Recent Reading: Rediscovering a Passion for Books

“You know what I miss?” Kim asked last night. We were sitting in bed, reading. “I miss the way we read The Martian together. That was fun.”

Last month, during our week-long quest to find a place to live for the winter, we read/audited Andy Weir’s The Martian as we drove all over Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Sometimes I read aloud to us, but mostly we listened to the audiobook. Kim’s right: It was fun.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “When you finish the book you’re working on, you can pick something else for us to read together. We can read it to each other. And if the audiobook is good, we can listen to that too.”

We’re both excited about this plan.

You see, Kim and I both used to be big readers. One of my first uses of the internet was to track my reading. When we were married, Kris and I used to spend our evenings reading together instead of watching television. And when I discovered audiobooks about a decade ago, I learned that listening to a book is often better than reading one.

Note: Is “auditing” a book the same as reading it? Folks who’ve never done it say “no”. But to those of us who’ve discovered the magic of audiobooks, auditing can actually be superior to reading. A great narrator reading a great book takes things to a whole new level. Even if the recording is mediocre, the reader still tends to retain more of the material. The biggest drawback? Audiobooks are linear, and there’s no way to take notes. With a paper book, things are more “random access” (which is great for nonfiction) and you’re free to mark the hell out of the pages.

When Kim and I first started dating in early 2012, we’d both been out of the habit of reading for a while. Things didn’t get any better during the next three years. But when we started our RV trip, things changed. Suddenly we didn’t have our old habits to fall back on. We had less access to easy entertainment. We had to entertain ourselves.

As a result, we both began reading again. (In fact, we made that a priority before we left Portland. We each brought a shoebox of paperbacks with us.)

Over the past six months, I’ve read (among others):

  • Colin Woodard’s American Nations. This is an interesting (if flawed) look at how the U.S. is a country made up of eleven smaller “nations”. Each nation is a cultural unit unto itself with it’s own political and social standards. Sure, we as a country share some commonalities, but there’s a reason Kim and I feel like foreigners here in the South. We’re from the Left Coast, and our values are very different from the folks we’re around right now. To my mind, the main flaw with the book is where the author divides his nations. To him, it’s an academic exercise based on statistics. It’s like he hasn’t really experienced the areas he’s writing about. If he had, he’d probably split things up differently. (When taken with Founding Brothers, American Nations has helped me understand that the U.S. was never actually “united”. We’ve always been divided — and probably always will be.)
  • James Michener’s Centennial. Michener is one of Kris’ favorite authors. The entire 23 years we were together, she tried to convince me to read him but I never made the time. My mistake. He’s great! I started reading Centennial as we approached northeast Colorado, where the novel takes place. Over about 1000 pages, the author explores the history of this region in a way that makes it come alive. Great stuff. I now plan to read Chesapeake before we explore Virginia in the spring.
  • Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This is a book I like to revisit every couple of years. I enjoy the whole fiction/philosophy subgenre, and books like Siddhartha and The Razor’s Edge always bring me back for more. (Apparently this genre is called bildungsroman. It’s a thing.) Kim and I listened to most of Motorcycle Maintenance as we drove across Montana and the Dakotas, where the story takes place. For hours at a time, the cab of the RV was quiet as we listened to Pirsig’s discussion of Quality. More fun than you might think.
  • Willa Cather’s My Antonía and O Pioneers!. While stuck in South Dakota, I re-read Cather’s amazing My Antonía, which explores what life was like for immigrant families on the plains of Nebraska during the 1800s. I followed that up with O Pioneers!, which is more in the same vein. I prefer the former with its many anecdotes of death and destruction. These books are bleak, just like the land they describe.
  • Charles Portis’ True Grit. Most folks only know this as a movie. That’s too bad. True Grit is one of the best books I’ve ever read. No joke. It’s fantastic. The main character, Maddie Ross, has one of the strongest narrative voices I’ve ever encountered, with a distinct worldview that just can’t be conveyed on film. This is a short book (I read it once in one sitting) and it’s hilarious. Like Jonathan Strange, the author is funny funny funny although many readers miss the humor by taking everything at face value.

I’ve also begun reading science fiction again after an almost twenty-year lull. I’ve read (or re-read):

Right now, I’m reading Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (fun space opera with excellent character observation) and auditing The Millionaire Next Door. (The latter is homework for future Money Boss articles.)

I’m pleased with how much I’ve read recently. And Kim has read even more than I have! (I sometimes get distracted by blogs and Reddit.) It feels good to re-enter the world of words.

One big difference between how I read today and how I used to read? Most of my current reading is done on the Kindle. Yes, yes. I love paper books too, and I’ll always have them. Paper books are especially good for nonfiction (for reasons mentioned above). But when traveling, my Kindle is a lifesaver. It contains hundreds of books — but is smaller and lighter than even one. In the eight years since the first Kindle was released, I’ve purchased 310 books for the device.

Note: I prefer the “old-fashioned” Kindle Voyage with a black-and-white screen and mechanical buttons for turning pages. I have the Kindle app on my iPad, of course, and I do use it, but when I’m reading for extended periods — especially for bed — I want to not be using a computer or iPad-type screen. The Kindle’s “digital ink” is easier on my eyes and doesn’t disrupt my sleep patterns. (If I read the iPad before bed, I have trouble staying asleep.) Plus, my Kindle Voyage is tiny and light. I love it. It may be my favorite electronic device — and that’s high praise, coming from me!

Also on this trip, I started listening to audiobooks while falling asleep. I generally don’t recommend this. If you listen to books at bedtime, you’ll nod off after a few minutes, and the next night you’ll have to struggle to find the last place you heard. But I sleep well while listening to books, so I’ve found a way to make it work for me.

My secret? I only listen to books I know very, very well. On this trip, for instance, I’ve listened to The Lord of the Rings three or four times. I know the series by heart, so it doesn’t matter where I fall asleep. (Plus it’s fun to wake in the middle of the night and hear more of the narration.) My other go-to is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is probably my favorite audiobook ever. So good!

There you have it: A run-down of my recent reading habits. Now it’s your turn. Based on what you see here, do you have any recommendations? Because it’s fun to read about the places we visit, I’m looking for books that are able to capture regional character. I also want to continue kindling my passion for science fiction. And, as always, I’m interested to hear about good financial books. (If you have recommendations for great books read by great narrators, that’d be awesome too.) What should I read next?

John Steinbeck on Good, Evil, and the Power of Choice

I’ve recently returned to the world of reading after many years away. For one of my first books back, I read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and I loved it. It’s very much a “J.D. book”.

East of Eden tells the storis of three generations of one family, and of the people in their lives. (Most of the book takes place in California’s Salinas Valley.) Steinbeck paints one of the characters as pure evil and one as pure good, but most are flawed masterpieces. Then he sets the wheels of the plot in motion to demonstrate his worldview, and to argue that the power of choice is the greatest gift that humankind possesses.

Steinbeck doesn’t seem to find pure evil or pure good particularly interesting. Both states are hollow, one dimensional. People like this lack something that’s essentially human. He’s much more fascinated by the typical person, the one who possesses elements of both good and bad. If you’re all good or all bad, you don’t really have a choice about what you do. You’re simply controlled by your character and moral compass (or lack thereof). But when you have a bit of both, who you are and what you do is determined by the things you choose to do.

The core idea in East of Eden is centered around the meaning of a single word from the Biblical story of Cain and Abel: timshel. Different translations of the Bible translate the word in different ways:

Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel — ‘Thou mayest’ — that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

For Steinbeck (and his characters), this ability to choose is a revelation. It’s what makes humans human.

“There are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.

Adam said, “Do you believe that, Lee?”

“Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man.”

If you’ve been reading More Than Money this year, you know that I’ve written a lot about choice. And you can probably imagine how I feel about these passages. It’s exciting to read a novel with a plot specifically designed to showcase the consequences of choice. It’s nice to see an author create flawed characters who make bad choices but whom we can nonetheless call “good people”. We can forgive them, just as the characters forgive each other. People make mistakes. It’s how they react to those mistakes that defines who they are to become.

East of Eden contains lots of other great bits. For one, Steinbeck himself appears as a minor character (he’s just a boy when the events of the story take place). Plus there are dozens of throwaway gems scattered in the pages. Gems like these:

  • “You can boast about anything if it’s all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast.” Steinbeck wrote this in reference to how the Salinas Valley felt about its paltry river. But I think this applies to education, experience, and more. At the time I read it, I thought of how the more a person travels, the more they see that their own country isn’t particularly unique or special.
  • “The direction of a big act will warp history, but probably all acts do the same in their degree, down to a stone stepped over in the path or a breath caught at sight of a pretty girl or a fingernail nicked in the garden soil.”
  • The first section in Chapter 13 is a wonderful meditation on “man and glory”. It also compares the pros and cons of collaboration and individualism. It’s good stuff. And the first part of chapter 24 has some great thoughts on aging, dying, and memories.
  • “There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension.”
  • “In human affairs of danger and delicacy successful conclusion is sharply limited by hurry. So often men trip be being in a rush.”
  • “A miracle once it is familiar is no longer a miracle.” This is in reference to an electric coffeepot, but could apply to any sort of technology.

There’s lots of other good stuff in East of Eden. Perhaps the most important passage for me was this bit about storytelling:

People are interested only in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule — a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting — only the deeply personal and familiar.

This made me think of my own writing at Get Rich Slowly. When I started in 2006, I was writing about getting out of debt, about being lost and searching for a path out of the darkness. Many people could relate to my story. But the more money I had, the less relatable my experience became. People could not see themselves in me, and readers drifted away. I knew this at the time, but could never put it into words. East of Eden eloquently states the idea.

Later in the book, Steinbeck has more to say about the importance of story — specifically about the stories that make up our lives. Here’s a conversation between two of his characters:

“When we were children we lived in a story that we made up. But when I grew up the story wasn’t enough. I had to have something else, because the story wasn’t true anymore.”

“Well –”

“Wait — let me get it all out. Aron didn’t grow up. Maybe he never will. He wanted the story and he wanted it to come out his way. He couldn’t stand to have it come out any other way.”

“How about you?”

“I don’t want to know how it comes out. I only want to be there while it’s going on.”

What a lovely passage.

I think Steinbeck highlights an important divide between people. Some have written a story and they want to see it come to pass. Others are active participants, but they’re not committed to a specific ending. And still others experience the story of their lives passively. No one way is “right” — although I’d argue that passive participants allow their stories to be written by other people — but those who attempt to control the direction their life takes often end up frustrated. (They’re trying to move beyond their Circle of Influence to their Circle of Concern.)

Note: Reading this section, I was reminded of the famous opening to Dickens’ David Copperfield: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” I believe we should all strive to be the heroes of our own stories, but we shouldn’t be so committed to an ending that we don’t allow the story to twist and turn in new and unexpected ways.

The key, of course, is to remember that each person is living a separate story. We’re ultimately each the protagonist in our tiny tale, but our stories intertwine to weave a greater tapestry. And in the grander scope of things, we must learn to give and take from each other.

Here’s another quote:

When you’re a child you’re the center of everything. Everything happens for you. Other people? They’re only ghosts furnished for you to talk to. But when you grow up you take your place and you’re you own shape and size. Things go out of you to others and come in from other people. It’s worse, but it’s much better too.

I’m gratified to have read East of Eden, and to have resumed the reading habit. I’ve already started Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley (about a months-long cross-country drive similar to the one I plan to do next year), but that’s just light reading. I’d love to find another book that’s filled with a strong story and interesting ideas. I’m thinking maybe Siddartha. Any suggestions for other books I ought to read?

My year-long quest to create a guide to mastering money

“How would you like to write an Unconventional Guide?” my friend Chris Guillebeau asked me last spring. As long-time readers know, I’ve joined Chris to travel across the U.S. by train, travel across Norway by train, and produce the first three editions of the World Domination Summit conference here in Portland. When he’s not traveling or dominating the world, Chris publishes a series of guides on subjects ranging from art to law, from entrepreneurship to publishing.

“What kind of guide would I write?” I asked.

“A guide about money,” Chris said — as if there could be no other possible answer.

“What would we call it?” I asked.

“How about Get Rich Slowly?” Chris said.

“No way. I don’t think the folks who own the blog would like that,” I said. “I doubt they could stop us since you can’t copyright a name, but I’d rather not make them angry.”

“Well then, how about Master Your Money?” Chris said.

I thought for a moment. I was reluctant. I’d retired from Get Rich Slowly (the blog) a few months before and was enjoying all of the free time. But something about having a specific goal appealed to me. How hard could it be to produce a guide about money?

“I like it. I’ll do it,” I said, “but I can’t start until I return from Ecuador at the end of September.”

“No problem,” Chris said. “You should be finished by Christmas.”

A writer’s life
I didn’t meet that Christmas goal. Not even close. You see, I had too much to say but couldn’t find a way to say it.

When I came back from South America, I spent two weeks performing a braindump. I sat at my computer and brainstormed everything I wanted to share with readers. There was a lot — enough for three books. I tried to mold this mountain of words into some sort of recognizable shape, but it was no use.

After three weeks of work, I’d written maybe 20,000 words but felt like I’d gotten nowhere.

The writing process
Early in the writing process. Isn’t it ugly?

In mid-October, I flew to St. Louis to attend Fincon. Mixing with a couple of hundred other financial writers sent my brain spiraling in new directions. Talking with my colleagues made me reconsider what I was trying to do with Master Your Money. I went back to the drawing board.

When I returned to Portland, I spent a crazy week cooped inside my office. I wrote without ceasing. When Kim came home from work every night, I’d greet her with non-stop talk. She laughed. “This is funny,” she said. “You should see the difference between how you are now and how you were two weeks ago.” The difference was I felt energized. I was no longer suffering from writer’s block. My writing had purpose and direction.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong direction.

At the end of October, I met with Chris and showed him what I’d written. Over Thai food, he leafed through the pages. “Hmmm,” he said, and I knew that wasn’t good. “This is interesting stuff, but it’s not what I had in mind. This is about fear and freedom. It’s about happiness. I thought you were going to write about money. Besides, these sections are too short. The guide reads like a blog.”

I’d written 50,000 words of great material, but they were the wrong 50,000 words.

Note: Die-hard readers know that I didn’t just abandon the stuff about fear, happiness, and freedom. Instead, I’m using it as source material this year at More Than Money. Every Monday, I’m publishing one piece of this abandoned version of the guide. Last month, I finished the section on overcoming fear. Now we’ve begun exploring what it means to be happy.

So, I went back for a third stab at Master Your Money. I still thought maybe I could finish by Christmas. But I didn’t. Again, I lost my way. I couldn’t find anything to latch onto, no central theme. What did that mean, master your money? It seemed so vague.

On the day after Thanksgiving, I met Chris in a coffee shop. “It’s not going well,” I confessed. I showed him my outline. He nodded.

“What’s this bit?” he asked, pointing to a section where I described how I’d decided to manage my personal finances as if I were running a business. “I like it. Why don’t you focus on writing about how to be the chief financial officer of your own life?”

That simple suggestion was all I needed. For a fourth time, I started to write Master Your Money. This time, no problem. The words didn’t flow out of me unimpeded, but I had a clear idea of what I wanted to say and how to say it. I knew I’d found the angle that had been missing for months.

More than words
Master Your MoneyAfter a few weeks of writing on this fourth iteration of Master Your Money, it became clear that I wouldn’t be finished until spring. “No problem,” Chris said. “We’ll shift things around. But maybe you should start working on the other parts of the course too.”

“Course?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Master Your Money should be an entire course, not just a single guide. We can call the guide How to Become CFO of Your Own Life or something similar. But with a name like Master Your Money, we want to provide even more. For instance, you’ll probably want to record some interviews with top financial writers and experts.”

For the next two months, I interspersed writing with recording. Although I’d become accustomed to being interviewed, I hadn’t yet mastered the art of interviewing others. But I figured it out. Before long, I found that I enjoyed conducting interviews more than I liked writing!

I recorded interviews with some of my favorite finance folks, including:

  • Jean Chatzky, whose books helped me start digging out of debt
  • Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of The Happiness Project
  • Liz Weston, one of the country’s most popular financial columnists
  • Ramit Sethi, the mastermind behind the book (and blog) I Will Teach You to Be Rich
  • Adam Baker, former Get Rich Slowly staff writer and a good friend
  • Mr. Money Mustache, whose polarizing ideas and personality have had a tremendous impact on my philosophical development

In the end, I’d accumulated 18 interviews totaling over eight hours of audio!

“Great,” Chris said. “Let’s do more. When people buy the course, let’s give them a weekly email to remind them of all the different things they can do to master their money.”

Back to the office I went. I created a list of 52 topics that I thought were crucial for anyone wanting to take control of their finances. I researched. I wrote. I edited. I scheduled these emails to go out every Monday for an entire year.

“Now it’s time to put the finishing touches on the course,” Chris said the next time we met. “You need to create some tools for people to use. We want to give them a sort of money toolbox.” More time in front of the computer! This time I researched data on saving and spending, best practices for negotiating salary increases, complex formulas for retirement and investing.

Ready for launch
After I’d finished with the spreadsheets and handouts, I met with Chris again. He looked them over. He looked at the list of email topics. He looked at the interviews. He paged through the guide, which we were now calling Be Your Own CFO.

“It all looks great,” he said. “But I don’t like the name. We shouldn’t call it Master Your Money. We should call the course Get Rich Slowly. That’s what it’s all about.”

I’d long ago surrendered to his ideas for this course. I’m a writer. I produce content. Chris has proven time and again that he’s a marketing genius. I trust him. So, I approached the company that owns Get Rich Slowly (the blog). I told them about the course that we’d created. I explained that we planned to launch it as Master Your Money, unless…How would they feel about us using the name Get Rich Slowly?

To my surprise, they agreed. In fact, they thought it was a good idea, a way to cross-promote.

Now, after nearly a year of work, my Get Rich Slowly course is ready to launch. Next Tuesday morning, it will be released as one of Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Guides. The course will contain a 120-page guide describing how to Be Your Own CFO, 18 audio interviews with transcripts, 52 weeks of action-packed emails, and a variety of tools in a sort of “money toolbox”.


“I can’t believe I’m finished,” I told Kim the other day. “It’s so much! I never would have started if I’d known it would take this much work.”

“Well, you know what they say,” she replied. “If you want to eat an elephant, you’ve got to do it one bite at a time.”

And that’s how I created the Get Rich Slowly course — one bite at a time.

Be Your Own CFO
The finished product. Isn’t it pretty?

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

For fifty years, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced “me-high cheek-sent-me-high-ee”) has studied human happiness and creativity. Much of his work has focused on flow, which is his term for “optimal experience”.

Here’s how he describes it:

We have all experienced times when instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we [feel] in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment.

Csíkszentmihályi says that, contrary to what we might expect, these peak experiences don’t come during passive moments. We enjoy a night out with friends or a vacation to Italy, but these aren’t the best moments of our lives. Instead, “the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile.”

People are happiest when they forget their surroundings to focus on doing their best at something that challenges and interests them. In short, happiness is produced by total engagement in the pursuit of excellence.

We can experience flow during activities as basic as riding a bike or as complex as building a bridge.

Sometimes flow is achieved through physical activity. Athletes refer to this state as “being in the zone”. People achieve this state of bliss while climbing mountains, sailing boats, or swimming oceans. But even mundane activities like mowing the lawn or baking cookies can produce flow, if they’re done well.

Peak experience also comes from mental pursuits. Many computer become so engrossed in their work that time streams past like water. I experience flow while writing.

This morning, for instance, I’ve been working to complete my guide on how to become CFO of your own life. This will be published next week as part of a complete “Get Rich Slowly” course I’m creating. While I wrote this morning, my mind was so active and so engaged that it almost felt euphoric. I was happy. I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere other than in front of my computer, writing about money.

I was in a state of flow.

For more on flow, spend a few moments to watch Csíkszentmihályi’s TED talk on how flow is the secret to happiness:

If you want to learn more, pick up a copy of his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

The Flavor Bible: A Cookbook Without Recipes

A couple of months ago, I reconnected with Ken, one of my college roommates. Turns out that 25 years after rooming together, he and I gain live in the same building.

Over dinner at Relish Gastropub — one of my favorite new restaurants in Portland — Ken and I reconnected. We talked about life and love. We talked about money. We talked about food. In the decades since I knew him, Ken has become a professional chef. In fact, he teaches restaurant management at one of the culinary schools here in town.

At one point, the conversation turned to books. “I used to have thousands of books,” I told Ken. “I still have too many. But moving into my new place has forced me to do yet another book purge. If Kim moves in with me, I may have to get rid of even more.”

“Yeah,” Ken said. “I love books too. Especially cookbooks. I have a cookbook problem.” We laughed at the notion he was addicted to cookbooks.

“You know,” I said, “I’ve been doing more cooking now that I have a decent kitchen. I like cooking, but I haven’t done much of it since Kris and I split up. Do you have any cookbook recommendations?”

Ken thought for a moment. “Actually, my favorite cookbook — the one I use all the time — isn’t really a cookbook. It’s called The Flavor Bible, and all it does is list hundreds of different flavor combinations that work well together. I use it as a source of inspiration. Like, if I have beets in the fridge that I need to use, I can look in The Flavor Bible to see that good flavor combinations are beets and butter, or beets and blue cheese, or beets and dijon mustard. It even lists complex flavor combinations such as beets and vinegar and hazelnuts and Gorgonzola.”

“Huh,” I said. “Sounds like my kind of book.”

The Flavor Bible

The Flavor BibleThe next day, I borrowed a copy from the library. I liked it. Not only does The Flavor Bible list matching flavor combinations, it also tells you which flavor combinations to avoid (don’t mix basil and tarragon, for instance). It offers tips and ideas from great chefs around the United States. Some of the tips are short and sweet, like this one from Emily Luchetti of San Francisco’s Farallon:

Blueberries and lemon go really well together. Blueberries are a thick fruit with a lot of pectin in them, and intensely flavored. You need som lemon to cut through that.

In the blueberry section, there are quotes from other chefs that suggest using cinnamon or maple in combination with blueberries.

Other tips are longer. For example, The Flavor Bible includes a sidebar in which Gina DePalma of New York’s Babbo describes how to build a cheese plate. As a guy who likes his cheeses (and likes to build cheese plates), these 250 words are gold.

Though The Flavor Bible doesn’t contain any actual recipes, it does list hundreds of dishes from restaurants around the country, such as:

  • Alaskan king salmon with sugar snap peas
  • Cornish game hens with pomegranate sauce and toasted almonds
  • Leek and asparagus pasta with lemon, parmesan, and poached egg
  • Seaweed and jicama salad with ginger dressing
  • Roasted beet salad with shaved fennel and chèvre

The names and descriptions of these dishes are often enough for inspiration. (Plus, you can sometimes google to find a recipe.)

Sometimes a chef will describe a dish in detail (though not with an actual recipe). I’m eager to try Gabriel Kreuther‘s watermelon salad, which includes a tomato confit and a layer of browned pistachios with salt and pepper. Sounds delicious.

Since I bought this cookbook a month ago, I’ve used it several times each week. Like my friend Ken, I grab The Flavor Bible whenever I have spare food in the fridge that I need to know how to use. Sometimes I use it to figure out how to add another dimension to something I’m making.

Here’s an example. For the next three weeks, Kim and I are doing a plant-based “cleanse” together (with a small portion of lean protein in the evening). As Kim (and Kris) will tell you, I’m not so good when it comes to eating plants. I need help getting creative with them. That’s where The Flavor Bible comes in.

Yesterday I used it for something as simple as a fruit smoothie. I’d already added banana, coconut milk, berries, and vanilla protein powder. “What can I do to punch this up?” I wondered. “Maybe cinnamon?” I pulled down The Flavor Bible. Sure enough, bananas and vanilla combine well with cinnamon, and berries are on okay flavor match. I added a bit of cinnamon to the smoothie and it helped.

The 39 Best Flavor Combinations

The Flavor Bible contains nearly 400 pages of flavor affinities, which it ranks on four levels based on how many chefs recommend the combination. Of these thousands of permutations, I scoured the book to find only 39 that received the highest number of endorsements. These are the “Holy Grail” flavor pairings that the most experts agree upon. Here they are:

  • Angelica and rhubarb
  • Apple and cinnamon
  • Basil and garlic
  • Basil and tomatoes
  • Beans and savory
  • Beans (flageolet) and lamb
  • Chard and garlic
  • Cheese (manchego) and quince paste
  • Cherries and kirsch
  • Chile peppers and Thai cuisine
  • Chocolate and coffee
  • White chocolate and raspberries
  • Crab and avocado
  • Jicama and chile peppers
  • Jicama and lime
  • Lamb and garlic
  • Lamb and rosemary
  • Mint and lamb
  • Oregano and tomatoes
  • Pork and black pepper
  • Quince and apples
  • Quince and pears
  • Raspberries and white chocolate
  • Rhubarb and strawberries
  • Rosemary and garlic
  • Rosemary and lamb
  • Saffron and rice
  • Saffron and risotto
  • Savory and beans
  • Shrimp and garlic
  • Spinach and butter (especially unsalted butter)
  • Strawberries and cream
  • Strawberries and rhubarb
  • Strawberries and sugar
  • Strawberries and balsamic vinegar (especially aged balsamic vinegar
  • Tomatoes and basil
  • Turmeric and curry powder
  • Vanilla and (ice) cream
  • Fennel seeds and sausages (especially Italian sausages)

I find it interesting that a handful of flavor combinations appear in the listing for both ingredients (strawberries are recommended with rhubarb and rhubarb is recommended with strawberries), but most of the pairings are only uni-directional. Not sure what that means.

The Bottom Line

What to Drink with What You EatIf I have one complaint about The Flavor Bible it’s that the highly-recommended flavor matches tend toward the conventional. I wonder if they’re recommended not so much because they’re great combinations but because they’re well known.

Still, I have to agree with Ken. The Flavor Bible is a great book, and I can see keeping it in my kitchen long after other cookbooks have been donated to Goodwill. I look forward to many years of exploring its suggestions. I’ll start tonight. Kim and I are going to try some jicama with chile peppers and lime!

The authors of The Flavor Bible also wrote a book called What to Drink with What You Eat, which apparently follows the same format. Guess what I’m going to borrow from the library when I run my errands today…

How to Achieve Success

In my spare time — what little there is of it — I’ve been continuing my research into the nature of fear and how that relates to success and achievement. Why does fear hold some people back yet serve as a motivator for others? As part of this, I’ve been re-reading all of Malcolm Gladwell. It’s entertaining and instructive.

How to Achieve Success

OutliersIn Outliers, for instance, Gladwell explores the factors allow some people to achieve runaway success. How did Bill Gates become Bill Gates? How did The Beatles become The Beatles? And why do some people who seem to have innate talent never reach their full potential?

Gladwell’s hypothesis is that there are two factors necessary for success: environment and effort.

Success cannot be achieved without great personal effort. Gladwell popularized the notion (though he did not invent it) that to truly become proficient at something, to master it, you need to spend roughly 10,000 hours acquiring that skill. Bill Gates, for instance, spent about 10,000 hours learning to program. The best violinists spend about 10,000 hours practicing their instrument. And so on.

It’s nearly impossible to become successful without putting in a lot of work.

But effort alone isn’t enough. Gladwell argues that Outliers — his term for folks who achieve astounding success — come from environments that encourage and foster their talents and abilities. It’s not enough that Bill Gates was interested in computers. He had to be born into a community that gave him a chance to spend 10,000 hours programming, an environment that provided tons of opportunities to put his skills to work.

Success is the Sum of Environment Plus Effort

Warren Buffett, perhaps the world’s greatest investor, has spoken many times about what he calls “the ovarian lottery”. “You’re going to get one ball out of there, and that is the most important thing that’s ever going to happen in your life,” he once told a group of students at the University of Florida.

In his philanthropic pledge [PDF], Buffett writes:

My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest. Both my children and I won what I call the ovarian lottery. (For starters, the odds against my 1930 birth taking place in the U.S. were at least 30 to 1. My being male and white also removed huge obstacles that a majority of Americans then faced.)

My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well. I’ve worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions. In short, fate’s distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.

There’s no question that Buffett worked damn hard to develop his business acumen. But he’s the first to admit that he was lucky to have been born in a time and a place that rewarded his passion.

I feel the same way about my own success. Yes, I’ve worked hard. I’ve spent far more than 10,000 hours blogging about life and money. But I’ve also been lucky, and in any number of ways. How strange is it that I came along at just the right time with just the right skills? I was a computer-geek psychology major who loved to write and was deep in debt. From these four factors, I was able to build Get Rich Slowly into something far more than I expected.

Again, success is the sum of environment plus effort.

Helping Others Succeed

It’s oft been said that “success is what happens when opportunity meets preparation”. That’s essentially the entire lesson of Gladwell’s Outliers. At the end of the book, he writes:

Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed…Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

This, too, is the core lesson of Luck is No Accident, a great book about making the most of unplanned events.

The moral, my friends, is to work hard and to keep an open mind so that you can take advantage of unexpected opportunities. But there’s another moral, and I think it’s just as important: Whenever possible, open doors for other people. The more chances we give others to succeed, the more likely they are to actually achieve success. Keep dropping keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners.

Keep Dropping Keys All Night Long

The Blue Zones: How to Live a Long and Healthy Life

The Blue Zones by Dan BuettnerI’ve always been fascinated by the idea of extending human life. As a boy, my favorite characters in the Bible were those like Methuselah who lived for hundreds of years. (Noah, of ark fame, was reportedly 600 when he built his boat, and he lived for another 350 years after the flood!)

I’m also drawn to science-fiction novels that feature longevity as a subplot. For instance, in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy (which I mentioned a few days ago in another context), medical advances allow people to live for more than two hundred years. (For a decade, I’ve had an idea for a short story called “Herb Nelson’s Long Life”, which would be about a man who has been alive for centuries.)

Naturally, I’m not just interested in fictional accounts of longevity. I’m interested in the science behind it too. Recently, I found time to read The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner, a book that examines the lifestyles of five of the longest-lived populations on the planet. What attributes do these folks have in common?

The Blue Zones

I first read Buettner’s work in the pages of National Geographic. In November 2005, the magazine printed his article, “The Secrets to a Long Life“, which offers a taste of what’s contained in The Blue Zones. In the article, Buettner profiles populations in Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California. These are communities where people live long and stay happy.

Expanding his work to book length, he added two additional locations: the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica and the Greek island of Ikaria.

In each of these five locations, people have long and healthy lives. They reach the age of 100 at rates significantly higher than average.

In The Blue Zones, Buettner shares stories from each of these locations, sharing how specific people have lived and thrived for ten decades. As he interviews people in each location, he tries to find common threads. What is that makes the people in Sardinia live so long? In Ikaria? Then, at the end of the book, Buettner draws from these five populations as a whole. What attributes do they share?

Blue Zones commonalities

Long and Healthy Lives

After looking at these groups individually, Buettner makes nine broad generalizations about factors that seem to be related to longevity and well-being. Note, though, that correlations does not imply causality. These qualities are present in the communities he’s studied, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually the secrets to long life. (Though, of course, I’d like to think they are.)

Here are the recommendations from The Blue Zones:

  • Be active. Those who live a long time are generally active people. They walk. They raise gardens. They have fun. If you struggle with this, Buettner suggests finding ways to force yourself to be active. He also recommends doing yoga twice a week.
  • Cut calories. Many Eastern cultures have a practice in which they eat until they’re “80% full”. Buettner recommends cutting portion sizes through common tricks like using smaller serving dishes, making snacks a hassle, preparing smaller portions, eating more slowly, and eating early.
  • Eat a plant-based diet. Eat two servings of vegetables with every meal. Limit meat intake. Avoid processed foods. Make fruits and vegetables the highlight of your diet. Stock up on nuts, and eat them every day.
  • Drink red wine — in moderation. Sip it with your dinner, or institute a daily “happy hour” where you socialize with friends.
  • Have a purpose. Take time to see the Big Picture. Craft a mission statement, and then find a partner to hold you accountable to it. Learn something new. Buettner points out that learning a musical instrument or studying a new language are two great ways to keep your brain sharp.
  • Downshift. Reduce the stress in your life. Cut out the electronic noise. Arrive early to appointments. Meditate.
  • Participate in a spiritual community. Buettner stresses the importance of spiritual communities, and encourages readers to open their minds, discard prejudices, and just go to a church service.
  • Make family a priority. Live closer to your family. Own a smaller home, where people are forced to interact more. Establish rituals. Create a family shrine.
  • Find the right tribe. Be likeable. Surround yourself with people who share your values. Identify your inner circle, the people you trust and support. Try to spend 30 minutes each day with these folks.

Here’s a Venn diagram (from Wikipedia) that summarizes Buettner’s findings from the three original Blue Zones. (I’d love to see a similar diagram that takes into account all five regions.)

Blue Zones commonalities
Common attributes among Blue Zones

More than anything, Buettner writes, “Purpose and love are essential ingredients in all Blue Zone recipes for longevity.”


There’s no way a simple blog post can do justice to Buettner’s book. The Blue Zones is fascinating, at least for those of us interested in longevity. If you want more info, buy the book (or borrow it from the library, like I did). You can also visit the Blue Zones website, where you’ll find:

I’ll close this summary with a key piece of advice from The Blue Zones. “This information will do you no good,” Buettner writes, “unless you put it into practice.”

What is Love? Looking for a Definition of Love

For most of my adult life, I’ve been a pretty rational guy. I’ve prided myself in a scientific mind, one unclouded by spirituality and mysticism. Yet as I’ve experienced profound personal changes over the past few years, I’ve found myself more and more fascinated by abstract (or “spiritual”) questions, the likes of which I haven’t thought about in decades.

One topic I find especially fascinating is love. What is love? What does it mean to be “in love”? What are the different types of love? How can we show others that we love them? And what does it mean to love yourself?

While most of my exploration of love has taken place slowly and internally, I’ve also had some interesting external experiences with the notion of love. First, and most obviously, I chose to end a long-term marriage. That event forced me to dive deep into the nature of love. But there have been other experiences as well:

  • I have a friend who is conducting what she calls a “love project”. She’s methodically watching every movie she can find about love. She’s also reading books and talking to people. This project has no real purpose other than to help her understand what love is and how it manifests. Her only conclusion after six months of study so far? “Love is messy.”
  • I have another friend who seems to manifest love in nearly everything she does. It’s a very subtle thing, but if you watch her closely, you can see that in her interactions with strangers, in her relationships with friends, and even in her career choice, she’s motivated by love. A few months ago, I told her what I saw. She was surprised. “It’s true,” she said. “I do act out of love, but nobody’s ever noticed it before.”
  • As part of my work, I’m involved with a couple of large projects. One of them — which you can probably guess, but which will remain nameless — seeks to edify people, to move them to positive change. I was speaking with the man behind this project last summer, asking him what the project’s true purpose was. “It’s about empowerment,” he told me. “And love. Without using those words.” Suddenly everything made sense. Our work with this project is to spread love.

All this thinking about love has come to the fore recently because I’ve been reading (and enjoying) M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. I’ve mentioned this book before, and I’m sure to mention it again. It’s had a profound effect on me. It articulates much of my personal philosophy in ways that I’ve been unable to do. Plus, it’s pushing my own personal development in new and exciting directions.

The Road Less Traveled

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott PeckBriefly put, The Road Less Traveled is about love and spiritual growth.

To begin, Peck explores the idea of discipline. “Life is difficult,” he writes, but we gain purpose and meaning in life through meeting and solving life’s problems. Mature adults are disciplined, and this discipline manifests itself in the following abilities:

  • Deferred gratification, the ability to put up with discomfort in the short-term to obtain a reward in the long-term.
  • Acceptance of responsibility, the ability to own up to your thoughts and actions instead of blaming others.
  • Dedication to reality, the ability to deal with the world as it actually is, the ability to be completely honest.
  • Balancing, the ability to be flexible, to handle conflicting demands and desires.

But why be disciplined? What is the motive to develop self-control? Peck says that the bottom line is love.

What is Love?

The first part of The Road Less Traveled is devoted to discipline. The last part explores the notion of religion (or, more properly, spirituality) and “grace” (or luck or happenstance). But the middle of the book is one long lecture on the nature of love.

According to Peck, Love is not a feeling. It’s an action. It’s an extension of the self, a conscious effort to grow the self — or someone else:

I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.

I love this definition because it moves beyond the idea of romantic love (which Peck calls a myth) to something more profound. And because the definition emphasizes the importance of self-love. Peck writes:

We cannot forsake self-discipline and at the same time be disciplined in our care for another. We cannot be a source of strength unless we nurture our own strength.

I’m reminded of something my friend Sally once said to me: “Self-care comes first.”

Peck stresses that love is not dependency. It is not self-sacrifice. Nor is it the same as “being in love” (which he calls cathexis, or a collapse of ego boundaries where you lose your sense of self). Instead, love is a choice. It requires effort. Peck says that love is a form of courage directed to nurture spiritual growth in ourselves and/or another person.

The principal form taken by the work of love is attention. When we love somebody — ourselves or another — we set aside other concerns to devote attention to the object of our affection. When we love our children, we give them attention. When we love our partner, we want to spend time with them. When we love ourselves, we spend time on personal development. The most important way to express love, to give attention, is to listen.

But love involves more than just attention. Love also requires independence. When you love yourself, you develop the courage to leave behind the parts of your life that were broken. It also requires the courage to spend time alone, by yourself, apart from the ones you love. “Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss,” Peck writes.

It is only when one has take the leap into the unknown of total selfhood, psychological independence, and unique individuality that one is free to proceed along still higher paths of spiritual growth, and free to manifest love in its greatest dimensions.

Commitment is the foundation, the bedrock of any loving relationship. You cannot foster growth in yourself or anyone else if you are not constantly concerned with that growth. This reminds me of Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability and Jonathan Fields’ writing about uncertainty. In order to love, you must be willing to be vulnerable in the face of uncertainty, you must give yourself without the expectation of anything in return.

Peck argues that love also entails the risk of confrontation, of criticism. “Mutual loving confrontation is a significant part of all successful and meaningful human relationships,” he writes. “Without it the relationship is either unsuccessful or shallow.”

He also says that love is disciplined. To love well, you must properly manage your feelings. You cannot love everyone. And, as has been said, you cannot love others if you do not love yourself. When you love, you must “order your behavior” in a way that contributes to your own (or somebody else’s) spiritual growth.

All of this builds toward one interesting argument: Peck believes that psychotherapy — the work of counseling — is love:

For the most part, mental illness is caused by an absence of or defect in the love that a particular child required from its particular parents for successful maturation and spiritual growth. It is obvious, then, that in order to be healed through psychotherapy the patient must receive from the psychotherapist at least a portion of the genuine love of which the patient was deprived.

Love in the Larger World

The Road Less Traveled starts with discipline, moves to love, and ends with religion. Peck writes:

As human beings grow in discipline and love and life experience, their understanding of the world and their place in it naturally grows apace. Conversely, as people fail to grow in discipline, love and life experience, so does their understanding fail to grow.

Peck says that this “understanding” is each person’s religion. You might call it spirituality. Or a blueprint for life. Peck says that our blueprints are constructed primarily from our childhood family life. Our maps of reality are “microcosms of the family”, and they’re useful only insofar as these maps reflect the realities of the world around us. The problem is that often these maps only work for the particular family in which we were raised.

Note: Long-time readers will recognize this as being exactly like the notion of financial blueprints, which I’ve written about for five years now. Our attitudes about money are formed largely by our parents’ attitudes about money. What Peck is saying is that our mental blueprints are about more than money. They’re about all of life.

Ultimately, Peck argues, our aim in life is continued personal development, continued spiritual growth, ongoing self-love. As part of that, “a major and essential task in the process of one’s spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing one’s self-concept into progressively greater congruence with reality.”

Over the past five or six years, I’ve been on a mission to discover who I am. I’ve been learning to love myself. And I’ve been learning how to love other people. It’s been a fantastic experience, and I’m fortunate to have (or, in Peck’s words, “grace has provided”) friends who are in similar journeys and who are willing to share the experience.

This process isn’t over. It never will be. My aim is to continue learning until I die. Next up, I’ll be reading Carl Rogers’ On Becoming a Person and How People Change by Allen Wheelis. When I’m finished with those books, I’ll share what I learn with you. Because I don’t just want to nurture my own spiritual growth — I want to nurture yours too.

Famous First Lines

On Saturday, our book group met to discuss Ernest Hemingway’s 1941 classic For Whom the Bell Tolls. Most of us thought it was great. I loved the language in the book; I hadn’t read Hemingway since high school, and I’d forgotten that he used to be one of my favorite authors. Here’s how he opens For Whom the Bell Tolls:

He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass. There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.


Even lovelier is how he ends the book, bringing everything full circle, returning to the pine-needled floor of the forest:

Robert Jordan lay behind the tree, holding onto himself very carefully and delicately to keep his hands steady. He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.

Grammar nerdery: Okay, see how Hemingway used “pine-needled floor of the forest” to start the book? And see how he uses “pine needle floor of the forest” to end it? That’s a lovely circle, and I like it. But why on earth didn’t he (or an editor) keep the same structure. I mean, shouldn’t that be “pine-needled floor of the forest” both times? God, I’m a grammar geek.

Admiring the opening to For Whom the Bell Tolls reminded me a of a contest I ran nearly ten years ago at my old personal blog. Because I doubt any of you were around then — and because I think it’d be fun — I’m going to re-run the exact same contest today.

Below, I’ve collected twenty-four famous first lines from novels. Or, more precisely, first lines from famous (and semi-famous) books that I love. Some are well-known. Others are relatively obscure. How many of them can you name? (Please google only as a last resort.)

I love books

  1. This is not a conventional cookbook.
  2. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.
  3. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  4. My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and I was born.
  5. Call me Ishmael.
  6. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
  7. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
  8. The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!
  9. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
  10. She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.
  11. Jewel and I came up from the field, following the path in single file.
  12. It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination for some days.
  13. The British are frequently criticized by other nations for their dislike of change, and indeed we love England for those aspects of nature and life which change the least.
  14. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.
  15. Except for the Marabar Caves — and they are twenty miles off — the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.
  16. The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry.
  17. The primroses were over.
  18. The music-room in the Governor’s House at Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli’s C-major quartet.
  19. For a long time I used to go to be early.
  20. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again.
  21. At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring.
  22. Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.
  23. You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.
  24. “Sleep well, dear.”

I’ve always wondered how important first lines really are. There’s no doubt that some just reel me in. And when I revisit books I love, their openings have real power, which stems from the weight of memory. For instance, reading #17 above just gave me goosebumps. Why? Because it’s the beginning of one of my favorite books, because I know everything that comes after, all the pain and sorrow and struggle and joy. All from this short sentence: “The primroses were over.”

How many of these can you name? And, more to the point, how many of them can I still name? I’m not sure, actually. I’ll go through and try my memory now and then post my results after others have stopped posting theirs. The prize for the person who guesses all of these openings? One brownie point (cash value: 1/20th of a cent).

(Also, what are your favorite first lines from literature?)

Escape from Freedom

“We cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them.” — M. Scott Peck

One reason I enjoy dating Kim is that although superficially we’re unalike, and although we’ve had vastly different life experiences, deep down we have similar values and life philosophies. This means we have some interesting conversations about the way the world works, and we each bring a different perspective to the discussion.

Last weekend, the topic turned to the nature of personal responsibility. Both of us believe strongly that each person is responsible for her own happiness, that each person is responsible for his own success. Yes, life deals better hands to some people than to others. Plus, some people seem to be luckier than other people. Ultimately, however, you are responsible for improving your own state in life. You cannot expect anyone else to better it for you.

Note: This belief is built into my tenets of personal finance. When I say “nobody cares more about your money than you do“, this is exactly what I mean. Yes, take advice from people. Yes, take advantage of the resources available to you. But ultimately, you are the one who responsible for building and growing your nest egg.

This discussion was reinforced on Monday as I continued to read through M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. The entire first section of The Road Less Traveled is about personal responsibility, and there’s a great chapter on what Peck calls “the escape from freedom”. Here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):

…Almost all of us from time to time seek to avoid — in ways that can be quite subtle — the pain of assuming responsibility for our own problems…

The difficulty we have in accepting responsibility for our behavior lies in the desire to avoid the pain of the consequences of that behavior…Whenever we seek to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organization or entity. But this means we then give away our power to that entity, be it “fate” or “society” or the government or the corporation or our boss. It is for this reason that Erich Fromm so aptly title his study of Nazism and authoritarianism Escape from Freedom. In attempting to avoid the pain of responsibility, millions and even billions daily attempt to escape from freedom.

As children, by virtue of our real and extensive dependency, our parents have real and extensive power over us. They are, in fact, largely responsible for our well-being, and we are, in fact, largely at their mercy. When parents are oppressive, as so often they are, we as children are largely powerless to do anything about it; our choices are limited. But as adults, when we are physically healthy, our choices are almost unlimited. That does not mean they are not painful. Frequently our choices lie between the lesser of two evils, but it is still within our power to make these choices.

…There are indeed oppressive forces at work within the world. We have, however, the freedom to choose every step of the way the manner in which we are going to respond to and deal with these forces.

…One of the roots of this “sense of impotence” in the majority of [people] is some desire to partially or totally escape the pain of freedom, and, therefore, some failure, partial or total, to accept responsibility for their problems and their lives. They feel impotent because they have, in fact, given their power away. Sooner or later…they must learn that the entirety of one’s adult life is a series of personal choices, decisions. If they can accept this totally, then they become free people. To the extent that they do not accept this they will forever feel themselves victims.

Again, I’m reminded of Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. That entire book is about letting go of the idea that other people control our destiny, that we’re handcuffed to our past decisions. Browne, like Peck, argues that we’re responsible for our own freedom, our own happiness. But too many of us say “I can’t because…”

The reality is not that we can’t, but that we choose not to. It’s a subtle shift in framing things, but it’s an important one.