Education…Incomplete…Always

One of the things that impressed me the most from the book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by General Jim Mattis is that Marine officers are given assigned reading which must be completed before moving on to the next level.* If you spend a lifetime in the Marines, you will spend a lifetime learning about leadership and history.

What would happen if I chose to stop learning? Would I become the guy who could not adapt to the times, because I could not recall the past or prepare for the future? Would I become a dinosaur making way for the next dominant species?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Considering Asimov’s words that we are never finished with our education, I am reminded of so many others who have uttered similar words. It is imperative that we continue to learn. It doesn’t matter if it is formal or informal, there is so much waiting to be discovered and applied. We are never too old or too young. The only limitations we set on our studies are the ones we set on ourselves.

Gather as much knowledge as you can. From that knowledge, draw your correlations and seek understanding. From this comes wisdom. There is an unlimited supply to how much you can gather, but only if you are willing to make the effort.

*I am still reading this book and promise to return it to the owner as soon as possible.

Emperor’s Log #22: Five Rules

The words of the emperor Marcus Aurelius…

Rule #1: In your actions, don’t procrastinate.

The message: Loud and Clear. The execution: well, that is another story. Like a door that turns on its hinges, I used to be the sluggard that turned on my bed (Proverbs 26:14). I would like to say those days are long behind me, but the truth is that every now and then I have that day where I get bogged down in the mire without a branch of motivation to pull me out.

It is on those days, that I must remember my purpose. How will I get to where I want to go if I am refusing to move? If I waste away these hours and days, then I will never get ahead.

It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that other’s waste. -Henry Ford

Rule #2: In your conversations, don’t confuse.

There was some concern on my team that I would be too technical in my speech and too wide in my vocabulary. That is an issue I see with others. When they speak or write, I have no clue what they are trying to communicate even though I am trying my best to understand. I know there have been times when I took that path and drove on despite the glazed over eyes and confused brows.

What is the point of all this knowledge and understanding if it cannot be used in a way that improves the lives of others? If we cannot communicate the things we know then we are not helping anybody. But if simplify our language and communicate clearly, we can be effective in helping others to understand. Friedrich Nietzsche could have easily confused us all, but listen to this gem that he gave us:

Those who know they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity.

Rule #3: In your thoughts, don’t wander.

The practice of meditation. Oh man, this is something that I really need. It is something I must practice daily, even several times a day. It is not an easy task to sit still in mind and body. Once my mind strays down into the catacombs, it gets tangled and confused. Time will tick away, and I will still be looking for the way out. But then there is meditation, an internal GPS, which centers me and helps me to regain a sense of direction.

We all have the tendency to wander. The question we must ask ourselves is how long before we can regain the path. We are the masters of our minds. We are supposed to be the ones in control of the direction of our thoughts. Buddha was considered to a master of the art of meditation. Ponder these words attributed to him:

As the fletcher whittles and makes straight his arrows, so the master directs his straying thoughts.

We must harness this energy and direct it where we desire it to go. We must be the masters over our minds.

Rule #4: In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive.

The heart is a muscle. If you train it, it will get stronger. If you don’t use it or even abuse it, you will eventually lose it. If you push it too hard, it will give out on you. You must train the heart, train it -just right.

Your heart is your soul. It is where your courage and intuition reside. It must be trained. Condition it by testing the boundaries. Don’t be too soft and don’t be too hard.

I sometimes test the upper limits of the organ. I want to find comfort in the uncomfortable. It is a good practice as it also tests my soul. It can be scary going there sometimes, but the fear is good, even healthy. We just need to remember these words:

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear -not absence of fear. -Mark Twain

Rule #5: In your life, don’t be all about business.

I must catch myself sometimes. There is a relentless pursuit to catch the potential rewards at the end of my goals. The pursuit is exhausting. Am I able to recover from one workout to the next? Am I able to digest my studies before I gorge myself in the next lesson? Are there breaks in between milestones and projects? I might not be going full throttle the whole time, but I do need to stop and refill. The occasional stop won’t prevent me from completing my journey. It may even speed up the process.

The Book of Exodus instructs the children of Israel to rotate their crops (23:10). It is an ancient practice still in use today. And though Seneca is not in the Bible (however his brother does get a mention), he makes a good analogy:

The mind must be given relaxation -a good break. Just as rich fields must not be forced -for they will quickly lose their fertility if never given a break -so constant work on the anvil will fracture the mind.

Take a break, recharge, and get back on your journey.

Marcus Aurelius wrote these rules in his private journal over two thousand years ago. True wisdom holds the test of time.  

Feature photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

Designing Happiness

When I get to this point in my life, then I’ll be happy. How many times have you told yourself that? And when you made it to that point, did it work out for you? Did you finally find happiness? Or, did you move your time for happiness to the next point in your life? You said you would be happy when you graduated, when you got a job, when married, had kids, on and on and on. It is as if happiness is some form of payment for completing a life step. But happiness is not currency, it is a state of being.

Is it well with my soul? This is the question you should ask yourself. If you can answer yes, then you might find yourself at peace. You might be happy. And if you answer no, then you must find a way to get there. Maybe you are not being loyal to your purpose in life. Or maybe, it is a skeleton still hanging around in the closet. Is what you envision matching up to reality?

There could be many reasons why you are not happy. If this is something you want, then you must be the chief architect of your happiness. This means designing the plans, making sure it is up to code (i.e. ethical), and then building it.

Give it a try. Along the way, you might realize that it is not about the end result but something that was there the whole time, that it was a state of being achieved by the process of doing.

Under Our Skins

I asked an old professor how it was my fault that someone else was getting under my skin. Epictetus, the great Stoic Philosopher, did not give me a direct reply, but he did give me an answer. How can someone dead for two millennia give me an answer? Am I a medium who converse with spirits?

The answer is both yes and no. No, I cannot communicate directly with the dead. I can speak with them, but sadly I never hear their voices. And though I cannot hear their voice, I can hear the spirit of the words they left behind. I’m reminded of what Ben Franklin said, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.” And the people I consult with, including Epictetus, managed to have their words passed down through the ages.

Any person capable of angering you becomes your master. They can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by them.

Epictetus was a slave for a good portion of his life. And though his master could possess his body, he was never able to possess his mind. I once heard a story about one torture session. Epictetus told his master that if he did not stop applying pressure to his leg, it would break. His master did not stop and broke the slave’s leg. What was Epictetus’s response? He simply told his master, “I told you so.” Consequently, Epictetus would be lame for the rest of his life.

It is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.

The great Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, once wrote, “The best revenge is not to be like that.” [By the way, Marcus Aurelius studied Epictetus] What the emperor suggests is easier said than done. When we feel a perceived injustice, we want to strike back. We do this because of our  bruised egos. We feel that because we are grown adults, we do not have to endure this provocation from others. We must remember that the ideal adult practices self-control. If we can be goaded by another, it is really our own fault. It is a lack of self-control.

Whenever anyone criticizes or wrongs you, remember that they are only doing or saying what they think is right. They cannot be guided by your views, only their own…Say to yourself each time, “He did what he believed was right.”

Our puppy Rooster can be very frustrating. Sometimes he will get out and decide to explore beyond our property. If too close to the road, we will fear for his safety. All the other times, it is just annoying. Rooster’s concept of right and wrong is not based on maliciousness. Whenever he goes exploring, he is doing what he believes is natural. Next time he does this, I need to say to myself, “He is doing what he believed was right.” Maybe by doing this, I will be less annoyed.

If someone criticizes or wrongs you, this would be an idea to keep in mind. Chances are if the tables were reversed, you would hope they responded in a similar fashion. Too many social media battles are fought because there is no tolerance for a difference of opinion. If both parties feel they are right, you will most likely be unsuccessful in changing their viewpoint.

The cause of my irritation is not in this person but in me. -Anthony de Mello

Remember when Paul said, “The greatest of these was love.” * If someone is irritating us, let us not take it out on them. We allowed them to get under our skins. Instead we should treat them with love and get to work on ourselves. Do this, and they may not seem so irritable in the future.

*I Corinthians 13:13

A Change in Myself

Sometimes we go through the dark times. We need help, but finding it is difficult. Maybe there is no one to talk to. Maybe it is shame, to need help when you are supposed to be above the problems and admitting it is weakness.

At one point, I feel like I have tried it all. The only solution was to escape. It didn’t matter if the escape was mentally, physically, or both. All that mattered was to get away. Even in the earliest times I can remember, I have been trying to run. But running away is only a temporary solution. It never leads to a permanent one.  Was the answer ever in a bottle, or was it only procrastination until the ailment returned?

Journaling used to work for me. There I would write out my problems and keep writing until I came across a possible solution. Recently, I tried a method by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. When he would get angry, he would write it out all on paper. Upon completion, he would throw it away. He was done with it. I tried it, and it didn’t work. The problem was still in my mind. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake it. It would simply not go away.

What can I do? And then, like a bolt of lightning it hit me. My problems, though affecting me on an internal level, are external. As much as I would like to change the situation, I cannot. Neither can I run away from it. So, what can I do? There is an answer, and it comes from a fountain of wisdom far beyond me.  I may not be the source of this wisdom, but I can drink from it.

Discontent is the first necessity of progress. -Thomas Edison

I have been miserable. And though it is not pleasant, it might be a good thing. Being satisfied with where I am at might result in never changing, in never progressing.

Sometimes you hit a point where you either change or self-destruct. -Sam Stevens

If I continue down this path, self-destruction is eminent.

Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice. -Wayne Dyer

This involves a choice. I am at the crossroads, and I am also the author of my own happiness.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. -Lao Tzu

Resistance is futile. This world will continue to change whether we like it or not. Things will never be how they used to be no matter how much we want it too.

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

Then why am I still fighting? I cannot win in this way. I need to channel my energy toward the future, not in reconstructing the past.

Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound. -James Allen

Improve myself. Yes. This is my fight. I cannot change others, but I can change myself. I can improve.

Our destiny changes with our thoughts; we shall become what we wish to become, do what we wish to do, when our habitual thoughts correspond with our desires. -Orison Swett Marden

The fountainhead of all my problems. It is in my head and in my thoughts. I am directing my thoughts in the wrong direction. I am thinking the wrong stuff. Change my thoughts, change my destiny.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. -Victor Frankl

Frankl drops the grandaddy of them all. The challenge is to change myself. I am not a victim. If I don’t like it, and I can’t change it, then I must change me. The gauntlet has been thrown down, what will I do?


I went to church, and I listened to the Gospel. This is what is said:

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” -Matthew 18:21-35

Ten thousand bags of gold. Maybe a hundred years’ worth of wages. It is a debt not easily repaid, maybe even impossible. Compare it to a hundred pieces of silver. Three months’ wages. Here is a man forgiven by a rich and powerful king, yet he has no forgiveness in his own heart.

These problems of mine are not incredibly significant. In fact, they are mere trifles. I don’t why this Gospel affected me the way it did. Maybe, it directed my mind somewhere else. Maybe, it just had that healing affect. I am not sure, but when I left the church, I came away with peace. I felt love for those around me. I felt gratitude for having them in my life. I had a change in perspective, and maybe that is a beginning to a change within myself.

The Road to Valor

valor: great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle

I loved listening to the classic hero stories growing up, such as the little guy David, who despite his age and stature, took down the giant Goliath. And then there were the stories about Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, Beowulf, and even Luke Skywalker. They were people that overcame the odds, stepped up when needed, and did it with class and honor. As I got older, I continued to read the stories of brave samurais, honorable knights, and the valorous modern-day warfighters.

This world we live in is a dangerous place. There are those who would harm others without any provocation. They would do it simply because they felt like it. There are the unexpected accidents and a Mother Nature who is indifferent to our comfort and safety. The world still needs its brave heroes. It needs its people of valor and honor.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be the hero that saved the day, the one who put his life on the line for another. But how can someone like me, a common, everyday guy, become a hero? I can start by looking at history. I can read and listen to the stories of ordinary men and women who rose in the times of need to do the extraordinary. I can study their lives and model my life after them. I can practice the little things to test my mettle slowly working my way up. Step by step, I can move to more difficult challenges and go places where few would dare.

This is something we could all do. We can prepare for a time when the world, or the community, or just one other person might need us. We can resolve now how we would answer that calling. We could be the heroes so desperately needed.

Commit to study acts of bravery and valor; emulate them. Do not cast away your life as a coward. One way or another death will come. Resolve now how you will face it. -Daidōji Yūzan

A Good One

In a conversation with a colleague, we discussed the possibilities of moving to a different position within the organization. The new position is potentially cut-throat and very political. Like crabs in a bucket, the ones in this job don’t care about climbing over their workmates to get to the top. In the words of my colleague, there are some willing to sell their souls to get ahead.

How far are you willing to go to move ahead in this life? Would you be willing to play the game that has more losers than winners?

Later in the conversation, my colleague made an interesting comment. She said that some of these guys are older now and that you can see the regret on their faces and in their actions. Many are now disengaged and lacking any real enthusiasm for the job. Now that they have been passed up for multiple opportunities, they are content to sit back and coast into retirement. It is a good lesson to play the game in the right way because chances are your actions will come back to haunt you.

What these guys did was not take ownership of their jobs. If you are doing the right thing, there is no need to cover your tail. There would be no need to throw your teammates under the bus.

Ownership.

That is where our conversation headed. It doesn’t matter if you are at the top of the food chain or at the lowest of the low. We all have our responsibilities. We all have our jobs to do. As Jocko Willink says, “You must own everything in your world.” If you are scrubbing the floors, own it. Be the best floor scrubber on the planet. Who knows, one day someone might see the attention to detail you are paying to that floor and think this is the person she needs to promote into a higher position. But if you take no pride in your work, if you have a flippant, careless, or even unethical approach to your business, the opportunity for greater things will pass you by. And then you will be the one with the regret.

Whatever you are, be a good one.

Abraham Lincoln

Complete the Idea

How many times did the light bulb go off in your head? Afterwards that thought might have caused a couple of sleepless nights as the possibilities became limitless. And then, after another while, the dream dissipated. It went back into the ether from whence it came.

A few months or years later, somebody else did it. They snatched the idea out of the air, and now they are reaping the benefits. The benefits that you caused you all those sleepless nights. Oh, the irony! Imagine what might have been.

Imagine if you figured it out, put the wheels into motion, and did the hard work to bring it to life. Now it is too late. What was left undone, or in this case never begun, has been done by another.

That idea might be gone, but all is not lost. There are plenty of other ideas floating around out there. There are plenty of others that are floating around in the beautiful brain of yours. Let the sting of the lost opportunities be a reminder. Let their lessons permeate every atom within your being. The next time an idea magically appears, you will know what to do. Figure out how to make it work. Get those wheels into motion. Do the work.

Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them. -Joseph Joubert

All That I Can Be

That old Army advertisement struck a chord in me. I was young and “be all that you can be” did the trick. The tune was catchy, the imagery was macho, and the dotted line was calling my name. When I considered my life back then before the Army, I knew I was not maximizing my potential. What I wanted was to be all that I could be, and therefore I joined the Army.

What I learned about the Army, after the fact, was that without a good mentor and a solid plan going into it, the quest of being all that one can be is not as easy as the jingle made it out to be. Becoming it in four years is a task near impossible. And when I left the Army, I was a long way from that maximum potential.

I used to blame the Army and/or the universe for a bad draw. I could have done so much better if only I had the opportunity. But in this game of life, we never get to pick the cards we are dealt. We can only make the best use of the hand we have. It was not the Army’s job to make me become the “all” I could be. It was mine. I was not supposed to take a passive approach. Instead, I was supposed to go and find my own opportunities.

These days, my primary focus is moving that needle a little closer to my max potential. It is a long, slow grind, but it is the only way to secure any possible fruits of labor.

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self. -Ernest Hemingway

When I consider my “why,” it is not to lord it over others or to be arrogant in my attitude. It is my own personal quest to be better than I was the day before, to become better than that foolish soldier who failed to become all that he could be.

Do you want to find true nobility? Become better than who you were yesterday. Move the needle a little closer to your maximum potential.

For the Good of Others

Could you imagine what it would have been like getting on a steam train back in the mid to late 1800’s? What a rush it would have been going 70-80 miles per hour! Before that, you were confined to going the speed of a horse.

This new mode of travel provided speed, convenience, and less worry for the passengers. Unless of course, there was an accident. And back then, accidents happened often. In the late 1860’s, George Westinghouse patented the railway air brake. This new braking system reduced accidents and gave the trains the ability to travel at faster speeds. But more importantly, it saved the lives of countless crewmembers and passengers.

If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied. -George Westinghouse

Many of us work for our own good or for the good of the organization that employs us. For the good of others is too often an afterthought that comes in the form of some charitable donation. Imagine if our focus was different. Imagine if we worked to improve the welfare and happiness of others. Directing our focus towards that endeavor would improve the quality of their lives and ours. It might be a small drop in this pond we call the world, but how many would feel its wave?