Friday, 10 July 2020

Why happiness depends on growth -- and how to surmount the hardest obstacle

A new fashion is sweeping the world. It is reshaping the work of generations and throwing a new light on old certainties. If it gets you, it won't let you unchanged. Even if it doesn't, your environment won't remain the same. This agent of transformation is the idea that you can achieve much more with less effort and fewer resources.

Faster cars, ubiquitous internet, apps that enable you to find information more quickly, social media that let you connect more easily, sharper photographs, crispier sound, more exciting films, more engaging entertainment, more solid friendships, a brighter career, more pleasant travel, improved health, a longer lifespan -- all these things and more you can achieve if you learn how to grow in all areas of life.

Surprisingly enough, most people try to attain happiness by doing as little as possible. They have elevated passivity to a sacred ideal, viewing meditation as a goal in itself, relaxation as a decaffeinated substitute for passion, holidays as a panacea against disorientation, music as a curtain for covering hesitation, inactivity and emptiness.

Growth is the answer, irrespective of the question. In business and private life, in physical and emotional health, in relationships and friendships, in learning and innovating, in wealth creation and wealth preservation, in enjoyment and well-being, the farther you go, the more intense your experience will be. If you don't grow as a person, today's discoveries will soon become routines, then rituals, and subsequently, constraints.

Unfortunately, too many individuals are willing to devote their lives, not to growing, but to staying the same; not to widening their horizons, but to rigidizing their constraints; not to exploring new paths, but to spreading fear and defeatism. The main obstacle to growth is invisible, the main barrier is psychological. People fail to grow because they have convinced themselves that they cannot improve their lives.

The phenomenon is not new. For centuries, stagnation has been blamed on external circumstances, on powers that conspire to keep us poor, dissatisfied, unhealthy, ignorant, passive and indifferent. However, most of those conspiracies have little substance in reality. People choose to regard obstacles as insurmountable because, in this way, they can blame someone else for their lack of achievement. Instead of expanding their possibilities, they are working hard at keeping things unchanged.

"Men can perish out of their endeavours to preserve what has little value," wrote the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu in the year 520 B.C. 
Passivity won't take you anywhere. It will just keep you making the same mistakes over and over again instead of eliminating their cause. Lack of motivation will keep you cleaning up the mess you have created but that you could have prevented if you had been more proactive. The delusion of wisdom will keep you making countless attempts by using ineffectual methods, and feeling depressed about your lack of progress.

In this light, it is crucially important that you embrace growth as your pre-eminent strategy for attaining happiness. Focusing your vision on a better life is something that you need to practise day after day. No other philosophical matter is more urgent than this. It is high time to disengage from worthless routines, overblown tensions, unpromising ventures, and stagnating relationships. It is high time to start pursuing growth relentlessly.

Do no believe for a second that minimalism and disengagement are going to improve your situation. In order to grow, you have to take action, and manage your time, energy and resources wisely. Let go of immobilizing influences; drop weights that you don't need to carry; throw away delusions that are keeping you unnecessarily small. Instead of waiting for miracles, go and claim your place in the sun. The world offers plenty of opportunities to individuals who stay alert and keep pushing the envelope.

Do not wait until passivity, like an overgrown weed, suffocates your desires for improvement. Escape constraints while they are still small, so that they cannot gain strength. Discard detours that lead nowhere. You have no time to lose. If you want to pursue growth, avoid complicating your life with irrelevancies, minutia and tangential concerns.

"Our difficult problems result from complicating simple ones," observed Lao-Tzu. "It is wise to solve your problems when they are still small. You don't want to give them a chance to become threatening."

When encumbrances become too heavy, consider dropping them from one moment to the next. Use your energies for building new paths, not for maintaining decrepit signs that discourage you from going further. Think of what you want to become in all areas of life. Develop ambition, enthusiasm and creativity. Stop lamenting the mistakes you have made in the past. Do what you can do now, take a step further, and keep going.


Image: Photograph of classical sculpture. Photo taken by John Vespasian, 2019.

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter
Here are the links to seven audio interviews just published:
  1. John Vespasian interviewed by Tamala Coleman on "Amazing Grace" about Asymmetry, the shortcut to success when success seems impossible.
  2. John Vespasian interviewed by Jackie Schwabe on "Press Play Lifestyle Inspired" about Asymmetry, the shortcut to success when success seems impossible.
  3. John Vespasian interviewed by Denise Messenger on "Health Media Now" about
    Asymmetry, the shortcut to success when success seems impossible.
  4. John Vespasian interviewed by Robert Bonte on "Curmudgeonly Yours" about Asymmetry, the shortcut to success when success seems impossible.
  5. Robert Bonte: entretien avec John Vespasian (in French) on "Curmudgeonly Yours" about Asymmetry, the shortcut to success when success seems impossible. 
  6. John Vespasian interviewed by Mahesh Joshi on "Global Business" about assymetric strategies to create success.
  7. John Vespasian interviewed by Kris Embrey on "Soulmate Fireside Chat" about Plato's myth on twin flames.

Friday, 5 June 2020

Ten massive advantages of rational living

Ideas are precious and constitute the basis of civilization. Without the concepts of free trade, freedom of speech, and human rights, our standard of living would rapidly fall to medieval levels. Personal goals can shape a sustained vision that transforms our talents into valuable products of services.

Clear objectives will take you forward, but it is essential that those are compatible with reality and with each other. Inconsistent principles will weaken each other's force and deplete your resources. Keep your door open to new concepts and ideas, but make sure that those are logically integrated. 

If you discover that some of your goals are wrong, you should discard them. Yet, if your ambitions are challenging but consistent, you should keep them. With determination and persistence, you might achieve a breakthrough sooner than you think. 

Lower stress

While integrated goals will take you places, inconsistent ambitions will wear you down. Pursuing compatible goals will increase your personal effectiveness and enhance your creativity. Consistent ideals will also improve the accuracy of your thinking. Modern life requires instantaneous, complex choices. If you have well-integrated goals, you will deal with complexity effectively and with lower stress.

Rational persons will ensure the consistency of their actions by defining clear objectives for the remaining decades of their life. Effective living requires that your choices, minor or fundamental, are aligned with your overriding goals. If you follow this principle, you can achieve success faster and with less effort.

Pursuing integrated objectives requires sustained focus and effort, but can bring you spectacularly positive results. In contrast, people who lack consistent goals will often end up sabotaging their own efforts.

Faster progress

Few persons will make the effort to give a definite direction to their life, but those who do can reap enormous benefits. Motivational consistency can bring you, amongst others, the following advantages:

  1. You will avoid random decisions and useless purchases, and employ your financial resources with a minimum of waste.
  2. Your clear vision will feed your motivation to develop specialized skills and accumulate intellectual capital.
  3. Your consistent objectives will build perseverance and credibility. They will help you avert random behaviour, build a solid reputation, and grow your assets.
  4. Rational goals will lead you to choose entertainment (music, movies, games, sports) that reinforce your values and generate learning, growth and increased strength.
  5. Compatible long-term objectives will provide you energy to undertake ambitious projects and improve your living conditions in real terms.
  6. Logic and ambition will prompt you to carry out preventive maintenance that brings substantial long-term benefits.
  7. A stable vision and perspective will help you avert improbable schemes such as lotteries and other forms of gambling.
  8. Consistent objectives will keep your mind active and prompt you to explore innovative options. They will help you avoid waste and passivity.
  9. Long-term ambitions will enable you to accept mistakes as part of a learning process. They will help you avoid perfectionism and view yourself with tolerance.
  10. Realistic convictions will help you to connect deeply with other human beings. They will enable you to communicate clearly, avoiding irritation, confusion, misunderstandings and errors.

Dogs and cats perceive a narrow part of reality, but only human beings are aware of hundreds of interconnected details, past and present. Human beings can connect the dots and guide their lives properly only by reason. Your mind calls for logic and consistency. Happiness becomes much more likely when you follow your rational nature.

Compatible, feasible, long-term goals can help you make the best of your life. A consistent vision that reaches into the next decades is your most reliable tool for making optimal choices in the present.


Image: Photograph of classical painting taken by John Vespasian, 2019.

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 Michaela Renee Johnson on "Be You Find Happy" about Asymmetry, the shortcut to success when success seems impossible.
  2. John Vespasian interviewed by Alex Muir on "MindCep" about Asymmetry, the shortcut to success when success seems impossible.
  3. John Vespasian interviewed by Andrew Schatkin on "The Andrew Schatkin Show" about rational living.
  4. John Vespasian interviewed by Francelene Aprahamian on "Sands of the Mind" about rational living.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

ASYMMETRY - eleventh book by John Vespasian

If you have not yet attained the desired results in your life, this book is for you. If you want to find shortcuts to achieving more with less effort, this book will teach you:
  • How a disoriented man like Philip Neri became extraordinarily successful
  • What Mozart should have done to grow wealthy instead of working himself to death
  • How the Count of St Germain made strides in his career by simply keeping his eyes open
  • What healers like Rembert Dodoens are teaching us about asymmetry
  • Hannibal's method for finding shortcuts in situations where he was vastly outnumbered.
This book presents practical lessons for finding shortcuts to a better life, solid strategies to bring your results to a higher level.



1. Wishful thinking is slowing you down 

A lethal addiction, packaged and sold as a virtue
Why human beings love harmful fairy tales
The irresistible appeal of meaningless pursuits
Do you want to avoid psychological discomfort?
The puppet theatre behind stress, anxiety and depression

2. When your heroes turn out to be your enemies

The most popular recommendations don't work
What's causing so much fear and gloominess
It is so easy to forget the only strategy that helps
Even highly talented people tend to make a mess
How to avoid ineffective behaviour

3. So much noise, so much stagnation

Don't view short-term constraints as long-term impairments
A warning sign that you are going in the wrong direction
Workable strategies where no action seems possible
Beware of narratives that make stagnation look good
A hundred little truisms cannot shape a winning strategy

4. Wasted efforts due to linear expectations

Fast progress depends on broken lines
Turning a chain of failures into uncontested success
It's time to explore unorthodox ideas
Steer away from decisions that keep you running in circles
A method for identifying promising shortcuts

5. Don't let laboriousness render you blind

The trap of pursuing too many opportunities
Why a great genius ended up as an astonishing failure
A flawed logic that is making people dysfunctional
Shortcuts can deliver outstanding success at every stage
Optimal strategies require conscious selectivity

6. Putting the odds in your favour

Why impossible fantasies enjoy widespread popularity
Are you following a deadly wrong strategy?
The idea behind an approach that always works
A quicker method for getting things done
Here is a path you can walk confidently

7. What enables lions to catch zebras

Unusual steps towards remarkable achievements
How to gain access to vast opportunities
Impressive progress after fifteen years of failure
You don't need to get all elements right
In search of universal accelerators of success

8. Signposts pointing to a solution

What you can do to increase your alertness
Find explanations, discover opportunities
The productive way to face difficult situations
How to turn contradictions into well-integrated narratives
Prevent mistakes by using this verification approach

9. The invisible pillar that sustains achievement

Great results at a fraction of the cost
Why creativity is massively overrated
The danger of endless alternatives
A lesson drawn from twenty-five centuries of debates
Relieve heavy burdens by means of simple shortcuts

10. If you are stuck, here is what to do

Widespread acceptance doesn't mean effectiveness
Creating opportunities in unpromising situations
Forty-six years looking for the key factors in success
Shortcuts that increase your chances of winning
A streamlined formula for high achievement

11. How causality takes care of coincidences

Good shortcuts are unemotional
Ignore propaganda and look for tangible results
The delusion of immediate victory
A recurring pattern you'll see in unlikely success
Common characteristics of effective shortcuts

12. The paradox of unequal value

A severe mistake that seems like a good idea
Two fundamental alternatives everybody is facing
How to spare yourself unnecessary trouble
Turning ignorance and uncertainty into prosperity
A breathtaking example

13. Victory is easy if you choose the right angle

Narrowing down your choices to obvious winners
Keep using a formula that always works
Circumstances change, but principles remain the same
From high abstractions to specific applications
An entry point leading to maximum effectiveness

Recommended reading

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Nothing can compete with the speed of a determined individual

Even in times of profound turmoil, like those we are experiencing today, prosperity and happiness seem to be directly proportional to your determination to move forward, find opportunities, and seize them without hesitation. Individuals with initiative, decisiveness and persistence tend to achieve more than those who behave timidly.

Childhood experience plays a role in building one's personality, but you cannot do anything to change the past. If you wish to increase your ability to advance your cause, you are going to have to use your determination. You cannot change the past, but you can take action in the present, even in situations where it seems that no action is possible.

Some gurus recommend repeating encouraging phrases to yourself, but that's something I do not endorse. Why? Because blind repetition will seldom produce lasting effects. Monotonous messages tend to dull the mind. You cannot brainwash yourself into success and happiness, but you can put yourself to sleep. The repetition of mantras will result in boredom, not in a dynamic personality. So, what's a better alternative?

At the time of this writing, millions of people spend their days agonizing about the possibility of catching some virus. Do not follow their example. Even if those people were given a perfect technique for avoiding the virus, they would solve today's problem, but would not increase their success and happiness in the long term.

The virus is just today's issue. The issue will be solved, or it will pass. It will soon be forgotten. Another difficulty will arise, creating new threats and new opportunities. Some problems seem so large that you might feel overwhelmed. Don't. If you focus on improving your situation day after day, you will find solutions. Your constant alertness will enable you to detect opportunities that most people won't even see.

The three strategies that, in my own experience, have proven to work well for increasing one's personal effectiveness are the following: desensitization to danger, risk reduction, and working by numbers. You may have instinctively used some of these methods at one time or other, but if you employ them in a conscious and regular manner, you can substantially enhance your results.

1. Desensitization to danger

Worry is best vanquished by means of realism, not by self-delusion. If you live in fear of some threat, you should invest the necessary time to overcome your anxiety. A progressive loss of sensitivity to danger (real or imagined) is the basis of learning to ride a bicycle. At the beginning, you will move slowly and hesitatingly. With practice, your body begins to take control by realizing that the situation is less dangerous and unstable than it feels. Intelligent desensitization through small steps is the ideal method for accelerating your success.

If you are worried about catching some virus, go online and do some research. How is the virus transmitted exactly? How can you protect yourself? How can you strengthen your immune system, and reduce your chances of falling ill, or if you do, increase the speed of your recovery? The more you know, the more self-reliant you will become. Your alertness will increase, and your overall results will improve accordingly.

2. Risk reduction

Although history shows the many advantages of stock market investments, millions of people are terrorized of the idea of placing their savings at risk. Purchasing shares of a corporation is viewed right now as a disproportionate exposure to chance.

Acquiring knowledge about economics can help you assess the benefits of investing in the stock market, but will seldom push to you take the decisive step. How can you overcome your fear? In cases where the problem is to cross the line for the first time, risk reduction proves a more powerful tactic than accumulating theoretical knowledge.

The first-time investor should simply open a brokerage account, and make a small purchase of some conservative securities. During the following weeks, he will tend to check the price of his stock ten times a day, but as time goes by, he will get comfortable with the level of risk and be willing to purchase shares of other corporations.

At this very moment, when the stock markets of the world have collapsed, it does not take long to find amazing bargains. I would not be surprised if the stock market made considerable gains within the next five years. Nonetheless, most people cannot look so far into the future. They are so worried about today's problems (which may have been blown out of proportion) that do not make the effort to look down the road.

3. Working by numbers

Facts and numbers provide us with the necessary perspective to overcome fear. A candidate who is rejected at a job interview might become needlessly depressed if he contemplates the event as a major disaster. In contrast, job-seekers who are aware of the statistical odds against them tend to be more resilient. Once they acquire a realistic view of the amount of effort it takes to find a good job, their temporary lack of success will not diminish their self-reliance.

During an economic downturn, there can be dozens of applicants for each vacancy. Working by numbers means realizing that you might need to apply for a large number of jobs in order to land a desirable position. Internalizing that knowledge is bound to increase your serenity and render you more effective.

The same applies to the fear of catching some virus. Millions of people are deeply distressed by this possibility, but what are the real risks? In less than an hour, you can perform sufficient research online to know the real data, the real level of risk and its severity. You might be surprised to see that it is lower than you had thought. The knowledge will give you peace of mind, and strengthen your motivation to make the best use of your time.

Attaining a higher level of personal effectiveness takes effort, but most of the obstacles are purely psychological. Ignore the noise. Do not listen to the barrage of defeatism you are daily bombarded with. Even if the general situation is problematic, you can do much better than the average. Focus your time and energies on looking for opportunities and seizing them. Remember that nothing can compete with the speed of a determined individual. Nothing.


Image: Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2019.

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Choose your path wisely, and walk it at your own pace

Love goes towards love as strongly as schoolboys go away from their books, wrote Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliet." Since the 17th century, times have changed only to remain the same. Is the force that moves customers in the direction of their favourite products not somenthing akin to love? Or the force that compels sports fans to watch every game of their favourite team? The same can be said about the pursuit of prosperity and happiness. There are forces that pull individuals towards beneficial results, and forces that are driving them towards self-destruction.

Luckily, men and women of the twenty-first century can benefit from hundreds of years of accumulated experience. History has identified the keys to success in romantic and business endeavours, the keys to achievement in any area of life. It is high time to proclaim that personal growth has rendered Shakespeare's plays obsolete, high time to acknowledge that wisdom has brought success and well-being withing everybody's reach.

Self-inflicted blindness

Theatre may continue to exist as a harmless form of entertainment for summer nights, but when it comes to improving your life, you will be much better served by the teachings of philosphy. Only fools will refuse to adopt proven formulas. Only self-inflicted blindness can prevent people from seeing the truth. Here is my condensed version of the fundamental principles driving self-improvement in the widest sense.

First, you should develop a clear idea of what you want to achieve, or at least, develop a strong sense of direction. An entrepreneur promoting new products or services would be ill-advised to walk around town, trying to convince everybody he meets to make a purchase. In that way, he would be wasting his resources, and making few sales. The most efficient way forward is to focus your attention, energies and material resources on pursuing a definite goal, on advancing in a certain direction.

Efficient salespersons and effective romance seekers are known to establish minimum requirements for their prospects. If you identify your prerequisites in advance, you will be able to discard quickly people who don't hit the mark. You should draw in your mind a sharp picture of your objective. The picture will enable you to concentrate your energies like a laser beam on your best market, your best prospects, your preferred type of romantic partners. Mind you, you don't need to have all the answers before starting on a journey of self-improvement. It is enough if you keep learning with every step you take. Over time, you will figure out exactly what you want.

Relentless progress

Second, you should keep moving forward in a prudent but persistent manner. Do not fear to take initiative, but try to avoid taking foolish steps. Choose your path wisely, and walk it at your own pace. Your circumstances and background are unique. It is no use comparing yourself with other people. What really counts, is that that you identify what you want, and pursue it consistently day by day. Keep advancing relentlessly. Keep learning all you can along the way.

Investors know that the best assets are those that will grow exponentially with little risk. Similarly, on your journey of self-development, you want to avoid situations where you must continuously shift your attention from one goal to the next. Even if you manage to make a decent return on your efforts, the need to reinvent the wheel every day will leave you exhausted. Pursuing big long-term goals is much more inspiring than chasing little victories all the time.

Prosperity in business and happiness in romance will come more easily when there is a strong consistency between message and style, between motivation and presentation. Be unique, exploit your special talents. Effective marketing is about acquiring enthusiastic customers who will tell their friends about the unique experience your products or services are providing. In the case of dating, it is even more important that you underline your uniqueness. Every successful pursuit must follow a pattern of definition and persistence, a pattern of identification and steadiness.


Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2019.

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 audio interviews just published:
  1. John Vespasian interviewed by Nicholas Spohn on "The Spohntrained podcast" about the keys to rational living.
  2. John Vespasian interviewed by Rodney Flowers on "The Game Changer Mentality" about dealing successfully with disruptions.
  3. John Vespasian interviewed by Greg Roedersheimer on "Suburban Folk" about historical examples of people having career success and persevering to find their passion.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

The easiest way to succeed in life (and why we tend to do precisely the opposite)

If you want to waste your life, you just have to devote your days to searching for things where there are not. A second formula for squandering your resources is to chase people that are unavailable. The same goes for attempting to travel to places that are not accessible.

I am not saying that you should never make mistakes. If you have initiative, and I commend you to have lots of it, you will certaintly make mistakes. Nobody possesses perfect knowledge. We all engage in pursuits that require a learning curve, and that's perfectly fine. You have to pay the price of becoming better, faster, stronger. That's healthy. That's effective.

However, it is heartbreaking when someone persists in trying to achieve impossible goals. Children will often engage in such attempts. So will mice trapped in a maze. Adults should know better than that. We know that our days on earth are limited. We know that, if we want to improve our station in life, we have to focus our attention and resources on priorities, not squander our days thoughtlessly.

Counter-productive behaviour frequently arises from self-inflicted blindness. People will sabotage their own interests when they allow their desires to obscure the facts of reality. The most widespread type of counter-productive behaviour is looking for things where they are not, and complaining that life is unfair, that growing successful is too hard, that happiness cannot be attained.

The key principle of personal effectiveness

The key principle of personal effectiveness can be enunciated in a short sentence: If you want cheap oranges, go to Morocco, not to the airport deli. If you want to get a high-paying job, go where those jobs are being offered and make sure that you meet the requirements. In order to get where you want to go, all you need to do is to take action consistent with reason. If you wish to increase your prosperity, take action accordingly.

If you want to succeed in any area of human activity, you should first spend some time reflecting about the easiest and shortest way to get what you want. Once you have figured out the best path, all you need to do is walk it, day by day, year after year. This principle, if applied consistently, can bring major improvements to your life.

A wise man in search of a job does not go to the desert. If you do that, you might get lucky and find the only opening available, but chances are that you won't. Imagine that you are working in a factory located in a small town that does not offer other employment possibilities. What should you do if the factory shuts down? You should not waste time hanging around waiting for a miracle. You should pack your things, get into your car, and drive to a place where companies are hiring.

Choose the easy way to prosperity

Choose the easy way to get ahead. Do not try to sell your products or services in places where there are no qualified buyers. In thinly inhabited areas, you can find large numbers of empty, inexpensive housing. Those houses do not constitute a good investment. If they are empty and cheap, it is because real estate developers had made a wrong calculation and wasted their resources building in the wrong location.

The easiest way to succeed in life is to focus your efforts where there are real opportunities. Putting up buildings on locations where few people are interested to buy is wasteful and disingenious. The lesson to be drawn is clear. You should concentrate your energies on places where there are real customers, real jobs, real wealth, real opportunities, and preferably, people who are really friendly.

If you are seeking warm weather, you should not go to Siberia. Some people do prefer to live in areas where cold temperatures reign most of the year. Those individuals may have good reasons for doing so, reasons such as cheap housing, low criminality, or low competition for jobs. Yet, if you hate cold temperatures, you should not imitate those persons. Instead, you should relocate to a place where you will find the kind of wheather you like.

A major philosophical lesson

Staying away from barren fields constitues a major philosophical lesson. You can choose to live wherever you like best, so make sure that you take proper action in this respect. Every minute devoted to complaining about lack of opportunities, bad weather, unfriendly co-workers, etc. is a wasted minute.

Do no waste your energies waiting for the world to change. Life is complicated enough as it is. Trying to adapt yourself to unpleasant circumstances or waiting for them to improve automatically will seldom make your life better. Instead, you should take the easy path to success and happiness: Stay away from barren fields, find fruitful land, and devote yourself to cultivating it, so that you can reap the rewards.


Image: Photograph of ancient drawing. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2019.

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to two audio interviews just published:
  1. John Vespasian interviewed by Judy Hoberman on "Selling in a Skirt" about how highly-effective pople deal with disruptions.
  2. John Vespasian interviewed by Mike Burton on "Genuine Chit Chat" about rational living and learning from history.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Finding peace of mind in difficult times: the daily practice of serenity and common sense

The 16th century was a period of extraordinary conflict and violence. Disputes about religion and territory had divided the population in factions that engaged in continuous war, persecution and torture. Luckily, not everybody fell prey to the dominant ideas of the time. A few good men have taught us lessons we should strive to keep always in mind.

The French writer Michel Montaigne (1533-1592) is one of the most interesting personalities of that period. We would probably have never heard of him if he had been more successful in his original profession, or I should rather say, if he had attempted to become more successful.

After learning Latin (the most widespread language in sixteenth-century Europe) and receiving some basic training in jurisprudence, Montaigne spent a decade working as a public official in the legislative council and courts of justice in southern France.

Subsequently, Montaigne moved to Paris to pursue better employment opportunities, but after a while, he realised that he had made a mistake, a large one. His natural aversion to lying, flattery and pretence was in fact making him unsuitable for working as a public official in the centre of power. He just could not stomach the kind of tasks he had to accomplish because he was clever and sensitive enough to see the consequences.

A radical change of lifestyle

Montaigne did not last long in Paris. He had intended to further his career as a public official, only to realise that he was in the wrong place, that he had no desire to keep working in that field. Thus when he turned thirty-eight, he did something that none of his friends or family members was expecting: he gathered his savings, quit his job, and abandoned his profession altogether. He had grown totally and completely fed up with his lifestyle.

After handing in his resignation, Montaigne purchased a small farm in the south of France, and retired to lead a modest and quiet life. As he traversed the countryside on his way from Paris to the farm, he could see the damage, personal and material, arising from the religious conflicts that were devastating France. In the name of God, people of different Christian denomination were slaughtering each other.

Montaigne's life and writings revolve around peace of mind, specifically, about how to maintain your serenity in times of widespread conflict. The lessons you can learn from reading Montaigne's biography will find immediate application today in the twenty-first century, when millions of people can barely sleep at night due to worry, anxiety and stress of all sorts.

What followed during the next fifteen years after Montaigne's retirement was a memorable attempt at living according to nature, at practising serenity and common sense every single day. Every morning, Montaigne would devote the necessary efforts to his farming activities, not with the purpose of expanding his wealth, but simply to ensure his own subsistence and that of his family.

For the rest of the day, Montaigne had set himself the goal of reflecting about the good life and writing down his thoughts as he went along. Surrounded by books he had accumulated in previous decades, he wrote every evening during his forties and early fifties. If you write four pages a day, as he seemed to have done, you will soon produce enough material for several books.

The key to prosperity

While his neighbours in southern France were taking sides excitedly in favour of one religious faction or another, Montaigne always called for moderation. Day in and day out, he kept pleading for peace and recommending tolerance as the key elements for ensuring prosperity. Without tolerance of other people's ideas, there is no way to maintain human dignity. Live yourself and let other people live as they please. Do your own thing and do not interfere in how other people choose to live their lives.

Prudence, tolerance and moderation constitute the key messages of Montaigne's philosophy. He wrote more than a thousand pages, one essay after another, which he then published himself in compilations. Through the years, he kept correcting and editing his essays further until he was happy with the result.

The principles of common sense and learning from experience permeate Montaigne's writings. Since the 16th century, other thinkers have also tried to formulate the principles of the good life, but few equal Montaigne's erudition and literary skills. For those who, in the twenty-first century, are seeking to live in accordance with nature, Montaigne's essays are still a delight to read.


Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2019.

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 audio interviews just published:
  1. John Vespasian interviewed by Jackie Pick on "The Jackie Daily Show" about how highly-effective pople deal with disruptions.
  2. John Vespasian interviewed by Geoff Currier on "The Geoff Currier Show" about rational living.
  3. John Vespasian interviewed by Rodney Mathers on "Journey of Hope" about how highly-effective pople deal with disruptions.