The only thing you
have to do is die.
. . . everything else is optional.
In reading over this, I realize that this is
actually something said to me by an old college buddy, W. Matthias Raftree. Matt and
I were both in the engineering program (neither of us lasted) and hanging out near the grand
piano in the student union. I was whining about all the crap I had to get done for school.
He stopped playing the piano, took a drag on a cigarette, flicked his ash and turned to look
at me. Exhaling smoke through his grin-bared teeth, Matt pointed at me and said "the only thing you have to do is die," and turned back to play the
Many, like I did, confuse this with the maxim
"the only sure things are death and taxes." Taxes are still
an option. (As is incarceration for tax evasion, but it's still an option.)
This, while largely impractical in
application, is a very liberating state of mind. If you, like me, are one who gets stressed
out by a lot of
"I have to do this, then I have to do that, and when that's done...", then think of
this philosophy. When I have too many things on my list that I have to do, I just tell
myself "the only thing I have to do is die." Everything
else becomes simply an option.
But we're not done.
Now it's time to prioritize by benefit
of doing and consequence of not doing each thing. Put the things of
highest benefit or consequence at the top and when you run out of time, you run out of time.
This philosophy allows you the liberty of not doing some things that you felt you had
Matt apparently decided that he didn't have
to finish college. I saw him years later tending bar at the most popular pub in Fort
Wayne, Indiana (O'Sullivan's if you're ever there), and asked him what happened to school. He
told me he made a ton of money tending bar, and that was the only reason he ever went to
school. He understood that school was an option that (for him) held little benefit or
consequence. To this day, he's one of the most laid-back people I've ever met. [I chatted with Matt the other day. He's now the corporate trainer of bartenders for The Cheescake Factory, a high-class restaurant chain, and doing quite well. - ric 6/27/01]
"The things we can do something about we can and the things that we can't we
A quote from Found Money, a 1983 made-for-TV
movie with Sid Caesar (as Sam Green) and Dick Van Dyke (as Max Sheppard).
I don't recall exactly what the movie was
about, (the IMdB says:
"Max and Sam, disillusioned with people's day-to-day callousness toward each other, and
angered by a pension-stealing bank, invent The Invisible Friend, Inc.") but the phrase--
"The things we can do something about we can and the things that we can't we don't"--
was something Sam kept telling Max until Max discovered that there was unallocated bank funds
floating around in EFT somewhere and decided to play God. And in doing so Max discovered that
the things which we think we can't do anything about are sometimes controllable.
This has little to do with why I like this
quote. I use it in the Sam sense. It aptly describes the two types of things we can worry
about. Many people in my family are worriers. I think it might be genetic. I'm glad I saw
this movie when I was seventeen and was able to apply this aphorism throughout college,
career, church, children and connubial relations.
A few anecdotal examples of folks worrying
about thing they have no control over: My mother-in-law is worried our plane will go down
flying to Disneyworld over Christmas. My grandmother worries that we'll get in a wreck if we
have to drive to her house. Just chill people.
LINE: Don't worry about things over which you have absolutely no control. You have
enough things to worry about that you can control.
There is always a
length of time after which this current trial will be over.
This is especially applicable to final exams,
but generally a good thing to think about when your fretting about your current bad lot. Let
me give an example:
"In 75 minutes this exam will be over. I will have either passed or failed, but it'll be
This has brought me back from the brink of
tears many times. The key here is PERSPECTIVE.
Whether it's a surprisingly nauseating thrill ride or the funeral of a parent, this little
axiom will help you take two giant steps (Mother, may I?) back and realize that
there's a time line for everything, and that time--generally--heals the wounds that
are currently being inflicted.
It's astounding the difference twenty minutes can
If you're tired, take a
twenty minute nap. Really.
Some folks call this a "power nap" others a
"cat nap," but whatever you call it, it works for a lot of people. (Well, no guarantees.) It
works well for me. And my brother Russ, who told me about it and explained
approximately what I'm about to tell you.
The theory is this: Initial REM sleep occurs
just after you fall asleep, with other REM periods throughout the night. (If you don't know
about REM sleep, drop by HotBot and search for "REM sleep"). If you think of sleep as a wave, you dip down into REM
in the first twenty minutes and crest again before dropping into deep (non-REM) sleep. It is
only during REM sleep that you dream.
If it works properly, your experience (if it's
like mine) will be like this:
- You'll lay there thinking
"I'll never fall asleep in twenty minutes" for about ten or fifteen minutes. That's
okay, you're in the process of falling asleep.
- Unbeknownst to you, you will
drop into REM sleep for the last seven to ten minutes of the nap. You will dream wildly.
Your dreams will seem like a continuation of what you were thinking when you dropped
- When you wake up (set an alarm) you'll feel like you've been asleep
for, like, three hours. This is because time gets distorted while you sleep. It goes faster
during REM and slower during deep sleep.
- You'll be remarkably rested. Why?
I'm not sure. Something to do with your body's REM requirements.
After a few times, you may not
need an alarm. I usually set one and wake up seventeen to nineteen minutes into the nap.
When you crest, your brain decides whether to awaken or dive into deeper sleep. If you tell
yourself that you need to get back up, maybe your brain will decide to wake up. Or not.
Depends on the person.
For the science, do a HotBot search for "REM sleep" and
"circadian rhythms." I once read a article that said some
college had found that you could survive indefinitely on two evenly-spaced two-hour naps a
day. Go figure.
One caveat, though: get good, long
sleep! This nap thing only works about once between nightly slumbers. Taking two power naps
has diminishing returns and could make you more tired. There is no substitute for proper
nightly sleep. If you can't sleep, see a sleep therapist. They watch you (try to) sleep,and
tell you why you can't. It's not black magic, they really understand how sleep works.
"There is safety in a multitude of council."
I know, I know, it's paraphrased from the
Bible. Proverbs 11:14 to be exact.
"Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellers there is safety."
So sue me.
It means simply this: get a second opinion.
And a third. And a fourth. Until you discover what you believe to be the truth, the best
advice, reality, or whatever it is you seek.
Everyone's mother (in the US, at least) used to
say "If everyone jumped off the Empire State building, would you?"
in response to a claim of "everybody else is doing it."
Let me say this about that: maybe there's a reason. Look into it. Ask around. Find
Sure maybe everybody's having sex in high
school. That, in and of itself doesn't make it good or bad. This is not the same as a
"multitude of council." Ask about a dozen older people (especially married ones) whether
having sex in high school is a good thing. Then you can discern reality.
Ask a bunch of people, regardless of
demographics, and get a consensus. Then toss it out and decide from what everyone told you
how you feel. You're not a politician. Don't let the concensus decide, but use the
concensus to guide your own decision. There's a difference.
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
This, of course, is from Ralph Waldo
Let me start out by saying that I don't
embrace or endorse tracendentalism or even this particular essay in toto. I am a firm
believer in a Supreme Soul and His Spiritual influences in my life. But that doesn't detract
from the truth of the quote:
consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and
Note that this doesn't
say "a consistency is..." it says
"a foolish consistency is..." consistency in some things is not foolish.
Consistently stopping at red lights, for instance, is not foolish.
So what's a "foolish"
consistency? Decorum, ceremony, protocol--there are lots of words for it. If it's
consistent out of vanity, it's foolish. If it's consistent soley from tradition, it's
probably foolish. Keep in mind that it may be foolish to stand on ceremony if it could cost
you your life or job or family. If a woman doesn't cover herself in an Islamic country, she
could be imprisoned. This would be foolish. But ask yourself: Am I doing this because I
need to or just because I've always done it this way?
What benefit is there to inconsistency?
Greatness. Become great through seeing new
and different ways of doing things. No discovery or invention or enlightenment was ever
created from walking along the beaten path. Inconsistency can cause great misunderstanding.
But Emerson said, "to be great is to be misunderstood."
"If they give you ruled paper, write the other way" -- Juan, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury