I've been continuing to listen to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged during my morning workouts. I figure that if you're going to listen to philosophy while you're working out, it might as well be a muscular, individual-empowering, can-do philosophy. It seems to fit the activity better than The Purpose-Driven Life or The Marriage of Sense and Soul ever did.
Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, draws its name from one of its central tenants: that valid concepts and values are "determined by the nature of reality, but to be discovered by man's mind." Facts are facts, and the only valid way to live is to live in accord with the objective reality of things.
On first blush, that sounds pretty simple and uninspiring. What's the big deal about objective reality? Until I started reading Atlas Shrugged, I didn't get it. Now I do . . . but only because I worked for Augie Turak for six years.
Augie is first and foremost a spiritual teacher. But in his previous professional life, Augie was a salesman, the best I've ever personally known. All salesmen live and die according to one – and only one – thing: their sales numbers. How much did they sell? Nothing else matters. Companies don't care about sales reps' attitude, their intentions, their values, their ideas – just their numbers. If the numbers are good, the salesman makes a ton of money. If the numbers are bad, they lose their jobs. Like many sales managers, Augie put a big white board up in the middle of his company, where all salesmen updated their sales numbers day by day and moment by moment. As Augie put it: "The board doesn't lie." Sales numbers were inescapable objective facts. The board showed, with bright clarity, exactly how well everyone in the company was doing. (Augie didn't limit the board to just sales, either – every other quantifiable aspect of the company, like its account receivable and total cash in the bank, were also updated daily and visible on the board.)
People who have never worked in sales usually look upon this numbers-only approach to life with a shudder of dread and revulsion. "Oh, ugh, there's more to life than just numbers." But those who do work in sales know that the numbers are extremely inspiring. When the numbers are down, the salesman goes through deep soul-searching: "Is it me? What am I doing wrong?" When the numbers are high, the salesman basks in an unparalleled euphoria: "I DID IT!" The satisfaction is magnified ten-fold by the fact that it was objective -- undeniable, unchallengable, real.
Augie loves the numbers, not because he wants to make money (which he usually did) but because he loves the Truth. He wants to know what's real. And often, the best way to understand the contents of our souls is to look at how it is reflected in the objective reality around us. Of course, Augie will constantly talk about attitudes, values, morals, processes, and a million other invisible factors in life – but he also knows that all those things ultimately manifest themselves in the world around us. What makes Augie such an effective spiritual teacher – and so unlike most teachers, these days – is his unflinching ability to face objective reality, and his ability to help others do the same.