I listened to the state collector’s heartfelt, condescending admonishments, including how much he’d so have preferred to work it out, had I just called him back and et cetera, et cetera. I got quiet, nicer.
“Well, I think that tells me everything I need, and I know what I need to do.
“Yea, I’m going to rectify this whole situation immediately, as soon as I hang up. But before I do, I want to thank you for the help. I’ve been neglecting things for too long and I’m going to change that right now. I know it’s only Thursday, but you have a good weekend.
I hung up, and immediately deleted the email server. Then I shut off all the phones and the fax. My next email (I’m operating on private email by this point) was to the bank that holds client funds, telling them I’m done, to delete the $30,000 in already earned fees that trickle in to us as client funds trickle in to them, to delete all drafts and refund all money to clients. Soon as that was confirmed, I sent all paper files to the shredder/recycler, and had the company that hosts our servers shut them down and send them to the electronic recycler (they’re old, no commercial value).
[Update: It’s probably prudent to stipulate that the reason for all of this deletion and shredding was for the purpose of protecting sensitive client information like SSNs, financial records, etc. Since I was closing down and have no means of protecting or storing things in an adequate secure facility (i.e., not my garage), it needed to be professionally disposed of.]
I closed, locked the door, and walked away…having accomplished an irrevocable burning down in hours of what it took 20 years to establish. That night, sleep was less than optimal but Friday morning was euphoric. I learned an instant lesson: make your big moves in life irrevocable. You can’t go back, even if you wanted to.
Or, think of it this way: how many times did you get fired or get a “pink slip,” and then decide to go in next morning and fix it all? “There must be some kind of misunderstanding.” You can’t. It’s finality, and you accept it if you have any sanity left, and then you move on. Moreover, how many can look back on an acute hardship like that and conclude it was a chronically good thing, because it pushed you—kicking, screaming, perhaps crying—into new territory?
Fans of Atlas Shrugged surely enjoyed Richard’s subtly sub-texted dialogue. We know what he really meant, even if the state functionary did not. That’s just fun, the casual expression of an undiluted integrity.
I posted a link to Richard’s post on Twitter last night, and some stranger challenged me to “define hero.” This is easily done: A hero is someone who, when he is presented with a momentous decision, chooses admirably. Choosing admirably means to honor one’s own values in their order of importance to you, so it’s plausible to me that most heroism in human lives is unknown to other people. My use of the word hero to describe Richard’s resolution is my way of saying that his choices are admirable to me.
In saluting Richard’s values I am saluting my own — and Richard is one of a handful of people I know of in the world whose values are very similar to mine. I am celebrating his triumph, surely, and I always take great delight in seeing this kind of guts in real life. But by his example, Richard becomes my tutor, too.
Socrates taught us best with his death: In the uniquely human life, continued bodily functioning, mere utility, cannot be the highest value. To persist as flesh having betrayed the mind is an abomination, so the self-adoring man must be prepared, in exigency, to love his life best by refusing to despoil it.
Richard Nikoley is one with Socrates today. You are, too, as you acknowledge, salute, celebrate and uphold your own immaculate integrity.