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.

The Shade of Knowledge

Every autumn, the four big oaks in my front yard dump thousands of acorns onto the ground. The deer and the squirrels love it. The dogs bark every time they hit the house like small mortar rounds.

The acorns are a nuisance, but that is okay. The amount of shade those massive oaks produce in the heat of summer is worth the hassle. The oaks are a blessing to those who take refuge among their branches, gain respite from their shade, and feed from their fruit.

It is amazing to think that those trees each started out as a tiny acorn. Such a small seed with so much potential energy! When the combination of earth, water, air, fire, and even spirit work their life-giving magic on the seed, the results are nothing short of miraculous. This is true alchemy.

If we do not plant knowledge when young it will give us no shade when we are old.

Lord Chesterfield

The tree is an allegory for wisdom. We plant the seeds of knowledge. We give them the nutrients necessary to grow. And if we do this, then we will reap the blessings in our elder years.


Feature photo by 30daysreplay Germany on Unsplash

Proverbs 30:2-3 More Stupid than Any Man

Confucius and Socrates were by no means considered foolish. Instead, they were some of the most brilliant thinkers of their time. And yet, this is what they said:

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. -Confucius

One thing that I know, and that is that I know nothing. -Socrates

There was a king named Agur, the son of Jakeh. Nobody knows who he or his father was. But whoever he may have been, he was wise enough to write the 30th chapter of Proverbs. And how did he start off his chapter? With these words:

Surely I am more stupid than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom nor have knowledge of the Holy One.

Proverbs 30:2-3

I think I have made some progress over the years. But compared to Confucius, Socrates, or even Agur, I have barely even scratched the surface. Whatever stores of knowledge I have accumulated has only led me to the realization that my pursuit is not complete. In fact, it will never be complete.

I Don’t Know It

 “What do you know,” asked the voice on the other end of the line. It was the standard greeting whenever I call this friend.

“I don’t know it,” I replied. It was a deviation from the standard, “I wish I knew.”

For the last twenty years, this has been the opening salvo of our conversations. Over the last twenty years, I have gone to great lengths to gather as much knowledge as I can. I have done my best to understand the things I have learned. Knowledge and understanding. My quest for wisdom has always started with these two: knowledge and understanding. And yet when I am asked what I know, my answer is still, “I don’t know it.” I wish the answer was different. I wish I knew it. But the knowledge I accumulate only leads me to the realization of just how much I don’t know.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.

Confucius

The great Eastern sage makes a great point. One that even his Western counterpart, Socrates, agreed with when he said, “One thing I know, and that is that I know nothing.” Does this mean I now have real knowledge? Not even close! Too many things have prevented me from attaining the thing I desire most, namely my ego. I have often grown arrogant in the few things I do know. When brief flashes of enlightenment have come in the form of understanding, I have found pride in the accomplishment. But in truth, I am but a lowly student and cannot afford the debt of pride. Who am I to think I have found mastery?

The person on my phone call often says I am the wisest person he has ever met. I can’t help but wonder if he should broaden his horizons to include more wise people. If I only had a portion of my friend’s wisdom, I would be much wiser than I am today. I might even be considered somewhat successful. Yet, that is not the case. Therefore, my quest continues.


Feature photo by Jim Reardan on Unsplash

Contemplating Seneca #20

It was weakness on my part for letting it bother me, but in truth I have been guilty of doing the same thing.

Have you ever held information with the intention of increasing your value? Have you ever kept your cards close to the vest rather than share it with the team? I used to work with someone who did. He would keep vital information from the team so that he could deploy it later for his own perceived gains. It made him look foolish, not only to the leadership but to the rest of the team. He had high aspirations of advancement, and in his mind holding that information made him an indispensable member of the team.

It is easy to judge when you are the in the group that is left out. Such an act is truly selfish and keeps the rest of the team from performing at a high level. Have I ever done it? I can’t say I haven’t. I haven’t always been the best teammate. I have sometimes considered personal gain to be more important than the success of the team. He was foolish for doing it, and I have certainly been foolish in the past.

What is the purpose of knowledge? Is it to keep it to one’s self? If it is something that is not used, isn’t it useless? As Aristotle said, “The purpose of knowledge is action, not knowledge.” It is good to have knowledge, even better is to share it. I am not talking about breaking any ethical laws or corporate espionage. Instead, I am saying to share the knowledge you have for the good of the team, for the good of those who would derive benefit from it.

The sage on the mountaintop is no benefit if nobody goes up the mountain, or if he never comes down it. Any knowledge or understanding I have is ready to be shared with any who would hear it. If I have any wisdom, I will gladly pass it on. In fact, that is its purpose. Not only that I can live a good life, but that others may benefit from it as well.

Consider these words from Seneca’s On Sharing Knowledge:

And when you say: “Give me also a share in these gifts which you have found so helpful,” I reply that I am anxious to heap all these privileges upon you, and that I am glad to learn in order that I may teach. Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it. …Therefore I summon you, not merely that you may derive benefit, but that you may confer benefit; for we can assist each other greatly.

Power Combo: Discipline and Knowledge

What does it mean to love discipline? Imagine a person you know that has discipline. What does this person do that classifies her as one with discipline? An individual with discipline does the right things consistently and abstains from the wrong things consistently. The person that loves discipline is also a lover of knowledge.

But why? What does knowledge have to do with discipline? If discipline is the path we should be on, then knowledge is the guide that will keep us on it. How else are you going to know which direction to go?

Knowledge is essential to staying on the path of discipline. Knowledge without discipline, however, will do you little good. There are too many people full of knowledge with no fruits to show from it. Their knowledge is useless if it is not being used. But knowledge coupled with discipline, now that is a powerful combination. It is a combination that allows a person to make better choices, adapt when needed, and move forward. Who can stop a person like that?

Keep moving on the path. Get the knowledge along the way that will keep you on the straight and narrow. This knowledge will come from many sources. Weigh it, consider it, and embrace it if it is true.

My son:

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates reproof is stupid. -Proverbs 12:1