Reflections on Aphorisms #89

Today was not quite as productive a day, but the great thing is that at least I was productive enough recently to actually pull it off without falling behind, though I would’ve loved to have gotten a little more done.

Aphorism 127

Although men flatter themselves with their great actions, they are not so often the result of a great design as of chance. (Maxim 57)

François de La Rochefoucauld


One of the great things that I’ve realized about working as I grew older is that you don’t work for a reward, you work for the opportunity or expectation of a reward.

This may sound a little weird, but it’s actually a very familiar trend in the modern world. As a writer, I see this very often in a day-to-day sense where I write for the public and rely on their response and write as a freelancer for clients and hope that my work lives up to their expectations.

As a more traditional employee, however, you still do your work for extrinsic rewards. There are very few things that we do in the modern world for the sake of getting them done. This is why a lot of hobbies are satisfying and popular; fixing a car or growing a garden doesn’t necessarily lead to financial success, but it’s a great way to accomplish something.

I think that this is part of the reason why people  become so dissatisfied with the modern world. I remember realizing at some point during my college career that I would never be rewarded (financially, at least) for the work that I did. I would be rewarded for joining a team and meeting certain requirements, but the actual work was not going to be the source of my reward.

This is responsible for a certain amount of what I believe to be best described as bureaucratic apathy. Because the reward for the work doesn’t follow from the work itself, there’s a disintegration of motivation and ideals.

Of course, when you work directly for an audience or client you have a much better chance of having a link between work quality and recompense. I’ve written a lot over the years, and I like to think that I get a little better at it daily, or at least weekly.

This is where we wind up back at Rochefoucauld. I honestly believe that some of my writing is at a professional level, but I’m not yet there as a writer. This would be frustrating when taken from certain perspectives, but I’ve learned that the quality of work does not necessarily correlate with the reception that it receives.

I think that there’s a reason why humans have a tendency to gamble, and it’s tied to the concept that there’s a disconnect between actions and success. Sometimes success comes long down the road, instead of immediately, and it needs some time to be recognized.

Where gambling becomes dangerous is that this can be willfully triggered by those who exploit our perceptions of chances of success and use it to give us the perception of potential future gain where none exists.

The horrible thing is that getting rid of this would also require to some degree getting rid of our hopes and dreams, because we would lose our ability to go for the future that we desire based on the work of the present.

Reason is useful, but it only deals with the known and experienced. To prepare for the future by moving into the unknown and mastering it is a matter of the spirit.


Take every chance to do great things.

Don’t let failure stop effort.

Never do things for the sake of merely pulling a paycheck.

Reflections on Aphorisms #69

Short Sunday post, as is customary. I spent some time going through my book of aphorisms before I settled on an option, since I was looking for something that particularly piqued my interest.

In this case, it has to do with the great struggle between action and inaction, something which I find myself intimately acquainted with.

Aphorism 107

He that leaveth nothing to chance will do few things ill, but he will do very few things.



I have within myself a destructive urge for perfection. It’s the sort of thing that has rarely done me much good, because I hold myself to impossible standards.

I think I have always had a particular aversion to chance. I remember being inflexible as a child, having a really hard time when things went against what I was planned.

Once, there was another kid named Kyle who joined my class at Sunday School. I don’t remember how old I was–perhaps three or four, maybe five–but the people running the class seemed to think that I should write my last name on my cubby name-tag to indicate who I was.

I was a very literate youth, for all my faults. My problem was never whether or not I could read or write (though my handwriting has always left something to be desired), but always whether or not I learned anything when I did. I’ve always loved the written word, but sometimes my love has led me to pursue the word in lieu of the practical functions of it.

In any case, the newcomer was not asked to put his last name on his name-tag, and I found this unfair and launched into something of a tantrum. The memory is very foggy, but I recall my father coming and picking me up from the class. I know that there are inconsistencies with the memory, and I don’t remember the resolution, but I think my name-tag wound up getting updated but perhaps not by me.

The purpose of this example is that there’s a sort of embraced infantile trend in our society to be averse to chance. It’s not necessarily bad. I think that being averse to risk is very good, in the right context.

But the problem is that we align it to our notion of having what we want when we want it, and this is where things fall apart.

For starters, we don’t always get what we want by fortune alone, and some things may be denied to us because there is no circumstance in which getting them is feasible. I’ve given up on having a Ferrari, for instance, though I’m also a little scared of what trouble I might get into with a car that actually moves when you touch the gas pedal and perfectly happy with my early 2000’s Honda. My chosen means of making money (writing and teaching) doesn’t leave that as a viable life goal, but I prefer this to doing what I’d have to do to get a Ferrari.

The second thing with chance is that chance is not necessarily risk, and we’re prone to thinking about it.

The riskiest thing you can do is nothing most of the time. A lot of the time simple, very small actions can actually have positive results, but obsessing over the chance of something happening can make those positive outcomes fail.

I think I see this a lot in my personal relationships. I prefer to interact with a very small group of people who I’ve spent a lot of time with, and I tend not to form romantic attachments because I don’t like being rejected (I wanted a better way to describe this, but none came; it’s not just rejection, it’s also not fitting in or not having a purpose) or having unpleasant companions.

The consequence of this is that I don’t interact with all that many people, which in my line of work (or any line of work, come to think of it) is something that tends to have a negative impact on your performance and future.

I think that the take-away lesson to be had here is this:

Be a person of action. Seize the day, and take measured action to move toward a goal. Time spent in free-fall is time that you never get back.



Chance is in all things. Risk is not. Don’t mistake uncertainty for danger.

Make a few new friends.