Using Your Head

My parents will tell you that I was in my mid-twenties before I started thinking like an adult. Looking back, I’d have to agree with them. I was not especially practical in my approach to life. Instead, I engaged in a lot of wishful thinking and made a lot of personal and professional mistakes because I didn’t consider the consequences of my actions. Alternatively, I often felt helpless because I thought that forces beyond my control were keeping me from advancing in the directions I wanted to go.

Maybe it’s just something young people do.

However, when I hit my mid-twenties, I also started reading a lot more philosophy. More specifically, I started reading the fiction and nonfiction of Ayn Rand.

Now before some of you get that look on your face, allow me to reassure those of you who are not Rand fans that I am not a full-fledged Randite. I find her philosophy unsuitable for me as an all-encompassing lifestyle, mostly because she lacked compassion for the less-than-perfect and perhaps more importantly lacked a sense of humor or an appreciation for accident and error in personal growth and learning.

Still, I found Rand’s systematic thinking useful for helping me learn to think like a constructive, problem-solving adult. Rand’s philosophical writings, especially The Romantic Manifesto, provided a positive view of human beings as active participants in their lives. She was writing about fictional characters, but perhaps because I’m a writer, I took the lesson to heart.

Which characters do we find the most heroic? The ones who learn through their experiences and take positive action to achieve their aims. According to Rand, a heroic individual–in fiction or in life–does not just sit back helplessly and ask, “Why me?” Instead, they ask, “What do I want?” identify what needs to be done to get what they want, and then they take action to get what they want. Rand’s heroes believe in something, believe that that something is worth living for, and believe that their efforts can succeed. The real-world application of this point of view is a matter of self-reflection:

  • Identifying your goal(s)
  • Identifying the resources required to achieve them
  • Identifying (more importantly) what resources are available at the moment
  • Taking action by using the resources at your disposal to achieve your goals

This might sound simplistic or like a “duh” moment, but to my 20-years-younger self, this was revolutionary thinking. Instead of waiting for someone to offer me job X or for the universe to magically grant me some other item I wanted, I could take action on my own behalf to get there. And the marvelous part of this action-oriented, heroic mindset was that I usually felt better for taking responsibility for myself rather than just expecting or demanding that someone give something to me.

Like I said, I don’t exactly buy all that Rand had to say. However, I will always be grateful for her insight into the value of living a heroic life.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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