Stories are the best way to communicate a message. Jesus told parables and even non-Christians know the stories. If you think back to your college days when you were forced to read Plato’s Republic there is one part that probably sticks out more than the rest: the Allegory of the Cave. And therein lies the secret art to living a meaningful life.
Several years ago I published a post on books you should read. The title of the post, and book leading the list, was The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck. If there is a better way than stories to grab attention, shock is it.
Subtle Art started off with a humorous, in-your-face essay on when not to give a, well, you know. Not only did it make the reader laugh (if you are not too offended by such language, which I am not), it conveyed a powerful message about not taking yourself, or life, too seriously. There really are few things to give an eff about .
Mark Manson, the author, then turned serious. The last half of the book wasn’t so funny. Through no fault of his, a friend died and he was there. He beat himself up because he felt he could have done something different and his friend would have lived.
We find the author at a cliff edge contemplating suicide. It seems our care-free warrior gave an eff after all.
Manson didn’t end his life. Instead, he chose to make a difference in the world from the lessons learned. And we get a book that starts with us laughing and ends with wiping tears from our eyes. Meaningful life, indeed.
And now we get a book with even more power without taking us to the edge where we contemplate if life has any meaning at all
Soul in the Game
Vitaliy Katsenelson uses stories to teach his message in his latest book: Soul in the Game: The Art of a Meaningful Life. I was given a copy to review and it was so good it needed more than a positive Amazon review.
Katsenelson’s story hook is the exotic. Born in Soviet Russia, he came to America, not knowing the language, having lost his mother, helping his father adjust to the strange new world, he rose to the top of IMA, a Denver-based value investment firm. (The last part should get the attention of readers here.)
With every disadvantage, Katsenelson thrived. It wasn’t easy! It took hard work and perseverance. Those same qualities, applied to his personal life, lead to a fulfilling relationship with his wife, children, and father which he speaks of often in the book.
Manson had to grow up and nearly ended his own life before doing so. Katsenelson was born in a world without many opportunities and rose above the limitations without reaching the point of quitting for good. There are lessons in the stories from each author.
A meaningful life, the author informs us, does not have to take us to the emotional edge of existence. We hear the Stoic lessons on every page. (Why is it that so many successful people are students of Stoicism?) We hear story after story of the author with his family. Life was good regardless the disadvantages
Yes, we know that there were days that were not so bright. Katsenelson acknowledges those days and events, takes the lessons involved and grows from them.
It is never a good idea to emulate someone you admire, but modeling is a worthy trait. Hearing the work schedule and personal life activities of the author provide ample ideas for improving our life and relationships. You don’t want to be a mini-Vitaliy Katsenelson, but adopting the positive behaviors will improve your life.
I also want to touch on creativity. We all need it. Not just writers or artists. We need to find our zone, that place where we can go mentally to find a meaningful life. Katsenelson expresses his love for classical music and how he found that love from growing up in communist Russia. It is in creativity that we find who we really are. When you find that, you will finally know what a meaningful life is for you. (A meaningful life is different for each of us. What adds value to my life may not for you. The benefits from Soul in the Game is the tools for finding that which makes your life meaningful.)
The message is clear: You do not need extraordinary luck. You already won the ovarian lottery, as Warren Buffett likes to say. You are alive, reading this. You already won. From here you can create a meaningful life. The tools for building that meaning and growing it to greater heights is gathered from those who have already found meaning in their life.
Manson had to lose a friend and contemplate ending his own life before he found the secret to a meaningful life. In Soul we learn it doesn’t have to be that dramatic or devastating. Katsenelson grew up in a world where opportunity was scarce. He met the challenge, with some luck. He lost his mother when he was young and developed a close relationship with his father. His father never developed a command of English, yet found a way to become meaningful with his paintings.
There are so many lessons in Soul in the Game. Lip service is paid for developing financial wealth on this blog. But as all of you know, money is a small part of a life worth living. Family is such an important part. If you don’t have family you can still learn from the lessons in Soul for building new relationships.
Vitaliy Katsenelson does not mention Horace Mann in his book, but I think he would agree with Mann’s words:
Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.— Horace Mann
And so we should live our life. A meaningful life, with soul in the game.
More books by Vitaliy Katsenelson, including some good books on investing.
A list of articles in this blog on living a meaningful life.