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.

Be Good

“Not time for reading. For controlling your arrogance, yes. For overcoming pain and pleasure, yes. For outgrowing ambition, yes. For not feeling anger at stupid and unpleasant people – even for caring about them – for that yes.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8:8

Marcus Aurelius was great. Was he perfect? No. Was he great every day? No. What makes him great was he was consistently good.

That’s what this quote reflects. He’s looking back on times where he was not good and reminding himself to be good.

Be good today. You don’t have to be great. Just good.

Consistency is what makes greatness. A string of good days is enough.

When you stumble, pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and be good the next time.

No one is perfect. To ask someone to be great all the time is a lesson in futility.

Look at anyone who is considered “great” they all stumbled.

Winston Churchill, without his leadership in World War II, would have been considered a failure.

“He destroyed his credibility through his advocacy of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in World War I, policies on Ireland, mismanagement of the British economy during the interwar period, stubborn defense of the Nazi-sympathizing Edward VIII when he was forced from the throne, and most of all by his vitriolic and (even by the standards of the era) astonishingly bigoted opposition to Mahatma Gandhi and Indian independence.” – Gautam Mukunda, Churchill the Failure: The Paradoxical Truth About the Best and Worst Leaders

Churchill picked himself up and kept trying to be good. He didn’t always accomplish that, but he never stopped trying.

No one can be great every day. Good is even hard.

We look back on great politicians, athletes, and public figures and think they walked on water every day.

They all stumbled, but they kept going. They were good more often than they were great.

But they were good consistently.

Justice

Justice is the hardest of the four Stoic virtues.

Justice means doing the right thing even when it is hard and unpopular.

Justice requires you to live up to the other three virtues.

Justice requires the wisdom to know what the right thing is in any situation.

“The virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom.” – Aristotle

Justice requires the courage to do the right thing in the face of people who disagree with you and may even hate you for it.

“Courage is of no value unless accompanied by justice; yet if all men became just, there would be no need for courage.” – Agesilaus the Second

Justice requires the discipline to do the right thing again and again.

“[A] man has it in his power to be just, if he have but the will to be so.” – Plutarch, Lives: Life of Cato the Younger

We need to be just because it is the right thing no matter what others do or if we get praise.

“Live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.” – Marcus Aurelius.

Justice is the reward in its own right. Don’t worry about what others think. What you think and do is all that matters.

Be strict with yourself and tolerant of others.

Discipline

Discipline is about doing the right thing even if it is hard and unpopular.

“You could be good today. But instead you choose tomorrow.” – Marcus Aurelius

Discipline is about doing the right thing today. Not telling yourself you will do better tomorrow.

Today may be hard but tomorrow will be harder if you don’t do the right thing now.

“Everyone must choose one of the two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” – Unknown

Discipline is about doing the small things every day to improve.

When you have a bad day you pick yourself up and do better tomorrow.

Life is hard don’t make it harder by making the wrong choices today.

The End

It is a shame when things come to an end, but that is the natural progression.

We outgrow people. People move away. People die. Jobs end by termination, resignation, and retirement.

The only thing that we are all guaranteed in life is that we will die.

When something ends it can be difficult. It can be heartbreaking.

“Nothing can happen to you that is not required by Nature.” – Marcus Aurelius

The sun will still come up tomorrow.

We need to take it into perspective. How can we learn and grow from ends, even death?

“You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.” – Marcus Aurelius

None of us are special. That is one thing we can take away from ends.

“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world, or dissolved alike into atoms.”- Marcus Aurelius

When we are gone all of those accolades we chased will be quickly forgotten. We need to be the best person we can be every day so that we can make an impact in someone’s life.

No one says you can’t mourn an end. A lost friendship, a death of a friend or loved one, a lost job. But what comes next?

You need to pick yourself up off the floor and get back to the work of being a human.

Live your life.

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

What I believe in

Courage – do what’s right especially when it’s hard and unpopular.

Have high expectations for everyone including myself.

Justice – every child should have what they need to succeed. Fair is not equal.

Relationships are key. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Everyone should have a say in their environment.

Stop believing we know what is right about how every child learns. Ask them. Open our minds to new possibilities.

Wisdom – to have the humility to know that I don’t know everything and the confidence to continue to learn.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” – Unknown

Learn with students and from everyone you come into contact with.

It is less about being right. It’s more about learning and considering different views.

“Am I hear to learn something or to prove something?“ – Holstee, Reflections newsletter

We should spend more time asking questions than pretending like we have all the answers.

We all need to rethink our beliefs regularly.

Discipline – to have control over my emotions and actions and to live my life according to these ideals.

“Excellence not perfection” – Adam Grant, Think Again Podcast.

Life is hard. You have to keep grinding every day no matter what.

“The impediment to action advances the action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius

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

Complaints

Complaining has become so engrained in our culture it is almost second nature.

The difference between complaining and pointing out problems is your willingness to do something about it.

Many people are unwilling to do the hard work to fix what is broken. It is just easier to complain and hope that someone else will come along and fix it.

“Don’t be overheard complaining … Not even to yourself.” – Marcus Aurelius

But if no one is willing to step up, how will anything change?

It takes courage to be willing to put yourself out there to change something for the better. It is the natural reaction of every human being to resist change.

Change is hard. Change is scary. The status quo is comfortable. But what if the status quo is not working?

In our society it hasn’t just become status quo to complain but to attack anyone willing to step up to fix a problem. We have become close minded to the possibility that we may not have all the answers.

When did it become passé to help a friend, a neighbor, hell, even a stranger. Now we’d rather just complain about THEIR problems behind their back.

How do we turn this ship around?

We need to become more compassionate, more forgiving of the mistakes of others.

Use the energy you use to complain to find a solution. Every problem has a solution. It may not be quick. It may not be easy. But it’s out there if you look for it.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly …and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Placeholder

Remember when your ego begins to takeover no matter your station in life or position in the hierarchy you are just a placeholder. Everyone is replaceable. Someone is always ready to fill your shoes.

“Knowing that he was only a placeholder helped Marcus [Aurelius] prevent his position from going to his head.” -Ryan Holiday, Lives of the Stoics, p. 291.

Does that mean we shouldn’t take our positions seriously? No. It means like Marcus Aurelius we shouldn’t let it go to our head.

We should do our job to the best of our ability, not for recognition but because it is our duty. We should be humble. It is humbling to realize, if we leave, someone will be right behind you to fill your role.

When it is time to leave, and there will always be a time to leave, you should leave your position better off than when you arrived.

Quiet Leadership

“I learned from Maximus to do my duties quietly and without complaining, while being dignified and charming” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 1.15.

What happened to leading from the front with humility? Not always looking for recognition. Never complaining about how hard you have it. Dealing with issues without looking for recognition or a pat on the back.

Now it seems every leader has to puff out their chest or announce every minor accomplishment on social media. It’s like the football player that has to celebrate every first down. Act like you’ve been there before.

In the classic Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses a Level 5 leader. A Level 5 leader has the combination of humility and indomitable will. Leaders who do whatever needs to be done to complete the job and don’t look for the credit.

In Think Again, Adam Grant describes confident humility, as “having faith in our capability while appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even addressing the right problem.” Leaders who believe in themselves but look to others for help in solving difficult problems.

Puffing out your chest with every accomplishment may feed your ego but will it inspire people to follow you? Maybe for a while but eventually they will get tired of you taking all the credit.

I am not saying leaders can’t celebrate the accomplishments of their team. The key word there is team. No one in leadership ever accomplished anything alone. Make it about those around you, not you.