There is only discipline

I often mention the false sense of urgency that I experience. I have lots of ideas, sure, but it’s more than the frequent appearance of those endless new opportunities. It’s more so the sense that anything I’m already working on, I could do just a little bit better. There’s a pessimistic paranoia that old, greying system administrators develop; they look both ways even when crossing one-way streets. All of that combines within me. I’m not sure if all that striving leads me to feel there’s a scarcity of time and opportunity, or vice versa— I have a sense of scarcity, which leads to the sense of urgency and incessant striving.

Schopenhauer’s pessimism is based on two kinds of observation. The first is an inward-looking observation that we aren’t simply rational beings who seek to know and understand the world, but also desiring beings who strive to obtain things from the world. Behind every striving is a painful lack of something, Schopenhauer claims, yet obtaining this thing rarely makes us happy. For, even if we do manage to satisfy one desire, there are always several more unsatisfied ones ready to take its place. Or else we become bored, aware that a life with nothing to desire is dull and empty. If we are lucky enough to satisfy our basic needs, such as hunger and thirst, then in order to escape boredom we develop new needs for luxury items, such as alcohol, tobacco or fashionable clothing. At no point, Schopenhauer says, do we arrive at final and lasting satisfaction. Hence one of his well-known lines: ‘life swings back and forth like a pendulum between pain and boredom’.

~ David Bather Woods from,

For five months I’ve had a single sticky-note on my monitor which reads, “There are no miracles. There is only discipline.” It’s a strikingly clear guide star. I believe that a disciplined person knows not only when to strive, but also when to ignore an idea, when to pause for the time being, and when to rejuvenate.

Most often that sticky-note triggers my thinking about living a balanced discipline. I see the note (it’s unfortunately only on my monitor, but should be added to the interior of my eyelids) and then I notice if I’m feeling harried, or if I’m striving… Why? Is this thing I’m doing, or that thing I feel I should be doing, actually urgent? And how—get clear here, Craig—did this or that even get to be the thing I’m doing, the thing on my radar, on my to-do list, on my to-should list… What would it be like, to simply be?


I have a problem

If you find yourself wanting to speed up the reading process on a particular book, you may want to ask yourself, “Is this book any good?”

~ Ryan Holiday from,

Long-time readers will be well aware of my self-diagnosed problem with books. I’ve spent a lot of time reading about reading about books, but this list by Holiday made me think about a few things in a new light. Yes, of course; It’s a post by Holiday so it’s going to have some ancient Stoic philosophers in it. Schopenhauer had a sublime lament about time for reading. Holiday’s strategies won’t help you there. There’ll preserve some of your reading time for, well, more reading. But I still think the hardest part about reading is making it a priority. (Recall: “I don’t have time to…” is bullshit.)



An addition to your knowledge

If you come across any special trait of meanness or stupidity […] you must be careful not to let it annoy or distress you, but to look upon it merely as an addition to your knowledge—a new fact to be considered in studying the character of humanity. Your attitude towards it will be that of the mineralogist who stumbles upon a very characteristic specimen of a mineral.

~ Arthur Schopenhauer


A tragic history

But I wish some one would attempt a tragical history of literature, showing how the greatest writers and artists have been treated during their lives by the various nations which have produced them and whose proudest possessions they are. It would show us the endless fight which the good and genuine works of all periods and countries have had to carry on against the perverse and bad.

~ Arthur Schopenhauer


This is click bait

German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) influenced some of the more prominent minds in the world. His writings and lessons traverse time and discipline. Schopenhauer confronted similar problems with media to the ones we face.

~ Shane Parrish from,

The scale of Philosophy—just “western” Philosophy alone, even—is mind boggling. Who thought what, at which point in their career. Who influenced whom. Who’s work is now considered bunk, and which is bunk but still necessary to understand some other piece. What is in which language, and then which translation of that should one choose. If so-and-so had an influence on other-person, in what way? …did they build upon, tear down and correct, or push farther the influencer’s work?

At one point, I had deluded myself into attempting a systematic survey of Philosophy. ahahhahaahhaahahhaahahahahahhahaaa. Silly human.

But this small-ish article from Parrish led me to actually wonder about some of Schopenhauer’s essays. And I’ve ended up with an English translation of his On Reading and Books now sitting on my read-next table.


Grunt work

It’s important to take time to think about what we’re reading and not merely assume the thoughts of the author. We need to digest, synthesize, and organize the thoughts of others if we are to understand. This is the grunt work of thinking. It’s how we acquire wisdom.

~ Shane Parrish from,

That’s a tiny taste from a delightful and sublime collection of thoughts on reading and books. Which will serve perfectly as an on-ramp to Schopenhauer’s actual essay, On Reading and Books. Which, furthermore, is even linked as a modern PDF from that same page. Wonders never cease.