Stop Rationalizing and Make Hard Decisions: Learning from Dr. King

Greetings from London.

I thought I’d share the below quote, which was sent to me (Thanks, Thao!) when I was considering whether or not to put up the controversial FISA post. I knew beforehand that it would lose me some readers.

The few words below cut through hours of meaningless deliberation and made the decision simple…

There are a lot of hard choices and big decisions in life. Dealing with most of them requires facing daunting — but transient — discomfort.

I encourage you to read the following, which helped me to eliminate the rationalization we so often use to avoid doing what is important.

“I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live.

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.

You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot or bomb your house. So you refuse to take a stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are ninety, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at ninety.

And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

You died when you refused to stand up for right.

You died when you refused to stand up for truth.

You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

From the sermon “But, If Not” delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church on November 5, 1967.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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165 Replies to “Stop Rationalizing and Make Hard Decisions: Learning from Dr. King”

  1. Dr king is my hero. This speech is like most of his, other worldly in its power.

    No amount of rationalizing, or aiming to sound clever, could ever come close to the power of this mans words. Although Tim, you are fast becoming a hero too. I hope this means I am standing up for what i think is right, and understand that the 4 hr week, is not about the easy way out.

    Hello to you fellow devotees also.

  2. Bravo Tim ~ Bravo !

    I must say Tim that I’m a bit surprised and equally elated that you stood up for something that is such a major issue on

    “What It Actually Is To be an American ” !

    I lived in Europe for a number of years and have traveled this world Quite Extensively due to my line of work …. and I can assure you that one of the most distiquishable attributes that defines us Americans from other country men and women is Our ” Constitution ” & “Bill Of Rights ” .

    Those Rights as Americans are the most defining issue of the day in terms of “What it Is To Be An American ”

    .. and from what I’ve seen in the past several years …. no matter what Polictical Stripe you chose to Wear …. the single most endangered Right as an American in these Times ….. was solidify with that vote on the FISA Bill … I’m not going to get into the finer points of it…. but I am an African American , And A Obama Supporter .

    Having now read your Post… and thoroughly reviewing Obama’s position on this Single issue I am strongly considering not voting for him at all ! That’s how strongly I feel about it.

    Just like a child who takes for granted his or her many fortunes ..only to learn to appreciate them later in life when perhaps those fortunes are gone ….

    We will one day very soon do the same .

    Tim , I want to commend you for Standing Up for something in spite of possible unpopularity …. possible loss of income … possible ridicule …..

    Great Post ! … You’ve gained a new subscriber to your Blog .

    Just remember Tim when you’re in London…..Look Right First and Not Left when you’re Crossing the Street ! Life Depends on it 🙂 .. it’s something to get use to .

  3. Dear Mr. Timothy Ferriss

    I am Phuong Thao, Vietnamese person and copyright specialist of Thaihabooks company. I am very glad to write this comment to you. My company have Vietnamese right of your book THE 4 HOUR WORK WEEK through Random House, we would like to publish this book into Vietnamese within next month. I would like to ask more detail of you terms in your book that makes me confusing “8-10x markup” and “20-50x markup” in translating these into Vietnamese. Please kindly explain to me details meaning of those numbers and letter “x”, also markup in this case.

    Your book is really exciting and I really would like to be NR like you in the near future. I hope you can see Vietnamese version soon.

    Looking forward to hearing from your reply soon.

    With best wishes from Vietnamese,

    Phuong Thao

  4. Tim – Very important words to remember in a time like ours. Our own thoughts and ideals can so easily be drowned out by the constant drumbeat of the status quo. But it is what we do in the face of the status quo to change our lives and the lives of others, that really matters. My current email signature (thanks to a post by Derek Sivers (sivers.org/maslow)) contains the following quote, which perhaps you will agree, is a rather important lesson for us all to learn:

    “Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety (out of fear and need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth). Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.” – Abraham Maslow

  5. Tim,

    What a great quote from Dr. King. Sometimes it is very hard to stand up for what is decent or right in our world. We are all afraid to make waves! Thankfully you are living what you preach but bucking the system and following what your conscious says what it needs to say. It sure is difficult sometimes to change when we fear or worry about who will still love or like us when we make authentic choices in our lives. Hard to leave work, relationships, or speaking up for something unpopular. Thankfully you are and quotables such as Dr. King help remind us to move past the fear and live in our own truth via action and not complacency.

    Love and Hugs,

    Jen

  6. Hey Tim,

    Just wanted you to know that I probably never would have come to this site much less bought your book if not for your FISA posts. Never back down from showing your values– if some wrongheaded traitors decide not to read your book because of it, then you have done the world a service. Supporting the diminishment of the Bill of Rights is straight-up treason, unacceptable anti-American fascist crap. Anyway, the off-topic stuff is what colors you as a reputable source, more than just a skilled huckster who can repackage and market existing information effectively.

    Incidentally, your book was amazing, easily one of the 5 best general financial self-help books I’ve read, on par with Think and Grow Rich and Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It reflects a lot of the ideas I had about business for years, and inspires me to make it happen for real. We’ll see how it goes. Wish me luck!

  7. I remain a conservative, Iraq war defending, right wing Republican that has found liberals as strange bedfellows on this issue. I remain quite frustrated in my attempts to persuade fellow Republicans on this issue (though it should be noted that Obama voted FOR this measure after stating he opposed it).

    I moderate my view in that I would favor reforms that would keep with the spirit of the Constitution, but would provide for instance a warrant that would follow a person rather than a device. I don’t think for instance a disposable cell phone could have been foreseen when the founding fathers penned the words, “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    However, there can be NO DOUBT what the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation.” If there’s a United States citizen involved, there MUST be a warrant.

    If you’re rationalizing on this you’re not only a lousy Republican, but a lousy American– and dare I say it: UNPATRIOTIC. This shouldn’t even be up for a vote in Congress because like so much of what Congress does these days, it is already prohibited by the Constitution. If we don’t reassert our privacy rights now, we may lose them forever. And let’s face it– even my liberal buds have to acknowledge this– if we lose rights here in America, it’s not like the French will take up the cause. America is the last best hope for the freedom of mankind. We’re it. We give up rights here, they’re gone forever.

  8. Thanks again Tim,

    As always, something motivational arrives in my inbox from you’re blog. On my life journey, and I’m sure many others’, you’re ability to hone in on what counts has been a great inspiration. To overcome all that negativity that can drown out the clear picture takes a lot of effort, but it’s worth it if you can stand up and lead a life you love.

    Matt O

  9. People who are either afraid of death or afraid of life are not much fun to be around. I like being around those who are alive.

    To quote another powerful person, Howard Thurman, said …

    “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

  10. While I enjoyed the King quote – the man had a great deal of wisdom – I have to wonder whether it’s wise to mix business and politics.

    I think, Tim, you get a ‘pass’ for doing this on a blog – a blog is more of a personal statement than a business setting. However, if you decided to make anti-FISA or other political statements at business conferences, meetings or on TV, you would seriously limit your message and effectiveness, not to mention that you would quickly become a pest (or a darling of the media. Depending on where you came down on the political spectrum.) Either way, your business message would be lost in the political controversy of it all, or at the very least, the message would be less effectively delivered, and find fewer receptive ears.

    Just like you’d be rather ticked off if you had to hear from a vendor, each time you spoke, “Oh, by the way, have you been saved by the Lord?” or “I need you to sign onto this plan to save Africa.” or “I want to take 15 minutes of your time to tell you why we should be boycotting [business name here] because they donated to ___’s political campaign,” your comments are alienating to some readers and potential book buyers.

    One can choose to frame their political activism in terms of “bravery” if one wishes, and sometimes it certainly is, because it carries with it a cost – lost business, for one.

    There’s a time and a place for political wrangling. The workplace? Probably not. A work-related blog? Tough call, but probably not.

    Personally, I find it’s getting tiresome to discuss politics at all. I throw my talking points to the other guy, and he throws his back at me. Boring. Pointless. Convinces few, alienates many.

    I also find it hilarious that someone would quote that Spanish Marxist leader here. I wonder what she would have said about the 4-hour workweek. Or capitalism. Or outsourcing to Third World nations. I do wish people would think things through before they post.

    In the interest of balance – and perhaps idiocy – here’s another inspiring quote: “Better to live a day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” – Mussolini.

  11. Wonderful Post Tim,

    I am both inspired and motivated to keep on with my passion and purpose. I strive to give, live, and stand up for what I hold true.

    I look forward to meeting you on one of my mini-retirement trips.

    Hope you and yours have a blessed day.

  12. Tim,

    wasn’t sure where else to write this. In the spirit of hard-decisions, I wanted to know if you feel your education (as in the degree) was really beneficial in any way or do you feel more as if you could of done what your doing without it?

    I know school is good in the way that it opens minds to different things but I find most people get degrees without really knowing why and what the true purpose of it is. And in the end, was the money and effort worth it? or would it have been better used to find your true passion.

    Whats your thoughts?

  13. Dear Tim,

    This post is not only good and inspiring, it makes readers aware of important the decision on FISA is for you. From the comments I have seen so far, people seem to have had great respect for your decision. So I expect that you’ll gain even firmer support from your readers even though you may (in theory) have put off some people. You might even gain some new readers.

  14. Hey folks,

    First of all, this is a godsend. Tim, the whole 4 hour work week thing is great. Keep it up Tim. Like many I’m sure I’ve had trouble developing a ‘muse’ but I’m trying and that’s what matters. Once you find a muse that can free you from the chains of deskdom.. well the sky’s the limit.

    Meanwhile to keep my spirits up and hopefully yours too I thought I’d share something that reminded me, in a clean, funny, kind way of Tim since he likes Dancing, German, and specifically breakdancing (I guess they call it ‘locking’)

    Anyhoo here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC0sIwcAi1A&NR=1

    Cheers everyone!!!

    Tony

  15. Thanks for taking a stand, Tim.

    “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

    Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963

    “A man is the façade of a temple wherein all wisdom and all good abide. What we commonly call man, the eating, drinking, planting, counting man, does not, as we know him, represent himself, but misrepresents himself. Him we do not respect, but the soul, whose organ he is, would he let it appear through his action, would make our knees bend.” – Emerson

  16. Matt,

    The thing about an education is that it never ends. The thing I got out of a degree is how to organize my thoughts and how to think. It’s not so much the degree it’s how you use it. The person who gets the piece of paper and doesn’t keep learning after getting it is the one who misses out.

    If you understand why you are getting the degree and have plans for it, it is definitely worth it.

  17. Let me get this straight. You think you’re brave for risking a few readers to say what you really think? I happen to agree with you about FISA, but the fact that you had any angst about your decision intrigues me. Equating that with any type of real bravery is just a laughable. If you’re going over the top into machine gun fire, despite the very real likelyhood of DEATH, then thats bravery (our troops in Iraq are brave, yet I don’t see any body fawning over them.)

    Sorry to upset everybodies sickening “PC vibe” and sychophantic dribble, but I think we’ve lost sight of what constitutes real bravery nowadays. Take credit for some real achievement.

  18. This is fascinating to me, as I’ve just read Galileo, who essentially backed down from what he knew was right, so he could live on to actually express what he believed was right (writing “The Discorsi”, his book on motion).

    So while I value Mr. King’s argument, and his deeds, there is indeed a counterpoint to this idea as displayed in history.

    Not only this, but there are many times where quieting your voice to be heard another day IS important.

    So there is an obvious discrepancy here. I think that to generalize that we die when we lay silent is simply that, a generalization. Often times, to do so is, as mentioned before, the means for which more POTENT change can occur.

    My two cents. Just don’t want to let this be too black and white.

  19. looks like my comment was deleted or did not post..someone wrote: “This is fascinating to me, as I’ve just read Galileo, who essentially backed down from what he knew was right, so he could live on to actually express what he believed was right (writing “The Discorsi”, his book on motion”

    You don’t have to look back that far, sir just read up on what recently happened to james watson the discover of DNA. I find it hilarious that people avoid the current reality and keep replaying/rehashing Galileo and the 1960s /King

    While I agree and am concerned about anarcho-tryanny (a state where criminals run free and ordinary citizens feel the heavy hand of the law) people seem to be avoiding the fact that real dissent is being supressed by the left/globlists – just look what happened to mark steyn in canada.

  20. After reading both posts it really about public outcry. Unfortunately, we look for leaders who will say this is wrong before we ourselves will stand up to popular oppression.

    Even in your FISA post you’ve pointed out the very issue. If just a few people cry out, “This is wrong!” It does count for the thousands who stand silent waiting for a leader. If you fear losing your following for what you believe. You’ll gain more than you lose.

    You’ve be come a leader, or at least a spokesperson. People will rally behind you, so go for it. Say what you believe. Controversy bring even more attention.

    By the way, I’d bet ML King, Jr’s. phone was wire tapped without a warrant.

    Jim

  21. Tim,

    Reading this quote I sat at my computer and cried. I am 38 years old and have just made some huge and difficult changes in my life. I find that I suffer from a lot of self-doubt since making this move and this quote served to strengthen my decision. Thank you for posting it and thank you for your book.

    Samantha

  22. Amen to that! This is “one slap in the face to wake up in reality” that i need. America need more people like him. As Bob Marley said “Get up, Stand up for your rights!”

  23. Dear Tim:

    I’ve always been reticent to publicly take a stand on my political views in client situations. However, this year I was compelled to openly write and speak in my newsletter and public appearances about the state of the nation, what’s really at stake for us as Americans, as global citizens, and as human beings.

    I, too, had been shy about losing business. It got to the place where it just didn’t matter, because as Martin Luther King said: “at this point the consequences to my personal life are irrelevant.” I truly feel this way.

    To go on as if things are ok, as if narrowing my client size can be considered important or even relevant in the face of the annihilation of every principle I hold dear, is to be walking dead.

    Thank you for the courage to speak your truth. And for being an inspiration to others who are beginning to stand up in their own arenas.

  24. Great quote! He was an inspirational man, Martin Luther King Jr and a great example of how we should all lead our lives.

    Side note: Just bought your book, can’t wait.

    All the best

  25. Many people miss the point and put the post-modernism spin on him. His whole life was dedicated to believing every word of the Bible. That’s the base of everything he said.

    It’s not that you stand up for what you believe in. You follow and listen to God and stand up for what is right based on the principles of the Bible. Everything MLK, jr stood for was based on his prayers and followings of God. That’s why he was so strong. That’s why he was willing to die. He knew it was right. His wife faught him every step of the way and left a legacy to her children not what MLK wanted. They are lost like she was and it’s sad.

    The media and post-modern journalists and movie makers and Spike Lee’s take the truth out of MLK. He had a relationship with God and tried to walk like Jesus every day and everything he did was to honor Him.

    If you guys want to be like MLK and stand for something, read the Bible first so you’ll have a strong foundation to hold you up when you fall from being bold and living strong.

  26. Hi, Tim! I’m from Brazil and I have to say that I’m impressed with your book! Should be great if you come to my country to talk about your ideas… I’m belly dancer and now I’m taking class of flamenco. I did Jiu-Jitsu, Hapki Do and Tae Kwon Do… I think that I’m a mosaic as you are… 🙂 But I’m still being a “slave” of my job 🙁 But I’ll learn with you! 😀

  27. I really liked the part about dying if you don’t stand up for what is right, what is truth, and what is just. We die because these are the traits that makes us human. It is written in our conscience as well as our physical beings. I say physical beings because when we see grave injustice we feel it on our bodies. There are times when we may only know something is right or wrong because of how it makes us feel. “Right and wrong” can never be limited to how we feel but we know it can give us the sense of it.

  28. I think that is a great quote and do not understand why it would lose you readers? I would think that quote would inspire even the dying! I happen to be 37 years old myself and really try not to live in fear, but I guess sometimes it just sneaks up on you. I always try to run from it though because I have found that my life is much more exciting and fun if I run from fear and “just do it”.

    Thanks for the inspiration!!

    David

  29. Hi Tim, I agee that language learning should be fun & enjoyable which does speed up the learning process. Like learning a language using catchy rhyming phrases (mnemonics), or reading a new language in a comic book, or listening to funny clips of your chosen language on youtube!

    Ten minutes a day in my opinion is better than 2hrs once a week. Variety prevents boredom!

  30. Hi Tim, my name is batoleki from Tanzania. I would like to make comments as follows:

    Anyone who knows the value of life, stand by the principles of protecting mankind and everywhatever makes life valueable and enjoyable. It is because of selfishness that we do not stop to hear evil ideas and consequently evil behaviors from peoples we expect wisdom. These are politicians, clergymen, parents, school teachers…etc. But it is said, “He who saves his life will destroy it; and he who is ready to loose it because of many, will not die and his ideas will not perish”. Dr Martine LutherKing is alive todate and may not die for many years.

  31. Tim,

    I know this is a pretty late response to this post, but I wanted to thank you so much for sharing this quote. I read it this morning & carry it in my pocket as I head out to campaign at the polls against California’s Proposition 8 to protect civil rights for same sex couples. I beleive in this cause deeply, but MLKs words are what gave me the guts to go do something about it.

    Thanks,

    Brian

  32. Love this truth. I work with people who are terminally ill and dying every day. They’ve taught me more than any textbooks ever could about abundant life and facing fear aka False Evidence Appearing Real. Not one of them ever said, “gee, I wish I had spent more time at the office.”..or… (the rest to be shared when the book comes out) I am often asked, “how can you do such a job?” as if it requires some special skill. To me it takes more effort to walk around as the living dead in apathy. When I see that I want to say, “how can you do such a thing?” What an amazing life and testimony he was!!! Jeanie

  33. How can you not like this? What a great post! Thanks for doing this. Great quote! Really inspiring during this rough economy as well!

    Happy Business all!

  34. Asking questions are actually fastidious thing if you are not understanding something fully, but

    this article gives good understanding even.

  35. As long as what they are standing up for meets with your approval, right?

    Principles without an objective measure of right and wrong are just opinions, after all.

    You would certainly not applaud people willing to die for Christianity (Doctor King was a Christian Minister).

    You would certainly mock and ridicule who believe abortion is murder and are willing to suffer for that belief.

    Yes, I know, I’m about to be called all kinds of horrible things, mocked, and of course, asked to “Prove” one thing or another.

    All I’m really saying is that It’s easy to applaud people who are willing to die for the beliefs you also share, and even easier to mock those who have the same conviction to values you do not share.

  36. Thanks Tim, so few non-white mentioned in your posts keep it up. Now invite a non-white to your podcast , that will be amazing. all the best

  37. When someone tells you something so simply and it has such a compound effect on you. It just goes to show that we all over think and take to little action,

    Take this blog for example, so simple, nothing spectacular yet it is amazing popular. Why? Content and simplicity.

  38. Great and important message, but I’m struggling to make this relevant to daily life. I guess speaking and living truthfully makes all the difference in moving the world towards good or evil. Still it’s hard to speak in manners of life and death, however true it may be in the bigger picture, when you’re talking about trying to do your job well and about being kind to the cashier…

    If I would formulate this as a question: How can you find the heroism in the mundanity of daily life?

  39. To answer my own previous question. The desire to matter and make actual change isn’t something you can just “do”. To make an impact on the world is the end goal, not necessarily the way to get there. To get there takes patience, honing your skills, refining your vision, etc.

    Sitting back, throwing your hands in the air, because you don’t feel you’re making any change is the lazy thing to do. If you truly want to make change you should be able to suffer through daily life and keep working towards that big goal. If you want to matter you should be able to deal with insignificance.

  40. What a great. Thanks Tim for the reminder. If my history is correct, Dr. King was killed shortly after that speech.

    But he lives on!