Five Life Lessons from Howard Roark
“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
Thus spoke Ayn Rand as she held the world in a mindless fervour when her most popular novel, The Fountainhead, was released. Most of you have probably read it once in your life, and you’ve either come to absolutely devote yourself to it or to completely abhor it. Of course, they were not just novels but Ayn Rand’s own potpourri of Objectivism – her philosophy. While she might not come across as a philosopher, she does have a cult following. And so does one of her most celebrated protagonists – Howard Roark.
So what falls so different about Howard Roark? For one, he is the ‘supreme ideal’ of her philosophy in human form, or so she says. To start things off, he is an architect. But he is a Modernist in a world of Renaissance columns and curvy staircases and chunky doorjambs. She describes his face as being the ‘most unpleasant’, and he has no family, no close friends – except for a few good friendships he forms over the course of the book, and his view of the world is far from normal. And that’s precisely why he has thousands of people gazing at him and his work in admiration.
Aside from the philosophy which she projects, there are a lot of things we can actually imbibe from this curious individual – and while I spent this week re-reading The Fountainhead, I present to you, Howard Roark – in his own words.
- He knows what he wants.
When his greatly adored, people-pleaser friend Peter Keating asks him whether he should choose between a prestigious scholarship and a coveted job, he tells him, “If you want my advice, you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Don’t you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know?”
The only thing that sets them both apart, is the fact that Roark never lets people decide things for himself. And that’s something we should do in our own lives.
- He has big goals – and ideals.
When he is confronted with the notion that he is being expelled from the Architecture school, instead of cringing with the fear of failure, he still maintains his optimism about his field, and more importantly, continuing to build, because that’s what he loves to do the most. The following is the conversation between the Dean of the school and him:
Dean: “Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?”
Dean: “My dear fellow, who will let you?”
Roark: “That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”
- He understands the joy of doing something you love.
“But you see,” said Roark quietly, “I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards – and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”
- He knows the value of living for oneself.
He says the following to Gail Wynand: “I could die for you. But I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, live for you.”
- He is not afraid to take the road less travelled.
“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anaesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.
Bonus: He has sass.
Ellsworth Toohey: “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.”
Howard Roark: “But I don’t think of you.”