Life Lessons From Important American Authors

These five authors have passed on, but their words have a lot to teach. Let's learn from them.
American Authors' Life Lessons
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Writing well is an art. Art that shares experiences across time with some ink and some paper. Heck, sometimes you don’t even need paper. In fact, Abraham Lincoln, an exceptional writer, would write on boards when he had no paper to write on. However, what you do need is an idea. Some ideas endure the test of time and prove to be true, generations after they were conceived. The following authors had such ideas. These are philosophical truths that have echoed through time and are critical to understanding in the 21st century.  

Here are five American authors whose everlasting words on life and craft can help you find order, purpose, and some wisdom as you navigate our rapidly changing world.

1. Henry David Thoreau - Find balance and minimize distractions 

David Thoreau's Lessons
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“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. And see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

There is a lot to unpack from Thoreau’s words. When he retreated to Walden Pond to live in isolation for two years, H.D.T wished to escape the fast pace of the industrialized world and return to a more intimate state with nature. He accomplished it, addressing the hardships of each day as they came, with no agenda and reducing life to its lowest terms.

What he learned he turned into his masterpiece, Walden (1854), and his conclusions can be applied to present-day ethical issues. He discovered that the comforts of civilization are a distraction to mankind and that people spend more time working than living. But not everything was a moment of ethereal clarity. Thoreau also experienced the hardships of the wilderness and came to appreciate modernity and the comfort it provided.

Thoreau came upon a truth that is at times forgotten in our unfocused world. Balance is the key. The world is too massive and perpetually unhinged, but you can achieve balance in your personal life. Like Thoreau, reduce your waste, minimize your possessions, and deliberate on what you think is really necessary.

Isolate yourself briefly and dedicate more time to what you love and your passions. Afterward, you will find what Thoreau did: that some things you can live with and others you can do without. You will realize you have not lived, but that it’s not too late to start.

Isolating yourself doesn't mean retreating to the woods, or to a secluded cabin, and reject modern society completely. If you want to and have the means to carry it out, go for it. However, it does mean taking a step back from the noise, the expectations, and the unimportant.

One way I do this is by boycotting social media. It is time-consuming and when the focus shifts from my projects, relationships, and tasks at hand to my phone screen, I know that I'm out of balance. Taking a day, week, or month from social media can help me bring balance back to my life. 

2. Frederick Douglass - Education is crucial for progress

Douglass' Lessons to the World
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“Education…means means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light only by which men can be free.” – Frederick Douglass, Speech to the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth (1894).

When he was a kid, Frederick Douglass was taught the alphabet, but not much else. However, that was enough to spark his curiosity and understand the importance of becoming a literate man. Against all odds, he taught himself how to read and write and, after slavery took the first 20 years of his life, he turned into a prolific essayist, orator, and speaker for the abolitionist movement.

Douglass succeeded without access to formal education, but his life was full of continuous learning and teaching. In fact, he made it his mission to educate other slaves by teaching them how to read by using the Bible. He also encouraged them to start reading books because doing so would “forever unfit him to be a slave” and would make him “unmanageable.”

What we can learn from Frederick Douglass is that knowledge is key and it means liberation. For many of us, our formal education lasts for a quarter of our lives if we attend college, much less if we don’t. In addition, our curriculums in school consist of vocational skills, marginalizing other important knowledge to be acquired such as the liberal arts.

I am a recent college graduate, but I feel like I have not stopped learning, months after graduating. That is because I love reading and writing, and both of these activities can teach you as much as any classroom. In addition, I try to read and write on a variety of topics, especially those that I am not familiar with. 

Knowledge should not be reserved for landing a job, it should be considered as self-improvement and must be gained in a holistic way. It is not easy to continue applying yourself after college; there are more responsibilities such as the demands of a full-time job, or, perhaps, the raising of a young family. But like Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” and we should never stop chasing progress.

3. Theodore Roosevelt - Do not shy away from a challenge

Teddy Roosevelt's Lessons
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“Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” – Theodore Roosevelt, American Ideals in Education (1910).

As the son of a wealthy New York family, Theodore Roosevelt had the means to live a comfortable, easy life. Moreover, he was very sickly as a boy and suffered from crippling illnesses. Certainly a recipe for an idle life. However, T.R. shed away the skin of that sickly boy to become one of the most adventurous, energetic, and brave men of his generation and possibly history. Let’s be honest, not many men have a resume as perilous as his.

Theodore was not only The 26th president of the United States, he was also a rancher, hunter, commissioner, amateur boxer, and prolific writer. He lived by his words; T.R. did not back away from the challenges that each of the posts he held provided, no matter how difficult or dangerous.

T.R's words relate to a rule I try to live by every day: action over inaction. I found myself saying, "Oh, I wish I had done that," more often than I wanted, and that is when I came up with the rule. I said, "from now on I will take action over inaction," and it's opened new possibilities for me, some of which have been difficult, but those have often come with the highest rewards. 

Technology has brought many comforts, but it has also alienated us from experiencing life’s difficulties. With acclimated homes, soft lounging chairs, and unlimited entertainment, it is easy to become accustomed to comfort and indifferent towards life's challenges.

But going through difficulties could also be considered a blessing, not only because they make us grow, but because on the other side of conquering them, is glory. After all, Theodore Roosevelt said, “Never throughout history has a man who lived a life at ease left a name worth remembering.”

4. Ernest Hemingway - Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger

Ernest Hemingway's Legacy
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“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms (1929).

Like Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway was a man that belonged to nature; to the wilderness and the sea. His heart, however, belonged to the pen and paper; to words and stories that teach the world what it really means to be alive.

One of his truest teachings comes from “A Farewell to Arms,” where the characters explain what life brings to everyone who experiences it.

The world, while beautiful and joyous at times, was designed to bring the good, the gentle, and the brave to their knees at some point, but those who get up are always stronger. In other words, we all go through hardships that beat us close to our breaking points, but they make us stronger because we learn from them and because they show us a different side of life.

I have experienced misfortunes, just like everybody else, and some have made me a better person. Others feel like they will be present forever and have the power to weaken me at their will. However, reading and writing have helped me deal with these withering feelings whenever they appear because they are my passions. 

Hemingway understood that struggle is part of life. He also knew that the most sensible form to share our struggles and learn about life was through writing and books. On books, he says, “there is no friend as loyal as a book.” And on writing he says, “write as long as you can live and there is pencil and paper or ink or any machine to do it with, or anything you care to write about, and you feel the fool, and you are the fool, to do it any other way.”

5. Emily Dickinson - Read as much as you can

What Emily Dickinson Taught the World
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“The dearest ones of time, the strongest friends of the soul – BOOKS.” – Emily Dickinson.

Unlike the adventurous Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickinson preferred the seclusion of her parent’s home. Fortunately for us, her imagination ran wild and free inside the familiarity of her room, leading her to write her best work and come up with more than 1,700 poems.

Emily Dickinson’s life was not an easy one, but her passion for art, knowledge, and craft was evident and are admirable. Her craft was writing, and any good writer reads as many books as they can in their lifetimes. They devour them to escape the physical world as much as possible. Your craft may not be writing, but reading is an excellent habit that can open your mind to all kinds of possibilities.

There are books on any topic and you will be wise to read them all if you want to exercise your brain muscles. Also, books unleash your imagination and train your mind’s ability to recall information.

For me, there is no better way to learn something than from a good book. The fact that it is a published work makes me feel like the information inside is legitimate and thoroughly inspected. In addition, books are good companions to have while going through life's idle situations. For example, I read when I'm waiting for someone, when I'm dining alone, or when I'm bored. 

Much can be learned from the poems of Emily Dickinson, but her life teaches us the biggest lessons of all: work on your craft, shut out distractions (perhaps not as drastically as her), and read, read, read.

The authors on this list are just a few from countless others in history.

However, these brilliant individuals wrote about existential truths that we should examine in order to judge our character and the way we lead our lives.

Learning about these essential human truths can help us avoid a lifetime of mistakes and regrets.

These authors are reaching out to us from the past to share their wisdom so that when we grow old, we don't realize we have not lived a meaningful life. 

An enthusiast of many pastimes such as reading, writing, drawing, and exercising. They complete me and without them, life wouldn't be just.

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