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Brian Patrick Cork is living the Authentic Life

existentialism isn’t cool it just Is


I may have the coolest vocation on the planet. I work with people that change the world, in turn, helping them make better decisions.

And, I learn things as well.

Recently I started to meet with a fellow that refers to himself as a: “serial entrepreneur”. To be candid, I feel that phrase is, in truth, silly. There is, and it’s true, once you bother to consider the nuance, an immediate negative connotation attached to it – from the “serial” perspective, mind you.

Me? I’m working daily to be a successful entrepreneur – just so we are clear.

It’s not just how you do it; how you say it, matters. Sometimes potentially more so. In fact, former United States President Bill Clinton reminded us recently in a TIME Magazine interview: “What we learned from Oklahoma City,” Clinton said, “is not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold. [But] the words we use do matter.”

Read more:,8599,1982949,00.html?xid=rss-topstories#ixzz0lZ1UBfOB

One of my points, here (that makes all the more sense if you’ve been following other recent posts), is a cross-roads when it comes to existentialism, heterodox and being Jeffersonian.

In any event, this fellow (mentioned earlier, mind you) is forty two and has realized not but a string of failures – this includes two marriages, and other collateral damage (not the least of which includes lawsuits and burned investors). But, he has an image in his head about what an entrepreneur has, does, looks like, acts like, and can do.

So… I asked him a simple question: “Is it possible that you are living someone else’s dream, and not your own”?

He was stunned (and angry). And, thusly, I had the potential, at hand, for my desired effect. And, the promise of a change evolution in behavior.

And then he began to weep…

“The truth is I’m scared. I don’t know what to do. I was always looking for the easy button. Now I’m so far behind I don’t think I can ever find it”. And, he added: “But I hate all of it. The work is so hard. I never make any money. I can’t save. My credit is ruined. I just want a decent place to live, a reliable car, and to make sure my kids can go to college”. And, finally: “Can you help me find a stable job? That would make my wife happy. Me too”.

So, I did just that.

He had to walk away from a life-long dream, just like that. And, I believe this is when he became  an existentialist. He finally recognized the dangers of living an inauthentic life.

Right. So, what is an existentialist?

If you have been following this Blog the last couple of weeks (and, it’s likely you have), you know we have begun to explore the existentialist, relative to the heterodox and my jeffersonian leanings.

So, how might they, the existentialist, be different than you?  What do they know?

According to Wikipedia, Existentialism is a term applied to the work of a number of 19th and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, generally held that the focus of philosophical thought should be to deal with the conditions of existence of the individual person and their emotions, actions, responsibilities, and thoughts. It is not some abstract set of theoretical truths. In simpler terms, it’s a no-nonsense philosophy that encourages you to take a hard look at your life and ask two essential questions: Who am I, and how shall I live?

Its goal is to awaken us from the morbidity of irrelevance and, have us grab life by the lapels and start living authentically.

Unfortunately, there is no particular school that offers a systematic account of existentialism. Its founders were fierce individualists who avoided labels, detested “-isms,” and refused to be lumped into any group.

So there is no grand philosophical system here. Essentially, existentialism exists at the intersection of the essays of Friedrich Nitzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre, the novels of Albert Camus and Fyodor Dostoevsky, the religious writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Paul Tillich, and the plays of Harold Pinter and even William Shakespeare (particularly Hamlet and King Lear.)

Clearly, existentialism is older than the term itself.

The philosophy is apparently based on six general themes:

  1. Acceptance of the Absurd. Each of us drops unexpectedly into this world, in a universe where time – at least as we know it – has no beginning, space no end, and life no pre-set meaning. It is an inexplicable mystery. This realization is hardly new, of course. Ecclesiastes kicks off with the words “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. What does man gain from all his labor and toil here under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3). Existentialists believe that it’s only when you confront the fundamental absurdity of life that you begin to live honestly.
  2. Personal Freedom. Life itself may be meaningless, but you give it meaning when you begin making important choices. These, in turn, reveal who you are. With freedom of choice, however, comes responsibility. Taking ownership of your decisions means not blaming your parents, your spouse, your teachers or anyone else for the shape of your life. More responsibility brings greater freedom. And with it: hope.
  3. Individualism. Existentialists are keenly aware that society continually pulls you toward conformity. There are immense social pressures to go along, get along and live pretty much like everyone else. Existentialists challenge you to buck conventional wisdom, express your true nature, and follow your dream, whatever that may be.
  4. Authenticity. Most people are so consumed by desire, guilt, fear or anxiety about what other people think that they find it almost impossible to follow their true calling. However, it’s only when you begin to do what you want – and not what others expect – that you begin to live authentically. But expect resistance. Institutions want to mold you. Other people want you to go on their trip. It’s far easier to live unthinkingly as part of the crowd. Yet authentic individuals are in control of their own lives.
  5. Passion. Being passionate and engaged is crucial. This doesn’t mean acting crazy or hysterical. Quite the opposite, in fact. Existentialists believe you should devote yourself to a cause, one that you’re willing to organize your life around, perhaps even die for. For Kierkegaard, that passion was the pursuit of truth. For others it may be artistic expression, healing the sick, or building a business that employs hundreds and serves thousands. In all walks of life, you’ll find that passionate men and women are more purposeful.
  6. Acceptance of Death. Life is finite. Yet existentialists don’t see this as a reason for pessimism. Facing death is what forces you to take life seriously, use your time wisely and make meaningful choices. It should invigorate your life. As the character Andy puts it in The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Nietzsche, the philosopher most closely associated with existentialism, refers to it as the noble ideal.

Your life, he argues, is an unwritten book that only you can write. Or, he says, visualize your life as a kind of artistic project, except that you are both the sculptor and the clay.

This concept runs throughout existentialist works. Martin Heidegger counsels that we should learn to “dwell poetically.” Kierkegaard offers that, “to exist is an art.”

All existentialists agree that life has the meaning you choose to give it. Sartre even declared that man is “nothing else but what he makes of himself.”

This view is fairly widespread in the West today. But it was once considered revolutionary. The Catholic Church, for instance, decided that Sartre’s ideas were so dangerous that it placed his entire works on the Vatican Index of Prohibited Books – including those he hadn’t yet written!

Ideas can be dynamite. And the proclamation that you should live your life on your own terms rather than according to the dictates of an institution was explosive.

Well… Bold and fearless, says I. If you have a servants heart and you seen synchronicity, daily, combined with a keen desire to reflect and represent the best virtu that God could inspire within you through discernment, what better terms?

Perhaps that’s why existentialism is called the philosophy of freedom. No matter how things stand in your life, you choose how to interpret your situation. You choose how to respond to it. Even if you do nothing, you still have made a choice. There is no escaping the consequences of your actions – or your inaction.

This makes some people profoundly uncomfortable, of course. They don’t like facing up to the world as it is. They don’t want responsibility. It’s easier to blame others, circumstances or “the breaks.”

Existentialism, however, is known as “the no-excuses philosophy.” You may be old. You may be broke. You may be sick. But existentialists say you start from where you are and move forward. How? By accepting responsibility and making choices.

This isn’t always easy. Pursuing authenticity requires relentless self-examination. It exposes you to things about yourself that you may not want to know. It may cause discomfort or friction with others.

But inauthentic lives, by comparison, are shallow, trivial and unsatisfying. They are often marked by the dogged pursuit of material goods, social status or the approval of others.

In many ways existentialism is a return to the roots of philosophy, a return to the ancients’ concern with truth, virtue and the art of living well.

Existentialism offers a guide to the perplexed. It shows us not just how to live, but how to flourish, how to create meaning in a senseless world. Those who reject this philosophy often do so not because they don’t understand it but because they can’t face it.

And that’s unfortunate. Existentialism provides a practical way of thinking about the world. It offers personal freedom and empowerment. It is a path to dignity and nobility.

An existentialist doesn’t live as though he has forever, frittering away his time and putting off until “someday” the things he really wants to do. He or she recognizes that each day, each moment, is precious and irreplaceable.

The next, and on-going test: Combining Existentialism with Heterodox and Jeffersonian ideals. Hang on; this must needs be a barn-burner. God gave me discernment. I might as well use it.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

11 Comments to

“existentialism isn’t cool it just Is”

  1. Avatar April 21st, 2010 at 1:43 pm Tweets that mention existentialism isn’t cool it just Is « The Unsinkable brian cork -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by brian patrick cork. brian patrick cork said: I'm living an authentic life: Existentialism, Heterodox, and Jeffersonian Ideals – […]

  2. Avatar April 21st, 2010 at 1:53 pm Chuck Carey Says:

    Interesting perspective and I havn’t been reminded of these philosphers since I was in college, so good for you. I’m curious as to why you didn’t also quote Shakespeare as I was reminded of one of his most famous quotes “To thine own self be true” which is what I think you are also talking about here, because if you are not true to yourself then like your early example you are living a lie.

    Interesting thoughts to share.

    Chuck Carey

  3. Avatar April 21st, 2010 at 2:14 pm Brian Patrick Cork Says:

    Well said Chuck. And, welcome here.

    Shakespeare makes us look inwardly to reflect what we want our fellows to represent to a diversified culture. Thusly, his protagonist, Polonius, under Hamlet’s dilemma as the tortured slayer of virue means your point is well-aimed and relevant.

    To be more specific… in Act I, scene iii of Hamlet, the character of Polonius prepares his son Laertes for travel abroad with a speech in which he directs the youth to commit a “few precepts to memory.” Among these percepts is the now-familiar adage “neither a borrower nor a lender be” , and the dictum: “This above all: to thine own self be true,/And it must follow, as the night the day,/Thou cans’t not be false to any man “.

    Well done.


  4. Avatar April 26th, 2010 at 6:45 pm Alamanach Says:


    In light of your (apparent) embrace of existentialism, what would you make of Captain Bligh? Here was a man who was siezed by mutineers, placed in an overloaded lifeboat with 18 other men somewhere off the coast of Tahiti and left to his own devices. Driven by a burning sense of justice, he guided his men across more than 3600 miles of open ocean to a Dutch port in Timor. He lost only one man during this voyage, and it has gone down as one of the greatest feats of naval navigation in history. From Timor he secured passage to London, and the admiralty dispatched ships to track down the mutineers.

    If we are to accept the account of Nordhoff and Hall in their historical novel “Men Against the Sea” (and there seems to be no reason not to accept it), Bligh never would have reached Timor had it not been for the exceptional level of his motivation, a motivation that was fueled not by any parochial personal concern, but for the abstract value of justice.

    From the description you give of it here, Bligh would not seem to be much of an existentialist– or maybe you disagree. Either way, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

  5. Avatar April 27th, 2010 at 6:18 am Brian Patrick Cork Says:

    Hello Alamanach. And, welcome here.

    I am, indeed, taking a hard look at Existentialism – but from the perspective of a Heterodox and Jeffersonian (and soccer coach). I’ll embrace it once I’m more sure of it. But, there, are, to be sure, elements that I find attractive and relevant to myself. In simple terms, existentialism appears to be a no-nonsense philosophy that encourages you to take a hard look at your life and ask two essential questions: Who am I, and how shall I live?

    Ideas can be like dynamite. And the proclamation that you should live your life on your own terms rather than according to the dictates of an institution is explosive. Its goal is to awaken us from the morbidity of irrelevance and, have us grab life by the lapels and start living authentically.

    Isn’t that what Captain Bligh did? His Raison D’etre was to survive, guide his men and realize justice upon those pirates. And, he inspires us, at least in that keen desire to be his own man.


  6. Avatar April 27th, 2010 at 9:00 am Alamanach Says:

    “His Raison D’etre was to survive, guide his men and realize justice upon those pirates.”

    Everybody else on the lifeboat had pretty much the same desires– especially the survival part. The proportions were different, though. Where the men cared about survival first and justice was some lesser concern, Bligh wanted justice, and could barely see anything else. Most of the crew were half-dead when they finally reached Timor, Bligh was (physically) the strongest among them at that point. There is little question that Bligh’s indominable will was what held the group together long enough to reach civilization, and that will was driven by an abstraction.

    Who am I, and how shall I live? are legitimate questions, and there is nothing inauthentic about the will to survive. But the will to survive is sometimes not enough. History shows that abstract ideals have consequences, and the question, who am I, and how shall I live, does not point very obvoiusly to absractions.

    For a different example of what I am getting at, consider Ghengis Khan. The Mongols were a rambunctious people who were of little consequence outside their own borders. In-fighting between Mongol tribes prevented Mongols as a whole from ever accomplishing much. Ghengis devised an abstract body of law, and strictly held is people to it. Ghengis enforced the law even when doing so went against his own interests. (I have in mind the time two turncoats captured their khan and turned him over to Ghengis. They were promptly executed, because the law says a Mongol does not betray his khan.) Such discipline had been unknown before his time, and shortly afterwards the Mongols had the biggest empire we’d ever seen.

    It seems to me that most Mongols could be seen to be living according to “who am I, and how shall I live,” but thereby accomplishing nothing. They were certainly living authentically, and grabbing life (plus not a few people) by the lapels, but it all added up to nothing. Ghengis certainly bucked the dictates of Mongol institutions, and he too lived authentically– kudos to him for that– but the burning desire for an ideal, the total commitment to an abstraction, made the difference between success and failure for Ghengis and for all the Mongol people.

    Does existentialism point us towards abstract ideals? If so, how?

  7. Avatar April 27th, 2010 at 6:24 pm Brian Patrick Cork Says:

    Mr. Khan gave his people structure that enabled them to achieve a series of goals as a society. They clearly embraced them and thrived. He was a “change-agent”. So, he initiated the abstract and it evolved into progress, of sorts.

    Captain Bligh demonstrated that survival was necessary and would enable justice, by any definition. That was fueled by his will.

    So, Khan and then Bligh were true to themselves and ultimately led by some form of example that was in the best interests of the people immediately around them.

    More later, possibly.


  8. Avatar May 3rd, 2010 at 11:23 am the Authentic entrepreneur « The Human Capital BLOG Says:

    […] There is more to this from the Existentialist point-of-view. You can read more about that by pointing your browser to my personal Blog and the post: existentialism isn’t cool it just Is. […]

  9. Avatar June 17th, 2010 at 3:22 pm me, the Universe, and finishing well « The Unsinkable brian cork Says:

    […] find the first example inspiring as it led that particular searcher to my blog posts: existentialism isn’t cool it just is and, two sides rhymes with suicide. There they no doubt found me a man of formidable opinion, wit […]

  10. Avatar June 17th, 2010 at 3:36 pm pick me, the universe, and finishing well « The Unsinkable brian cork Says:

    […] find the first example inspiring as it led that particular searcher to my blog posts: existentialism isn’t cool it just is and, two sides rhymes with suicide. There they no doubt found me a man of formidable opinion, wit […]

  11. Avatar February 14th, 2011 at 3:54 pm katherine kwales Says:

    Magnificent web site. Plenty of useful information here. I am sending it to some friends ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thanks to your sweat!

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