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.

Want to Be a Sage?

I have had the same set of kitchen knives for over the last twenty years. The edge on these J.A. Henckels Four Star knives have held up remarkably well with little maintenance. They cut just as well today as they did when I first purchased them.

A dull knife is a poor tool. It is also dangerous to the user who is required to put more effort into the cutting. A sharp blade is efficient and makes quick work of the job, except if the knife is in the hands of an inexperienced user. They may cut more than what they intended.

A spear is not designed to cut. It is made to pierce. However, like the knife, in the hands of an untrained warrior or hunter, it is a poor weapon. Piercing everything but the target can have disastrous consequences.

Moving onto another tool that can both cut and pierce: the tongue. People generally welcome honest opinions. One should be able to freely express their feelings, opinions, and ideas. Yet, caution is needed here. Is this tool helping or harming its intended target? Spouting too much foolishness or having too little restraint will drive away any potential listeners.

The last tool is the flashlight. Oh yes, this is a valuable item to have in the dark. But if you shine it in the eyes of your companions, you will leave them dazed and unable to function. Their temporary blindness will be no help, and they will be wary the next time you hold the light.

The sage is sharp but does not cut, pointed but does not pierce, forthright but does not offend, bright but does not dazzle.

Lao Tzu

The mind of the sage is the ultimate tool. It is a tool for both the master and the disciple. Yet, if it cuts, pierces, offends, or dazzles, its effectiveness is diminished. It will be reduced to a tool left in the shed because no one will want to be anywhere near it. If we want to be a sage, we must be sharp, pointed, forthright, and bright. We must be an effective tool to be fully utilized by all.

More Important than Wisdom

Wisdom was my first real request. I read it in Proverbs at a young age. If I wanted wisdom, I had to ask for it. Desire was the beginning. After that came the real work of knowledge acquisition and application (understanding). Forty years later, I proudly admit that I am still a novice. Forty years later, and I have learned that how much I do not know far exceeds the very little that I do know.

A good many of these years, I had to learn to keep my ego in check. This is not small task, and I still have far to go. Leadership was another issue. I have had many opportunities, yet I never maximized them to the fullest. Along the way, I learned two important points that are paramount to success. The first comes from some of the most powerful leaders I have had to opportunity to know. Great leaders are great servants. The second I learned from the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. A leader doesn’t need the title. I can lead from the bottom as well as the top. Finally, I had to learn that my mission in life, though important to me, is not greater than the success of the whole team. In this regard, my team is my family, friends, and those within my network and community. This was another hard lesson that I am still working on to this day.

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.

Theodore Isaac Ruben

Too often, I chose my pursuit of wisdom over the needs of others. I have held myself distant and indifferent. Yet, what good is wisdom if it is not for the benefit of others? What good is trying to help the people of the future if I neglect those of today? Is there any good in helping the strangers of the world while turning a blind eye to those closest to me? True wisdom requires kindness to all. My wisdom does no good if I push myself away. Who would want to listen to the words of an uncaring schmuck no matter how wise his words? Kindness: more important than wisdom.

How to Carry the Load

In almost every onboarding presentation I have watched when starting a new job, I have seen the same message. This message is so important that most employers make a quarterly or at least an annual reminder. The message is about ergonomics, specifically how we should pick up a heavy item. Here are the general rules:

  • Plan your path.
  • Lift with your legs and not your back.
  • When transporting the item, keep the load close to your body and do not overextend yourself.
  • If the item is too heavy, have someone assist you.

With the high price that comes with from a work-related injury, this makes sense for both the employer and the employee.

As a weightlifter and personal trainer, I cringe whenever I see bad lifting mechanics. Bad mechanics have put me on the sidelines too often in my younger years. The continual pain in my back, though not initially caused from poor lifting techniques, is reminder enough to practice good form whenever I pick up a heavy object. Good technique practiced consistently will allow me to pick up heavier loads and continue picking them up in my senior years.

It’s not the load that breaks us down, it’s the way you carry it. -C.S. Lewis

These words from C.S. Lewis hit the mark when it comes to physically carrying a load. If we carry it poorly, we will eventually break down. However, physical loads are not the only things we carry. Our hearts and minds also bear a load that breaks us down if not properly carried. Excess baggage not properly dealt with can weigh us down. If we do not learn to handle this weight, we will stumble and falter.

It takes courage to shoulder a burden and carry it to our destination. If we want to make it to the end, we must practice good technique. This will allow us to handle greater weight and carry it longer. This is of course for the weight we must carry. If it is not necessary to carry it, it would be in our best interest to simply let it go.

In the Wilderness

The following was inspired by Father Mike Schmitz’s Bible in a Year podcast Day 65:

Here’s a brief recap of a story not unfamiliar to most of us:

The children of Israel were slave to the Egyptians. They lived a hard life of labor. Moses eventually gets them out of Egypt. They are headed to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. More importantly, they are headed to a place of freedom.

Between Egypt and the Promised Land is the wilderness. They don’t like it there, and like many unruly children, they complain and murmur. Their destination is a dream of the future. The wilderness blocks their vision of the dream. In their misery, they remember Egypt. It was a place of their slavery, but was it that bad? Maybe they should have stayed in Egypt rather than wandering around in the wilderness.

My (imaginary) friend Sarah is physically unfit. Here is a quick description of Sarah:

  • She works in a job that doesn’t demand much from her physically.
  • Her calorie intake is greater than her calorie burn.
  • Due to convenience and the fact that it is tasty, she eats a lot of calorie dense, nutrient deficient food.
  • She is regularly buying new clothes because she keeps growing out of  her old ones.
  • She is in a state of dis-ease. Why is there a hyphen in this word? Because her body is not in an optimal state to perform its normal duties. Her body is not at ease.

Sadly, Sarah is a slave to the environment she has created. She is not happy, but she doesn’t know how to escape her present condition.

Sarah’s loved ones are concerned about her well-being. They, the fitter ones, plant a vision within her mind of what is possible if she makes the following changes in her life:

  • Lose weight by going into a calorie deficit.
  • Engage in more physical activity to strengthen her muscles and bones.
  • Eat nutrient dense foods that are satiating and give her the fuel she needs.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle that promotes well-being and reduces and/or eliminates her current dis-eased state.

What her loved ones show her is a glimpse of her promised land.

Sarah agrees and with the assistance of her “advisors,” she flees the lifestyle that has enslaved her. Where is Sarah now? She is in her own wilderness. She has given up all the things that put her in bondage. The transition is difficult. She has made the changes but has yet to see the results. She has the vision in her mind, but she remembers the immediate gratification of her previous lifestyle. At this moment, Sarah is at a crossroads. How long she stays in the wilderness in up to her.

At one time in our lives, we have all been in Sarah’s place. We have found ourselves in bondage to a self-created system. This could be fitness, bad habits, an unfulfilling job, or anything that is a less-than-optimal situation. But during our captivity, a loved one, an inspirational video, a book, or an article presented us with a new vision of a better life. Undoubtedly, many of us chose to leave our old lifestyle in a quest for our own promise land. Making the decision to change, we entered the wilderness. We still have the vision, yet the old way of doing things no longer seems so bad. And then, we begin to doubt and to wander. In our hearts, we mumble and complain. Was it really that bad? Is all this really worth it? This is the test. We can continue our true path, or we can deviate. How long we wander in the wilderness is up to us.

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.

Legacy

What is value?

It is what something is worth. When we pay for an item, we expect the value to match or even exceed the price.

What does it mean to provide value?

I would like to think my words provide value. I do not charge a fee for my services (yet), but I respect the time you invest in visiting my site. Your time is just as valuable if not more valuable than money. Money is something that can be lost and then recovered. Time, once spent, can never be recovered. If I cannot provide value in the time you spend with me, it would be better for you to go somewhere else. Your time is too valuable to waste it on something that offers no return on your investment. Therefore, I write from the heart and to the best of my ability to provide equal value for your time.

Someday, I hope my services will increase in value. My goal is to give more to the world than I ever take. This is the legacy I wish to leave my family and those within my community (my community being as large or small as I choose it to be). My legacy is not for me. I cannot reap the rewards of future generations that may be inspired by the remnants of my words and deeds. They receive the benefits of my legacy, not me.

In a conversation one evening with my son, we spoke about success. He told me if he ever made it big, he was going to buy me a beach complete with a house and a shed for all my stuff. I told him this was a very kind gesture and how much I would love that. But I also told him that I would never want it if it came at the cost of his happiness. If he did not love what he was doing, then he would not be successful. There is no amount of money or possessions that could give him happiness. I then asked him where we could find our happiness. He said, “Love.” Yes! I told him he was right. The happiness we desire in this life comes from loving ourselves and others.

Loving Ourselves

This is a must. If we do not love who we are, we can change it. We can become better. We can aspire to greater things and work on making those aspirations a reality. If we hate what we do and only do it to “make a living,” then we are not loving ourselves. If this is our current situation, we can either resign ourselves to our fate or take the steps to make a change.

Loving Others

In Matthew 22:39*, Jesus said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” I love myself so much that I am willing to do everything I can to become the best version of myself. But that is not the commandment Jesus gave us to love others. Therefore, I will become the best version of myself to better serve you. And I love you so much that I will do my best to help you become the best version of you. This is my love for you, not to give you the fish but to teach you how to fish.

Great lives never go out; they go on.

Benjamin Harrison

This is legacy. All of us will die. Many of us will be no more than an afterthought upon expiring. Some of us will go. That is, the great ones among us will go on and even the grave will not have the power to stop it. The only way we can go on is to provide lasting value to the world. This is done through love, love for ourselves and love for others.


*Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

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.

Every Meal Is…

I walk into the closet and over to the safe. I punch in the numbers on the keypad, turn down the handle, and open the door. The heavy stuff at the bottom is the gold. On top of it is a wad of cash. These are mostly small bills and are not neatly stacked. On the top shelf is a few scratch-off lottery tickets.

The gold is the long-term currency that I won’t touch. This is the foundation upon which I build.

The paper money is nice to have, but in time I will burn through it. It is the fluff in the safe. It takes up more space than necessary.

The lottery tickets are even more volatile than the cash. Most likely, they will end up in the trash. But they also provide a nice rush of dopamine. Though the chances are slim, there is always the possibility of the hitting the big winner.

[Note: The above is only an illustration. There is no safe in my closet. It is not currently in my budget.]

Every meal is… A short-term investment in how you feel and perform, a mid-term investment in how you look, and a long-term investment in your freedom from disease.

Alan Aragon

Every meal and snack you eat is the currency in which we operate. Our bodies are the safes.

The short-term investment is the calorie-dense, nutrition deficient food we consume. This is the fast food, processed foods, desserts, and high calorie beverages. They are designed to be visually appealing, exceptionally tasty, and engineered to keep us coming back for more. Like the old Lay’s commercial, “No one can eat just one.” These short-term investments are the culinary roller coasters taking us through the metabolic highs and the inevitable lows. They are the lottery tickets in the safe.

Our mid-term investments are the foods that can help us get to where we want to go. They provide a stable fuel source. This is the cash in the safe. We can trade the cash for more lottery tickets or exchange it for gold. As we go, the fuel gets burned. If it doesn’t get burned (action), the body will find a way to store it (fat). If we only hold onto the cash, it will be like the fluff in the safe taking up more real estate than we desire.

The long-term investments are the well-balanced and nutrient dense foods we consume. They will be used by the body to improve the foundation and infrastructure. The body will not waste this but use it to its advantage. There is no roller coaster and no burn through with this. This is our gold.

Buying lottery tickets is a risky investment. Maybe during the high, we will hit on something big. But remember, most lottery winners will eventually end up where they began if they don’t end up worse off. The cash is nice but holding onto it forever does us no good. What we want to do is resist the urge to buy the lottery tickets and trade our cash for gold. Acquiring gold requires discipline. It means we must forego the urge to invest in the short-term and minimize our mid-term holdings. The gold is a precious metal that will hold its value and give us a stable foundation for the future.

Every meal is an investment. How much we get on our returns is up to us.

Two Minds

Little Minds

It starts with a wish:

  • Want more money.
  • It all to be easier.
  • More comfortable.
  • Worry-free.

Sometimes wishes are acted upon:

  • Go back to school to hopefully get a higher paying job.
  • Take the steps to become more efficient or to reduce the workload.
  • Check out from the adventures that life has to offer and watch more television and play more games.
  • Don’t let responsibility be a cause for stress.

Most wishes are well-intended. Who doesn’t want a better life? But for the little minded, it never goes beyond the wish. They are perpetual dreamers without the ability to turn their wishes into reality. As soon as adversity comes their way, they come to a full-stop. Their dreams get derailed, and they find themselves in the same place if not in a worse one.

Great Minds

We have all heard stories of heroes who overcame adversity. They hit the wall, but they didn’t let the wall end their journey. Instead, they found a way to get over, go around, or push through. How were they able to do this when so many around them stopped?

The heroes also had dreams and wishes, but these dreams and wishes evolved into something greater. They have a purpose. As the great yogi Paramanhansa Yogananda once said, “ A wish is a desire without energy.” Actionable purposes are the engines that get us to our intended destinations. Without them, we do not move in the direction we want to go. We remain stagnant.

An obstacle makes us think smarter and work harder. Overcoming it makes us stronger and more resilient to future obstacles. There will always be detours, snares, and pitfalls along the way. Great minds realize this and don’t let it hinder them. Rather, they embrace the challenge it presents. If the purpose is great enough, nothing short of death will deter it.

Great minds have purposes; others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.

Washington Irving

Since this post ultimately ends with action, here is your call to action:

No doubt you have a dream. Is it only a dream or has it become a purpose? If it is not a purpose yet, then it is well past the time to get up and get moving. Put action into the dream and go beyond those with the little minds. To be a great mind, we must have a purpose that will not get derailed by the obstacles in our way.