A Tyrant to Yourself

A tyrant would tell you how to live. He would expect you to serve at his pleasure. To him, you do not have the capability to live life on your own terms. Therefore, he would take that opportunity from you. He believes your life belongs to him.

This does beg the questions. Can you live life on your own terms? Can you make the best decisions for you do you have to be led by a parental hand?

I trained myself in the school of self-control and self-denial. It was hard on me, but I would rather be my own tyrant than have someone else tyrannize me.

Henry Flagler

A person lacking discipline must be guided. Without discipline and/or guidance, you incur upon yourself unnecessary suffering manifested in the form of poor health, financial hardships, and unrewarding relationships. At the worst, your inability to control yourself could result in a stay at a local penitentiary.

Marcus Aurelius said, “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” Through discipline and temperance, you can become your own tyrant. This is a key to getting where you want to go rather than have someone lead you to where they want you to go. If you want to be your own master, then you must learn to rule yourself.


Feature photo by Md Mahdi on Unsplash

The Blessing of No

A young Albert clocked in and sat at his desk. A stack of paperwork was waiting for him. For the other clerks in the office, it was a full day’s worth of work. For Albert, he could be finished in about two hours. It was an easy job, almost too easy. He didn’t mind it there. At the least, it paid the bills.

Last week, he was pegged for a promotion. The promotion came with a considerable raise in money. He could use the money. He could spend it on his girlfriend. He could send some of it back home to keep the family business running. He remembered one of his mottos: Try not to become a person of success, but rather a person of value. Climbing up the corporate ladder was success in the eyes of others. But for him, that was not the person he wanted to be.

Yes, the money would have been nice, but moving up also came with a serious drawback. His two hours of daily work that he crammed into an eight-hour shift would be traded for 10-12 hours of actual work. His stress levels would increase, and he would have neither the time nor the energy for his thought experiments. Those thought experiments were the most important part of Albert’s day. It was where he could dream about time and space and the speed of light. It was where Albert Einstein could develop his theories.


The last I checked, I am no Einstein, but let me share with you a little story…

A few months ago, I was approached about a promotion opportunity. I thought about it and went ahead with the process. I had my reservations about it, but it would pay more money and offer better benefits.

But there would be some drawbacks about the position as well. I would have to work more hours, and they would be at night. I would have more stress. I would have less time and energy for my own thought experiments. On top of it all, I would have to stop coaching my son’s parkour class, a class that I love to teach. The cost of making more money and having more benefits was a hefty one. I considered it and believed I could make it work. I proceeded with the process. Once again, I am no Einstein.

Through the process I went until I came to the last assessment. It was a half-day ordeal that took the other half of the day to decompress from. When the smoke cleared and I received the results, the answer was to try again next year.

The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want right now.

Zig Ziglar

I did my best and didn’t make the cut. It was a no, a big, fat, blessing in disguise. I know my path, and I tried to deviate from it. I almost made it, but the universe put a stop to it. I almost traded what I wanted most for something not nearly as important. Unlike Einstein, I did not have the discipline to see it through. Hopefully, this lesson will not be lost on me.


Feature photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Pud to Stud

In the gym, if you try to look like a stud when you are not, you will embarrass yourself. You will either get hurt or look foolish. Maybe, even both. The best thing you can do is stick to the basics, overload your muscles in a slow and progressive way, and develop your strength through consistent practice.

Isn’t this the way to go in any endeavor we choose to pursue?

Imagine a soldier on the battlefield. Before ever seeing the battlefield, that soldier spent hundreds of hours in training. He did the work to perfect his skills on an individual and a team level. Before gaining competency, the soldier had to start out as a new recruit.

Studs in the workplace? It is the same concept. Knowledge must be acquired. Proficiency must be demonstrated.  Trying to be something you are not would damage your reputation and put you on the slow track to advancement.

If you want to be a stud later, you have to be a pud now.

Christopher Sommer, former U.S. national team gymnastics coach and founder of Gymnasticbodies

There is nothing wrong with starting out at the bottom. You won’t be there forever. As you refine your skills and grow in experience, you can rise to the top. You could be the stud that others look up to and depend on.

Alec practicing at the gym. Three hours at the gym a week. Constant work at home.

Needless Worry

I have been holding a little stress lately, and I think I can even feel it in my midsection. This stress is the culmination of many different things, mostly the things which haven’t even happened yet. It is an uncertain future, and it is affecting my mind today.

The choices of my past have led me to this. It is good that I reflect on the past in the hopes of not repeating it tomorrow. But once I give its the due measure it deserves, I must let it go and move on. It is one of the core tenets of my philosophy. It is also one of the hardest ones to adhere to.

On the way home from Parkour practice, my son asked me an interesting question. “What is Space Force,” he asked. He saw the flag during the National Anthem at the beginning of the Superbowl. I told him it was an attempt to get back to where we used to be. As a nation, we once used to be at the forefront of space exploration. But the years went by, the funding went away, and eventually so did our preeminence.

“Oh,” he said, “I thought it was to keep the asteroids from hitting the planet.”

A fair point. We then discussed our inability to stop such cataclysmic events. Our conversation ranged from asteroids, dinosaurs, ice ages, super-volcanoes, and floods. They happen every so often. And no matter how great or advanced we think we are, there are some things we cannot avoid. Seeing as how they are out of our control; we can’t worry about the possibility of them occurring in the future. We must live in the present.

A great many worries can be diminished by realizing the unimportance of the matter which is causing the anxiety.

Bertrand Russell

It was a simple run-of-the-mill talk we had, but I wonder if he can do it. Can he live a life in the present, free of the shackles that are attached to the past and the present? I hope he will be able to. I hope there will come a time that I may be able to do it also. I am not there yet, but I think I am getting closer.


Feature photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash

Habits Deciding Futures

How much time have I spent thinking of the past? How much time dreaming of the future? If only I had the opportunities. If only I didn’t have to work in this job? If, if, if.

All that time wasted in my youth. I was always in the past, always in the future, never in the present. Back then, my habits (what I was doing at that present time) were not helping me. I had a slew of bad habits and only a handful of good ones. My habits should have been a tool to drive success in the future. Instead, they were preventing me from maximizing my potential in the present.

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.

F.M. Alexander

My path was slowly engineered. Of course, there were all sorts of obstacles. There were many setbacks of my own doing. And I say, “there were,” but in truth there still is.  And though I revert to thoughts of past and future, I spend less time there. I am more present in today. And being in the present, I am more aware of my habits. Which ones are helping me? Which ones are detracting? Slowly, I can correct the bad ones. I can design new ones that propel me forward. I can engineer my habits for success.

Once again, it is a work in progress, but I have noticed some interesting things. Opportunities are starting to pop up that I never imagined or tried to obtain. My future is starting to take a positive shift without me trying to plan for it. It as if my habits are starting to decide my future. Maybe they always have, and I just didn’t know it.


Feature photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Things Which Matter Most

What happens when I don’t have a plan for the day? I go through the motions. Of course, I get stuff done, but I also check my phone, watch a little television, piddle here, and piddle there. There is no rush, no sense of urgency, and no accountability at the end of the day.

What happens when I create a plan at the start of the day, or even better, the night before? I am focused and intent on checking off the boxes. I waste less time. At the end of the day, with tasks crossed off the list, I rest at ease knowing I made the most of it. Oh, the satisfaction if I get that list done.

But then, there are times I make the list and do not have the end results I hoped for. Somewhere along the way, I got sidetracked. I deviated from the plan. I started doing other stuff, stuff that was not on the list. If I had a quality list of items that held great importance, then I should have done those. If this is what mattered most, then I should have attacked it first.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you want to take your productivity to the next level, if you want to get the things that matter the most done, then do the following:

  • Make the list. Not “a” list but “the” list of the most important items you want to complete.
  • Start early and get it done. If other things come up, and they will come up, add them to another list or put them at the bottom.

Wow! There are only two steps. It is not difficult, but often the basics and the simple are the things that get missed the most. There are some great resources to make your planning super-advanced and technical, but they all have the same two things in common: Make a list, and Get it done.


Feature photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

In the Very Here and Now

Something is off with me today. I don’t know what it is. I’m more critical than usual. Nothing has happened to make me angry, but I am afraid the smallest thing could set me off.

I am struggling to enjoy the present moment. I am thinking about the past. I am getting frustrated about a future that has not even happened. My mind is a whirlwind struggling to stay grounded in the now. I don’t like who I am right now, this person who cannot discipline his mind.

I am reminded of this Buddhist saying: Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future…look deeply at life as it is, in the very here and now.

It is so easy for me to give advice to others suffering from depression. I can look at their pain and what they have lost objectively, thinking that it does not affect me. But I have been there before, I am partly there now, and I will certainly be there again in the future. It is a part of being human. We suffer because we do not have what we desire.

How often did I pursue the past? Instead of learning the lesson, I went back and revisited it over and over. Can I change it? Can I bring back the dead, undo a wrong, or make a decision that would bring less suffering to the present? I cannot, so why do I stay in this place in time that I have no business dwelling in? Why do I lock myself into this misery that is no more?

Do I know what this future will bring? Do I know how I will die? Will it be on own terms? I am reminded of a friend who thinks she will pass in the same way as other members of her family. They all died at an early age, and it gives her much anxiety. As an outsider unaffected by this family condition, I am not completely empathetic to her worries. Why worry about something outside of our control? Oh, the fool that I am! Maybe I don’t consider how I will die in the same way she does, but I allow myself to get upset about something that may or may not happen later in the day. I grow anxious about the problems of tomorrow and what may come around the corner next year. Am I not the same as she?

I am reading Eckhart Tolle’s Oneness with All Life. I read a chapter of this book at night before bed. It is a beautiful book that is really speaking to me. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 7’s Becoming Present:

We can learn not to keep situations or events alive in our minds, but to return our attention continuously to the pristine, timeless present moment rather than be caught up in mental movie-making. Our very Presence then becomes our identity, rather than our thoughts and emotions.

Only Presence can free you of the ego, and you can only be present Now, not yesterday or tomorrow. Only Presence can undo the past in you and thus transform your state of consciousness.

It is not an easy thing to be present. Yet all is not lost, we can learn to be present. That is a beautiful thing because it gives me hope that I can stop pursuing the past or lose myself in the future. It gives me the opportunity to do what needs to be done now. Being locked into the present, I can give my full attention to being a good husband and a father. I can give my full attention to being a good man, a good human.

There are those I care about whose suffering is only in their mind. Yet their suffering is so great that it is affecting their bodies. Maybe it is you or maybe someone you know. We can remember our past. We can remember and love the ones we have lost. We can acknowledge our mistakes with the hopes of not repeating them. But what has happened has happened. We cannot go back. We cannot change it. The only thing we can do is go forward. And yes, we go forward into an unknown future. We do not know what will happen. There will be uncertainty, and there will be hardships. But there will also be joy, and there will be love. Whatever happens will happen, but we cannot lose ourselves in it before it happens. We must live today. We owe it to our friends and family, to our parents, our spouses, and our children. We owe it to ourselves.

Take a breath. Be aware of the breath. It is the only thing that matters in the very here and now. That breath. The breath you took before it is no more. The breath you take next doesn’t matter if you don’t take the breath you have now. One breath through your nose into your belly extending upwards to your chest. Don’t be afraid, breathe it all in. Pause at the top, savor the moment. And then, let it all out. This is freedom, and now you are free to take the next one, to move forward.


Feature photo by RKTKN on Unsplash

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

Entitled to the Action

It has been said that the journey is more important than the destination. When I consider this journey in life that I am on, I do not know if I will ever make it to where I want to go. I don’t know if it will be successful. But as I travel the path, I realize that I am evolving. I can barely recognize the person that I was when I first started out. I am not even the same person I was yesterday. I am a new iteration every day. A new layer. Added texture. None of it would be possible if I had never taken the first step. The action of going was the catalyst, and I am the by-product of walking this path.

Some would scoff at the ancient writings. They would say it is no longer relevant or invalid because it was based on a different belief system. But there is wisdom here that should not be ignored. The world today believes they are entitled to the fruit without the action. They believe the shortcuts and the hacks are the keys to winning. But in the end, this only creates a superficial gloss void of the texture-rich and carefully curated character that truly makes a person beautiful. To become beautiful while inhabiting a body that is in the process of dying, then you must perform the action every day. You must walk your path even if you never make it to the destination.


Feature photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Strength vs. Will

Exercise: If I do the workout, I will get stronger. I can build the strength, but I must have the will.

Nutrition: Sugar or alcohol or both. Do I have the strength to abstain? Of course, the strength is not a problem. Do I have the will? Ah, that is the problem.

Sleep: Early to bed, early to rise. Strength or will? It takes extraordinarily little physical effort to get out of bed. But to turn off the television and the phone at night, to resist hitting the snooze button in the morning, that takes will.

Mind: Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. What physical strength is needed to garner these? It is not a matter of strength but one of desire. It is a matter of choice. Do you seek to learn? Are you willing to observe? Do you crave wisdom?

Soul: Courage, bravery, the ability to keep going despite the odds. Indeed, this does require a certain amount of strength within the soul. But like the body, it can be developed. You must be willing to do it. It is better to develop the heart of the warrior before you go to battle.

Lacking in strength is a problem, but it can be corrected. In almost every facet of your life, you can become stronger. Do you have the will to make it happen? Do you have the discipline to see it through?

Victor Hugo once said, “People do not lack strength; they lack will.” The great French writer knew what he was talking about. Les Misérables took over twelve years to write and had over 655,000 words. It was not strength that got this work done, it was will. It was discipline to see it through to the end.