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

Going After Our Personal Legends

I recently decided to reread The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. If you haven’t read this short book, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. It is truly a great read that you won’t regret.

In the book, the shepherd boy Santiago is on a quest to find his treasure and obtain his Personal Legend. As straight forward as that seems, it is not so easy. Much like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the path may be straight ahead, but there are many obstacles along the way. In Santiago’s case, it is settling for something other than his Legend. In overcoming these obstacles, he gets content to stay where he is for a year or two. This leads him to view alternate potential futures that are tempting. It takes him a while, but he realizes true happiness won’t come staying in one place. His happiness will come in continuing on his journey.

It is a simple thing to identify with Santiago’s life. Obstacles often come in fresh opportunities, new jobs, or too-good-to-pass-up deals. They have a tendency to derail us from our own Personal Legends. And like Santiago, after a few years we wonder what happened and what could have been if we had stayed the course. Hopefully, it is not too late to pick back up and go after the treasures we dreamed of.

As I continue to read through Robert Greene’s book Mastery, I have also learned that some of the deviations have a way of better preparing us in pursuit of our quest. As I look back on my own pursuit, I realize that some of those deviations have helped mold me into who I am today. They have made me stronger and better prepared for tomorrow. Perhaps my timeline isn’t what I hoped it would be, but how many people’s timelines match up with their projections? I have to keep the faith and continue the next leg of the journey.

“It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.

“At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.” -said the Old Man to Santiago

To stay stuck in the deviation, is to continue being who we were. We have to get past this and not allow ourselves to hold us back. We have to take all our experiences, all our learning, and become the masters of our own Personal Legends.

Rekindle the Spark That Leads to Mastery

This week I started reading the book Mastery by Robert Greene.

What does it take to become a master? Well for starters, it starts at childhood. It starts with passion for doing something that you really enjoy doing. Children have a natural inclination to do what they like to do. Unfortunately as adults, we like to coerce them into doing the things they “ought” to do instead. We do it because we want what is best for them. We figure that conformity is best. As a result, we take them away from the things they enjoy doing and give them other tasks for their own good.

To be a master, you have to reconnect with that love for doing something, like you once did as a child. You have to find your passion in a field and go after it with all the passion of a religious zealot. It is more difficult as an adult. But even as adults, we still have the ability to hearken back to those days of old when wonder sparked within us a desire to know more. We have the ability to rekindle that fire and begin again.

As a father, I have to remember to encourage this with my son. As a somewhat responsible adult, I have become enamored with responsibility, duty, and what ought to be done. And though I like that structure and feel free working within those boundaries, I want him to find his own discipline while at the same time pursuing his passions. It is a balance I am hoping to find not only with my son but with myself.

To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity. –Friedrich Nietzche

It would be stupid to forget the reason why I am on this earth. It is a miracle that I am even here, and to squander it would be a shame. This week, I am going back in time to remember what I used to be passionate about and how they line up with what I am doing today. In the days to come, I am going to look at the things my son is passionate about and how I can encourage him to explore those passions.

Farewell.

Build Through Action

Temperance 10/1/2019

My son, Alec, gets frustrated when he can’t do something right the first time. He is still learning that practice is the key to success. Eventually, he will understand the concept of practice. This is not something to get upset about, it is a deficiency. And to overcome the deficiency, you must practice.

When I think about the things I am good at, I consider what it took to get that way. It took hours of repetition. It took patience. It took the realization that glory, if it was to be had, would not come during the practice sessions.

Often, we become good at things we don’t necessarily want to do. We are required by our employer to do job-related tasks. We get good at them, because we don’t want to spend all of our time on the menial stuff. We practice until we become efficient, and then we do the task in the least amount of time possible.

Action is the key to foundational success. –Pablo Picasso

Over 140,000 works of art. That’s what Picasso did. It would take over 383 years to do one a day. Imagine how many pieces he did every day during the course of his life.

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that it takes about 10,000 hours to become a master. That’s twenty hours a week for ten years. I don’t recall giving any one area of my life that much time. Am I even working toward one discipline with that much effort?

There are things that I want to get really good at. There are areas that I want to master. Am I putting in the effort to accomplish these in my lifetime? I can’t say that I am. I only have so many years left to get after it, if I don’t increase my efforts now, when will I?

And what about Alec? Even at seven years of age, he is becoming passionate about different hobbies. Of course, I think it is wise for him to try as many as he can. But the sooner he can narrow down one true pursuit, the quicker he can master it. It is a bit of a conundrum but something I think about, and eventually it is something I hope he thinks about.