Here’s what I need to promise myself to do going forward from today and that is to re-engage with the world in a different way. Instead of trying to see it with new eyes, see it instead through older, wiser eyes.

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday. She’s a young twenty-something (not you, other young twenty-something, you just need to focus on doing and not thinking so much). Ok back to the story, my friend (twenty-something #1) has just come back from Mexico and is settling into the post-holiday blues of office life. She says every time she comes back from one of these trips she asks herself why? Why not just keep going? There’s so much she wants to see and do and sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen all day isn’t one of them.  Seems far from the good life.

Of course, I encourage her to go. She’s young. She has no ties. She has no weight on her shoulders. No ball and chain on her ankle. Go. Go then. Go! If only it were that easy right? Well, it is and it isn’t – depends on how much programming she’s had and how strong she is mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Does she have what it takes to unplug from The Matrix? Maybe Morpheus is right, you should never unplug a mind once it has reached a certain age (twenty-something #2, pay close attention to this video):

I dropped into the conversation my observations about the downside of going out and doing everything while you’re young. I did it.  Now I’m suffering from ‘been there, done that, got the t-shirt.’  I’m facing the dark side of going out and doing everything when you’re young.  You get to a point, like where I’m at now, where it’s hard to get excited about anything because I’ve done everything. Ok so I haven’t literally done everything, but I’ve done enough to where everything seems like more of the same or a different version of the same theme. It’s like being a drug addict.  In order to get excited, I have to keep upping the level of extreme.  But what’s more extreme than being in situations where your life is on the line?  How do you top that?  Maybe I have to find the edge.

Then I remember what Hunter S. Thompson said about the edge:

“The Edge…There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there.”

So excuse me if I go a little off the rails here for a while. I’m trying to find that elusive something – my white whale, my golden barge that remains perpetually just around the next bend as Jephraim Tallo discovered. My ass has definitely been dragging and I passed a gypsie wagon the other day. And you can forget about my heart, it turned to stone a long time ago.

It’s been a long day and my brain is fried. I’m not tired of waiting for tomorrow to come, at least not tonight. Hell, I’d be ok if tomorrow never came. It’s always a good day to die.  But enough about that.  I need to pour myself a whiskey and get to figuring out how I’m going to find this edge.

“As a specimen, yes, I’m intimidating!…As you see, I’ve got biceps to spare!…I’m especially good at expectorating!…And every last inch of me’s covered in hair.” – Gaston, Beauty and the Beast

Me, me, me – me too.

I’m trying to figure out where on the continuum between healthy ego to pathological grandiosity I sit. I’ve never thought of myself as being narcissistic, but you see the term batted about a bit on the Internet especially at us selfie* taking, 1st person blogger types. But true pathological narcissism is rare and apparently only affects about 1% of the population.

A quick Google search and I found this questionnaire.

You like to be the center of attention – sometimes
You have a habit of giving (unsolicited) advice – yep
You detest waiting in line – absolutely!
Your ambition knows no bounds – I’m a legend in my own mind (not really)
You know how to turn on the charm – oh yeah baby.
You are the competitive type – no
You’re famous for holding grudges – nope, most things fall off me like water off a duck’s back.
It’s never your fault – more than likely it is.
You take advantage of people – not my style.
You have an addiction – hmmm, possibly!

Looks like I’m batting about 50% on this survey.

Luckily the experts say a little narcissism is good for you.

Narcissism is a trait each of us exhibits to a greater or lesser degree. As it has become trait non grata, though, it’s become necessary to add the qualifier “healthy” to specify the socially acceptable type of narcissism. “It is the capacity to see ourselves and others through rose-colored glasses,” says psychologist Craig Malkin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and the author of Rethinking Narcissism. That can be beneficial, because it’s helpful for all of us to feel a bit special. It fuels the confidence that allows us to take risks, like seeking a promotion or asking out an attractive stranger. But feeling too special can cause problems. – The Real Narcissists

Well at least I’m no Narcissistic Cannibal:


*Can you believe it, I have 1,254 selfies on my phone!

So a billion years ago I set out on a mission to be the best version of myself by pursuing what the Greeks called arete which loosely translates to excellence in all things. Broadly speaking it’s being excellent in all the ways a person can be excellent mentally, physically, intellectually, spiritually and practically.

I have to confess though, I let the Matrix get the better of me. I plugged in, became one of “them” and lost sight of what I am about and what I want to achieve.

Luckily, Morpheus found me and I am unplugged again, but I’m going to have to rebuild the parts of my mind I haven’t used for a while.

Which brings me to Isaac Watts…

One of the most popular and prolific Christian hymn writers of all time — including Joy to the World — was a man named Isaac Watts, who lived in England in the late 17th and early 18th century. Watts was a well educated Nonconformist (in the religious sense, not the modern one) who, along with his hymn writing, published a number of books on logic, science, and the learning process, at a time when these concepts were only just starting to grab hold as a dominant ideology, replacing the central role of religious teaching.

Watts wrote a book called Improvement of the Mind. And in this book he shared a set of general rules for the improvement of knowledge. Although written in the 18th century, these rules can still be applied today.

So here are the rules:

Rule I. DEEPLY possess your mind with the vast importance of a good judgment, and the rich and inestimable advantage of right reasoning.

Rule II. Consider the weaknesses, frailties, and mistakes of human nature in general, which arise from the very constitution of a soul united to an animal body, and subjected to many inconveniences thereby.

Rule III. A slight view of things so momentous is not sufficient.

Rule IV. Presume not too much upon a bright genius, a ready wit, and good parts; for this, without labour and study, will never make a man of knowledge and wisdom.

Rule V. As you are not to fancy yourself a learned man because you are blessed with a ready wit; so neither must you imagine that large and laborious reading, and a strong memory, can denominate you truly wise.

Rule VI. Be not so weak as to imagine, that a life of learning is a life of laziness and ease;

Rule VII. Let the hope of new discoveries, as well as the satisfaction and pleasure of known trains, animate your daily industry.

Rule VIII. Do not hover always on the surface of things, nor take up suddenly with mere appearances; but penetrate into the depth of matters, as far as your time and circumstances allow, especially in those things which relate to your own profession.

Rule IX. Once a day, especially in the early years of life and study, call yourselves to an account what new ideas, what new proposition or truth you have gained, what further confirmation of known truths, and what advances you have made in any part of knowledge.

Rule X. Maintain a constant watch at all times against a dogmatical spirit.

Rule XI. Though caution and slow assent will guard you against frequent mistakes and retractions; yet you should get humility and courage enough to retract any mistake, and confess an error.

Rule XII. He that would raise his judgment above the vulgar rank of mankind, and learn to pass a just sentence on persons and things, must take heed of a fanciful temper of mind, and a humorous conduct in his affairs.

Rule XIII. For the same reason have a care of trifling with things important and momentous, or of sporting with things awful and sacred: do not indulge a spirit of ridicule, as some witty men do on all occasions and subjects.

Rule XIV. Ever maintain a virtuous and pious frame of spirit: for an indulgence of vicious inclinations debases the understanding, and perverts the judgment.

Rule XV. Watch against the pride of your own reason, and a vain conceit of your own intellectual powers, with the neglect of divine aid and blessing.

Rule XVI. Offer up therefore your daily requests to God, the father of lights, that he would bless all your attempts and labours in reading, study, and conversation.

You can read the full set of rules here.

Or you can buy a copy of Improvement of the Mind.