Rules for Intrepid Living: Rule #53.

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Rule #53. “Never confuse movement with action.”

This week’s rule is a quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway (by his friend, actress and singer Marlene Dietrich). I’m unaware of the original context, but knowing a little about Hemingway, I think I can wager a guess. To explain it though, let me talk about the man a bit first…

I’m not a literary expert, but I find Hemingway’s writing style incredibly efficient. His prose is tight and lean. He’s evocative but seemed to budget his words; he wouldn’t use ten words when five would do. Unlike myself, he wouldn’t get lost waxing poetic or complicate his prose.

Just as important as (and likely contributing to) his writing style was his life of action. Hemingway didn’t just sit at a desk and write. No, he lived deeply and fully. He served as an ambulance driver during WWI before being seriously wounded and sent home. He lived in Paris among the artists and writers of what Gertrude Stein dubbed the “Lost Generation.” He worked as a journalist during the Spanish Civil War, was present at the Normandy landings (though not permitted to go ashore) and the liberation of Paris during WWII. After publishing The Old Man and the Sea he went on safari in Africa, where he almost died in two plane crashes. The man sought an adventurous life, and he found it.

It’s the combination of his writing style and his lifestyle that give this quote weight to me; because Hemingway didn’t believe in doing extraneous things. He was economic in his prose, as well as his lifestyle. He didn’t go places and do things unless he felt they were essential to him. Perhaps they weren’t actually essential, but I think he believed that they were; maybe not to be alive, but certainly in order for him to feel alive.

So, what am I getting at?

Live a life of action, not simply movement. Last week I talked about the importance of allowing ourselves to do nothing, to not be busy. This week I’m on the other side of the coin; when you are busy, be busy about things that matter. We can go to work and be slackers, or we can be go-getters. We can work out hard enough to get a little sweaty, or we can push ourselves to meet goals. We can get by without adventuring, or we can make adventure a priority. Movement is being busy looking busy. Action is being busy making progress.

Which do you want to do?

In my opinion, Hemingway would choose the latter. That’s why he said, “never confuse movement with action.” He knew how easy it was to be busy about inconsequential things while we let the essential and meaningful fall by the wayside. But we won’t make that mistake. We will dive into life and make the most of it. Because we’re adventurers, and that’s what we do.


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