Gary North, an economist, Christian philosopher and good writer whom I’ve known for 30 years, once gave me life-changing advice.
We were talking about our careers. Our backgrounds and lifestyles are very different. We dress differently, speak differently, and even think differently. But somehow we’ve stayed connected through a common devotion to trying to figure things out.
I’d been troubled by some of the advertising copy I’d been writing. It was working very well and making my client a great deal of money, but I felt the message was wrong. I was worried that I was promoting a wrong way of looking at the world. Oddly it was a Weltanschauung that Gary’s conservative and religious mind embraced.
I expected Gary to persuade me that I was in fact spreading the good word. I might have even been hoping he would do so to ease my conscience. But instead he said something very simple that shook my soul. He said, “Mark. If you want to have a life of spiritual peace – and it’s clear that you do – you should never do anything for money that you wouldn’t want to do for free if you were rich and didn’t need money.”
This was more than 20 years ago. And I’ve thought of it a thousand times since then. I am still sometimes troubled by what the ideas and sentiments advertised by my clients and/or by my own businesses. But nowadays when I do I can at least recognize the issue and make my opinion known. And as for my own writing, I’ve never written anything since that I didn’t believe and wouldn’t be happy to say for free.
I don’t talk to Gary any more. Nothing happened. We were never close friends and our careers just gradually drifted apart and his reputation as a financial analyst and prognosticator was temporarily diminished after he jumped neck deep into the YK2 Panic – the fairly widely held belief back then that the worldwide economy was going to be thrown into chaos as the digital calendars clicked into the second millennium.
He was wrong about that but he’d been right about so many more important things that I was disappointed when he seemed to disappear from my reading view. Happily about ten years ago I discovered he was writing a weekly blog: Dr. Gary North’s Weekly Tip, which I read regularly.
The profound, life-changing advice is not there (perhaps he’s publishing that elsewhere) but the blog is very good at giving smaller, very practical tips on living more simply and sensibly.
Here’s an example from last Friday, September 8th:
GARY NORTH’S TIP OF THE WEEK
My wife is awaiting the announcement of the iPhone 8 on September 12. She uses
an iPhone 4. It’s getting clunky.
I have recommended that she buy an iPhone 7 if she buys an iPhone at all. The
“gotta have it” crowd will be buying the iPhone 8. At that point, the iPhone 7
will look good for the price.
That assumes that she won’t buy a Samsung Galaxy 7S. It will look good, too.
Google’s Pixel 2 may also look good. But when?
I knew a man 30 years ago who sold used video equipment. His company’s slogan:
“trailing-edge technology.” The equipment was reliable and cheap. It got
most jobs done.
Fact: you are the weak link, not the technology.
Before you buy a new smartphone, figure out what you really need. They all
have so many bells and whistles that you can barely hear these words: “good
If you won’t use a feature, don’t pay for it.