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022 - On Sticking To Your Decisions - Moral Letters for Modern Times

Whether you are advancing or retreating, be fully committed to what you are doing.
Ohio State campus - Moral Letters to Lucilius
Photo by James Bellerjeau

Each person has to take their own stock of when is the proper time to step away from their working life. It will be different for different persons, with different safety nets deemed necessary, and no one else can determine this for you. I caution you though, Deuteros, don’t make yourself unhappy while you are pondering your future. Whether you are advancing or retreating, be fully committed to what you are doing. Make it your business to do a good job with what is before you, and the next step comes more easily and naturally for you and all around you. If, rather, you make yourself miserable by musing on what you have not yet achieved, you are sabotaging your chances of success.

Accepting your tasks and doing your very best at what is before you also means embracing the consequences of your decisions. Who cares what other people think about success, accomplishment, and living a good life? Others do not live with the consequences of your decisions, you do. If you are properly guided by your own thoughts, and achieve the outcomes you intended, what of it that another has set their sights differently?

I wrote to you about standing out among the many who will be forgotten. See On Posterity. An iconoclast will stand out by challenging conventional wisdom. Do not challenge the status quo for the sake of being contrarian, but simply to ensure you come to your own conclusions, that you think for yourself. I consider Steve Jobs a modern day sceptic; he put it this way:

Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

What would I tell those just embarking on their careers? I would tell them not to fear failure, but rather to make sure they learn from every experience. It is more harmful to your prospects not to try than it is to mess up every now and then. Next, consider that those who have gone before you thought just like you did. As a result, try to imagine why they did what they did before you try to tear it down. Finally, chase growth, not money, at least as soon as you have enough money to pay for your basic needs, and use development as your metric to decide when to make a change.

Once you have made up your mind to change your job or give it up altogether, the decision how to proceed is entirely up to you. To successfully execute, you have to reconcile yourself to a change in circumstance, that is all. If you seek retirement, yes, you will relinquish the office, the company car, the perks, some status. Decide what you love more: the trappings or your freedom. And remember this, my dear Deuteros, many complain without end about the burdens associated with their position. But if it is your position that affords you advantages you can’t afford to live without, what sense is there in complaining? You are held captive by your desires, and so you desire your captivity.

There has to be an end to desires. You can never earn enough if you measure your worth by your earnings. But you can take none of your wealth or the possessions they enable you to buy with you into death. And many more do not survive their wealth, in the sense that the pursuit of wealth drives them to an early grave. You can take nothing of your belongings with you. Consider the Pharaohs’ elaborate tombs and burial chambers, filled to overflowing with material goods. Though their spirits passed away, their possessions stayed resolutely behind.

My finger hovered once more over the send button until I realized you are missing your customary words of wisdom. To show you that that lessons may be drawn from any source, and that it is the content that counts and not the wrapper it comes in, I offer you inspiration from the American televangelist Robert Schuller:

I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.

View your decisions over the course of your career as a grand adventure. They deserve your best effort and undivided attention, and you shall be as dedicated as any general is to their campaign. Once you have made a decision, commit to it with the fervor of Cortés in his colonization of the Americas. Though you do not burn your bridges, for you can always use connections to those who have journeyed with you and helped you along the way, by all means burn your ship so that there may be no retreat from your chosen path.

Be well.

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