Is there anybody who hasn’t felt the need at some point to get away from the insane world and escape to a place of relative sanity? I feel it a lot, and I’ve been feeling it more strongly recently. It occurred to me Tuesday that I don’t really need Galt’s Gulch right now. I need to find my own version of Hugh Akston’s diner.
If you’re a fan of “Atlas Shrugged,” you know what the two represent. Galt’s Gulch was a brand new society, cut off from the mainstream world — existing without outsiders’ knowledge. It had been founded to give the world’s productive people a place they could go to escape the “looters” who were taking their money and their ideas.
The diner that Dr. Hugh Akston ran, on the other hand, was a part of the mainstream world, in plain view of everyone. Akston had been a philosophy professor who found the world uninterested in his ideas, so he was forced to retreat from university teaching and ran a small, remote diner in Colorado. The two places represented entirely different things. Galt’s Gulch was an entirely new free world. Akston’s diner was all about living honestly within the existing world until you could get to the new world.
I want to live in Galt’s Gulch. I want that new world to exist. I believe it’s possible, and I believe we’re going to build it. In the meantime, though, I have to live in the same old world that everybody else does. And if I’m going to remain sane, that requires finding my own version of Akston’s diner.
Like Akston — and like many of you — I’m driven to share my ideas. As far as I’m concerned, the things that I think and feel are the most valuable parts of me. Unfortunately, the people of the world have shown very little interest so far in paying me to share my “great insights” with them. Yes, I’d like to think I have great insights, but, well, the reality is that they don’t have much market value yet. So what do we do in a world that doesn’t appreciate (or desire) what we have that we’d like to share?
For Akston, his move from professor to short-order cook was a retreat to a place where he could do an excellent job of offering honest service to people who were willing to pay for that service. Although his teaching skills weren’t in demand anymore — which meant he had no ready outlet with which to share the ideas that were most important to him — he could at least take satisfaction from applying his honesty, values and skills toward something people did appreciate.
It might seem odd for a philosophy professor to become a cook in a diner. Some might see it as beneath him. But is any work really beneath a person if it allows him to offer honest value and if it allows him to bring a sense of pride and artistry to it? I don’t think so. If you’re living out the ideas you say you stand for, won’t those ideas be reflected in the excellence of what you do — no matter what the work is?
The closest I’ve come in the past to my own “Akston’s diner experience” was when I used to run newspapers (and just newsrooms before that). When I was doing that work, it wasn’t just a job. It was a mission. I didn’t take the end result of producing a community newspaper to be anything world-changing, but I was passionate about being the best I could be and giving the absolute best value that I could give. The end result might have been podunk little newspapers that quickly lined trash cans, but it was my work. I cared passionately about it. I was proud of it. I was being the best I could be. And that was a rush.
I lost that for years when I worked in politics. I made a lot of money doing political work, but I frequently wasn’t proud of what I did. I was cynical about it much of the time, even though I still felt an emotional high when my clients won on election night. Despite some highs, though, it never reached the emotional levels that I experienced running newsrooms as an intense guy in my early 20s. I miss that intensity. I miss feeling that the quality of what I was doing mattered.
I want for us to find a way to establish Galt’s Gulch — or many places that can serve that role — but we’re not there yet. We won’t be for a long time, and I can’t wait for that big jump. Instead, I need my interim step along the way. I need my version of Hugh Akston’s diner.
I intend to reach the point that people are paying me for what I have to say and what I have to share and ways I intend to lead in the future. I hope that time can get here quickly. But I have to earn the right for those things. I’ve been trying to do that for the past seven and a half months with this site, by providing something to the world that I have no hope of being paid for yet. I hope the ideas I want to express will become worth money — to someone, some day.
In the meantime, I need to move to a place where I can feel a sense of mastery and a sense of giving honest value. I don’t know what it will be. But, like Hugh Akston was, I’m driven to be the best I can be — whether it’s cooking food, publishing a newspaper or sharing my thoughts through written word or film.
Anything can be meaningful if you’re doing it for the right reasons. Look for me soon to make that change — to my version of a diner. Whatever it is, I guarantee I’ll go to bed each night knowing I’ve given honest value for the money I receive. And that will make it worth it.