David Brower You have eight books on rational living. How did you, how did you get started in these kinds of conversations? What was your, was your, epiphany, your life lesson that got you here?
JOHN VESPASIAN: Well with, um, what initially draw me to write was pure frustration. I have to say, frustration and irritation. Because for many years, I mean for decades, I have been an avid reader of, um, personal development books, philosophy, psychology, history. At a certain point I grew very dissatisfied with the books I could find in the market. Because I found it very unrealistic, very much fluffy, and uh vague and imprecise. And I thought okay maybe I can do better than this. And I started to write, uh, the kind of books I want to read. Which is very, very much practical, based on facts, based on history and very much, um, uh, um, in favor of, uh, rationality.
David Brower: Wow that’s, uh, that’s terrific, that was, just by glancing through the titles, I mean, two of my favorites were, “Thriving in difficult times: Twelve lesson from ancient Greece to improve your life today” and of course the other one was, um, when every, “When everything else fails, try this”. What was your-
JOHN VESPASIAN: Yes, um-
David Brower: What was your first book?
JOHN VESPASIAN: First book is, um, uh, “When everything else fails, try this”. Um, uh th-th-th-the pattern, the thread, that goes throughout my books, uh, is the idea that, uh, if you try to-to um to take rational decisions, to look at problems and to look at challenges, um, and trying to think logically. Usually you would do much better in the long term. Although it is very difficult and the whole purpose of my books is to try to, um, try to become little bit more rational? Maybe one percent, maybe two percent, more rational. Because this is, makes it dramatic, uh, difference in the long term.
David Brower: Cause in most, most cases, I would think we’re more emotional than we are rational, right?
JOHN VESPASIAN: Um, we’re both. As human beings, uh, we have a irrational component, because to a certain extent, uh, we’re animals. We tend to panic, we tend to become very much upset when we don’t get, uh, our way, uh, sometimes we become depressed, we become anxious, we get stressed. And this is unavoidable. Uh, but what I’m trying to propose and what I’m trying to um, uh, analyze because all my samples drawn, from, from history, from, from real cases, from biographies. What I’m trying to propose is, uh, different ways to become a bit more rational, to make better decisions in your business and private life.
David Brower: Lets talk about the historical piece. Obviously, you’re, uh, you love history. And you’ve done a lot of research throughout history to make some of these books, happen. Um, how did history become such an important part of your process?
JOHN VESPASIAN: Uh, well because, um, in a way I dislike history, I have to say. Because, uh, I read a lot. I read, uh, economics, marketing, history, I mean all kinds of stuff. But I have to say, most historical books, are very much boring. You know, in the sense that, uh, they focus on the facts, they tell you this and this, they tell you the story. But they don’t draw a conclusion.
So they just tell you there was a king and a queen and there was a battle and there was a war. But, uh, you don’t learn anything from that. Its just pure facts. So the kind of history I like is, uh, is a human side of history were you can actually learn, um, principles from the stories. So the ty- the ty- they type of, uh, history I actually use in my books, of biographies and anecdotes. Is based on the um, uh, specific events and a specific attitudes and decisions where you can actually learn something. The rest I think is just, um, a noise.
David Brower: What a gr- what a great idea to make it factual, historical, personal, usable, rela- relatable. I mean, that’s quiet, uh, you don’t often find the, those, the commonality between all those subjects.
JOHN VESPASIAN: Yes. Another, uh, point that I re-underline in my books, um, the dangers of, uh, positive thinking. And this I think that, I think that makes my books, uh, um, ra- rather different from the mainstream of, uh, personal development books. Because I try to propose, uh, solutions, approaches, um, attitudes and patterns that do not require huge, uh, psychological involvement.
In the sense that if you have a problem, where this is business problems, dating problems or romantic or health, um, I think its much better to use the energies you have, uh, when going through difficult situation to try to find practical solutions, to try to find, um, approaches that have proven successful in the past. I think it’s much better than trying to become artificially cheerful and artificially enthusiastic, uh and I think to recommend positive thinking to people who are sometimes in a bad situation, I think is cruel. I think it’s, um, inappropriate. And most of the time, its a waste of time.
David Brower: That makes perfect sense. Because if you’re, if you, blow a positive attitude out of proportion, all of the sudden you’re not being authentic, you’re not being honest, you’re not dealing with the real issues at, at hand and you’re just, kinda, you’re kinda just camouflaging everything, aren’t you?
JOHN VESPASIAN: Yes you are. And um, uh self delusion is, uh, very dangerous. I analyze in my books, not only positive examples but also very negative examples. I mean people who made huge mistakes in their lives, uh, who, um, in the short term, uh, they seem very successful, but in the long term, um, they, they, really, uh, they did not. So I try to do, um, is to, uh, look at the facts, and to try to, to see patterns. And I use examples from recent history, examples from medieval history from ancient history.
Because human nature has remained essentially the same for the last, centu-, for the, actually, um, say, um, thirty, thirty hundred, um, years. Because, uh, when we read, uh, um, [inaudible 00:07:02] Greek philosophers or Egyptians or Romans, we see they had exactly the same problems. And they tried the different approaches, and what is really regrettable, is that people today, we’re still make the same mistakes, over and over again, because we don’t bother to learn from history.
David Brower: Absolutely. And, I’m fascinated by just the brief descriptions here that you have for, for each book. It really cuts to the chase to let you know, uh, what’s the book about, how it’s going to help you, how, uh, the history takes an active play and, um, and having storied of success and failures I think is really healthy for people to understand.
JOHN VESPASIAN: Yes, especially when, um, when we get, uh, so much distracted, uh, from the media. And, because sometimes I get the question, why didn’t use, uh, historical examples? Why don’t you use examples from, uh, the newspapers? Because we don’t have perspective. And one of the messages, uh, I really underline in my books is that, if you want to make good decisions, and you want to really, um, uh, be sure that, uh, you’re going in the right direction, you have to take at least the perspective of a lifetime.
Not to a year, not to one decade, not today, you have to look in your whole, lifetime your going to live, say 90 years, 95 years, 100 years perhaps. You have to see what you want to achieve. There’s enough time, uh, to do very difficult and very challenging things. But you have to take the right perspective. Because if you only look at only the short term, uh, you will do one foolish, uh, thing after the other. And if you look into the very, very long term, like, uh, centuries, its completely useless.
Because, I mean you would never live, uh, for centuries, and you will have no idea of what, um, what is going to come after you. But look, making decisions in terms of professional decisions, business, uh, romantic, uh, health decisions, in terms of lifetime, uh, estimate that you’re going to live normally, say, 90 years, I think most of the time, its going to work beautifully.
David Brower: Well, we-, let me give our listeners just an example of one of your books here. Its called “Rational living: Rational working”. And the description that you have says: “Are you trying to live rationally and facing all kinds of difficulties? How do you deal with people who won’t listen to logical arguments? How should you react to situations of massive unfairness? This book provides practical advise on how to live rationally and maximize your chances of happiness in every situation. Amongst others, it will show you how to minimize stress, maintain your peace of mind, benefit from the advantages of non-linear thinking, avoid short-sighted decisions and increase your resilience in times of adversity. Each chapter contains real life examples of individuals, who have used reason to surmount obstacles, solved personal problems and recover from set backs. The ideas presented in this book will help you make better decisions, increase your effectiveness and enjoy the benefits of rational living.” And that is amazing and that’s only one of your eight books.
JOHN VESPASIAN: Yes. This book, um, in particular contains the story of, uh, Bobby Fisher, and who was a, world, um, chess champion. And he-
David Brower: Right, right.
JOHN VESPASIAN: And he blew it up completely. I mean he was a brilliant guy, I mean, when you see his, uh, style, as a, as a chess player, he was really logical, he was structured, he, he was absolutely brilliant. But at a certain point, uh, blew, uh, blew it up completely. Because he destroyed his life. I mean, he, he started to fight with the, with the chess federation, with the world chess federation, um, discussing about the rules, uh, yes, just to play, uh, um, when he has to play, for the, for his title, on the next four years. He had to, to discuss, I mean some really detailed, uh, rules really minutia. And he was so upset, that he actually quit, uh, playing chess. He, he, um, he really, uh, got in, in problems with the, with the US government.
Then he violated the embargo on, on, I think it was on Serbia. He went to play, um, uh, a chess match on one of these countries that was on the embargo from the US. So immediately got on the list of the FBI, uh, then he, he worked in a restaurant, and then he was arrested in, uh, in uh, Japan. Then he was exiling to an island. I mean, he was a comp- into, uh, into Iceland, it was a completely, um, uh, a complete disaster. I mean a guy who was really on top of the world, he was making, uh, a very good income. He was getting sponsorship from all sides. And he blew it up completely, because he, and I analyze why, um, he actually, uh, made such a big disaster.
Because this is the point of the book. How is it possible that the guy who’s so rational, uh, so well prepared, so structured, destroyed his life completely. By making mistake after mistake. I mean, he really destroyed his life, uh, it was real pity, because he was really a genius. But the problem and, and the, the solution, uh, is that he never really spent enough time, uh, trying to get the balance the personality. Because for years and years, uh, he quit school, he concentrated, he played chess and he played chess and he study chess and he became a genius after playing chess. But he never really have time to study philosophy or history or psychology and he was a bit unbalanced. And this is what made his very emotional, he made this stupid mistakes that, uh, very, very, uh, strange when you see that he was a very structured chess player.
But the, the, the, um, the really, the amazing part of the story is that, uh, when the guy really was in exile in Iceland, in a small island in, um, in the Atlantic, he had spent all this time, uh, in a second hand bookshop, reading books about history, and philosophy and psychology. Because this is what he was missing. He was missing this, uh, balance personality, this knowledge, uh, this general, um, uh, education. And the message is that, if you don’t want to repeat this kind of mistake, you have to get this, uh, this balance in your life. You have to get this general education. Because, otherwise, I mean if Bobby Fisher made this, uh, this kind of mistakes, we also make this kind of mistakes. So we have to prevent those. Because they are very expensive and very difficult to recover from.
David Brower: Wow. What a great story. That, I’m beyond intrigued about that one book alone. So, you’ve written a book almost, it looks like in a year. It looks like you took 2011 off. But, um, 2009 to 2016 you came out with a book once a year. That, uh, that’s pretty disciplined.
JOHN VESPASIAN: Yes. I’m a super organized writer. And, uh, now I’m writing the next one that will come out, uh, the end of the year, will come- I think September, October 2017. And you have to be very organized, you want to prove use, at least the kind of books I write. Because they take a lot of research and you have to really research a lot of story. You have to put the information together, and writing is all relatively easy, because I’m quite fluent at writing. But, anything, uh, takes months. Because I can write the first draft, uh, very quickly but then sometimes I have to go through the book, four, five, six, seven times until it’s, uh, really, uh, easy to read.
David Brower: Do you have an editor that works with you?
JOHN VESPASIAN: I have a reader. Uh, who is going to read, uh, the result of my editing. Because I prefer to edit myself. But, yes I do, I do use, uh, one or two external readers, uh, to see the final, uh, the final cut, the final edit. [crosstalk 00:14:38] Yes. But it really takes me a huge amount of time to edit my books. I like to be the kind of writer who can just, uh, write it the first time and it would be perfect. But I am far from that.
David Brower: Yeah. We’re all far from that. (laughs) We’re all far from that. I do audio books from time to time and, and, um, I got so frustrated with myself in trying to edit the audio books that I hired a friend of mine to edit them. And then that way he would edit the books, and then I could listen to it, he could listen to it and we’d have not unlike you, have at least two sets of eyes and ears in my case, uh, to make sure that the product was going to to come out the way the client needed it to be. So, I totally understand what you’re talking about. I edited my first audio book, and, I thought I was going to drive myself crazy. Cause I’m such a perfectionist. I was defeating my own purpose.
JOHN VESPASIAN: Yes. And this is perfectly true and another point I really, uh, underline in my books is that whatever professional, whatever, um, uh, um, venture you’re in, you really have to get a feeling for the numbers. And you have to get the feeling for how much it takes to do something. Uh, how often are you going to fail. Because you are going to fail, its always a learning curve.
David Brower: Right.
JOHN VESPASIAN: And How much effort, how much effort it takes, uh, to promote your work. How much effort, it gets, you need to get to, uh, get you customers. And you have to get a feeling for the numbers. Because if you don’t get this experience, this, uh, feeling for the numbers of your specific, uh, business, you’re going to be very unrealistic, uh, very frustrated, and you’re going to quit before, before its time. Because, um, nobody is going to tell you right away, uh, what the numbers are. You will sometimes have to find it for yourself. But you have to get to learn the numbers. Otherwise, you will never get, uh, to the point where you can run your business as smoothly.
David Brower: That makes absolutely, perfect sense. Otherwise you’re living in the dream world and you’re not operating on, on anything rational or logical or practical.
JOHN VESPASIAN: Yes, absolutely. And, um, I would like just to, I would like to just to mention, what’s, um, another point in my books. Which is, uh, I very much recommend people to avoid, uh, stupid risk. I’m not the kind of, uh, author who oh you just have to do it. Go for it, uh, go for it, uh, you just, you just, you can do it.
I mean, I’m very much, uh, a prudent, um, a guy, uh, by experience and I think that the, its always good to keep a good margin of safety with what your are doing. Because you are going to make mistakes. Even if you are very good at what you do, you are going to make mistakes. So it’s better not to put, uh, all your own eggs in your own basket. Always keep, um, uh, a good cash reserve, uh, for bad times. And try to avoid extreme situations.
Because, my, my study of history and really hundreds of biographies, uh, shows that, um, most people who become successful, they don’t really take another risk. They try to find the, the, the, the shortest cards to success. They try to find a way, which is, um, has high probability of success. They are persistent, but they are not foolish. Uh, this is an image that you will not get from the media, you will not get from movies but in reality, if you try to avoid extreme risk, uh, you will do much better in the long term.
David Brower: Boy that makes perfect sense, John. Hey I want thank you so much for your time. How can people get these books?
JOHN VESPASIAN: It’s very easy to find my stuff, my books and my blogs, and, and the, all my, um, interviews. Very easy to find. You just type my name on Google, John Vespasian and you will find the receipt immediately.
David Brower: And Vespasian, folks is V-E-S-P-A-S-I-A-N. John, thank you so much, uh, what a treasure to be able to talk with you and learn more about these books. I’m gonna get on your website and uh, order one of ’em for sure, cause I’m very curious art- Do you have any of them available on, uh, Amazon? Or any audio books? Or are they just available through your site?
JOHN VESPASIAN: Uh, they are all available on Amazon, they are in also Barnes & Noble. They are also available in Kindle. So they are very easy to find.
David Brower: Perfect, perfect. John Vespasian, the author of eight books about rational living. Thanks so much John. Have a, have a good rest of your week. I appreciate your time.
JOHN VESPASIAN: Many thanks, David.