A Pop Quiz of Worthiness

A twenty year practice, and I still crave donuts

It all started with a meditation

Sometimes there’s no reason to sleep. It has nothing to do with being tired. Nor with an agitated mind. It has to do with a state of existence.

It’s like when someone says, “I have no reason to live.”

Or no reason to get up and go to work today, or to run out to the grocery store. Or, why should I bother going to church at all? Or even bother with getting dressed in the first place?

Thinking about death every day will do this to you. Eventually it will bring you to rather odd places of thinking about this or that.

One who is supposed to be a warrior considers it his foremost concern to keep death in mind at all times, every day and every night, from the morning of New Year’s Day through the night of New Year’s Eve. — The Code of the Samurai

This is what started it all. It’s literally the first line of the book. I read it twenty years ago and have basically meditated on it everyday since.

As long as you keep death in mind at all times, you will also fulfill the ways of loyalty and familial duty. You will also avoid myriad evils and calamities, you will be physically sound and healthy, and you will live a long life. What is more, your character will improve and your virtue will grow. — The Code of the Samurai

The implications are that this practice will level out your approach to life — and death. That your life will somehow be more stable, and by extension more worthy. And your neighbors will notice.

So the thing is, after twenty years I’m pretty sure my neighbors haven’t noticed. And then, well, there’s this uncomfortable thought: I’m not sure it’s made my life more worthy. Surely one must ask, what makes a life worthy?

The Five Tests of a Worthy Life

I’ve developed a pop quiz of worthiness. The way it works is: I pose a one-word question in the context of self-worthiness, and then respond with the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?

Fame? I doubt it. Undoubtedly fame can prop up the ego, but it seems pretty exhausting. If not exhausting, than at least demanding or irritating. I think at best fame may give you a fleeting sense of posterity. That somehow you’ll be a bit more remembered after you die. Because people remember you when they see your face in print or on the screen. On a scale of 1–5, I’m definitely not famous, Score: 0.

Wealth? A bit trickier. Because wealth can provide financial stability. I would feel far better with that kind of stability in my life, including the knowledge that I could provide for my heirs. But to be straight up honest, I’m no Bill Gates. Score: 0.

Health? I doubt good health makes anyone feel more worthy, but poor health makes many of us feel wretchedly unworthy. Being poor often makes us feel the same way. Like we’re failures. Because poorness is often scorned by those who consider themselves successful. On a positive note, I’m losing weight, walking more, and my blood pressure and pulse are way down. Score: 3.5

Meaning? What’s life mean? Who am I? Why am I here? I’ve seriously dealt with these issues for the majority of my life. I’ve developed what I believe to be a deep-set calmness about such things. Is that meaningful? Yeah, very. This one gets a “you’re a big boy” star. Score: 5.0.

Pride? As in, “I’ve really been an inspiring guy, set a good example and all that.” Not so sure. This is a mix. Because on the one hand close friends and family will say I’m a good guy, but they also likely won’t hesitate to express their disappointments and frustrations. Score: 3.0.

So far, I get a score of roughly 46/100. By this measure, I’ve led a pretty mediocre life. Like I often say, I’m just an average guy.

Five more tests: the less measured skills

Anyway, since we’re on the subject, why not open this up a bit? Because we don’t always measure the same way. IQ tests aren’t necessarily fair, are they?

Intelligence? Speaking of… I scored 156 on an IQ test. My instructor immediately declared that it was impossible, in front of the entire class. I didn’t cheat. You couldn’t. But I suppose it’s not possible to be so smart. That’s what he said. And he was smart. So, I feel comfortable being average. Score: 2.5.

Leadership? I’m no Alpha. Alphas will all give themselves an automatic 5.0 here. Maybe more. But the thing is, I have my own way of leading. And volunteering and stuff. I’ll say Score: 3.5.

Art? I started enjoying writing in my teens. It was stop and go many times over the years, but I’m still doing it. I’ll score above average here, not because of being successful, but because I’ve hung in there and persisted. Score: 4.0.

Sciences and Letters? Didn’t do that well in school and education. Score: 2.0

Interaction? How well do you get along with others? How do you make others feel about themselves? Despite a couple of on-going gaffes, I do well here. Score: 5.0.

In this section, I’m clearly stronger. I get 68/100. I’m starting to feel I’ve made a small contribution to the gene pool, here.

The individualized skills

In this area, you can start tilting things more in your favor. For example:

Car maintenance? As a young guy I was 0/5. I ruined my first car by running it bone dry out of oil. I then repeated the same mistake with my first motorcycle, which I had to buy to replace my ruined first car. It was a poor 0–2 start. But I reversed all that and I am now a 4.5/5.0. I’d be a perfect 5.0 here, if I garage-kept my car. But we all have dreams. Lesson Learned: poor starts don’t always mean poor finishes.

Pigeons? I had a friend who used to raise champion homing pigeons. He was 5.0/5.0. I’d be awful at that. He’d break the neck of young pigeons who weren’t up to the standard. I’d be awful at that, too. But to be fair, I killed cats once. Baby kittens. With a gun. I have to admit that. Lesson Learned: use caution on what you pick to score yourself on. No sense dragging your scores down if you can avoid revealing you’re a killer.

It’s the little things in life

That’s what they tell us. It’s the little things that count. And you know? They just might be right, because when I start cherry picking my strengths, I score far better on the little things.

Coffee? I buy Nescafé Classico Instant. I save a ton of money avoiding Starbucks. If I need gourmet-on-the-go it’s McDonald’s coffee for one dollar.. Did you know that the biggest instant coffee drinkers in the world are Europeans? What brand? Nescafé Classico Instant. That makes me feel pretty damn special. Score: 5.0

Denny’s: It’s America’s diner. You know that, right? For the many, many times I have to travel on business, which I have to pay for myself, Denny’s saves me another ton of money. Score for budgetary discipline: 5.0. For having good taste in food, Score: 2.0.

Cooler? Yes, I own a cooler. It rides in the back of my station wagon on trips. I stock up my Tupperware, ice it down, and travel on a budget. It has wheels, so it can follow me into hotel rooms. Score for budget eating on-the -road: 5.0

Car: Did someone just mention station wagon? Yup, 2005 Volvo XC70 AWD, that I picked up used and in mint condition for $9000. Practical, gorgeous, fast, and uber-comfy. Score: 5.0

I hate to end on such a a strong note, because I’m only an average guy, remember?

Donuts? I love them. But I hardly ever eat them because fatness. So I’m not sure how to score this. I used to eat them a lot. At least three every morning, no weight gain. Anyway, for sheer joy and avid devotion I am a runaway, world-class winner, 5.0. But for even talking about donuts in the first place, I am a total piece of shit 0/5.

See how this works?