No B.S Friday: This guy sold a million books, but I’m not sure he was right on this one.
One of the most influential books from my younger days was Stephen Covey’s ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”
It’s a classic and a classic for a reason. The seven habits are really powerful things to build into your life.
In a way, they’re just common sense. Like “put first things first”, or “seek first to understand and then be understood.”
But that’s the thing about common sense. It’s just not that common. Not in practice anyway.
So Covey (who was an academic but did his dissertation on self-help books!) bundled up some timeless wisdom in an accessible package, and the book went gang-busters.
Covey died back in 2012, but I came across something he wrote in his final years that struck me as interesting:
When I look back on my life nowadays, which I sometimes do, what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd.
For instance, success in all of its various guises; being known and being praised; ostensible pleasures, like acquiring money or seducing women, or traveling, going to and fro in the world and up and down in it like Satan, explaining and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer.
In retrospect, all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, what Pascal called, “licking the earth.””
I can relate. I’ve done my fair share of licking the earth. I’ve done a lot of licking to be honest.
And I don’t regret it. It was wonderful.
But this is the thing they don’t tell you – many of the expressions of ‘success’ are actually pretty hollow. They’re empty calories. They’re the junk-food of human experience.
But let’s not get moralistic about it.
That’s the thing that the hierarchy of needs tells us – our priorities shift as our circumstances change.
And so when you’re poor and homeless, of course you crave fine foods and wealth.
But then once you have fine food and wealth, you crave social connection and self-actualisation.
Wealth, in and of itself, isn’t satisfying… not for long.
But understanding how unsatisfying wealth actually is, is a luxury reserved for the wealthy.
And look, I’m sure there might be a path that involves jumping straight over your entry level desires – going straight for self-actualisation and a connection to something greater – things that do seem substantial and enduring.
But is that any better than experiencing the failings of wealth for yourself? I’m not sure that it is.
The trap to watch out for is realising that wealth isn’t entirely satisfying, and then thinking that the solution is going to be more wealth. And then more wealth.
That’s a mistake.
But I think this is just the human journey. We desire. We satisfy desires. We have more desires.
And I don’t think that’s all that bad – as long as you’re consciously aware of the cycle your own.
So I don’t know. I know it’s not the kind of thing you’d normally read in a self-help book, but I say, lick the earth.
It tastes amazing.