Setbacks

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to reduced by it.” – Maya Angelou

Everything that happens changes you.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

Life is like the river. After something happens you are not the same person.

That doesn’t mean what happens to you should bring you down, but it should change you.

You should learn from it.

“A rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8.35

Setbacks should be used as fuel, fuel to get better, fuel to achieve your goal.

Giving up is not an option.

Life will never get easier. It will keep dragging you down if you let it.

However, if you focus on what you can control, you can move forward.

Even in the most horrifying circumstances, if you focus on what is in your control, it doesn’t make it easier, but it makes it tolerable.

Epictetus was a slave for most of his life. He had is leg permanently destroyed by a cruel owner, but he didn’t let that circumstance reduce him.

“They (the gods) made you responsible only for what is in your power – the proper use of impressions. So why take on the burden of matters which you cannot answer for? You are only making unnecessary problems for yourself.” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1:12:34-35

Now that is easier said than done considering the evil that human beings can do to one another.

Two prime examples are the horrific conditions that Viktor Frankl and Admiral James Stockdale had to endure.

Viktor Frankl was imprisoned in Theresienstadt and then Auschwitz. He lost his whole family to the horror. He however did not let it reduce him.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl

James Stockdale was shot down over North Vietnam and spent seven years as a prisoner in the Hanoi Hilton prison camp.

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” — Admiral James Stockdale.

Very few of us will have to suffer the horror that these men endured. Could you?

Many of us melt when we are hit with the slightest setback.

How do we soldier on?

We take it one day at at time. If it’s bad we focus on ten minutes at a time. If it’s really bad focus on the next minute.

Focus on what you control. We do not control what happens to us. We only control how we react.

What Are You Worth

“You are the only one who knows yourself – which is to say, you know how much you are worth in your own estimation, and therefore at what price you will sell yourself; because people sell themselves at different rates.” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1:2:11

What is your price?

We all have a price. Depending on circumstances the price may change.

Should we look down on a prostitute?

Would you do the same under the circumstances?

I don’t think anyone could say truthfully without walking in their shoes.

You may not sell your body, but you are willing to sell yourself for jobs, friends, etc.

Are you any better?

“Consider at what price you sell your integrity; but please for God’s sake, don’t sell it cheap.” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1:2:33

Most people would find selling their body disgusting but they are willing to sell their integrity for nothing.

Which is worse?

“‘But the tyrant will chain…?’ What will he chain? Your leg? ‘He will chop off…?’ What? Your head? What he will never chain or chop off is your integrity.” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1:18:17

Life will present you with opportunities to sell your integrity. Are you willing to do that for short term gains?

To what end?

Will you be able to look yourself in the mirror every day?

If you have to make certain decisions to survive, who will judge you?

If you can look yourself in the mirror and know you made the best decision you could then what others think about you doesn’t matter.

Focus on what you can control. Other people’s perceptions of what you have done is not something you can control.

If they haven’t walked in your shoes then their opinion doesn’t matter.

But when you are making those decisions don’t sell your integrity cheap.

Do what you have to do but make sure you can look your self in the mirror afterwards.

Amor Fati

Amor Fati means love one’s fate.

Friedrich Nietzsche created the idea.

“That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it….but love it.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

When life is going good Amor Fati is easy. All’s good. No reason to regret anything. Loving life.

When life starts throwing challenges at you that’s when Amor Fati becomes difficult.

But if you read Nietzsche’s quote carefully he doesn’t say love your fate when it’s easy. He says “one wants nothing to be different.”

Everything happens for a reason. We may not be able to see or comprehend it at the time, but the reason is there.

Bad things will happen. That’s inevitable. Why try to pretend they won’t?

We would all love life to go our way all the time. That’s not reality.

“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.” – Epictetus

As much as we try, we do not control what happens to us. We only control our response to what happens.

Why be miserable? It is what it is, and it will be what it will be.

Life is too short not to love that you are alive.

Every day is a gift. Even the bad ones.

It’s a Phase

I was listening to Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic podcast from May 25. It began with Ryan talking about everything in life is a phase.

Good, bad, or indifferent. Whatever you are going through will end eventually. Even if it means the end of you.

“Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable… then stop complaining. Your will mean it’s end as well. Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your best interest to do so.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book X.3

When you are going through something it may seem unbearable at the time. Then years later you look back, and you made it through and learned something from it.

What if you had that perspective when you were going through it?

Everything that happens to you is endurable. It may not seem like it in the moment. It may be painful but as I said in an earlier blog post: Pain = Growth.

Don’t get caught complaining even to yourself. What you are going through is hard enough. Don’t make it harder by feeling sorry for yourself.

There is always something to learn and something positive to take away from every situation. No matter how hard or painful.

The most painful experiences make us better.

“It’s not what happens to you but how you react that matters.” – Epictetus

Showing Up

The Reflections from Holstee email Finding Creative Inspiration (Part 1) begins with a video from a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert. “In the video, Elizabeth talks about an old and rather mystical idea, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, of a ‘genius’ that comes to us and creates through us. This genius is unpredictable, and it may or may not come to us. But we improve our chances of experiencing it just by showing up.”

Everything begins by showing up

If you don’t show up you can’t be in the game. If you don’t show up your opinion doesn’t matter.

But showing up isn’t enough.

Then you have to do the work.

You have to have the perseverance to overcome the obstacles that will inevitably be thrown in your way. You have to have the passion to keep going.

Angela Duckworth defines grit as perseverance and passion for long term goals.

Showing up is the start. Do you have the grit to continue?

The Reflections from Holstee email Finding Creative Inspiration (Part 2) talks about the resistance we all feel when we show up. “There is always something that inevitably comes up. Are they real needs or are they subconscious resistance to doing the work?”

If what you are doing is important you will find the time to accomplish it.

If it is not important why are you doing it?

The world is full of distractions. Our lives are constant fights for our attention.

We must find the space and quiet to show up, then the willpower to ignore the distractions.

“Two words should be committed to memory and obeyed by alternately exerting and restraining ourselves, words that will ensure we lead a mainly blameless and untroubled life: persist and resist.” – Epictetus

Epictetus is taking about a different kind of resistance.

Persist in showing up and doing good work. Resist all the “urgent” matters that try to grab your attention.

Longing

Longing for what?

Days gone by? That may or may not have been so great.

Or a future of greatness? That may or may not come true.

Too much of the first brings on depression of things you cannot change.

Too much of the second brings on anxiety of things you cannot control.

You need to let go of who you were so that you can become who you want to be.

Longing is not a bad thing. It can be the driver to make your life better.

It can be the driver to create the goals that move you forward in life.

Long to be better each day. Long to be more humble. Long to be more empathetic. Long to be more wise. Long to be more understanding.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be, be one.” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, X.16

Focus on making your life better, by being better. Not on external factors that you cannot control.

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things that are beyond the power of our will.” – Epictetus, Enchidrion, 1

Single-mindedness of Purpose

Having a goal is important, but the execution for attaining that goal is more important. Can you keep your eye on the prize? Can you avoid the distractions of every day life to do the work that will get you your goal?

“Single-mindedness of purpose, total concentration on the goal, and the use of these qualities against people less focused, people in a state of distraction – such an arrow will find its mark every time and overwhelm the enemy.” – Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

It is easier to spread ourselves thin and not focus on what needs to be done to accomplish our goal. We identify goals, plural, that distract us from the hard work needed to accomplish what we really want.

“The fool flits from one person to another, believing that he will survive by spreading himself out. It is a corollary of the law of concentration, however, that much energy is saved, and more power is attained, by affixing yourself to a single, appropriate source of power.” – Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

Can you overcome the disappointment when you’re goal is delayed? It’s never denied unless you give up. Can you suppress your ego to learn why the goal is delayed?

“Persist and resist.” – Epictetus

If you do not you will be stuck where you are not accomplishing what you desire.

(Un)Precedented Times

How often over the last three years have we heard these are unprecedented times? Every day, multiple times a day. Part of the issue is we see ourselves as special. We are the only ones who have gone through times like these.

The Trump-Biden election was unprecedented. It seemed a lot like Bush-Gore, Hayes-Tilden (which is the subject of a wonderful book, To Rescue The Republic by Brett Baier, about Grant’s role in a smooth transition of power after the contested election), and Adams-Jefferson.

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic. There have been pandemics all throughout recorded history: the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Bubonic Plague (or Black Death) in the Middle Ages, the Antonine plague during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

These facts don’t mean that these events aren’t traumatic. The civil unrest. The loss of life. These past three years have been trying to say the least.

However we are not special. These times are very much precedented. We are just more easily lead to believe we are special by social media and cable news.

We need to realize that by thinking we are special we are letting the situation control us. We are acting as if we are helpless.

We are not. We may not be able to control what happens to us. We can control how we react to what happens to us.

“It’s not what happens to you but how you react that matters.” -Epictetus

By complaining about unprecedented times we are relinquishing control of our response to outside forces we have no control over.

These times are difficult no doubt about it, but if we look back at history there were times just like these that can serve as a template for how we can respond to the difficult things around us. Do not relinquish control to outside forces.

Chicken Little Syndrome

If you remember the story, an acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head. She believes the sky is falling. She runs around the farm frantically.

She meets others along the way and convinces them the sky is falling. They must tell the king. Even though many question whether the sky is falling they continue on. Until they follow Chicken Little into being dinner for Mr. Fox.

Nowadays the sky always seems to be falling. It seems to be the default attitude of many. They convince others the sky is falling.

No one questions. People blindly follow, just like the others in the story of Chicken Little. Then when the crisis doesn’t happen. The Chicken Littles find a new crisis to cluck about.

“If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters – don’t wish to seem knowledgeable.” – Epictetus, Enchidrion, 13a.

We don’t need to be aware of every “crisis.” Some things are best ignored. Not everything is a crisis.

Some “crises” are not worth our time. If it is something that you are passionate about then learn about it deeply. Don’t blindly follow the social media influencer or cable news show that wants your attention by saying something shocking.

Go to the source. Read deeply about it. On the issue listen and/or read people who you disagree with. You may still not agree with them but you may learn something new.

You may find out the “crisis” you were so concerned about is no crisis at all. It is easy just to listen to sound bites or Tweets or Facebook posts and not really delve into the facts.

It is hard to dig into an issue completely. The alternative is much worse. Blindly following someone who “clucks” the loudest may mean you end up as someone else’s dinner.

Priority

Priority – a thing that is regarded as more important than another.

Can you have priorities? No. One thing will always be more important than another. You have to identify a priority. Priorities are an impossibility.

As we move into the New Year people all over the world are making resolutions, setting goals or identifying priorities But with priorities you are stretched too thin. What is most important to you?

In Greg McKeown’s essentialism 21 day challenge he asks that you ask yourself each day: “What is the most important thing I need to do today?” He wants you to identify what is your priority for the day. Shouldn’t we ask that same question for the week? The month? The year?

We should identify one priority, at work, at home, to work on. Keep working on that one priority until you have accomplished it.

My priority personally is to publish a blog once a week. If I want to be a writer, I need to write every day with the priority of publishing it for the world to read.

My priority professionally is to continue to study Stoicism and how it can help educational leaders deal with the hard times we are all going through right now. Many of my blog posts will be about this subject.

The hard part will be staying focused with the myriad distractions that come with every day life. Having a priority doesn’t mean that you can’t work on other things. It just means that the priority must take precedence.

I will keep you posted on how each priority is going.

“Don’t set your heart on so many things.” – Epictetus

Anger

I’m no raving lunatic. Don’t get me wrong. Especially in a professional setting I can hold it together. At some point though I can feel IT overtaking me. Once that happens I find it difficult to dial it back.

I don’t know when IT is going to happen. IT just happens. I wouldn’t say there is some special trigger. It can be anything. It can be an innocent comment that just hits me the wrong way.

Unfortunately at that moment I am prone to saying things that I regret. Then, after it’s all over, the guilt washes over me.

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are within your control. And some things are not.” – Epictetus

How do I do better in the moment between stimulus and response? How do I stop anger from taking over me? Or how do I get better at controlling my anger and using it to my advantage?

Anger is an emotion like any other emotion. It is neither good nor bad. It can be unhealthy. It can also be unhealthy to hold it back and not express it. Anger has its place just like every other emotion.

“If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.” – Epictetus

On The Daily Stoic podcast, Ryan Holliday interviewed the author Robert Greene. One of the topics they discussed was harnessing your anger.

Ryan Holliday used the example of coaches who get angry to invigorate their team through a difficult time in a game or season. As a former coach I have seen this done very well, and I have seen it done very poorly.

Robert Greene discussed how whether it goes well or poorly depends on if the coach has self-control and self-awareness. Can they step back and analyze their anger? Can they use it strategically to get the results they are after?

He goes on to say that only those people, that can pause in the moment between stimulus and response to analyze their emotions, are able to get the results they want. Only those that can channel their anger productively after analyzing why they’re angry will get the results they are after.

I am by no means there yet. However this is one of the things that I am really working on. I am sure if you ask my family, friends, and colleagues they may say it is not going so well, but I am a work in progress.

I must be more cognizant of the space between stimulus and response. Not everything needs an immediate reaction. I need to take the time to analyze my anger to see if it is justified and then if it is use it productively.