Socrates, Roosevelt and the rest of us

I’ve been reading a lot lately, the predictable result of continuing to indulge my Amazon Prime-fueled book addiction.

If I were serious about reforming my ways, I’d apply what I learned from reading Charles Duhigg’s fascinating book, The Power of Habit, to nudge myself into my neighborhood library, or maybe even onto a Kindle. But being a bibliophile is one of my few remaining vices and I’m not ready to give it up.

Understanding the behavioral and neurological patterns that drive far more of our choices than we realize got me thinking about Socrates, who famously said (long before the Kardashians and many of today’s political representatives arrived on the scene to prove his point) that the unexamined life is not worth living.

Reality TV personalities and politicians aside, I believe that the vast majority of us are, in fact, desperate to lead more self-authored, connected, purposeful lives. Really, how many people do you know personally who, given the explicit choice between following a static path of acceptance and self-denial vs. a dynamic path informed by self-awareness, curiosity and enlightenment, would opt for the former?

Similarly, I think there is something in our nature that can’t help but be stirred and inspired by opportunities to make ourselves feel vital and fully engaged. Brené Brown opens her book, Daring Greatly, with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt lionizing the man “who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again; . . . who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly….” This, she says, is the epitome of vulnerability. Being “all in”; living without fear.

But when it comes to taking the actions necessary to define and pursue our own chosen version of the examined, fully engaged life, whatever that may mean to us, it’s often tremendously challenging to do. Rooting out entrenched habits, questioning the status quo, exposing our shortcomings and facing our fears, day in and day out, is hard work. And lonely. That’s why so many people who are committed to moving closer to these ideals, myself included, surround ourselves with wise guides, mentors, like-minded fellow travelers and, yes, lots of useful books.

Who will you enlist to be on your team in the year ahead?

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