LIFE 101
Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life In School -- But Didn't


What Do You Want?

I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.


I know you know the "right" answer to this question: "I don't want a red sports car, I want adventure!" But, really, do you still want the sports car? That's what this chapter is about--the red sports cars of life.

In order to get what you want, it's very helpful to know what you want. If you don't know where you want to go, you probably won't get there.

The key in all this is not what you want, but what you want. When asked to list the material things they want, people often get lost in glamour: what thing can I have or do that will make me look good?

Glamour is a problem. It's been a problem for millions of years: "My mastodon is better than your mastodon," "My pterodactyl can fly faster than your pterodactyl." Glamour is time and energy wasted impressing others with externals.

Be true to yourself when choosing what you want. What would please you? If a career is more important than a relationship, say so. Just because almost every movie, popular song, and toothpaste commercial implies you'll never be a whole person until you have another to share your life, doesn't mean you have to rearrange your priorities. If you'd rather be making the movies than making whoopee, that's fine.

Conversely, if what you really want is a relationship and a family, but your career-oriented friends find that hopelessly corny--tell 'em you're moving to Iowa where the corn grows tall.

I'd like a bird for an old lady of ninety-four. She had one, but it died and she doesn't realize it. She keeps it in a cage, talks to it, and takes it out and kisses its head.


I don't mean to imply that you can't have both a career and a relationship. Some can, some can't (and some in the latter category haven't realized it yet). It depends on the price of the relationship, the cost of the career, and your payments on the other items already in your cart. People often sacrifice fulfilling relationships and rewarding careers to the graven idol of glamour.

So, what do you want? Would you like a list, from one to ten? Getting that list will take pen, paper, and about an hour. Please follow each step, and please write your answers down. Even if you're sure you know what number one is, do you know number five? And number one may surprise you.

Doing this exercise--although it's easy--is something we tend to avoid. We intuitively know that when we choose what we want, (a) we will have to give up some "good ideas" we simply don't have time for; and (b) there's a greater chance we will get what we truly want (which can be scary). Some, rather than face the loss and the fear, simply accept the status quo and continue just reading self-help books, thank you very much.

The only thing I ever dream is that I just won every beauty contest in the world and all the people I don't like are forced to build me a castle in France.


I encourage you to set your reservations aside and do the exercise anyway.

  1. Write down everything you want. Don't worry about order, obtainability, or relative importance. As an item comes to mind, write it down. Remember, this is a list of things --symbols, methods, behaviors--you want. Experiences go on another list. If you want happiness, what are the things you think will bring you happiness? This is a list of things you want to have, do, and be (as in, "Be a doctor").

  2. As you make your list, include what you have that you want to maintain. Your list may contain, "Maintain car, maintain house, maintain relationship."

  3. When the list is complete, set it aside and do something else--anything else. Take a walk, take a nap, eat a peach.

  4. Return to the list. Did you think of any more wants during the break? Add them to the list.

  5. Read the list. Cross off any wants that seem silly or trivial. If you know "Walk the dog" is not going to make your top ten, cross it off. "Take care of the dog," however, might--so leave that one on.

  6. With your purpose in mind, read the list again. Cross off any wants that oppose your purpose. If your purpose is "I am a friend to all," then cross off "Send John a stink bomb." If you haven't discovered your purpose yet, don't worry. Skip to number seven.

  7. Classify each want into one of three categories: (A) those that are very, very important to you; (B) those that are very important to you; and (C) those that are important to you. If a want isn't important enough to make at least (C), cross it off.

  8. On a clean sheet of paper, copy all your A's. If there are ten or more, stop. If there are not yet ten, copy all your B's. If there are ten or more A's plus B's, stop. If there are not ten or more A's and B's, either start over, because your list probably doesn't include all the things you want; or reclassify, because you assigned too few A's and B's.

  9. With your new list (the A-B list), choose the one thing from that list you want most . Write that on a third sheet of paper. Cross that item off the A-B list. From the remaining items, pick the one that's most important. Write that on the third sheet of paper. Cross it off the A-B list. Do this eight more times. Stop.

  10. You should now have ten items written on the third sheet of paper. Look at the list. Are any in direct opposition to any others? ("I want to stay married." "I want a divorce.") If there are, cross off the one that's the lower on the list. Pick another from the A-B list. That done, recopy the entire list on a clean sheet of paper. Number these one through ten. There's your list. This is what you want.

What about all those B's and C's? That's not the concern to focus on right now. Look at your top-ten list. Imagine enjoying each. How will you feel? What will you think? What experiences will you have when these are yours, completely and fully?

Experience that now.

Since the mind is a specific biocomputer, it needs specific instructions and directions. The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don't define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them.


The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.


Which Is More Powerful--the Invisible or the Visible?

A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.


Now that you have a list of the ten things you would most like, I am, of course, going to tell you to go get them; get busy; make them happen. Do it! Later.

First, let's talk about intangibles. Pop Quiz!

True or False: What we can see (the visible) is more powerful than what we can't see (the invisible).

By now, you're a good enough "student" to know how to psych out the "teacher." You know that I'll probably pick something other than the obvious, logical answer. And you're right. Even if you couldn't think of an invisible thing that was more powerful than a big, strong visible thing, you still knew I was going to say, "Invisible is more powerful." Even if you didn't know why, you'd probably answer the Pop Quiz question False.

Is that cheating? No. That's life. That's using everything for your learning, upliftment, and growth. Congratulations! Extra points if you answered the question correctly for the "wrong" reason.

But what if I had given you an essay exam? What if you had to explain yourself? Quentin Crisp will now tell us how to handle that:

If you're taking an essay exam on geography, and the exam could be on any of the countries in the world, study one country, and know it well. Let's say you choose China. When it comes time for the exam, and the question is, "Write one thousand words on Nigeria," you begin your essay, "Nigeria is nothing like China " and proceed to write everything you know about China.

We look at it and do not see it; Its name is The Invisible. We listen to it and do not hear it; Its name is The Inaudible. We touch it and do not find it; Its name is The Formless.

604-531 B.C.

So if you had studied, say, Mistakes, and I asked for one thousand words on The Visible vs. The Invisible, you could begin your essay, "When talking about the visible and the invisible, it's very easy to make a mistake. A mistake, after all, is " and write 980 additional words on mistakes.

Or, as Mark Twain once said, "Put all your eggs in one basket and WATCH THAT BASKET!"

Completely invisible thus far in this chapter is any sense of direction. You may be wondering, "What is the point?" I thought it might be good to have a little transitional patter between the very material desires of your top-ten list and the undeniably immaterial ideas of the next chapter ("The Power of Thoughts").

You see, in the next chapter I plan to take you to the source, the very foundation of getting those ten things you want (and lots of others). I found this transition jarring myself, so, as a segue, I thought we'd discuss the visible and invisible for a while.

If we observe the world around us, it's easy to see that what we can't see is more powerful than what we can.

Look at air, for example. Air is hard to "look at," of course, because it's invisible. (In the places where you can see the air--such as the third level of Hades or Los Angeles--what you're seeing is pollution, not air.)

On earth, air is more powerful than almost anything. It contains oxygen for animals and carbon dioxide for plants. Without air, both would die. Air is a lifeline that is so omnipresent (it's always as close as your next breath), we take it for granted. It's essential, yet it's invisible.

"All right," some may say, "What about something physical--like a house? You can see a house, and if someone dropped a house on you, it would kill you faster than taking air away from you, so wouldn't a house be more powerful?"

The power of the visible is the invisible.


What would make the house fall? Gravity. If gravity didn't pull the house down, the house would have no power to destroy. It would just float there--like a freeze-frame from The Wizard of Oz .

And then there's light. You can't "see" light. It's when light reflects off something that we can see its effects . We can see the glow of the lightbulb, but we can't see the light traveling from the bulb to whatever it's illuminating.

If the sun radiates enough light to illuminate the earth, why is the space between here and the sun so dark? Because light waves are invisible until they strike something--namely the earth's atmosphere (which is made of our invisible friend, air; which is held in place by another invisible friend, gravity).

And heat? We can't see heat, but we can certainly feel it. If it weren't for the invisible atmosphere (air) of our planet, held in place by invisible gravity, holding invisible heat, do you know how cold the earth would be? Cold. About 280 degrees below zero at night. In summer.

Coolness is just as important for human survival--and until things approach the freezing point, coolness can't be easily perceived, either.

Can you tell the temperature of a tub of water by just looking at it? Unless it's hot enough to steam or cold enough to freeze, you probably can't. Can you tell how warm or cool a room is by seeing it through a pane of glass? Probably not.

Looking inside ourselves, we see our most powerful motivators can't be seen. Love, hate, passion, greed, fear, desire, lust, compassion, charity, goodness--all the emotions that set us in motion are invisible.

And thoughts, well, thoughts are so invisible (yes, you may be able to "see" your own thoughts, but nobody else can) and so powerful, they deserve a chapter unto themselves.

The Power of Thoughts

In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true either is true or becomes true.


Every human achievement--from the Hoover Dam to the book you hold in your hand--began as a single thought. ("I'm gonna build a dam." "I'm gonna write a book.") Thoughts are powerful.

That single thought was, of course, followed by millions more. Some were optimistic ("Just what the world needs: another dam!" "Just what the world needs: another book!"). Some were perhaps pessimistic ("Just what the world needs: another damn book").

On the other hand, thoughts have little power at all. Without touching it, fold over the corner of this page. Think hard about folding over the corner of this page. Without touching it--or allowing anyone else to touch it--fold over the corner of this page. Focus all your mental strength, energy, attention, and power on folding over a corner. Either corner is fine. Just fold it over without, in any way, physically touching it.

At this point, many are inventing interesting ways to fold the corner over that fit the limitations I gave. "Maybe if I rub the book against the floor " This demonstrates the inventiveness of the human mind--and the knowledge that unless something is done physically to the page, the corner is never going to be folded over.

If you haven't yet "given up," that's fine. You can spend as much time as you like focusing thought-power alone on folding over the corner of this page. You can call friends. Form groups (whole movements, if you choose) dedicated to sending thoughts to fold the corner over.

Once you realize the point--that thoughts alone aren't going to do it--simply reach up and fold over the corner of this page. You don't have to even "think about it." Just--casually--reach up and fold the corner. It can be a little fold or a big fold--makes no difference.

Please do it, however.

I have found power in the mysteries of thought.

438 B.C.

There are other points to be made on the next page, and a folded-over corner of this page will help me make them.

Corner folded? Great.

Note the power of thoughts without action. In the physical world, seemingly little. Note the power of the physical action alone. So powerful as to be almost effortless. Most people didn't have to work to fold over the corner of a page. It was easy. Without the power of thought to guide it, however, human physical energy is like a mindless gorilla set loose in a nuclear power plant. One can only hope the resultant damage is contained in the plant, and that certain buttons in the control room are not pushed.

When thought and action are combined, the results are powerful--among the most powerful forces on earth. The combination of successful communication--the sharing of thoughts--and physical action can, literally, move mountains.

If my goal were to fold over the corner of the facing page in this book, but I failed to communicate that thought to you, it's doubtful that the corner would have gotten folded over.

Consider the difficulty I --Peter McWilliams--would have had folding over the page in this book if I had to do it myself. Without your assistance, it would have been a near-insurmountable task.

I would have had to travel from wherever I was to wherever you were, gotten your attention, waited while you read to that page in the book, said, "Excuse me," picked up the book, folded over the corner, handed it back to you and said, "Thank you."

Thus only can you gain the secret isolated joy of the thinker, who knows that, a hundred years after he is dead and forgotten, men who never heard of him will be moving to the measure of his thought.--the subtle rapture of a postponed power, which the world knows not because it has no external trappings, but which to his prophetic vision is more real than that which commands an army..


With your help, however, it was easy. All I had to do was write a few sentences. All you had to do was reach up and fold over the corner. A successfully communicated thought, from one human mind to another, is one of the most powerful forces I know.

Does it always work? Nah. You can successfully communicate a thought, and the other person can do nothing about it. You can successfully communicate a thought, and the other person may do just the opposite.

But when it does work, ah, there is power, grace, and magic.

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release From little things; Knows not the livid loneliness of fear, Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear The sound of wings.



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