Examining Epictetus #29: Working on Yourself Daily

The only way to achieve real growth and progress is to work on yourself daily. It is often boring. It is slow and steady work. There will be no monumental gains from day to day. Rather, the growth is incremental.

Look for opportunities in each day. What can you subtract from your life? What can you add in its place that will take you to the next level? Analyze. Adjust. Reflect. Refine. Make your habits serve you. Become the master of your own destiny through constant and relentless work. Do this daily, and you will be surprised at what you become.

Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily. -Epictetus

Feature photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Examining Epictetus #14: Creating Greatness

One of the great joys of my job is the conversations I get to have with co-workers. This week, I had the good fortune to speak with an enterprising associate who spends his time away from work as a personal trainer. As we were talking about some of the things we have learned since our last conversation, he mentioned he was still only on year four of his personal transformation. Now, this personal transformation goes beyond fitness. This is a complete change of mind, body, and soul. After hearing him speak, I fully understand the meaning of “like attracting like.” I couldn’t help but be amazed as I am also several years into my own personal transformation.

No great thing is suddenly created. -Epictetus

This journey has been full of ups and downs. It has not been the easiest road to travel. You can’t plan on overnight success. I set out with a five-year plan. But honestly, I don’t think I will ever come to the end of my quest.

What my friend is looking for, and what I am looking for, is greatness. And the beauty about being great is that our definitions are not the same. We define it on our own terms, pursue it on different paths, and measure it the best we can. We are not competing against each other. We are competing against ourselves. And when the smoke clears, if we continued to run the race, we will be victorious. We will have become great.

No great thing is suddenly created. When I get impatient, let those words be a reminder. When I am feeling down or frustrated, let me not forget. Greatness would not be great if it was given and not earned.


Feature photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

A Formula for the Impossible

Examining Epictetus #30: A Formula for the Impossible

In The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performer’s Primer, Steven Kotler suggests there is a formula for achieving the impossible. And as preposterous as achieving the impossible sounds, consider how many impossibilities were overcome just in the last few years. Apparently, impossible is really “not possible yet.”

Start with the end in mind.

To achieve the impossible, we must start with the end in mind. The end is what you want to accomplish in your lifetime. This is your massively, transformative purpose (MTP). MTPs include curing cancer, solving world hunger, and other types of world-changing goals. In other words, the things that seem impossible now but can be conquered in the future.

To find your MTP, start by creating a list of 20-25 items you are interested in. These are items that you might be interested in learning about over a free weekend. Review your list and find out how they intersect with another. Spend time in those intersections and see how they relate. Learn the history and jargon on the subjects you are interested. As you work through your list, a purpose might come to you. Maybe this purpose is massive and transformative.

Segment your MTP

Next, you must create milestones. These are the high, hard goals (HHG). An example would be writing a book in your newly found niche. Your HHGs may take years to complete. That is okay. The HHGs are the milestones along the road to your purpose in life.

Work daily on your HHG

You have your MTP. You have your first HHG. What’s next? Now is the time to break down your HHG into clear goals. These are the small daily tasks that need to be completed each day. If you are writing a book, this would be to complete a certain number of words daily.

Clear goals need to be in line with your HHG. If you honestly believe in your MPT, then the clear goals are the most important tasks you can do in a day. Therefore, it is best to go after them first and get them done.

What about tasks that are not a part of your clear goals? They must be eliminated or pushed back as much as possible. If they are not a part of your MTP, how important are they? And if it can’t be avoided, then you will need to schedule your clear goals around it. The objective is to complete the clear goals.

Epictetus said, “Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake, in little things; and then proceed to greater.” I doubt Epictetus was speaking about your goals and massively transformative purpose, but the principle still holds true. Every day practice the little things (your clear goals) and create a series of daily wins. Stack up enough clear goals, and you will find yourself moving closer to your major milestones (HHGs). Keep stacking and in time, you might find yourself achieving the impossible.

Examining Epictetus #20: More than an Athlete

Over the last few weeks, Alec has been going to bed early so that he can spend about thirty minutes reading before going to sleep. As this is what I do every night, it is a super-proud moment for me.

What he can do physically, I can only dream about. I’m almost jealous. I mean honestly, that kid has more muscle definition and a legit six-pack crammed into his little body. But for all his physical prowess, he has taken the initiative to build his brain. I can almost feel the tears of joy running down my cheek.

My goal in life has always been to achieve balance. I want to be in peak condition in all three facets of my life (body, soul, and mind). Too often we see the meathead with no brains or the genius with no heart. But nobody wants to emulate a character from the Wizard of Oz. What good is a one or two-legged stool? Too much in one direction, and you will find yourself toppling over.

Have I achieved it? Of course not, but I am getting a little closer every day. Sometimes I lean more in one direction. Maybe this is a natural state. But after some time and a bit of introspection, I realize I am getting little wobbly. It is in these times that I must recalibrate and make the adjustments towards the right direction. It truly is all about the balance.

It takes more than a good-looking body. You've got to have the heart and soul to go with it. -Epictetus

Alec is starting to mature and make grown-up decisions. He is becoming more than just an athlete. He is realizing the value of having a strong mind and heart. He is starting to find his own balance in life.

Examining Epictetus #5: Can I Master Myself?

The song kept playing over and over in my head. It was one of the song’s my eight-year-old son likes to listen to. It is not a bad song, just not one I want to have my brain playing on repeat mode.

There was a little rough spot on my finger. It bothered me. I picked at it, scraped at it, and kept messing with it until I ended up with a worse problem than when I began.

How many times have I gone on autopilot, completely unconscious of my actions? How many times did I pop the top on a can that I really didn’t want but opened anyway because it was there? The same could be said for the snack in the pantry, the overwhelming desire to go to sleep (I love my naps), or even the automatic slapping of the snooze button without even thinking about it. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I don’t have complete control of my own person.

Epictetus said, “No man is free who is not master of himself.” Consider this when your automatic actions are no longer serving you. Are you the master of your own mind and able to reprogram yourself? It is a question that I must ask myself. Am I a slave to my passions? Am I in control? And if I am not, and I know I am not, then how can I gain my freedom?

I don’t have the answers yet. I know it starts with mindfulness. It starts with observing my actions and behaviors. Once I realize what I am doing, then I can concentrate on taking the necessary steps.


Feature photo by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash

Examining Epictetus #13: Becoming Beautiful

Question #1: What makes a human being beautiful?

Is it the filter on your Instagram picture? Is it the cosmetics, the surgeries, the nips, tucks, or lifts? Those things may change perception aligning you closer to society’s beliefs of what is beautiful. But does this really make you a beautiful human being? And in the end, will time not eventually prevail? Our outer shell is going to deteriorate. It is going to succumb to the ravages of nature. Our bodies are destined to return to the earth.

We might find attraction in pretty things, but pretty things do not last. And they do not make a human being beautiful.

Question #2: Shouldn’t it be the excellence of a human being?

If you cultivate the spirit and the soul, it will not deteriorate. Unlike the body, it will last forever. How do you make this excellent? Not through riches, fame, or the number of social media followers. No. If we would be excellent, then we must be good. We must find virtue. Only through wisdom, discipline, justice, and courage can we attain unto excellence. Only through virtue can we truly have faith, hope, and love. This is what we must strive for. This will make us excellent human beings.

What then makes a man beautiful? Is it not the possession of the excellence of a man? And do you, then, if you wish to be beautiful, young man, labour at this, the acquisition of human excellence.

Epictetus, Discourses 3.1

Examining Epictetus #35: Memento Mori

One day, I will leave this body. Death will come, and there is no stopping it.

Time. Once it is lost, it is gone forever. As Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Space I can recover. Time, never.”

Death cannot be cheated. Time cannot be recovered. It almost sounds inevitably depressing. Doesn’t it? But…

If I spend one good hour in a fruitful endeavor, would I mourn the passing of that hour? Of course not. The only hours I would regret would be the ones wasted in vain pursuits.

In a similar way, I should consider death. When my time comes, will I mourn a well-lived life? Absolutely not, for I made the best use of what I was given. Time doesn’t even matter here. Well-lived over ten years or a hundred is still well-lived. My only regret at death would be if I never really lived at all.

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Death is a part of life. Live well and there will not be a need to mourn when your journey comes to an end. Mourn not for others who have lived well and are also at an end. Rather, we should celebrate their life and wish them well on their next adventure. Our separation from them will indeed be sad, but such is life, and such is death. This we cannot prevent. All we can do is continue to live and walk our own journey.

I am not eternal, but a human being; a part of the whole, as an hour is of the day. Like an hour I must come and, like an hour, pass away. – Epictetus

Memento Mori. Translated from Latin, it means to remember death. This is not a morbid thing but rather a call to live the life you have been given.

Examining Epictetus #31: Foolish Delay

The tanks lined up baking in the Georgia sun. Soldiers were trying to find ways to best pass the time. Some were napping, others playing cards, and one was reading. I asked him if it was any good when he finished it. He said it wasn’t bad and then offered it to me. I accepted it desperately looking for something to do to take my mind off the monotony of the day.

It was The Tale of the Body Thief, one of the Vampire Chronicle books by Anne Rice. I remembered watching the movie in the theater a few years before. I enjoyed the movie and thought why not give this book a try. It was the first time since High School that I picked up a book to read solely for pleasure. The year was 1998 and became one the turning points in my life.

That year, I caught a bug. It was a reading bug that I hadn’t had since my elementary days. After finishing that book, I proceeded to read all the Vampire books. Then I read all of Rice’s witch books. Over the next few years, I discovered Wilbur Smith, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Bernard Cornwell, and read all the books I could get from them. When I was took a break from them, I went back to classics: Dickens and Dumas with a little Hemingway.

Then a time came in my life when I thought I could do that too. I could be a writer. And so I started to write. The ideas came from all over the place. I thought they were good. But my writing, it was bad. I struggled to convey my thoughts into words that would flow effortlessly onto paper. Yet I was determined to be a writer. After all, I had already told my closest friends that this was finally the calling in my life I had always been waiting for. I was going to make it work.

Then one day a seed of doubt entered my mind. I imagined all these writers were aged men and women of wisdom. I imagined that they had all lived lives full of experience, and only in their twilight years were they able to create their masterpieces. Who was I, one so young and naïve, to be able to compete with that? I had no life-skills other than that of an infantryman. Of the world, I knew very little. I was simply not ready to be a writer.

If you wish to be a writer, write. –Epictetus

I should have taken the philosopher’s advice. What I wanted to do wasn’t supposed to be easy. I wasn’t naturally talented, and at the time I lacked the discipline to keep practicing. When the motivation wore off, I postponed my dreams with the lame excuse of not being experienced enough. And how exactly was I going to get that experience if I wasn’t writing?

There is a silver lining in all of this reminiscing of a misspent dream. Somewhere deep within, I maintained a glimmer of hope that I could still be a writer. My appetite for reading never wavered, and in that I was still developing my literary mind. Of course if I would have kept practicing, my skills as a writer could have been much better. But as much as it pains me to think on this revelation, there is nothing I can do about it. The past is gone, never to be relived. But today, and the days to come, that is another story. That time is not yet spent and can be utilized toward that endeavor. I can become who I dream of being. I can become more disciplined. I can practice this craft and be the best I can be.

Epictetus asked, “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?” It is a wise question worth keeping in mind. When standing before the Almighty on the Day of Judgment, you will not be asked how you measured up to your peers and fellow humans. There will be no comparison of bank accounts and social media likes on St. Peter’s ledgers. But if the Master asks you what you did with the talents He gave you, how will you answer? Will you say you buried them and kept them safe? Or will you take the talents you have been given and invest in them and let them grow? You can be a good steward of the gifts you have been given or you can be the lazy one? In the beginning I was the lazy one, but thankfully my eyes were opened before it was too late. In that I was fortunate to be given a second chance.

Examining Epictetus #25: Live Your Philosophy

We all have our personal truths that we believe beyond a shadow of a doubt. It could be our faith, politics, or something on a smaller scale such as nutrition or how to live a good life. We could try to explain our beliefs to others and convince them with our words. But if you really want others to share in your truth, you must show them by your actions.

One of the books I am reading right now is Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’m am about halfway through, and though the subject matter might be a little over my comprehension level (a lot of google involved), I am doing my best to make it through. In the book, the author speaks of those who make decisions but do not have to live with the consequences. Think of politicians who never pay the consequences for their decisions. But the real heroes in the world are the ones who take the risks and live with the consequences, whether good or bad.

To have skin in the game of whatever philosophy you believe in, you must live it, not just speak about it.