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.

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.

My Dirty Doorstep

There is one that I love like a brother. However, he is almost the exact opposite in personality, communication, and demeanor. As much as I love him, there are times I don’t want to be around him. It is simply too stressful.

Whenever this person does something, I am quick to complain to the others in our mutual circle. My complaining may start off with the latest perceived infraction, but inevitably it will extend to all the previous faults that still bother me today.

Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof, when your own doorstep is unclean.

Confucius

I am far from perfect. I am stubborn, arrogant, and often sarcastic at the wrong moments. I can be petty, selfish, and unempathetic. For all my good qualities, the bad ones are just as prevalent and probably more noticeable to my friends and family. These are areas that need some serious work but are also ones that I do not like having pointed out to me by others.

All day long I can complain about the snow on my neighbor’s roof. Yes, that roof is a problem, but it is not my problem. I cannot control my neighbor’s actions, their roof, or the weather that brought the snow. The only thing I can control are my actions and my attitude. Marcus Aurelius said I should be tolerant with others and strict with myself. If I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, such as cleaning the mess on my doorstep, I would have no time to complain about the snow on my neighbor’s roof. I would have no time to complain about my friend’s problems.

If thy brother wrongs thee, remember not so much his wrong-doing, but more than ever that he is thy brother.

Epictetus

Patience is what I need when I am around my friend. His issues and the way he deals with them are his own best practice. And if it works for him, then I need to be less critical. I am not going to change this person, but I can love him for all the good qualities that makes him my friend. And if it rubs me the wrong way, then that is my problem. It is a problem with my perception and attitude, a problem that I need to correct.

Obstacles in Life

There was a change in Thursday’s practice schedule. It was a little chaotic, and Alec didn’t have a chance to warm-up. This was my fault. I should have had him do it on his own or work a few minutes with the other class.

Right away, I could tell something was off. So far this season, Alec has had phenomenal practices. He has been attentive to the lectures and has given 100% in the drills. I have been happy with his progress. But at this practice, that wasn’t the case. He was distracted during the lectures which made his drill practice subpar. And then when it was time to wrestle, he had no confidence and was beaten by everyone he went against. What was going on?

After every practice, Alec and I have an After-Action Review (AAR). The one after this practice didn’t go well. I highlighted all the things he did wrong. Usually, I start with all the positives and then proceed to the areas he can work on. But in this case, it was all negative. As his athletic manager, I dropped the ball and didn’t consider the underlying factors. Later that night, we talked about what could have been better. We both agreed this was a one-off event, and we would do our best to learn from it and then move on. We also talked about why he was wrestling and its real-world applications.

The Obvious

The obvious application is how to handle a physical confrontation with another person. Wrestling is a great preventative measure against bullies. Bullies do not prefer to prey on a superior target. It does not enhance their reputations if they cannot defeat their opponent. Therefore, the bully looks to target a victim that is deemed mentally and/or physically weaker. A strong capable body and mind is one’s best defense against the bully.

In Relation to Math

As a part of our conversation, we discussed math. Mathematicians must be able to solve the problem in front of them. These problems range in complexity. Some problems are seen often. Once we understand the steps to solve them,  the problems become easier. But other problems are more complex and require more time and effort. Fortunately, most problems have a solution.

The wrestler’s problem is the opponent. The skillset, speed, and strength of the opponent determines the complexity. And like math, there is usually an available solution. The winner of the match is the one who discovers the solution the quickest.

In NOT Giving Up

Wrestling is one of the great sports that effectively taxes the mind and body. Enough pain and frustration will cause the faint of heart to throw in the towel. For the wrestler, the key to victory lies in overcoming the desire to give up. After all, the last one standing gets the crown.

Alec may not participate in the sport of wrestling his whole life. Yet, he will be wrestling throughout his lifetime. He is going to face situations where quitting will be an available option. Whether it is frustration with friends and family, co-workers and supervisors, or kings and countries, he will have to navigate seemingly insurmountable obstacles. What he does now will develop him to meet those future challenges head-on.

The real obstacles in life lie in the heart of man.

Bertrand Russell

The real beauty of wrestling is that it develops confidence and courage. To show hesitation is to show a lack of both. Currently, Alec has neither as a wrestler. He will get there, but he isn’t there yet. My job as his “manager” is to get him there. Of course, I want him to win, but winning at this stage is less important than his journey to excellence. Time under tension is one the best ways to develop muscles. Time under tension (experience) on the mat is going build both his confidence and courage. It is going to enable him to overcome the obstacles he is facing now and the future real obstacles he is going to face in life.

Difficulty shows what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. Why? So that you may become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat.

Epictetus

Examining Epictetus #32 Daily Improvements

I am believer in destiny. Specifically, I am a believer in my own destiny. There is a person out there who I am meant to become. If there is one primary objective I have in this life, it is to become that person.

Though I have always believed this to be the case, I have not always lived it. I have spent years trying to discover who this person is supposed to be. I have spent an equal amount of time coasting along and not even searching for this person. And unfortunately, I have also spent a considerable amount of time trying to deny who this person is. Sadly, those were the times when I was my most miserable. To be someone you are not supposed to be is a most unhappy existence.

But what does Socrates say? “Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day.

Epictetus

Several years ago, I had an epiphany. I wasn’t happy with my personal progress and needed a change. I got comfortable and was once again coasting through life. Diet and exercise were the first major shakeup. If I wanted to change who I was on the inside, I must change who I was on the outside. It is amazing how many people understand this concept, yet do not take the steps to make this change!

Once I established a routine for my external being, I began to work on the internal. This meant watching less television, spending less time idling through the days, and more time hitting the accelerator on my own development. Believe it or not, this was the easy part. As an avid reader of fiction, all I had to do was switch my content. No longer was I delving into someone’s fantasy world. Instead, I began immersing myself in the real world.

What were the benefits of these two changes? I look and feel better, and I am more attune to my surroundings. A step in the right direction! Finally, my feet were firmly on the ground and walking toward the person I was supposed to become. But that step was not enough. I had to keep going by adding more layers. The next step was to share my journey and begin helping others. Yes, I was on a very personal quest, but part of that quest was to leave some portion of this world a little better off than when I found it. And the only way to do that was to keep improving.


Every morning,  I wake up with the desire to take another step. With these words from Socrates in mind, I attend to my own improvements daily. It is truly a delight as I see the progress being made, as well as  the potential of what is to come. Someday, I will be the person I was destined to become. And if I can do this, so can you. All you must do is take that first step.

Examining Epictetus #27 A Life That Flows Smoothly

Whoever is making progress, after learning from philosophers that desire is directed toward good things and avoidance directed toward bad, and having also learned that impassivity and a good flow of life are not attained except through unerring desire and unfailing avoidance—that person will do away with desire altogether, or else defer it to another time, and exercise avoidance only on things within the moral sphere.

Discourses 1.4.1

I listened to the lecture as if Epictetus was alive and speaking directly to me. I know how many times I have failed in the past. I am afraid of how many more failures are to come if I cannot learn from my mistakes. The only choice comes in what I do in the present moment.

All my failures are the result of poor choices. I have gone to life’s creditors too many times and have racked up a massive amount of debt. It was a buy now and pay later in almost every aspect of my life.

I have the standard debt that has now become the norm today: mortgage, car payments, a little on a credit card here, a little on a loan there. If I only purchased based on what I physically had, I would be in the black. As it stands, I only see red.

These days, I generally consume less calories than I burn. Why? Because I am paying off the debt in my body.  Like my financial ledger, my body is in the red. Rather than temperance, I withdrew from the banks of gluttony, drunkenness, and laziness. They freely gave, and I took more than my fair share.

My mind is paying off a debt as well. I could have kept my head down and stayed in my studies. Instead, I wasted my formative years with my eyes on the digital screens. Rather than learning, I chose vain pursuits that used up my greatest asset: time.

In a nutshell, I didn’t contemplate good or bad. I erred toward the bad indulging in the fleeting pleasures of the moment. I made poor choices resulting in debt that I am still paying today.

But if virtue holds this promise—to secure happiness, impassivity, and a good flow of life—then progress toward virtue must involve progress toward these other states as well. For wherever the perfection of anything tends, progress is always an approach towards the same thing.

Discourses 1.4.3-4

I couple of years ago I started a new blog series covering the seven virtues. I felt compelled to write these for my son, compelled to train him toward a life of virtue. I wanted him to be happy, to be a champion in all he pursued, and to have a good flow of life.

How could I train him if my own life was lacking in those areas? Therefore, I put in constantly in my mind. I studied the words and lives of those who went before me. And then, I wrote. In the beginning, I was at odds internally. How could I write to others about things that I continued to struggle with in my own life? Thus began my evolution. I had to be self-effacing and write of my struggles. Rather than be a hypocrite, I had to write many of the messages to myself. I was directing myself toward the promise of virtue.

What is the goal of virtue, after all, except a life that flows smoothly?

Discourses 1.4.5b

This is what I want for my son. Even more so, it is what I want for myself. Before my journey into virtue,  I was a ship tossed at sea. Every trifle, no matter how small, threatened to capsize me. Instead of controlling the things within my power, I looked to the things outside and played the victim.

To have the life that flows smoothly, I must be the rock Marcus Aurelius spoke about that the waves crash over, standing unmoved while the rage of the sea falls still around it. The rock does not cry out for a respite. Instead, it does what the rock was designed for and bends the sea to its very existence. Rather than conforming to the whims of the world and allowing it to sweep me away from my intended destination, I must bend the pattern around me. I must be the rock.

Look for it in your volition, friend—that is, in your desire and avoidance. Make it your goal never to fail in your desires or experience things you would rather avoid; try never to err in impulse and repulsion; aim to be perfect also in the practice of attention and withholding judgment.

Discourses 1.4.11

To live the virtuous life is simply a matter of choice. It is a matter of righteousness. Choose what is good and right; avoid what is bad and evil. As Epictetus states, our goal is to desire good and not fail in obtaining it. Likewise, avoid the bad and not fail in doing so.

I love the last line in the above selection: aim to be perfect in the practice. It is a goal, not a demand. If you can do it, great! If not, try again next time. The hope is for progress. And what is the progress we are targeting? Being in the present moment and making no rash judgments. It sounds like being even-keel and level-headed, like a rock amongst the waves.

Where is progress, then? If there is anyone who renounces externals and attends instead to their character, cultivating and perfecting it so that it agrees with nature, making it honest and trustworthy, elevated, free, unchecked and undeterred; and if they’ve learned that whoever desires or avoids things outside of their control cannot be free or faithful, but has to shift and fluctuate right along with them, subject to anyone with the power to furnish or deprive them of these externals; and if from the moment they get up in the morning they adhere to their ideals, eating and bathing like a person of integrity, putting their principles into practice in every situation they face—the way a runner does when he applies the principles of running, or a singer those of musicianship—that is where you will see true progress embodied, and find someone who has not wasted their time making the journey here from home.

Discourses 1.4.18-21

Control what is your power to control. That is the key to the smooth flow of life. And that, my friend, is progress.


Feature photo by Nicholas Ng on Unsplash

Examining Epictetus #18: Winter Training

Dachau, Germany. It was a hot July day with the temperature in the middle nineties. I spent the morning touring the concentration camp. From there, I took a train to the town of Dachau to run a 10k race. I was dehydrated and nursing a strained calf muscle. Therefore, it was one the hardest races I have ever run.

After the race, I took the train back to Munich. On the ride, I enjoyed a conversation  with another runner. We spoke of the running scene in Germany and soon our conversation turned to winter running. Training in the winter plays an integral role in the runner’s year. As I listened, I thought of the mild winters in Western North Carolina where temperatures rarely go below the twenties. The thought of running in a German winter was less than appealing.

Six months later, I got a first-hand experience of a Bavarian winter. The temperature hovered near zero, snow covered the ground creating hazardous footing, and a brisk wind blew down the River Isar. The act of running suddenly became arduous. I had to wear more clothes, spend more time warming up, and even more time convincing myself to walk out the door and into the sunless afternoon. As I ran, I remembered the conversation on the train. If I wanted to improve my summer running, then the winter is where I would separate myself from the runner I used to be.

We must endure a winter training, and can’t be dashing into situations for which we aren’t yet prepared.

Discourses 1.2.32

It is in the winter where progress is made. It is the time to prepare for the upcoming season. Everything is more difficult. Progress is exceedingly slow. Yet, here is where courage is developed, discipline is solidified, and weakness is pushed away. To find success in the summer, one must train in the winter.

‘But if we are endowed by nature with the potential for greatness, why do only some of us achieve it?’ Well, do all horses become stallions? Are all dogs greyhounds?

Discourses 1.2.34

We all have the potential for greatness. But as Epictetus states, not all of us will achieve it. Only a few will be a Roger Bannister running a mile in under four minutes, a Michael Jordan dominating the court, or a Michael Phelps swimming laps around the competition. So many of us dream of greatness, yet so few of us will ever get there. As frustrating as it is, this is reality. Should it be a deterrent, knowing the odds are not in our favor?

In short, we do not abandon any discipline, for despair of ever being the best in it.

Discourses 1.2.37

We may never become the best, but we can become good. We can find success in any endeavor we undertake if we are willing to do the work. This should be enough reason even if we never reach an elite level.

Right now, at this moment, I am in the winter of my life. It is cold, dark, and often lonely. Frustration is knocking at the door hoping to bring the cold inside. But this is the time when I am also finding out who I really am and who I will become in the future. Someday, the season may change. I may find myself coming into my summer where things become easier. However, I cannot look at someday. Today is where my focus needs to be. It is winter, and I must train.


Words in italics from Discourses 1.2 by Epictetus

Feature photo by Andrew Krueger on Unsplash

Examining Epictetus #40: This Body Does Not Belong to You

The first inspection on the house I was going to rent went well. There were only a few minor issues with the property, and those were all well-documented. Over the course of the next year, I took care of it like I owned it. After all, this was my home. When the rental agreement expired, we conducted a final inspection. I turned in the keys and moved on with my life.

When I was conceived by my parents, I moved into my new body. Since then, I have tried my best to take care of it, but in truth, I will one day return it to the ground from whence it came. As long as I am in my body, it is the home of my soul and spirit. I do not own this body. Instead, I am just borrowing it on a long-term lease.

Well, what did Zeus say? ‘Epictetus, if it were possible, I would have made your little body and possessions both free and unrestricted. As it is, though, make no mistake: this body does not belong to you, it is only cunningly constructed.’

Discourses 1:1.10-11

How profound are these words! We are only clay in a body that doesn’t belong to us. If Nature or the Earth is truly our Mother, then we must give back to her the bodies we have borrowed. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.

What should we do then? Make the best use of what is in our power, and treat the rest in accordance with its nature. And what is its nature? However God decides.

Discourses 1:1.17

This body that I am renting, what should I do with it? It may not belong to me, but it is my home. Would I let it fall into disrepair because it is only a rental? Of course not! For if my mind and soul are trapped in a toxic environment and are unable to operate in its optimal state, what kind of condition will they be in when they move on and go to their next existence? Can a dull me expect to shine in my next incarnation if it did not have its proper training?

What should we have ready at hand in a situation like this? The knowledge of what is mine and what is not mine, what I can and cannot do.

Discourses 1:1.21

This is our situation. This is our knowledge. We are only here temporarily. In time, we must all die. None shall escape. Unable to change this situation, how will I expire? Will I mourn and bewail the inevitable, or will I face it bravely? Will I fight to stay trapped in a corporeal state, which is destined to break down and decay in its attempt to be reunited with the earth? Doing so will only delay the elevation of this spirit to a higher plane.

I must do what is in my power and let go of the things that are not.

That’s the kind of attitude you need to cultivate if you would be a philosopher, the sort of sentiments you should write down every day and put in practice.

Discourses 1:1.25

A philosopher’s goal is to find the truth, to study it, and then learn how to operate within its parameters. This is my goal. I never dreamed I would be a philosopher. And yet, here I am, a mere student longing to understand.


Quotes from Epictetus’ Discourses Book 1, Chapter 1.

Feature photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash

Examining Epictetus #12: To Improve, Seem Ignorant

The quality of your questions determines the quality of your life.

Tony Robbins

The above is one of my favorite quotes of all time. I have spent hours considering it and how to ask a better question. And though I ask many questions on a wide array of topics, I am certain I can still do better.

What is the direction I want to go in life?

Where can I improve?

How can I get there?

The first two questions, I can answer on my own. The last one, however, requires more questions. It demands better questions than the ones I am asking today. I don’t know how to get there because I simply don’t know. And therefore, I must consider these words from Epictetus:

If you wish to improve, be content to be seen as ignorant on certain matters. -Epictetus

A student who wants to attain mastery will watch and learn. She will look at those who went before her to see what they did right and what they did wrong. She will experiment, fail, and try again, repeating the process until it works. She will learn to ask the right questions until she gets the answers she is seeking. If she is humble and doesn’t pretend to know it all, if she is pleasant to work with and working hard herself, those with more knowledge and experience will be more apt to help her.

If we seem to be ignorant in the areas in which we wish to improve, we could one day attain the mastery we seek.

Feature photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash