When you think of the most powerful, motivating speeches ever given, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address comes to mind. In less than three hundred words* Lincoln encompassed the issues facing the nation. As great as the speech was, it was backward looking (Four score and seven years ago) with hope to the future. Lincoln was able to clearly articulate his message in a few minutes. He struggled up to the moment of addressing the crowd as Gettysburg. It was the planning and preparation that lent to the quality of the message.
Closer to home we might consider the commencement address Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005. At fifteen minutes, Jobs communicated a narrower message with significant reinforcement of his theme. Once again, serious planning took place prior to the presentation. Jobs was legendary in his drive toward excellence. He could speak before a crowd extemporaneously, but preferred formal presentations he could and did practice again and again until everything was choreographed to perfection. Errors were ironed out. He practiced so much that when he was live he could continue without missing a beat if technology failed while he was on stage. A Steve Jobs presentation was a show to behold.
Speeches that resonate come in many flavors. YouTube is filled with powerful speeches from movies and sports coaches. Speeches that cause a shiver to run down your spine include elements of life itself. “You can do it” is motivational, but when the words and emotions dig deeper we quickly realize the importance of what we are hearing.
Today I want to share a short speech (10 minutes from a longer interview) by Jordan Peterson. I’ve been reading and listening to his work for a while now. His recent rise to fame makes his plea more vital than ever.
A Typical Day at Harvard
The excerpt comes from a longer interview Peterson gave to a group at Harvard University. The video begins with Peterson asked what advice he would give students that want to make a difference in the world after they graduate. Peterson never missed a beat when he said, “Read great books!”
You can watch the video on your own and should several times to digest the entire message. What you should get on the first pass is that while Peterson was giving an interview, his responses are not completely extemporaneous. Over a long career he has developed a remarkable philosophy on how to live a good life. Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s been a while, but I’ve talked about Stoicism plenty enough in the past in this blog.
The overtones in this interview are dripping with stoic thought. Around halfway through the excerpt the interviewer even asks Peterson how to live a good life. What makes the responses so powerful is how Peterson opened the floodgate and released an articulate and passionate plea for listeners to accept how incredibly awesome our lives are today in the Western world.
A Game of Cards
Friday night is sheepshead (a card game with some (okay, few) similarities to bridge) night in the Accountant neighborhood. Since we are all a bunch of old duffers living in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin, the game starts at 7 and ends shortly after 9. (Did I mention us country folk prefer to hit the hay shortly after sundown?)
A few weeks ago one of our players, Pete, asked — as he always does — how our week was. I decided to return the favor and ask Pete how his week was. The rest of the night was shot. I don’t think we got more than three or four hands in before closing time.
My polite interest in Pete’s prior week was all it took to open the gate and let it all out. Pete couldn’t stop talking about how awesome and great life was. Backwoods people live a frugal life due to environment. We can’t order pizza delivery. (There is no pizza delivery in our neck of the woods.) The closest shopping opportunity is 30 miles away and none of us miss the chance to be separated from our cash. (The card game is frequently brutal on the family budget. We play for dimes and a bad night could set a guy back a full dollar, dollar and a half. Like I said: brutal.)
Pete didn’t miss any of the highlights of our incredible modern world. We have internet (high speed!) here in the backwoods. Food is cheap and varied. The cost of living is cheaper than ever. We live longer and have medical technology to not only keep us alive, but to live better. A bum knee is a simple replacement today; in the past it was a permanent diminution to quality of life.
Debt is the only real problem messing up all the fun in our ultra-modern world, according to Pete and company. When things get tough (as if that is even possible today) you can reduce spending in all areas. You can cook more at home or turn down the heat/turn off the AC. You can walk or bike instead or burning gasoline. All budget items are easily reduced, expect debt payments. Those stay stubbornly locked in place regardless of events chipping away at family finances.
Pete retired fifteen or so years ago when he was about my age. He cut back even earlier, enjoying three day (or four) weekends. Now Pete is looking down the barrel of Social Security. Any day now he can pull the trigger and enjoy the influx of even more income. In Pete’s own words, he can’t spend what he already has! He has lived off an amount less than his Social Security check promises to be for years.
What Everyone Must Learn in College, But Rarely Does
Back to Jordan Peterson.
Peterson made it clear what college and a college education is all about. Most people think college is about learning a skill you can use to get a job. It’s not! College is where you must learn to think; a place where you must learn to articulate. That’s why he places such emphasis on reading good books.
Books have been a massive part of my life from an early age. I took a super early mini retirement in my young 20s to sit at home and read all day. There is no doubt the three or four years I bowed out of life to immerse myself in quality literature determined the success in all areas of my life.
My thirty year marriage has been the highlight of my life and still going strong. I learned from people who spent a lifetime together how to have that very thing. I read about raising good children, running a business, investing, personal finance, budgeting and taxes. I also took time to read novels with a powerful message.
So, if you go to college to learn how to articulate, think and speak, what are you to do with this superpower? “Stop unnecessary suffering,” according to Peterson.
Money is only a tool. This is a personal finance blog firmly in the categories of tax, financial independence, early retirement and wealth building. But none of that is the underlying theme. I need to learn to articulate better, as Peterson suggests, to communicate this message. You don’t want money; you want to be useful!
The wisdom Peterson shares in a ten minute interview segment is a lifetime worth of knowledge. He shares another secret society is struggling with currently. He talks about how the 1% are not greedy bastards. He explains why you are not richer than you are. It’s because you are young! If you are a good steward of your money it will grow. Given time it will grow rather large. Your favorite accountant is a prime example. I’m currently on the top of the net worth list over at Rockstar Finance. I’m also a bit old to be telling people I’m considering early retirement. Give it another decade and I’ll be looking over the edge of late retirement (grow up, man!). The truth is I had more time than folks in their 20s to accumulate my wealth. And as Peterson said, I’m not a greedy miser hoarding my money. I’m looking for new opportunities to reduce suffering in the world so to speak.
Life is so good today! When people whine and complain over how oppressed they are, I, like Peterson, am so disappointed. We can make a difference, but it will never happen complaining about everyone else!
My card-playing buddy, Pete, shares some traits with your favorite accountant. He doesn’t like to travel and has managed to live a life with far less traveling than yours truly has done. His wife likes to travel and does so with her friends. Pete happily drives his old truck (he recently bought a new one since the old one gave up the ghost) around the neighborhood playing with his solo rental property. He milked cows for a farmer just south of my farm for many years to pass time. If he gets bored and something pops up (it always does) he will do that for a while. Oh, and he stops at Frogg’s Ice Cream a lot in the summer.
If you get the chance to cure cancer, then do it! The suffering your will reduce in the world will be incredible! Most of us will make a smaller mark in the world. I’m here to tell you it’s okay to make a small difference. Just make a difference! Daily incremental improvement compounds into massive results.
Pete provides shelter for a family and helps neighbors in need of fill-in help. He reduces suffering in his small way while living the life of his dreams. Maybe you prefer travel and grander endeavors. Awesome! We each need to play the role our personality allows.
I’m a lowly tax accountant. Yes, I reduce suffering by solving tax issues for businesses and individuals. I also contribute by sharing my experience and knowledge on this and other blogs.
Jordan Peterson makes it clear we need to learn to articulate because the world is in desperate need of people who can communicate a message, knowledge and information in an articulate way. I still have room to grow.
And good thing because I’m not ready to hang up my cleats yet.
* There are at least five versions of the Gettysburg Address, each with slight variations from the others, including word count. The Bliss copy is the most famous.
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