Mark Millican

Mark Millican

The fall of Jerald H. Maxwell was so precipitous he didn’t want to live.

“It says in the Bible that all you have to do is ask and you will receive. Well, I asked for death many times,” Maxwell said in a Wall Street Journal series titled “Executive Crisis.”

The young entrepreneur had begun a hi-tech company that was immediately profitable, so much so he had been hailed as a “managerial genius,” as retold in the book “Ordering Your Private World” by Gordon MacDonald. However, a downturn in the economy took his company with it, and his own board of directors fired him. His wife and sons watched their husband and father crumble before their eyes.

MacDonald asks in the book when one is “forced to the bottom of one’s soul” if there is anything there. “The answer to the question will be based on whether something has been stored there in better days,” he states.

(It reminds one of Hal Holbrook’s character in the movie “Wall Street,” who says to the main character played by Charlie Sheen, “Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. and that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”)

The author contrasts Maxwell’s plight with the story of a friend who had been a naval submarine officer on duty in the bridge, the command center of the vessel. On deployment in the Mediterranean Sea, several ships were passing nearby and the sub had to make varied and violent maneuvers to avoid collision. Concerned, the captain of the sub left his personal quarters to go to the bridge. When he found the sailors calmly doing their jobs and maneuvering the way they had practiced thousands of times when there was no danger — and the duty officer assuring the “skipper’’ all was OK — the captain returned to his quarters in assurance.

In essence, whereas Maxwell lacked the inner resources to deal with corporate and personal chaos, what the sailors had stored during preparation toward getting the order right surfaced (pardon the pun). MacDonald details his own struggle — and reason for writing the book — in its preface titled “The Day I Hit the Wall.” In those initial pages he admits “the task of renovating, or reordering, one’s private world and public world is no small challenge.”

It took me awhile to work through “Ordering Your Private World,” but not because the volume is uninteresting. Quite the opposite: There’s so much to think about and potentially implement in these pages one doesn’t just wing their way through it. At least that was my experience, testified by a dog-eared and underlined book to prove it.

It appears MacDonald may have been prescient when the book was originally released on Dec. 31, 1983.

“We are all too tempted to buy gadgets with the hopes that they will bring tidiness of life. But it doesn’t work that way. Forget the gadgets and start with the interior, the private world,” he writes, as though he had a vision of the future with many of us staring at small screens for hours on end.

A promo on the website states: “Does your life feel cluttered? Maybe your overcrowded calendar isn’t your only problem! MacDonald believes that simplifying your external life begins with seeking internal order. In this updated edition, he shows a technology-focused generation how to deal with stress … in five areas: motivation, priorities, intellect, spiritual growth and rest.”

My copy is an older one, so I can’t report on the “technology-focused” advice. Interesting still, though, is a Q & A (question and answer) near the end of the book for older males (since we’re more stressed out, possibly?) where MacDonald poses questions and answers them himself, in part:

Q. – “Is there a fresh call for a man in the last quarter of his life?”

A. – “Spend the rest of your life being a father to younger men and women who seek a father’s voice … don’t compete, don’t bore people with stories they haven’t asked to hear, don’t brag about your past. Just listen, encourage, cheer (and) offer your opinion when asked ...”

This book contains so much substance about not just order but living life enjoyably that I can’t do a review much justice in this corner. Allow me to use to summarize the themes of the updated 2007 edition: “The difference between being driven and being called; the lifelong pursuit of the growth of the mind; the importance of being a listener and reader; how to exercise your soul to keep it in good shape. Our culture encourages us to believe that the busy, publicly active person is also the most spiritual. Our massive responsibilities … have resulted in many of us (being) on the verge of collapse. Learn to take a step back from the outer world and deal with the stress of life by developing your inner world: your soul.”

Suffice to say, if you’re a speed-reader or read only non-books on your small screen, you probably won’t get much out of “Ordering Your Private World” (which can be found online for less than $10). However, if as the male or female captain of your ship you desire to be better prepared for the reefs or potential collisions ahead, investing a few dollars and some meaningful reading time would be a worthwhile investment.

Mark Millican is a former staff writer for the Dalton Daily Citizen.

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