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Happy Birthday, Mr. Vaknin: Lessons of a Life Ill-lived

Uploaded 4/21/2024, approx. 5 minute read

Today is my 63rd birthday. Happy Birthday to me! It's as good a time as any to look back and review a life ill lived with the inimitable Scott Jacobson.

I'm going to read to you an interview that I granted him yesterday.

I have no idea why people celebrate birthdays. I find it a prime example of humankind's irrationality.

Why celebrate getting one year closer to death? On the other hand, it's as good a time as any to introspect, self-reflect and soul search, which is more or less what I've been doing in this interview.

So sit back and enjoy the fireworks between me and Scott Jacobson to be published on the Good Men Project.

Scott Douglas Jacobson says, "Sam, you're older than me, which is quite an astute observation, may I add. Old women and some old men with a majority of friends throughout life for me. So you're in good company, says Scott. You have more time in life, more experience, given the time. What seems like the single most important thread of perspective to consider to keep in mind throughout life, without regard for stage of life?" This was Scott's long question.

And here's my answer, which is a bit briefer.

So what, Scott asks, what should we keep in mind throughout life? And my answer is death.

Realizing and accepting that your existence here is so transient that it might well be illusory. That in retrospect, it is all a laughable sham, a desperate attempt to imbue with self-conjured meaning that which is utterly random. It is becoming to grasp all this. It is an all-permeating relief. Life is fleeting and life is pretty meaningless, but it is here for us to enjoy while it lasts. Nothing more, nothing less. The destination is always the same.

Jacobson, you were a prodigy. That's in something. I'm still a prodigy. You were a prodigy, so your experience would be abnormal growing up in one words.

How did this inform early life for you?

Vaknin, which is me, says, "A profound sense of isolation, the need to be utterly so sufficient in order to survive, the realization that life is the sum total of losses and that personal growth is nothing but the evasion of privation driven by panic."

A shocked Jacobson, bedazzled, continues, "You were abused as a child. For those unfortunate enough to have had these hand of cards given to them, what advice would you have for them?"

And I answered, "The abuse had nothing to do with you. There is note that you could have done. You have been victimized, but you are not a victim. That's not who you are. That's not your identity. Hurting others will not make you feel better about yourself."

Jacobson, what were the central lessons from your twenties and your thirties?

Vaknin, there were all the wrong lessons. Avoid any meaningful connection with others, sex included. Focus on personal development to the exclusion of all else and everyone else. Seek riches and power. Do nothing that is aimless and be fearless. These were the lessons in my twenties and thirties.

Luckily, I've grown past them in my sixties.

Jacobson, what were the central lessons from your forties and fifties?

I answered, "There is nothing to life but meaningful connections with others, even though I could never attain them. Personal development is self-help hype, not a strategy. Riches and power are transitory and delusional. Aimlessness is good for inspiration and innovation. Fearlessness is socially frowned upon and may lead you to prison.


Jacobson, when did you notice physically that you begin to decline sufficiently to become unignorable?

I answered, "My body started to degenerate in my forties and my mind only very recently this past year or so. I am in a state of cognitive decline.


For most people who have a lot to a modicum of mental acuity, when do you notice mental capabilities begin to take a sharp decline or if not decline then show holds in thought?

I answered, "Cognitive decline is an inexorable and universal process that commences as early as age eighteen, but it becomes noticeable in one's forties and is pronounced by one's sixties. Some people have a high cognitive reserve, so their depletion is way less noticeable or abrupt."

Jacobson, how should these physical and mental timelines inform planning out one's life and things to do in life?

Do your productive work early on. Postpone everything else, forming a family, travelling. These all can wait. Your productive work cannot. All other non-cerebral activities should be postponed until you are in your late thirties at the earliest.

Jacobson, why do you consider the more important tips of work, jobs, careers, education, travel throughout life?

Wachnin, putting on a mantle of a sage and an elderly wise man, not easy in my case, answers. Do not compromise in your career. Better be unemployed and indigent than in a job that you hate. Do not rush into things. Ambition is a form of social control. Do not cater to other people's needs or expectations. Do not fear missing out. Everything you truly need, you already possess, and what you have already witnessed is all there is to see.

Jacobson, what do you look forward to now in your sixties?

And my unsurprising answer is death. I perceive it as the ultimate interminable respite. At some point, life becomes a repetitive burden.


Jacobson, hurrying out of the interview, thank you for the opportunity and for your time, Sam.

Sam, I much prefer your questions to my answers, so thanks be to you.

This was my cheerful birthday interview. I wish you a happy birthday whenever yours is coming next.

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