to think long term, and take advantage of market vagaries. During difficult periods, irrational men and women will grow despondent and sell their assets at reduced prices. Fear has undermined their self-confidence, and led them to underestimate their potential.

Before selling yourself short, it pays off to dispute your stress and anxiety. It pays off to compare your negative beliefs with reality. If other people are thriving in the face of adversity, should you not question your pessimism? If other people are finding opportunities, should you not check out what they are doing differently?

When knowledge about prices and opportunities is available practically for free, or at a relatively low cost, there are no valid excuses for selling yourself short. Do not give up your dreams in the face of setbacks. Defeatism has never solved any problem. Wisdom begins with growing conscious of your own value and potential. Look for fresh opportunities in the market and compare prices, so that you can exploit your assets fully. It is up to you to get the best compensation for your efforts. 

[Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photo taken by John Vespasian, 2016]

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: