Today is grey and rainy, and after reading Vanessa Friedman’s article about face masks in the style section of the New York Times, I was feeling like a loser. The prices I charge are well below market, I realize (not to mention all the ones I give away for free), even though mine are made by hand with great care and the finest fabrics. I am not selling them on-line or paying for advertising, but getting the word out on local blogs, and focusing on the neighborhood where I live and my fellow Seattlelites. Some friends have sent in orders, and I was encouraged to submit a bid for 50 masks yesterday: I have so much business that I’ll be wrapped up in face-mask production well into the month of June! Yet I wonder how long I can or want to go on doing this? (I have to admit it is tiring and hard on the back!) Thus the suspicion, awakened by Friedman’s comments on the fortunes being made during this crisis: have my better intentions made me into a schmuck? Being a schmuck—a simpleton or dupe—about money is an anxiety shared by many; one of my articles targets this very topic: how people are ridiculed for such credulity by sarcastic French writers of the Enlightenment, and the American media today!*
However, after a bit of thought and a return to my bookshelf, peace has returned. I’ll copy it here for the pleasure of sharing and reflecting on the message, before heading out on my morning walk and another nice quiet day of sewing masks for people:
It’s from the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus, The Art of Living:
“Never depend on the admiration of others. There is no strength in it. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source. It is not to be found in your personal associations, nor can it be found in the regard of other people. It is a fact of life that other people, even people who love you, will not necessarily agree with your ideas, understand you, or share your enthusiasms. Grow up! Who cares what other people think about you!
Create your own merit.
… Get to it right now, do your best at it, and don’t be concerned who is watching you. Do your own useful work without regard for the honor or admiration your efforts might win from others. There is no such thing as vicarious merit.
… Think about it. What is really your own? The use you make of the ideas, resources, and opportunities that come your way. Do you have books? Read them. Learn from them. Apply their wisdom. … Do you have tools? Get them out and build or repair things with them. Do you have a good idea? Follow up and follow through on it. Make the most of what you’ve got, what is actually yours.”
Epictetus, The Art of Living, pp. 12-13.
Yesterday’s face mask production, fyi
* Julia V. Douthwaite, Is Charity for Schmucks? The Legitimacy of Bienfaisance, ca. 1762-82 and ca. 2013-15”: available on academia.com.