A Life Well Lived According to Emerson

“Emerson was not a man who saw success in only the material or popular means that is often the case of how individuals measure success today. Instead, Emerson believed success in life was about much more than fame, fortune, and overall popularity.”

Whenever I am looking for inspiration in my own life whether it comes to how to develop myself professionally or to be better on a personal level with others, I like to refer to the excellent quote on success and on a well-lived life by American essayist, philosopher, abolitionist, and 19th century transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was not a man who saw success in only the material or popular means that is often the case of how individuals measure success today. Instead, Emerson believed success in life was about much more than fame, fortune, and overall popularity.

Emerson saw success and life itself as leaving the world a little better than when you found it. He believed in the importance of caring for nature, of having good relationships with other people, of honing your craft professionally in whatever you were passionate about, and of caring for family or friends who could rely upon your kindness and care. This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson has always been a favorite of mine because while it was a conventional means of measuring a life well lived or a ‘successful’ life in the 19th century; I believe that too often today, we measure a ‘good life’ in shallow and often selfish ways.

In the era of the transcendentalist movement, there was much more to life than accruing things for material worth, or showing off how much money you had, or thinking that because you have more you are then better than someone else. On the contrary, Emerson and other thinkers of that movement believed in progressive ideals of equality, justice, and fairness. They believed in giving back to others in whatever way was possible and to do so consistently. While it was not a religious movement, it was based around individual actions to help a larger community or society.

It did not shun personal success or individual wants or needs as being unnecessary, but it asked people to believe in the power of working together to a common goal or cause, treating your fellow man or women with respect, fairness, and dignity, and to believe in giving back through charity, through helping others, and to be of good character not just in words but in actual deeds. Emerson like others were idealists and believed in the goodness of humanity despite the dark impulses that can lead us astray. While we are unique individuals of free will, we must never forget to care for our family or our friends, or nature itself which is gift not to be squandered.

The actual quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a long yet impactful one that touches on many different parts of one’s success in life that must not be ignored. When most people define success in a singular manner and often involving their own joy and happiness, Emerson does quite the contrary by arguing that success or a good life is based on how we leave the world after we depart from the Earth and what do we do in life to leave those around us better off than they were before. Above all else, Emerson asks the reader to imagine how they can impact the world in their own way for the betterment of not just themselves but for others as well and humanity.

In the quote, he does not ignore our hierarchy of mental needs such as the need to be respected by others, to laugh often with friends, to be appreciated for what we do, to be able to overcome adversity such as suffering betrayal, which is inevitable at points in our lives but to also appreciate the beauty around us because it is temporary in life as well. Fulfilling that life well lived according to Emerson is not just about being there for others but also being there for ourselves mentally by having our emotional needs met and fulfilled with joy, happiness, laughter, kindness, respect, and overcoming negative emotions such as betrayal and deceit.

“What is success?…
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you look at this memorable quote from Emerson, he prioritizes in life partaking in individual joy in the form of laughter most importantly. He also indicates the need to be respected by other people especially who you choose to associate with as being intelligent either emotionally or figuratively. He also discusses the need to be compassionate towards children, whether they are your own or not. Knowing that critics are inevitable in various avenues of life, Emerson seeks that any individual appreciate the critics who are honest about him or her and asks the reader of the quote to be mindful of those who want you to improve and to try to do right by them in becoming better at what you do.

Emerson also asks that while some friends are necessary to have in life; we must be prepared for betrayals that can occur from those who you thought were friends but were rather only looking out for themselves. Even though others, even friends and family members will let us down at times, we should still seek to see the good in others and to try to get the best out of everyone we meet. Human beings are fallible creatures, Emerson would say, but we should try to look for signs of redemption and efforts of good faith because people deserve to show you that they have good in them, and they can rectify their wrong doings often when they are given a real chance.

Despite facing inevitable criticism, betrayal, and disappointments throughout life, we must stop and take time to appreciate life itself for all its natural beauty. It will calm us down, put our lives in perspective, and think of a world much bigger than our own internal musings. Because of the sheer beauty surrounding us that we can often fail to fully appreciate, this divine beauty should inspire us to be caretakers of this world that we inherited at our birth and to be true guardians of the planet for the next generations. He includes in his musings on success in life to include leaving the world ‘a bit better.’ As individuals, we can only do so much for the state of the world, but if we all pitch in to do our part, that will cause massive change to occur on a societal and global level.

Leaving the world, a bit better is not just about recycling or not littering or being aware of how you’re affecting the natural world with consumption but it’s also about beautifying the world too. Whether it is cleaning a park littered with trash or creating a garden patch for others to enjoy or deciding to walk instead of driving a car, little actions like these by individuals can leave the world better off than before. I saw this kind of contagious effect working with others as a volunteer lately in helping to create a new vegetable and flower garden for a youth center in Washington, DC. Getting your hands dirty, beautifying a small part of the neighborhood, and having others pitch in to help is one of the best feelings one can have in life. It’s not often in our lives when we get to see a positive change happen in real life but creating a garden or even beautifying a park has a large ‘ripple effect’ that can change the world for the better even if it is on a small scale.

Emerson lasts mentions that if you have a child or care for one in your custody that to ensure their health and happiness is one of the great joys of living and contributes to improving the world in a measurable way. Giving back to nature and to other people is a consistent theme in this quote by Emerson and to redeem a societal condition such as creating a garden, raising a child, or being a mentor to a friend who needs your help will not only be doing good for you but for others as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson finishes his quote to sum up success in life and having a good life as coming down to fundamentally whether because you lived, did others live easier because of your presence? Was someone or something healthier, happier, or more fulfilled because you were there? These are important questions to ask yourself. In your life, are you just in it for the fame, fortune, and your own personal gratification? Or are you living your life to leave a legacy that can do some good in the world in some measurable way?

Emerson never mentions personal gratification such as having a lot of money or being popular as keys to a life well-lived and I agree with him. Emerson prioritizes the fact that after we depart from this Earth, what will we be remembered by? What contribution to others and our society did we make? Are people in our lives better or worse off because of your existence? That is what true ‘success’ means in the long-run and that a life well-lived should be based around. I hope that you take this excellent quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson to heart as I have. It’s a brilliant piece of wisdom that gives each of us steps to make the most of our remaining days on this Earth. Let the joy, laughter, beauty, conscientiousness, and unselfishness among other characteristics that he mentions as being the keys to a life well-lived guide you in all your days here.

The Whiskey Philosopher

“In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in.”

In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in. I first heard about Mr. McConaughey’s book when he appeared on the ‘Joe Rogan Experience’, Joe Rogan’s popular podcast. Mr. Rogan coined the book as being ‘whiskey philosophy’ with McConaughey being the philosopher over a glass of whiskey.

I found this metaphor to be quite fitting for the book ‘greenlights’ as the author talks about his life foremost as an observer and a reflector who is able to take a step back and analyze his decisions, his perspectives, and his overall views on his life and how he got to be who he is today. You immediately feel comfortable with McConaughey’s narrative and his ability to tell stories like you were sitting with an old friend over a fire pit drinking whiskey and regaling each other with both good times and bad. Throughout the book, you feel welcomed in and embraced as if you were right there with Matthew having a chat.

What I do love most about ‘Greenlights’ is the raw honesty and the ability to peer into a life like his, which I would argue is different from your average celebrity. Instead of obsessing over the glitz and glamour of being famous in Hollywood, you spend more time with McConaughey in different places around the world. I, for one, did not know that he was an avid traveler ever since he took a gap year in high school to go to Australia on an exchange program. He has often felt the call to go out in the wild, to be secluded from others, and to meet new people along the way.

Surprisingly, the book takes us from the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas to the autobahns of Germany to the jungles of the Peruvian Amazon and across the ocean to the small villages of Mali. One story of Matthew’s that stood out in particular was his wrestling match with a local Malian villager who challenges him as the only white man who has shown up as a guest to wrestle together. It’s not clear to the reader who wins the match, but it doesn’t matter to the village who sees Matthew wrestle. What is most important to them is that he accepted the challenge and not about who won or who lost.

I find that this particular story resonates across Matthew’s life so far and his willingness to put himself out there. Whether it’s going up to ask the woman he eventually marries if he can make her a margarita to seeking his permission from his father to go into acting as long as he doesn’t ‘half-ass it’ to keeping his promise to become a father because that was the most important thing for him to do in life, McConaughey is always willing to accept a challenge and embrace the possibility of failure. His ten guiding goals of what he wanted out of his life back in 1992 when he begun to keep a journal and of which he details in the book of what they were shows the readers how he may have taken a few detours but was able to stay true to his values and his desires even though he’s still working on a few of them.

His main goals of being a father, meeting the woman who was best for him on Earth, putting family first, and even winning a Best Actor award did not happen automatically and he had to run through a number of ‘red lights’ in order to get his ‘greenlights’ eventually. While ‘red lights’ would dissuade a lot of people to keep pushing such as being placed in romcoms for over ten years like Matthew was or perhaps having a falling out with his mother due to his having children out of wedlock, these ‘red lights’ did not discourage him from staying committed to who he was as an actor and as a person.

I think the main message of ‘greenlights’ is to not let the inevitable ‘red lights’ stop you from pursuing your goals and once you see an opportunity, you have to run with it and work hard to turn those lights green. Another particular example from the book that stood out to me was Matthew’s insight to playing Ron Woodroof in the acclaimed film, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, an immensely emotional role, which led McConaughey to win the Best Actor award for his performance. The role itself wasn’t probably the highest paying role for an actor nor was it going to be a huge box office hit like his previous romcoms.

I believe Matthew took the role because how moving the personal story of Woodroof was and how he was moved to tears talking to Ron’s family and learning about his life through Ron’s own personal journals. While the actor and the man portrayed are very different, they are both native Texans and avid journal keepers. Matthew details his intense diet of losing up to 50 pounds to play the role in the movie and how he had to put himself in the mind of a man quietly dying from the horrific AIDS virus, which was stigmatized at the time. Even if they had to do the film over-budget, it was being made because Matthew, like all good actors, knows a good passion project when he finds one and puts all of his effort into acting the role to make the film as good as it can be. In this case, he won the Best Actor award and made his father proud who tells him the book to not ‘half-ass it’ and those words of encouragement stuck with Matthew.

In addition to seeing Matthew’s life play out since he was a child growing up in Texas, you get to see his really well-written poems, notes, anecdotes, and short stories, which really do convey an intuitive wisdom to them. From discussing love to pleasure to pain to truth to meaning, these poems scattered throughout the book are refreshing to read and relate to his life as a whole. His scribbles, notes, and recollection of different events in life is quite impressive. I do believe even more so after reading ‘Greenlights’ how I should start keeping my own journal for the long-term. Matthew was successfully able to turn his journal full of notes, memories, poems, and stories in a really good book about self-discovery, personal growth, the stages of life from childhood through adulthood, and one’s journey in seeking out ‘greenlights’ even when they can be few and far between as they have been for many of us throughout 2020.

At 285 pages, this is a great memoir and autobiography that doesn’t feel like its length. It is very much an easy page turner that doesn’t feel forced or slow-going. It really grips you for the ride and McConaughey’s life has been full of adventures, events, and precious memories up to year 50 where the book concludes. My only suggestion for improving the book or adding on to it in the future is to really focus more on the ‘red lights’ that happened in the author’s life and what specifically did he learn from those lean times as someone struggling as an actor or having family troubles or being tired of singledom.

I would be curious to learn more from Matthew about what advice he would give to someone during those ‘red lights’ times and how to make the most of them or how to best turn them green in the future. I did find that part to be missing from ‘Greenlights’ a bit too much as the ‘greenlights’ got a lot of the book space whereas I think it’s the ‘red lights’ in life that cause us to reflect more, learn more about who we are, and challenge us to be more creative in overcoming adversity.

In conclusion, ‘Greenlights’ by Matthew McConaughey is one of the best books of 2020. It is an engaging, emotional, and insightful look into a man’s life who has been one of the most important actors and entertainers of the past few decades. You learn a lot more about who Matthew is, what drives him, what’s important to him, how he views family, friends, his career, and what truly matters in life. I enjoy his whiskey philosophy and if I happened to be hanging out in Texas with anyone such as having a stiff drink and swapping stories together, it would be with Matthew McConaughey.

The Why of Standards

How do we define standards? What exactly do they mean to our society and the world as a whole? See, the thing about standards is that if they are not observed by everyone to some degree than what would be the point of having them in the first place. Having standards when it comes to behavior, dress, professionalism, ethics, etc. helps society to function and for people to live productive and healthy lives. Without having standards or not being beholden to anyone else will create a society of winner-take-all or every man or every woman for themselves, which is not only counterproductive but also self-destructive in the long run.

As defined by Dictionary.com, A ‘standard’ is defined as “something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; or an approved model.” It’s a general definition but you can see that creating a standard requires the consent of the society at large. Standards can be difficult or easy to enforce depending on how popular they are but the total absence of standards in different areas of life should be fought against as much as possible. Everybody has different standards but the key to keep in mind is whether a lack of standards or a complete abandonment of standards is making the local community or overall society worse off as a result.

We don’t think about it but basic standards helps create laws, rules, and regulations that keep society running well. When there are no standards in anything whether its’ with business, politics, dress, the environment, etc. then every individual man, woman, and child will suffer in some regard as a result. Another thing to keep in mind is that a lack of standards or standards that are burdensome and counterproductive also cause harm to us as well.

Standards change over time but there are certain ideals and beliefs that I think should stand the test of time. By this I mean that basic manners and politeness should always be observed, presenting yourself well in your outer dress and appearance depending on the setting is crucial, and that you add with basic integrity, decency, and honesty when doing business or leading as a member of your community. Standards over time for these particular areas should not change and should even become stronger so that the next generations do not forget how to act, behave, and be good.

Standards can be relaxed in a number of areas or they can be hardened in other areas depending upon the mood and whims of the larger society but those areas I listed above should be consistent and not be trifled with. When basic manners, integrity, and matters of presenting become optional rather than mandatory, it’s likely that the entire society will feel the ill effects of such an absence of standards rather quickly. Fundamentally, systemic societal issues such as corruption, violence, and poverty, which while they have a wide range of causes are still related to an absence of moral and behavioral standards.

In a free society, standards can most definitely change and be adapted to fit to the times but it has to be with the approval of the majority of those people in that society. Leaving standards to the whims of a few leaders can be cumbersome and even negligent especially if they themselves due not match the standards for which they should follow based on their leadership roles. Standards are best when they are created, managed, and enforced in a democratic fashion and where the majority of people in that society are able to follow those standards.

While we are all individuals, we are all still apart of a collective society and we have to sometimes sacrifice our personal standards when we come up against those standards of the larger society even when we may fundamentally disagree with them. No standard is perfect but if the society has collectively agreed upon those standards, then all of the people must abide by them to the best of their ability. If the standards are to be changed, that should be done over time with the consent of the majority. Even if we don’t like the standards, if no one agrees to them, then they are not standards anymore and society could suffer as a result.

If you don’t like the absence of certain standards or believe that they are too burdensome on you or people that you know, then you need to make the effort and put in the work to change these standards. If you don’t like with how someone is behaving, then you need to make an informed argument as to how that person should behave in a more polite and decent manner. If you see some form of corruption and certain political leaders are letting it slide, then you need to take some responsibility in holding yourself first to a higher standard and then calling out that corruption to get others behind you so that the corruption may end in the future.

Individuals have power in a society with standards but they will fundamentally have less power in a society where there are weak standards or none at all. That is also the case where one sole individual can set standards for everyone else without so much as a protest from others, which is also dangerous and detrimental to society as a whole.

While standards such as for behavior, dress, professionalism, ethics, etc. may not always be popular to uphold, these standards form the backbone of the collective society. With the absence of any sort of standards comes at the behest of laws, rules, regulations, and principles as well. Standards form the base for a civilized society and in their absence; there is no way that a society of individuals can function at all.

When you read this article, think about your own standards and how they came to be in your thinking. Also, think about how important they are to you. Lastly, think about the current standards of your society and how long it took for them to be formed and implemented as well as how important they also are regardless if you agree with their being in existence or not. Standards are not meant to be popular all the time but they are meant to ensure codes of conduct in various manners of life.

The sheer absence of standards leads to an anarchy of sorts that would render polite society meaningless and turn individuals against each other in a collective free-for-all. Understanding the why of standards will make you more likely to improve and better your own existing ones.