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The Trick In the Compass

“It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.” — Simone Weil

The quote above is making the rounds on Twitter again, stirred up first by Maria Popova and recently by Tim Ferriss. When the student is ready the teacher will appear, it is said, and whatever brought the quote back to my attention, I was ready to receive it. Maybe you are too.

The last time I consulted my compass, I was sitting in a parking lot in front of a sporting goods store, hearing the truth. He told me to stop writing about death so much, but accepted my answer that stoicism isn’t a preoccupation with death, it’s a reminder to live with urgency. It would be the last conversation we’d ever have, and I wonder at the exchange even now.

The trick in the compass is that it doesn’t show true north, it shows magnetic north. The difference between the two is called the magnetic inclination. Magnetic north, simplified, changes with the molten core of the Earth. Its more fluid, if you will. We change in just such a way. Just like the compass, we must adjust our heading based on how far from true north our core has shifted our magnetic north. No wonder so many find themselves off course.

Making ourselves clear to ourselves is a journey. It requires walking many miles, the consumption of vast amounts of poetry and prose, a good friend or mentor alongside, and certainly, a whole lot of writing. But mostly it requires stumbling over hard truths, picking yourself up and setting yourself back on the path.

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  1. Is it ok to never be clear to myself? Because I’m really never sure and just keep hoping. I’m also hoping that if not me, then my friends will eventually figure me out. Or maybe they have already but I’m just clueless.

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