Recently, Major Styles became retired. And during this time, I was reminded of something…
Retirement is an existential challenge.
The extra time will produce an array of questions. What’s the meaning of life? Have I made the right decisions? Will I be remembered when I’m gone?
Most of us are rescued from answering, The alarm goes off, we take a shower, and we shave. And then it’s off to work…a set of duties that occupy. We file a memo, we type a letter, and we move a stapler. “One more coffee, please!”
And yet the questions remain…unanswered.
Periodically, a revelation arrives. You smoke a joint on a rooftop in Chicago and the universe is unleashed – like a tsunami hitting landfall. You feel the immensity of time. You see Mayan temples and the pyramids of Egypt. They’re all connected to you…and the emotion is overwhelming.
But it’s over the next day – you go back to work. The feelings you had are washed away by a million details. A machine reclaims the soul.
Until retirement. Then you face the questions again. Like a boxer in the ring, your opponent is after you. He’s chasing you from pillar to post. And you have to face the punches of reality. The existential dilemma.
When you speak to your child, do you talks about politics? Do you talk about relationships? French films? Of course you don’t. You talk about things you both understand: cartoons, food, etc.
Do the same thing with adults. Talk about the common ground you share with them—the topics you both understand. Maybe it’s philosophy, maybe sports. You have at least one thing in common with the majority of humanity.
We become frustrated when we force conversations. We speak about things that are not relevant to the audience. We want them to experience the movie theatre of our minds. There’s only one problem—most of them don’t care. They’re living in their own movie theatre.
Yeah…but Major. I need to talk about political theory! I need to talk about the illuminati! Well, you can…just like you can do anything in life. But you’ll be frustrated. You’ll find yourself alone, even when you’re in a crowd.
Learn to limit your conversations. The more you do this, the happier you’ll be.
What is Man? is the last book that Mark Twain wrote. In my opinion, it’s the best thing he ever composed. It’s a collection of short stories and essays. The topics are broad, covering everything from the death of his wife Jean to the virtues of tobacco. On some level, it’s a Mark Twain blog – the man in all his greatness, touching on a variety of topics.
My favorite essay from the book is “The Turning-Point of My Life.” Twain recalls his early days, reflecting on the defining moments of his childhood. He describes the “turning point” as a moment when a measles epidemic was ravaging his hometown. Everybody was living in fear, everybody petrified. The children were dying. People were locked inside their homes, frightened. The fear was palatable.
Twain stayed in the house for months. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore and decided to leave the house, risking death.
In short, he decided that is was better to live with bravery than die with fear.
Life on these miserable terms was not worth living…This was a turning-point of my life.
Twain catches the measles and becomes ill…but he survives. From that point forth, he learns a valuable lesson. You can’t live in fear. You can’t always worry about what might happen. You can’t go through life petrified. You need to live…and live with courage. You need to stand up to danger.
The greatest rewards come when you take chances. When you decide to chase your unconventional dreams. When you decide to go against the grain, doing something that nobody else has the courage to do. When you realize that your own path is different and that you must go against the common plan. When you decide to be you.
Imagine you were in prison for 10 years. During that time, 10 songs played over and over. The music was horrible—angry vocals with lyrics about a violent world. You hate the songs at first. But then, for your own sanity, you learn how to process them—you learn how to accept the music as part of your consciousness.
But then one day….you escape! You break out of prison, run to the shoreline, and steal a boat. You spend hours rowing on the open sea. Eventually, you come to a deserted island. It’s beautiful place, filled with clean water and tropical fruit. You kiss the ground and cry. Thank God you’re out of prison! Thank God you’re free!
Do you know what happens now? Do you know what happens now that you’re “free”?
You think about the songs that you heard in prison – you’re still a prisoner.
Prison is psychological, not just physical—it lives in your your mind as well. This point was elaborated on brilliantly in Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. The main character commits a double murder and he’s never caught—but he’s emotionally tortured by the guilt. The point is clear enough—he’s already in prison. He’s already serving a punishment.
What agitating”songs” are currently being played in your prison?
First solution: eliminate those songs. These “songs” could be people you’re surrounded by, television shows you’re watching, etc. Some tough decisions will have to be made. You might have to distance yourself from people you otherwise love – even family. But your personal happiness comes first. You can’t make somebody else happy if you’re miserable.
Second solution: teach yourself to think again. Read great books, hit the gym, only watch selective programming on television. Remember that ideas are the food of the mind. Garbage in, garbage out. So you’ll have to teach yourself to “eat healthy” thoughts. Like all changes, it won’t be easy. But it must be done.
Freedom is a mental state, as well as a physical one.
I stumbled upon this line in The Idiot, by Dostoevsky. A masterful book by a literary genius:
“It is better to be unhappy and know the worst, than to be happy in a fool’s paradise.”
In short, it’s better to be a realist—to know the cold truth. And I agree…it seems like a good idea. Great men are better than fools. The genius is above the idiot. But I believe in something more: a higher plateau.
To be happy when you know the worst…that’s the goal!
Despite everything, your toes are tapping. You’ve read the history of foreign wars, massacres, and mutilations. You’ve seen into the darkness of the human soul. You’ve seen how a fantasy is destroyed by reality. Yet still, your toes are tapping. You skip to and fro like a child.
Strength: The ability to achieve happiness in the middle of carnage. How many people can do it? How many people can achieve it? Your degrees and diplomas won’t matter. Your travel destinations won’t be relevant. Only an ability to skip freely through the world. To lift yourself up like a child. To laugh madly like a loon.
People will think you’re stupid. Don’t you know about suffering? Don’t you know about the endless riots and robberies? Of course you do. But you’ve learned something great. You’ve risen above the carnage.