Back to Present

If I only I…

I get chills when I open with that sentence. Too often, I use it. So much I should have done, could have done, or would have done. Gazing in the mirror of the mind’s past, I see the wrong turns, the balls dropped, and the opportunities missed.

Things without remedy, should be without regard; what is done, is done.

William Shakespeare
Photo by Hadija Saidi on Unsplash

There is no going back. To study history is to learn from the past, not to rewrite it. We learn in the hopes of not repeating the same mistakes. Experience is a wound not to be reopened. We let the scars of our shortcomings heal. The marks remind us to either go a different direction or to be more skillful in our next attempt. To stay in the past is to reopen the wounds of our mistakes and allow them to fester. Therefore, we must move forward.

But not too far.

Yet, I cannot help but go there anyway. I gaze at the clouds and see only the silver linings. I believe I can touch them. My excitement for tomorrow’s victories is so great that I relish the hit of dopamine flooding my brain. This intoxication, sublime in its fantasy, carries me on wings to the greatest heights. I could stay in this bliss forever, which means I must leave it with all haste. This drug, this dream, is beautiful. But it is an addictive trap that will keep me from where I belong.

The greatest obstacle to living is expectation, which depends on tomorrow and wastes today.

Seneca
Photo by Anway Pawar on Unsplash

I hit play on the music. Again, I meditate. A daily practice that I fear I will never master. I want to go to the past. I long to explore the future. I belong in the present. Here is where I exist yet spend the least amount of time. The present is where my scars lead my footsteps. My actions bring me closer to the clouds I envision. If I cannot stay in the present, my hopes of the future will remain as only hope—distant, ephemeral, and without substance. My work can only be done in the present.

Emperor’s Log #24: If Possible, You Can Do It

I know my son is only nine. And maybe he is a little too young for the lectures and consistent push to become better. But I take the responsibility as a father very serious. If I don’t push him now, who will? If he doesn’t learn these lessons early in life, will he be like me and learn them way too late? Looking back, I wish I had someone to push me when I was his age. I wish there was someone that explained to me the why’s and the reasoning. Mostly, I remember the “do this” and more often “don’t do that” commands. And though those rules helped, the logic behind them would have been of far greater benefit.

It was another sub-par wrestling practice. Alec went through the drills half-heartedly. He was distracted, emotionally uninvested, and lacking a positive energy. It was every coach’s frustration. When it came down to the actual wrestling at the end of the session, my bigger, stronger, and fitter son lost every time. EVERY TIME! He was frustrated and knew another lecture was coming. What did we talk about?

Everything Matters.

The drills, the practices, what one eats, drinks, reads, and watches matter. The little things that seem unimportant—they matter. How we do the little things in life will ultimately determine how we do the big things. When Alec tells me that he wants to be a professional soccer player when he grows up, he is basically telling me that he wants to be in the top .001% of soccer players in the world. Well, that is elite, and elite players don’t practice half-heartedly, regardless of the sport.

One sport helps the other.

Wrestling and soccer are on the opposite ends of the sporting spectrum. Since these are the two sports Alec plays, we need to find the commonality between them. How can one improve the performance of the other?

A great wrestler needs to be in peak physical condition. There needs to be mental toughness, strength, and the ability to adapt. With hundreds of possible moves that are only applicable in certain situations, we went over the need for practice. Practice goes beyond the actual scheduled days. We must be able to drill on our own. We must become students of the game. The discipline and attentiveness that we develop in wrestling will make us better soccer players.

Soccer, on the other hand, is a team sport that requires speed, endurance, and great communication skills. The great players are both followers and leaders. They can coach as well as play. These are also great skills for a wrestler.

As individual as a sport as wrestling is, it is still a team sport. The team is not only hoping for great individual performance, but they are also hoping for the team’s overall success. We are only as good as those around us. Our teammates elevate us to greatness, we elevate them.

The brains behind it all.

Success in both sports requires some serious mental processing power. Strategy, split-second decision making, and understanding all the little nuances is not a talent we are given at birth. It is developed. To become a master at anything, we must first become students. The more we read, study, and learn, the better prepared we are for whatever life throws at us whether on the soccer pitch, on the wrestling mat, or in the board room. What is between the ears is just as important as our bones and muscles.

Wanting to reach the elite level at anything is a huge endeavor. He wants it. Can he do it?

Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.

Marcus Aurelius

It is a tall order. Some would say it is impossible. But, if it is humanly possible, then yes, he can do it too.

And before someone thinks I am some evil tyrant of a father, let me explain. I am not trying to pursue my athletic dreams through him. Alec and I are in this together. If he wants to be out there, then all I want for him is to give his best. When he is no longer wanting to compete or no longer enjoying it, he can move on to other more enjoyable pursuits. I want him to be happy. I want him to have fun. But I also want to prepare him to meet the challenges of an uncertain future.

Examining Epictetus #2:  To Be, We Must Do

First, say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do.

Epictetus

As a youth, I had some lofty goals. They were always in the same formula:

A + B = C

A = Someday

B = Unknown

C = Goal

Coming up with C was easy. My problem was I never knew how to identify A and B.

A man without a goal is like a ship without a rudder.

Thomas Carlyle

I had both a ship and a rudder. Unfortunately, I was lacking a schedule and a map. The result was years of entering the wrong harbors and not maximizing the trade value of the goods in the hold.

10-3-1 Finding A

My first step is to clearly identify the A in my formula. Someday is too vague. It doesn’t require a sense of urgency and allows external interference. A is my schedule.

10

Where do I want to be in ten years. Ten years is my moonshot. It can be as lofty as I want it to be. Ten years provides me a finish line for the current race that I am entering. This is a marathon. I don’t have to break any speed records. Instead, I just need to run my race. Personally, I have four different ten-year goals. Two of them are where I want to be professionally. The other two are where I want to be personally.

3

As in three years. My first major milestone is three years away. To achieve my ten-year goal, I must define my ideal schedule of progress after three years. Rather than a moonshot, this is just getting off the planet. My three-year goal is doable and aligns with the ten-year plan I have in place.

1

You guessed it! This is the one-year plan. It is the mini milestone that gets me closer to the major milestone. The one-year plan is very doable. It breaks the three-year plan down into smaller chunks. In the recesses of my mind is the moon. Not so far back is the three-year goal of getting off the planet. In the first year, I am looking at the prototypes of the rocket ship, the logistics of the journey, and the beginning of any required training.

The one-year goal is getting the business up and running. Turning profits is the year three and Fortune 500 is year ten.

In my A + B = C formula, this is how I identify A.

Breaking down the B.

B is the how-to that for me was always an unknown variable. It is more difficult than defining A, but it needs the schedule that A provides. B is the action, and I must know what B looks like at 10, 3, and 1 years.

The action at ten years is complex.  Even the three-year mark is at a higher level than the first year. One being the easiest and closest to my present moment, I will start here. What actions are required to hit my first mini milestone?

In the first year, I am a novice. To build up to my ultimate ten-year dream, I must lay the foundation. There are two key elements crucial to my foundation: discipline and knowledge.

Discipline

Discipline comes through the creation of daily habits. These  habits will drive my productivity. Starting out small is a good idea. Reevaluating a habit’s effectiveness over time is prudent to see if it produces the desired results. This is also a good time to look at any current habits that may be counter-productive to the 10-3-1 plan.

All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.

James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Knowledge

As a novice, we must gather knowledge. This is the first part of wisdom. The second, understanding, will come in time. The accumulation of knowledge is critical to the foundation. If we do not have it, our final structure, the goal we desire, will be shaky. How do we get this knowledge? Living or deceased, we start with mentors. Somebody has been down this road or a similar one before. We can save an immense amount of time by studying their words and works. Their knowledge will become ours and help to ensure secure foundation.

Keep in mind, not all knowledge is needed here. We must curate what we take in and guard against consuming material that is not beneficial to our cause. If it does not get us closer to our goal, we may find ourselves going down the wrong path, which of course will cost us valuable time.


To be, we must do. Easy words from Epictetus, but not so easy in the execution. By breaking down what we desire to be, we can have a plan for the doing. We can take our dreams and make them a reality.

Contemplating Seneca #90 Their Work, My Benefit

Who are my most influential philosophers?

From the Greco/Roman world are the Stoics. I love reading the words of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca. The core tenets are simple in their message but often challenging to uphold. Most everything comes down to our perception. What is in our control and what is not? If it is in our control, we should handle it. If it is not, we should not let it bother us. For those looking to live a virtuous life, their writings should be a staple in their personal libraries.

Then came the transcendentalists of the 1800’s. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and James Allen are some of my favorites in this group. In its simplest form, I call these the believers and achievers. If we can dream it, we can accomplish it.

Next, came the ones from the last hundred years to our present day. I’ll call them the Self-Helpers. My favorites in this group are Dale Carnegie, Jim Rohn, Jocko Willink, and Jordan B. Peterson. They came along in an age when their works could be digested in other media forms than only books. We can listen to their speeches and watch their videos (at least the more modern ones). Their works are more accessible than any in history who came before them.

Pick up the list of the philosophers; that very act will compel you to wake up, when you see how many men have been working for your benefit.

Seneca, Letter #39: On Noble Aspirations

Our list of favorite philosophers/influencers may be different, but they also have one great similarity. They have all been working for our benefit. Their combined works spans thousands of hours of research and wisdom, and all of it created for our benefit. We would be foolish to let their works go unrealized.

Emperor’s Log #42: Utter Stillness

I spend a good amount of my time planning. When other obligations prevent me from executing my plans, then my mind will continue the planning process while the rest of my being is on autopilot. The planning is good. It increases my productivity and reduces wasted time.

When is the planning mind not wanted? When I am meditating.

Meditation is not a time for me to spend planning. Granted, I do a little each session since I have adopted a new meditation strategy. Here is my current practice that I learned from Ben Greenfield:

  • 2 minutes breathing
  • 2 minutes of gratitude
  • 2 minutes of visualizing my day (planning)
  • 1 minute of breathing.

This is a short and sweet practice that I have programmed on my Insight Timer app. Though this is an easy meditation to follow, I still struggle with it. The first two minutes of breathing should be easy. All I need to do is relax and follow my breath. In and out and nothing else on my mind. Two minutes is not that long, yet I consistently lose focus and allow my mind to wander. If I don’t check it quick enough, I will forget my breathing altogether and allow my thoughts to run rampant for the duration of the session. Rather than mastering my thoughts, I allow my thoughts to master me.

Shrug it all off and wipe it clear -every annoyance and distraction and reach utter stillness.

Marcus Aurelius

Achieving stillness is a practice.

This is my goal: utter stillness. The only way I can get to it is to wipe away the distractions. It is a practice I struggle with. But by continuing to practice, I hope to one day achieve mastery.

Practicing stillness is also an art. I must be aware of my mind and what I am thinking. My mind wants to wander. This is its nature and one I must be cognizant of. I cannot allow it to upset me. I cannot go to war with my mind and attempt to force it into submission. This is not stillness but internal turmoil. When a thought is generated while meditating, I must receive it, appreciate the fact that I am still able to generate new thoughts, and then let it go back to the ether. The good thoughts can be retrieved later without disturbing the meditation session.

Clearing the muddy waters requires stillness. When our own minds are not clear, we are not at peace. Only in stillness can we clear our minds.

Bruce Lee, from the book Be Water, My Friend by Shannon Lee

If my mind is the muddy water, then I cannot continue to stir it. To clear the water, or my mind, I must find stillness. To do this, I will go back and heed Marcus Aurelius’ words: shrug it off and wipe away the annoyances and distractions. Therefore, my only choice is to continue practicing.

Examining Epictetus #38: Inward Beauty

A somewhat fit body, clothes that fit well, good hygiene. When I am out in public, this is the way I want to present myself. I don’t want to look like I am indifferent and have little regard for my external appearance. Some may consider this vanity. I consider it appropriate and professional. It is not easy making good first-impressions and opening new networks when your appearance causes others to shy away from you.

But wait you say. Shouldn’t we focus on the inside more than the outside? Why should we be judgmental of another’s appearance? They cannot help what they look like. To this, my response is that I do not judge the things that are outside one’s control. And though I am responsible for what is within my control, I try not to judge what is within another’s control. After all, one’s choices are appropriate to them and right in their eyes. Therefore, I will do my best not to judge them at all. But regarding my own person, I will continue to do my best not to be repellant to others.

Give me beauty in the inward soul; may the outward and the inward man be at one.

Socrates

My true focus is on the inward soul. This is the part of me that is eternal. The outward shell will eventually succumb to the ravages of age and dis-ease. The body will break down and be no more. I can do my best to delay the process, but ultimately time will be the victor. Death is inevitable, and I will return to the dust from whence I sprang.

If  I want to be beautiful, then it is to the inward soul I must turn. This is the true beauty I seek. So, how do I make myself beautiful? It begins with choice.

You are not your body and hair-style, but your capacity for choosing well. If your choices are beautiful, so too you will be.

Epictetus

Inward beauty is the pinnacle of virtue. And to be virtuous, one must continually make good choices. Let us look at the four cardinal virtues.

Wisdom

Wise choices are well thought-out. They are often made through good counsel and with the best intentions for not only the individual but also for those around them. A fool does not do this. Their choices are both rash and irrational. A fool will repeat his mistakes because he fails to learn from his poor choices.

Discipline

Those lacking discipline fail to see the big picture. They might have an idea of the greater rewards to come, but they choose immediate gratification available to them now. They choose not to wait. Rather than keep working, they make the choice of least resistance.

Discipline is a matter of staying the course unto the end. Small, fleeting rewards pale in comparison to the greater treasures that come to the persistent, pro-active, and patient.

Justice

Do the right thing. The righteous will do this consistently. The wicked will not.

I can’t say I have always been consistent, but I do my best. I’m reminded of these words from the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers:

Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.

Vince Lombardi

I can strive for perfection and who knows, maybe I’ll catch excellence along the way. I can protect my inner citadel with filters on the things my mind consumes. I can think before I act in a way that is beneficial to more than only myself. When I see fraud, I can call it out lest I too become fraud.* These things are within my control. This is the path of the righteous.

Courage

About 30 centuries ago, King Solomon gave us this proverb:

The lazy man says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!”

Proverbs 22:13

Lions are fearsome creatures that can wreak havoc on a village. If everybody barred their doors and hid inside what would happen? Back in Solomon’s day, there was no doorstep delivery by drones, no indoor plumbing, or electricity to power the refrigerator and streaming services. 3, 4, and 5G was unheard of. Cabin fever wasn’t the worst problem one faced. However, starvation, dehydration, and sanitation were. It would be preferable to deal with the threat of a lion outside than to stay locked down within the confines of one’s home. The heroes back in the day courageously went about their business. And if there was a lion walking down the street, they dealt with it.

Threats to our existence forcing us to stay within the safety of our homes have been around long before anything we have seen over the last couple of years. Predators, cosmic impacts, plagues, and war have taken its toll on our species, yet we have survived. Humanity is resilient, and it was not by hiding. It was not by staying in place. It was through action. And that takes courage.

Courage is a beautiful choice. Where others seek shelter, the bold go forth. They move themselves, their communities, and their species toward progress. We can either be stagnant in our evolution, or we can take the required steps for growth.


Socrates understood that beauty starts on the inside. Epictetus, who undoubtedly studied Socrates, further elaborated on this concept because the world still preferred external beauty over the internal. Today, things have not changed. We continue to chase after the fleeting and ignore the eternal.

We may live in this world, but we don’t have to do what the rest of the world does. We can look inward and create a beautiful soul. We can make our inner lights shine so bright that others will admire the beauty we possess. This beauty we can take with us into the next life.


*If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud. -Nicholas Nassim Taleb

Examining Epictetus #33: Trials, Character Development, and the Way

Trials

It doesn’t matter what it is. When I see my son struggle in any endeavor, I feel bad for him. I wish he didn’t have to go through the ordeal. I wish it was easier for him.

Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.

Jim Rohn

This wish for him is a very tiny wish, and it only lasts for a few seconds. Reality quickly sets in, and my moment of weakness is gone. As a father, it is not my job to remove his obstacles. Instead, it is my job to make sure he goes through them and to help him navigate them to the best of his abilities. I hate it when he loses, but the losing is necessary. Better to lose now and learn from the experience than to learn it hard way later in life. It is preferable to lose a game or fail a test now than to do so when the stakes are higher. Learning the lessons from his trials puts him on a path to winning (consistently) in the future.

The trials we go through expose our weaknesses. They show us where we need to improve. They create the path to strengths we never knew possible.

Character Development

One of the greatest joys in life is accomplishing a difficult goal. Thoreau said, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals .” Our destination is important. Even more important is who we become along the way. This journey is critical to the development of our character.

This is the ultimate game. It is one that is dear to our hearts. Cheating or cutting corners in our personal endeavors diminishes our returns. Short-sighted and shallow goals will do us no good. We cannot play small in a game void of consequences. Doing so provides no benefits.

We must be willing to play big if we want the lucrative rewards that comes from both the process and accomplishment.

The Way

How do we go big and win? We put it all on the line. Look at the winners around us. Championship teams don’t hoist the trophy by luck. Gold medalists  don’t get to the podium by happenstance. They make their goals, and then they fully immerse themselves in the quest. They make it their top priority.

This is the way. We must make it the most important thing in our lives. We can either make our journey into a reality, or we can keep it as a wish.

Give yourself fully to your endeavors. Decide to construct your character through excellent actions and determine to pay the price of a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths.

Epictetus

Give 100%. Develop your character like it is your birth right. Find your strengths.

Contemplating Seneca #25 On Written Goals

Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When you don’t know what harbor you’re aiming for, no wind is the right wind.

Seneca

Whether it is at the beginning of the year, at the end, or somewhere in between, the act of creating goals is one of the great separators between the high-performers and the rest of the field. It doesn’t matter your age or station in life. If you want to get ahead, it starts with goals. Obviously, that is not enough. It is only a starting point. Keep in mind these words from Sir Francis Drake: There must be a beginning to any great matter – But the continuing unto to the end, until it be thoroughly finished, yields the true glory.

So, you have yourself a goal to get better at something that is holding you back. Accomplishing this goal will understandably change your life. What should be the first step?

The act of writing down your goals has stunning benefits. Check out these words from Keith Ferrazzi in his book Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time:

As my dad used to say, no one becomes an astronaut by accident. Luck has little to do with achievement, as a study cited in Success magazine makes clear. In the study, researchers asked Yale’s class of 1953 a number of questions. Three had to do with goals:

-Have you set goals?

-Have you written them down?

-Do you have a plan to accomplish them?

It turned out that only 3 percent of the Yale class had written down their goals, with a plan of action to achieve them. Thirteen percent had goals but had not written them down. Fully 84 percent had no specific goals at all, other than to “enjoy themselves.” In 1973, when the same class was resurveyed, the differences between the goal setters and everyone else were stunning. The 13 percent who had goals that were not in writing were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent of students who had no goals at all. But most surprising of all, the 3 percent who had written their goals down were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent of graduates combined!

Writing down your goals could put you in the top 3%. That is an elite level. Being in the top 3% in any sport would almost guarantee an induction into a Hall of Fame. In any business sector, a top 3 percenter goes together with being a top earner. Imagine being at the top of the list of authors, entrepreneurs, or leaders. How about being a top 3% father or mother? Natural talent will only get a person so far. The rest is a combination of smart work and hard work. if we want our plans to bear fruit, we must have an aiming point.

Time to get smart,

Or rather it is time to develop some S.M.A.R.T. goals.

SMART Goals: Definitions and Examples

On a piece of paper, write down what you want your goal to be. Then define it using the S.M.A.R.T. method. When you are done, hang it up or put it somewhere that will serve as a daily reminder. Congratulations! You now have a higher probability of achieving your goal. Your chances of success have just increased exponentially.

To do more for the world than the world does for you—that is success.

Henry Ford

Personal goals are fantastic for getting you from point A to point B. However, personal goals only serve the individual making the goal. Altruistic goals on the other hand, benefit not only the goal creator but others. If we are truly interested in finding success, we must consider goals that do more for others than ourselves.

Build the New

How much energy have I spent in reliving the past? It is a time locked in concrete and cannot be changed. All the “I wish I would have, could have, or should have” to no avail. What is done is done, yet so hard to be done with.

There are a few old computer programs I liked. They were familiar, therefore making it easier to use. But as technology improved, they became less appealing, buggier, and simply outdated. To keep those programs operating took more work and eventually the costs outweighed the benefits.

Like the computer programs, companies often struggle when they can’t adapt to the times. They held onto the old ways of doing business and got outpaced by their competitors. The “why fix it if it ain’t broke” mentality holds true, unless one is unaware that it is indeed broken.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Socrates

Companies that can build the new stay relevant.

Computer programs that are technologically with the times will outperform the legacy programs of yesterday.

And then, there is us. If we are constantly fighting the old, we will continuously find ourselves in a losing battle. Would it not be better for us to concentrate on building the new?

Mind, body, and spirit. If what we did in the past is no longer serving us, we would be better off building a new way to do things. It takes observation and analysis to build self-awareness. This is review of the past, not dwelling in the past. We must look to the future and plan a deviation from previously failed actions. This is strategy, not fantasy. It is in the present moment that the changes are made. Work on building the new, not fighting the old.

Contemplating Seneca #104: Maintaining the Heat

Enlightenment. What does it mean and how do we get there? And if we find it, what happens next?

If we attain that which we desire, it will do us no good to sit back on our laurels and retire from the world. Enlightenment, like any other quest, should go beyond ourselves. If it does not help others, what is the purpose?

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.

Zen Kōan (A Zen Story)

Chop wood and carry water. The only difficulty is in the labor. But as time passes and the labor is performed, the body and mind adapt. The process develops muscular endurance and strength. Muscle memory recognizes the actions needed and the nervous system improves. The body becomes efficient in the task. Reaching enlightenment does not change the scope of the work. The wood still needs to be chopped. The water must be carried.

The metal is heated to the highest temperature required for it to become malleable. If it is cooled, then the metal cannot be shaped. The solution is to keep the metal hot.

When one is heated to the highest degree, one must have continued heat to maintain the highest temperature.

-Seneca, Letter #109: On the Fellowship of Wise Men

The ideal scenario is that we came out of the previous year better than we started it. We developed habits (think of muscle memory) that served us. We adapted and adjusted to the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) that our external environment threw at us. Ideally, we are in prime form. Maybe, we have even found enlightenment along the way.

What do we do now?

We maintain the heat. It is our only choice. If we become comfortable and remove the heat, then we will become stiff and not be able to mold into our true shapes. Therefore, we must continue the work. We must perform the labor no matter how far we think we have come. Chop wood, carry water. Just like we did in previous days, so must we continue to do so today and into the future.