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.

Contemplating Seneca #24: Wisdom for Happiness

It is clear to you, I am sure, Lucilius, that no man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom; you know also that a happy life is reached when our wisdom is brought to completion, but that life is at least endurable even when our wisdom is only begun.

A happy life. Seneca said it is only possible for the person who studies wisdom. Why is that? Wisdom may not make a person perfect, but it is the pinnacle at the top of the mountain. To study wisdom is to climb the mountain. And as it increases over time, the student learns to avoid foolish mistakes in both words and deeds.

Solomon also said the one who finds wisdom is happy, that her profits are greater than monetary wealth (Proverbs 3:13-15). Money comes and goes, but wisdom, once attained, doesn’t flee. It doesn’t fluctuate based on speculation, inflation, or corruption.

The acquisition of wisdom is a journey that improves and makes life endurable.

This idea, however, clear though it is, must be strengthened and implanted more deeply by daily reflection; it is more important for you to keep the resolutions you have already made than to go on and make noble ones. You must persevere, must develop new strength by continuous study, until that which is only a good inclination becomes a good settled purpose.

Daily reflection. One must take the time to measure progress. The most effective way is to do it daily. Is there a better way to do this self-examination than by journaling?

One of my favorite podcasts is Ben Greenfield Fitness, one of the best shows to learn about human optimization, ancestral living, and biohacking. Check out step #3 from Ben’s evening journaling practice.

As you breathe, for anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes, begin to visualize your day. During this time, I recommend you replay your entire day in your mind like a movie, watching yourself in the third person and identifying what you have done well, what you could have done better, and where you felt most self-actualized and connected to your purpose statement. Watching the character of yourself in your mind, in the third person, ask yourself what you aren’t rooting for the character to do, or wishing they’d done differently, or where they failed and learned. Ask yourself what you are proud of that character doing and how you really see them acting their best. Finally, ask yourself where that person seemed most “in the flow” and doing exactly what seems to be the very reason they are in the movie in the first place. As you play the movie in your mind, stop when necessary and write down in the journal what you have done well, what you could have done better, and when or where you lived your life’s purpose.

Sabbath Ramblings: What My Morning Journaling Practice Looks Like (& How I Combine Breathwork, Visualization, Tapping, Prayer, Gratitude, Service, Self-Examination & Purpose). -Ben Greenfield

Examine yourself; scrutinize and observe yourself in divers ways; but mark, before all else, whether it is in philosophy or merely in life itself that you have made progress.

When I first began journaling, I would write down the events of the day. It was a non-value-added list of bullet points. After a while, I became bored with it as I was not reflecting on a deeper level. Now I try to look at the day from multiple angles. How did I perceive myself in those actions? How did others possibly perceive my actions? What actions brought my life closer to my goals in life? What did I do to not only improve my life but the lives of those around me? What were my good deeds and how can I improve on my bad ones?

Philosophy is no trick to catch the public; it is not devised for show. It is a matter, not of words, but of facts. It is not pursued in order that the day may yield some amusement before it is spent, or that our leisure may be relieved of a tedium that irks us. It moulds and constructs the soul; it orders our life, guides our conduct, shows us what we should do and what we should leave undone; it sits at the helm and directs our course as we waver amid uncertainties. Without it, no one can live fearlessly or in peace of mind.

The purpose of philosophy. It is the user’s manual on how we should live. Nobody cares whether I memorized the lawn mower’s user manual. But if it is their grass that I am cutting, they do care whether I can operate the mower. The same with philosophy. To quote others and study for the sake of knowledge only does no good. Henry David Thoreau said, “There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.” I must do more than just study philosophy, I must practice it. I must be a philosopher.

Countless things that happen every hour call for advice; and such advice is to be sought in philosophy.

Wisdom leads to making good choices. It leads to a happy life. Through daily reflection we can refine our choices in the hopes of preventing the bad ones. Those bad choices are available to us constantly. How do prevent them? We turn to our user’s manual. We turn to philosophy.

Words in italics from Seneca’s 16th Letter to Lucilius: On Philosophy, the Guide of Life.


Feature photo by Redd on Unsplash

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.

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

What You Do

This is a continuation of the post: I Don’t Know It. If you haven’t read it yet, I invite you to do so.

From my earliest years, I have been on the hunt for wisdom. King Solomon said wisdom is calling us, and all we must do is heed the call (Proverbs 8). I took this literally. I also made the Book of Proverbs a staple in my daily reading. Initially, I believed there were two major keys to acquiring wisdom. First, you must collect as much knowledge as possible. Then, you must do your best to understand it. For most of my life, this was my modus operandi. Yet, something was lacking.

I thought the world would benefit from my vast stores of wisdom. I thought the masses would flock to me for guidance. Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. However, I did believe I would be more valuable to the world if I wasn’t a complete fool. All I had was the wisdom found in books. A good thing no doubt, but wisdom is more than book smarts. It is more than theory. If I genuinely want to be wise, I must learn the practical application of wisdom. I must get out of the perpetual classroom that I am living in and get into the experimental aspects.

The world cares very little what you or I know, but it does care a great deal about what you or I do. -Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington

Action. It always comes down to action. Or in the case of wisdom, it comes down to application. And this is where I went wrong for the longest time. We know knowledge does us no good if we don’t understand it. And what is the purpose of knowledge and understanding if we don’t know how to use it? We can have a theory about what is in the great unknown, but it is not the same thing as actually venturing into the unknown. We must get out of the classroom and get into the world.


Feature photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash

Between Fake and Real

Some of the richest people you will ever meet are not the ones that drive around in the flashy cars, wear the trendiest clothes, or live in the most upscale homes. Nope. Some of the richest people you will ever meet will come and go without giving you any clues to their wealth.

The ones that would flaunt their wealth may not actually be that wealthy. Even if they seem to have money, they might be poor. They might be in an advanced state of materialism which keeps them always chasing after the next latest and greatest shiny object.

It is best for the wise man not to seem wise.

Aeschylus

Like the fake wealthy are those that would want you to believe they are wise. They will flaunt their sagacity like a fake Rolex on the wrist. They will seek you out so that you may give them the validation they need. But true keepers of wisdom don’t need the show, they don’t need to seek you out. A true guru doesn’t go looking for students. Instead, it is the other way around. The one who would pursue wisdom will go looking for the guru.

Maybe the idea of faking it until you make it works in some areas. But faking wealth until you have it will leave you with less than you started with. And as for faking wisdom, leave that sport for the fools. Rather than faking, pursue. Do the research. Do the work. Become what you want to be, not a shell of something you are not.


Photo by Casey Connell on Unsplash

Humility, Fear, Riches, Honor, and Life

Humility

It is said that with pride comes the fall. I have been down that road and chances are, many of you have as well. Humility takes work. And if you are busy working on becoming a better person, when will you have the time for arrogance and conceit. Stay humble. Stay low to the ground. If you do have a fall, you will have a shorter distance to go, and it won’t hurt so bad.

The Fear of the Lord

The priest asked us to close our eyes, and then he asked a question. He said, “How many of you truly love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” I raised my hand. I could hear others raise their hands as well. We put our hands down and were told to open our eyes. Then another set of questions came:

  • How many thanked God this morning for another day?
  • How much time have you spent in prayer?
  • God gave us one book, how much time do you spend reading it?
  • Do you give your first fruits or just whatever you have left over?

We were told to close our eyes again and the same question was asked. “How many of you truly love God with all your heart, soul, and mind?” My hand didn’t go up. I don’t think I was alone.

Break down the commandments and we essentially have two: Love God and love your neighbor. Follow those two, and you are good on the original ten. When I think of loving God, I also think of fearing God. Do I really fear God? If I did, would I live like I do now, or would I live differently?

Riches, Honor, and Life

Pride equals a fall.

Sin equals death.

Humility and fear equal riches, honor, and life.

A proud man wants to flaunt his possessions and abilities. He wants the world to notice him. Most likely, he will live above his means. He will cause others to loathe him. Those he offends would love nothing more than to see his demise. They may even try to bring it about themselves.

Once again, humility takes work. It is the work that brings riches, honor, and life. This is Thomas Stanley’s Millionaire Next Door. This is the one that has much but doesn’t draw attention to himself. This is the one that stays low to the ground and does the work.

The results of humility and the fear of the Lord is riches, honor, and life.

Proverbs 22:4

From Reading to Being

I read Historical Fiction. I lived in a make-believe past. I read Fantasy. I went into a fairy tale world. Historical Fiction and Fantasy, with a dabbling of Science Fiction made up the bulk of my reading for over ten years. What do I have to show for it? I can sit for long periods at a time, and I have a rather decent reading comprehension level.

 And then one day, about four or five years ago, I picked up some Non-Fiction. I figured with all the reading I do; I might as well learn something. My life has not been the same since. I went from leadership and psychology to health and fitness. Whatever I came across that I felt had the ability to improve my life, I read.

What has been the benefit? Almost every facet of my life has become a little bit better. In my opinion, the transformation has been amazing. I think different, feel different, and may even look a little different. There is a quality of life I imagine living and every day I get a little closer to it. All because I changed what I read about.

What you read when you don’t have to determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

Oscar Wilde

Nobody forces me to read. And unless you are in school, nobody is likely to force you to read. It is a choice with a myriad of benefits and very few cons. Regardless of age or ability, there is a wealth of wisdom available to us. The only thing holding us back is us. Make the choice to read. What is the worst that can happen?