Goals and What You Become

The sun is going down, but it doesn’t prevent Alec from kicking the ball. Every weekday, it is the same scenario. School in the in morning, followed by soccer immediately after his homework is done. On the weekends, it is soccer all day with the occasional break for food. Sometimes, he will even bring his iPad outside, watch tutorials, and then go practice what he just watched. Even after his soccer games, he will come home and continue practicing.

When asked what his goals were, Alec responded by saying he wanted to be a better dribbler, passer, shooter, and teammate. Essentially, he wants to be a complete player able to contribute to the success of his team. Well, if that is the case there is only one solution.

Octavius Augustus said, “Practice is the master of all things.” I can’t count how many times I have said this to him in his nine years of life. And yet, I am still amazed by his dedication. He has found something he loves that he wants to get better at. Therefore, he practices at every opportunity he gets. If this is the monster I have created, then I am one proud monster papa.

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

Henry David Thoreau

No doubt, Alec would love to be a great soccer player. I hope he does as it would be the fruit of his labor. But just because he works hard at something, it doesn’t mean he will always get the rewards he hopes for. Such is the nature of life! The rewards are nice, yet there is something greater. What does he become by going through the process?

There is nothing like the feeling of achieving a goal, especially if it is challenging. We always seem to have goals. However as soon as we achieve them, we often move directly on to the next goal, sometimes without even a pause. But every time we cross that milestone, we begin the journey as someone with more knowledge and wisdom, one that is battle-tested and experienced. We become something greater through the process of striving toward hard things.

Alec is developing skills beyond the soccer field. He is learning what it means to be both a leader and a follower. As the players move upon the field like pieces on a chess board, he is learning tactics and on-the-spot adjustments. He is developing quicker reaction times and improving his decision-making skills. He is developing his mind, heart, and body. He is becoming something new that he will be able to take with him into any new endeavor he chooses to pursue.


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Examining Epictetus #27 A Life That Flows Smoothly

Whoever is making progress, after learning from philosophers that desire is directed toward good things and avoidance directed toward bad, and having also learned that impassivity and a good flow of life are not attained except through unerring desire and unfailing avoidance—that person will do away with desire altogether, or else defer it to another time, and exercise avoidance only on things within the moral sphere.

Discourses 1.4.1

I listened to the lecture as if Epictetus was alive and speaking directly to me. I know how many times I have failed in the past. I am afraid of how many more failures are to come if I cannot learn from my mistakes. The only choice comes in what I do in the present moment.

All my failures are the result of poor choices. I have gone to life’s creditors too many times and have racked up a massive amount of debt. It was a buy now and pay later in almost every aspect of my life.

I have the standard debt that has now become the norm today: mortgage, car payments, a little on a credit card here, a little on a loan there. If I only purchased based on what I physically had, I would be in the black. As it stands, I only see red.

These days, I generally consume less calories than I burn. Why? Because I am paying off the debt in my body.  Like my financial ledger, my body is in the red. Rather than temperance, I withdrew from the banks of gluttony, drunkenness, and laziness. They freely gave, and I took more than my fair share.

My mind is paying off a debt as well. I could have kept my head down and stayed in my studies. Instead, I wasted my formative years with my eyes on the digital screens. Rather than learning, I chose vain pursuits that used up my greatest asset: time.

In a nutshell, I didn’t contemplate good or bad. I erred toward the bad indulging in the fleeting pleasures of the moment. I made poor choices resulting in debt that I am still paying today.

But if virtue holds this promise—to secure happiness, impassivity, and a good flow of life—then progress toward virtue must involve progress toward these other states as well. For wherever the perfection of anything tends, progress is always an approach towards the same thing.

Discourses 1.4.3-4

I couple of years ago I started a new blog series covering the seven virtues. I felt compelled to write these for my son, compelled to train him toward a life of virtue. I wanted him to be happy, to be a champion in all he pursued, and to have a good flow of life.

How could I train him if my own life was lacking in those areas? Therefore, I put in constantly in my mind. I studied the words and lives of those who went before me. And then, I wrote. In the beginning, I was at odds internally. How could I write to others about things that I continued to struggle with in my own life? Thus began my evolution. I had to be self-effacing and write of my struggles. Rather than be a hypocrite, I had to write many of the messages to myself. I was directing myself toward the promise of virtue.

What is the goal of virtue, after all, except a life that flows smoothly?

Discourses 1.4.5b

This is what I want for my son. Even more so, it is what I want for myself. Before my journey into virtue,  I was a ship tossed at sea. Every trifle, no matter how small, threatened to capsize me. Instead of controlling the things within my power, I looked to the things outside and played the victim.

To have the life that flows smoothly, I must be the rock Marcus Aurelius spoke about that the waves crash over, standing unmoved while the rage of the sea falls still around it. The rock does not cry out for a respite. Instead, it does what the rock was designed for and bends the sea to its very existence. Rather than conforming to the whims of the world and allowing it to sweep me away from my intended destination, I must bend the pattern around me. I must be the rock.

Look for it in your volition, friend—that is, in your desire and avoidance. Make it your goal never to fail in your desires or experience things you would rather avoid; try never to err in impulse and repulsion; aim to be perfect also in the practice of attention and withholding judgment.

Discourses 1.4.11

To live the virtuous life is simply a matter of choice. It is a matter of righteousness. Choose what is good and right; avoid what is bad and evil. As Epictetus states, our goal is to desire good and not fail in obtaining it. Likewise, avoid the bad and not fail in doing so.

I love the last line in the above selection: aim to be perfect in the practice. It is a goal, not a demand. If you can do it, great! If not, try again next time. The hope is for progress. And what is the progress we are targeting? Being in the present moment and making no rash judgments. It sounds like being even-keel and level-headed, like a rock amongst the waves.

Where is progress, then? If there is anyone who renounces externals and attends instead to their character, cultivating and perfecting it so that it agrees with nature, making it honest and trustworthy, elevated, free, unchecked and undeterred; and if they’ve learned that whoever desires or avoids things outside of their control cannot be free or faithful, but has to shift and fluctuate right along with them, subject to anyone with the power to furnish or deprive them of these externals; and if from the moment they get up in the morning they adhere to their ideals, eating and bathing like a person of integrity, putting their principles into practice in every situation they face—the way a runner does when he applies the principles of running, or a singer those of musicianship—that is where you will see true progress embodied, and find someone who has not wasted their time making the journey here from home.

Discourses 1.4.18-21

Control what is your power to control. That is the key to the smooth flow of life. And that, my friend, is progress.


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Don’t Tread on Me

I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.

-Excerpt from an article attributed to Benjamin Franklin originally published in The Pennsylvania Journal, 12 December 1775. Click here for the full letter.

The rattlesnake’s warning is distinctive. If you hear it, you know to stop, to look around, and to go the other way if possible. The rattlesnake is a fearsome creature, but he is not mean by nature. Instead, he is quite considerate. Compared to the other poisonous animals in the world, he is the only one to give you a warning. He says, “Think carefully before you tread on me. I don’t want to bite you, but I will if you force me to it.”

For centuries, the British were one of the dominant powers on this planet. They felt they could go wherever they wanted, rule where the profits were greatest, and generally walk all over everybody else. The American colonies didn’t prefer the British tyranny and responded by raising the Gadsden Flag. It was a symbol and a warning: If you tread on us, we will bite.

If we choose to be no more than clods of clay, then we shall be used as clods of clay for braver feet to tread on.

Marie Corelli

The world has changed considerably since those days in the late 1700’s. Does this mean people have changed? There are still those who think the world is theirs for the taking. They have no qualms trying to control those they deem inferior. And if we allow it, then we are no more than clods of clay for their feet. Like the early Colonials, we are faced with a choice. Do we passively surrender our freedoms, or do we do as the rattlesnake? If we choose freedom over tyranny, then we must sound the warning and let the oppressors know we can bite. We can fight back.

Review Each Day

I will keep constant watch over myself, and, most usefully, will put each day up for review.

Seneca

When I don’t write in my journal, I forget. What I did and what I failed to do will be an afterthought until I repeat it again in the future.

For a time, I got tired of writing in my journal. It felt like I was writing the same things over and over. If I put something on my list and didn’t complete it, it would end up back on the list. I was making zero progress.

I should have kept writing it down. I should have kept on until I made the decision to do something about it. I could have completed it or found a way to break it down. Could have, but instead, I stopped one of the more important practices I should be doing.

How noble and good everyone could be if at the end of the day they were to review their own behavior and weigh up the rights and wrongs. They would automatically try to do better at the start of each new day, and …certainly accomplish a great deal.

Anne Frank

How much farther along could we go if we put each day up for review? Not only would it make us better, but it would also allow us to better serve others, which happens to be one of the most important jobs we should be doing.


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Contemplating Seneca #6   How Much Is Enough?

Nature’s Provisions

There was a time when food was just food. If you were hungry, your goal was to satisfy it. It didn’t matter if it was meat, vegetables, or bread. What mattered was removing the emptiness in the belly.

Nature had a way of providing what we needed. Granted, we had to work for it, often barely making do. But as a species, we survived. We took what we could get in the season we were in.

He who has much desires more—a proof that he has not yet acquired enough; but he who has enough has attained that which never fell to the rich man’s lot—a stopping-point.

Seneca, Letter 119: On Nature as Our Best Provider

Going Beyond

Somewhere along the timeline, we changed. No longer were we content with what Nature gave us. We wanted more. We wanted to fill our plates to overflowing going back for seconds and thirds. We wanted every day to be a feast day gorging ourselves beyond what Nature intended.

There is therefore no advice—and of such advice no one can have too much—which I would rather give you than this: that you should measure all things by the demands of Nature; for these demands can be satisfied either without cost or else very cheaply.

Hunger is not ambitious; it is quite satisfied to come to an end; nor does it care very much what food brings it to an end.

Seneca, Letter 119: On Nature as Our Best Provider

We became pickier. No longer was it enough to just have food, we had to have it on the Fine China so our guests could see how well-to-do we were. We insisted on the delicacies, the fancy pastries, and the decadent desserts. Nature provided what we needed; it gave us a limit. Yet we broke the limit and went from need to want. And when nature no longer provided what we wanted, we in our arrogance said we could do better. Therefore, we added to it, we modified it, and even politicized it. That which was natural became unnatural. And the consequences? One doesn’t have to look far. The planet suffers just like our bodies suffer.

There was a time when we worshipped the sun. Now, we eschew it for artificial light.

A time when the cures for our illnesses was found in plants instead of the pharmaceuticals we use today.

A time when God was at the forefront rather than science.

How Much is Enough?

Our appetites extend beyond food. When it comes to money, are we content with what is enough or do we want more? The same with our houses, cars, and gadgets. Seneca answered the question to what the proper limits to one’s wealth by stating, “First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough.”

The Builder of the universe, who laid down for us the laws of life, provided that we should exist in well-being, but not in luxury.

Seneca, Letter 119: On Nature as Our Best Provider

Is our planet and our bodies beyond saving? No. Not if we start correcting our course. Saving the planet will be a collective effort most likely not seen in for generations. But for our bodies, we can begin today. We can make better choices. We can establish the proper limits going back to what we need and limiting what we want.


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Ambition and Perseverance

We are at Point A. This point is different for all of us. It could be horrible or just okay. But whatever it is, it is not Point B. Point B is where we really want to be. This is the green grass on the other side of the hill. And like our Point As, all our Point Bs are different.

To be successful in this life, we need a Point B. If we are going to get where we want to go, we must have an aim.  We need a coordinate to plug into our GPS. A map is good. It will show us the way to get where we want to go. However, a GPS is an upgrade that can give us a quicker route, keep us updated of traffic conditions, and let us know of any obstacles to avoid.  A GPS is real-time feedback.

A book will get you down the road, but can it compare to a good mentor?

If you are new to fitness and wanting to get in shape, imagine how much time a personal trainer can save you.

Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.

Bill Bradley

Ambition is the path. It points to our intended destination. And persistence is a vehicle, albeit an incomplete one. Persistence is an unrelenting pursuit  from A to B. On a map, it would be as the crow flies. Instead of taking the road up the mountain with all the switchbacks and additional length, it is going straight up and through the cliffs, streams, and forest.

Persistence is when someone comes up with a possible solution to a task or problem and then stubbornly sticks to that process, regardless of whether it’s flawed or inefficient.

Rich Diviney, The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance

According to Diviney, persistence is one third of the more desirable attribute of perseverance. What are the other two?

Tenacity also means formulating a solution to a problem, but then constantly assessing its effectiveness.

Fortitude is the mental or emotional strength, or both, that allows a person to persevere.

Rich Diviney, The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance

Persistence is good, but it is not enough to get to where we want to go. We need tenacity when persistence won’t work. We need fortitude because life is a battle, and we must be able to endure the strains it puts upon us. To get to where we want to go, we need ambition and perseverance.


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Questions, Answers, and Political Divisions

Tony Robbins said, “The quality of your questions determines the quality of your life.” It is such a beautiful idea, but what happens when questions are not allowed?

We live in a world where everything from food, freedom of religion and speech, and what can go into a person’s body has become political. If you find yourself in the minority, your freedom is at stake, your ability to make a conscientious decision becomes limited and can even be taken away. And your questions? Questions to those on the opposite end of the spectrum are frowned upon, condescended, and even censored. No one wants to live under a tyrant, and yet many of us have no problem tyrannizing those who dare disagree with us.

I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.

Richard Feynman

Are the days of open dialogue gone? Do we no longer try to understand the differences of others? It is far easier to shut down the voices opposition than it is to come to an amiable solution. Rather than have a moral backbone, would it be preferable to go over to the majority where there is less opposition? Rather than trying to formulate the questions that determine the quality of our lives, should we only rely on the answers given to us that cannot be challenged?

I am not saying that one side is right and the other is wrong. What I am saying is that we should do the research and try to come up with the questions that can lead to improvement. We might not be able to find the answers now, but at least we are willing to seek them out.


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Emperor’s Log #18 Purpose, People, and Obstacles

Our job

What is my purpose on this earth? When I think about it, I am reminded of Henry Ford’s definition of success: to do more for the world than the world does for you. If I take these words to heart, then my purpose is to leave the earth a little better than when I came into it. This could be the whole world, my community, or my family. How large I choose to make my scope will determine how valuable I am to the world.

This has not always been my belief. As a young adult, I lived solely for myself. My selfish intentions were my priority. Rather than a contributor, I was a consumer only concerned with obtaining my base desires. I was only a small speck in the universe. A little dot with hardly an effect on the other dots.

But then things changed. The first catalyst was marriage. I had to consider somebody else. The transition was not easy for I was still a very selfish boy. But in time, I learned the hard truth that if I only pursued my own interests, my relationship with my wife would not last. Therefore, I changed. Just a small bit, but still a change.

I went from a dot to a segment interacting with another dot. My universe doubled from its previous state.

Δ

Then came fatherhood. My paradigm shifted yet again. The segment became a triangle. My universe expanded. My interests became even less selfish. Now, I was tasked with expanding each leg, tasked with more than developing my own point but the other two points. How can this triangle fit into the puzzle of the universe? How can it grow, be dynamic, and robust? Someday, my son will go off and find his own geometry in this life. What can I do to influence the pattern?

When it comes down to it, our job in life is people. It is to connect the dots and strengthen each segment. This is our purpose. How many connections can we make? How can we improve the dots around us, so the segments are strengthened? How can our own dots be made more desirable to connect with others?

All We Can Do Is Try

In peer-to-peer relationships, all we can do is try. We can try to make stronger connections, improve others, and ourselves, but even our best intentions are not always well-received. We cannot make others improve or have strong connections with us. The simple fact is that not everyone wants to same things as we do. Some relationships cannot be strengthened. Some dots cannot be connected.

Should this trouble us? Indeed not! Once again, all we can do is try. We can want the best, intend the best, but we cannot impose our will upon others.

Then what should we do? Should we give up? Of course not! Maybe it is a sign that our approach is not the best one. Maybe we should try a different tactic. A teacher should not give up on a student who does not understand the content. Instead, the teacher should leave behind the cookie-cutter approach and implement a different method. This will require creativity but will also benefit both the teacher and the student.

What Stands in the Way Becomes the Way

Our path is not always straight. It is not always sunny days and pleasant breezes. We are often met with obstacles that have the power to stop us dead in our tracks.  We could give up. We could tell ourselves that what we have chosen is too difficult, and it would be better to not even attempt to proceed.

Not all obstacles can be attacked in the same way. Like the teacher and the student, some obstacles require different approaches. For the obstacles that stand in our way, we must start with the logical and see if it works. Often, this requires many attempts, many failures, and many trips back to the drawing board. But no matter how many setbacks, we cannot give up. We must remember that everything we want lies on the other side. We must attack and overcome that which stands in the way.

In a sense, people are our proper occupation. Our job is to do them good and put up with them. But when they obstruct our proper tasks, they become irrelevant to us—like sun, wind, animals. Our actions may be impeded by them, but there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.20

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The Light in the Dark

Another night that began with what seemed an endless cycle of tossing and turning. The clock on my nightstand lies face down. I neither want to see the time nor the light emitting from it. Even with no known light source coming from the room, my eyes can still detect enough light to make out shapes and figures.

There have been times when I have felt my soul to be in complete darkness. Times, when at my lowest, I did not know if the light would ever shine on it again. I dug the hole, placed myself in it, and then covered it over with dirt. No ability to escape and no hope of salvation.

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.

Desmond Tutu

Despite my self-inflicted darkness, it turns out my soul is like my eyes. Somehow, it adjusts to the darkness and is illuminated by a light within. My soul refuses to remain without hope.

I want it to be dark when I sleep, but I don’t want my soul to be without light. Solomon said whoever digs a pit will fall into it (Proverbs 26:27). If I keep digging a pit for my soul, I will eventually fall into it. The key is to learn what I did to get into that situation and to try my best to not repeat that folly.

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Better with Love

When you love a game, it can consume your thoughts. You find yourself learning the rules, learning the strategies to help you become better, and learning how to counteract and defeat your opponent. When it comes to a game, winning is the end goal. And winning, also known as success, comes easier to those who love the game.

 The same application of love can be utilized in one’s occupation, hobbies, art, and faith. It also applies to one’s relationships. When you love something or someone, you want to become better than you were yesterday in relation to the object of your desires.

When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.

Paulo Coelho

Better is, well, it is better. When I become better in one aspect, I can utilize that same formula to other areas of my life. My love for knowledge and understanding in one subject can spark growth in others as well. When Aristotle said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all,” he hit the mark spot on. If we put our hearts into it, if we truly love what we are doing or pursuing, then we are getting the most out of our education. Everything becomes better with love.


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