September 22

“There are more things likely to frighten us then there are to crush us. We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

Bad stuff is going to happen to us. We are going to get sick, we are going to get injured, we will lose money, we will miss out on events, we will have people treat us poorly, and then at the end of it all we are going to die.

But focusing on and worrying about those parts of life aren’t going to take away any of the sting or pain when they finally arrive. It just makes us suffer more than we have to for longer than we have to. And then we still get to experience the hardship. And worse than that, our minds are already primed to suffer. We’ve already made being miserable a habit, are we really going to look at our situation as it is unfolding and say to ourselves, ‘this isn’t so bad?” No. We aren’t.

Instead, we have to start cultivating a different habit, a different mind set. We can convince ourselves that we can handle any hardship by well, convincing ourselves we can handle any hardship. With that mindset, when we start to worry about things that might happen in the future, whether they are health related, financial, social or other issues we can convince ourselves that we will be able to handle them. When they arrive, if we can’t handle them, they must be pretty bad and it would be reasonable to assume that no one could have. At least we won’t have suffered prematurely.

But in reality there are few situations that we can not endure and while some situations will leave us forever changed, we can use even those to become stronger, better.

And that is our life long goal.

virtus fortis vocat



September 21

“For manliness gains much strength by being challenged.” – Seneca

Seneca wrote these words almost two thousand years ago, the technological and sociological advances that have allowed us to live convenient lives free from the fear of being eaten by wild animals or attacked by marauding gangs of cut throat bandits have also largely removed the need for men to be violent and expendable.

But in his day, Seneca was likely using manliness and fortitude interchangeably. At least we are going to go with that today.

Fortitude or resilience can not be claimed, we can not will it into existence and know for sure that we have it. We have to face adversity in order to test and evaluate our levels of fortitude. We have to be challenged in order to know just how much we can take.

And if we are truly going to find out where our limits lie, we also have to be broken every once in awhile. We have to fail. And by failing we are able to recognize our weaknesses and the areas in our own strength and character that we need to focus on developing.

And then we need to put the work into developing those weaknesses into strengths. Sometimes that will be something as simple as finding a few tasks we can work on to improve in a particular area and sometimes it will mean having the humility to ask for someone’s help to cover for our own weakness.

But we won’t know where to start until we fail a few times.

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September 20

“For our powers can never inspire us in implicit faith in ourselves except when many difficulties have confronted us on this side and that, and have occasionally even come to close quarters with us.” – Seneca

If we go though life avoiding difficulty, avoiding conflict, and otherwise doing our best to avoid any discomfort we will end up soft, weak, and unable to offer anything of value to the people around us when they need us the most. Sound harsh? It is but then there are many things we will face in life that are at best, ambivalent to our feelings. Attaining the strength necessary to become the person that others look to when things get hard requires us to allow our feelings to be bashed about quite a bit before we are really useful in that arena.

So when we are faced with the opportunity to deal with an obstacle, have a difficult conversation, or hide from them instead, we should always choose the more difficult path. And if it helps we can look at the more difficult path as an opportunity to make ourselves a little better, a little stronger, and a little more useful. We can look at each difficulty as a type of training session or workout, preparing us to be in the best position possible to help others in the future.

And that should be our goal in most if not all things.

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September 19

“The best ideas are common property.” – Seneca

The best ideas are also commonly stolen. Just because another person has an idea we like, or even if an idea that we come up with has already been done, it doesn’t mean that our execution of the idea is going to be identical to the original.

And if we are going to execute on an idea that we share with someone else who has already had success with the same idea, we need to be able to capture the reason it was successful in the first place. The inspiration that the idea generated in our own minds, in our own lives. That is the part we want to steal. We need to find how the idea generated the inspiration and then we find a way to recreate it in our own way.

And that is how people create art, it is how they write books, it is how they start businesses, and it is how they build meaningful relationships. They look at the part of an idea that moved them and they find the way in which it moved them, and then they recreate it in their own way.

In that sense, we can take any idea, any thought, anything that means something to us and we can find a way to share that meaning through our own work.

And we should. Because that is how the world becomes a better place.

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September 18

“A person is happiest, and is secure in their own possession of themselves, who can await the morrow without apprehension. When a person has said, ‘I have lived,’ every morning they arise they receive a bonus.” – Seneca

We hear it so much that it is almost cliche, everyday is a gift. But at the same time, once we’ve experienced enough of life, we recognize that it’s also very true. Everyday there are so many things that could strip us of this life and take us away from our loved ones. To list them all would be an exercise in overwhelming ourselves with depressing thoughts.

And here comparing our own lives to the lives of other people around us, living on Earth right now, or even those who have come before us is a good way to recognize just how fortunate we are to be here, now.

And when we recognize how full our lives are already, we can appreciate how fortunate we are each morning to get another chance at getting this whole life thing right.

And we should try to do just that everyday. We should take the time and actually map out for ourselves what a perfect day would look like for us if we had to make one out of the lives we currently live. And then, we should aim to have days that mirror the day we have mapped out.

And we should try every day.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership



September 17

“Let us go to our sleep with joy and gladness; let us say: I have lived; the course which Fortune has set for me is finished.” – Seneca

Some of our long term goals will never be completed. We will all have things that are left unfinished when we finally leave this life.

But if we choose to look at our lives as a series of opportunities to create and live out the perfect day, we can end each day with the thought that we lived the best day we could have. Sure there are always going to be things we could have done better. We could have been kinder to our loved ones, helped people more than we did, been more productive, and on and on. But those things are going to be true on our final day as well.

If we are fortunate, we will wake up in the morning and will have been granted the opportunity to attempt to live another day as best we can.

If we can repeat this process every single day for the rest of our lives we will still never have a perfect day. But the days we will have five years from now will be a lot closer to our idea of the perfect day than the days we are having right now.

And that is a life goal worth exploring.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership



September 16

“Moreover, no one is so old that it would be improper to hope for one more day of existence. And one day, mind you, is a stage on life’s journey.” – Seneca

A single day. A lot can happen in a single day. Many of the greatest defining moments of our lives, even of the societies we live in occurred within a single day.

For most of us, a single day is about sixteen waking hours. During those hours we dress, eat, go about our daily chores, work, and find some time for leisure.

If we were to sit down and honestly design the perfect day for ourselves, we would likely be surprised to find how much of it would consist of doing what we would consider work.

We are happiest when we are engaged in productive tasks. We are the most happy when we are engaged in productive tasks that provide immediate feedback.

It might take us the rest of our lives to figure out what a perfect day means to each of us, but that is actually perfect because as we get closer to the sunset on the horizon that is the timeline of our lives, we will want to make the most of every day we have been given. What better way than to live out the product of our life’s work.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership

September 15

“Death, however, should be looked at in the face by the young and the old alike.” – Seneca

Life can be looked at as a large party. Like any party, there will be some parts of it we truly enjoy and there will be some parts of it that we dread. For some of us, we will dread arriving, we will dread making the small talk, we will dread having to use the bathroom with a line at the door. And for some of us, we will dread leaving.

But all parties end and eventually we all have to leave. Life is no different in that regard.

Life is different than a party in that we never really know when it will be our turn to leave the party.

It is also different in that every moment of the party is near the beginning for many and near the end for many at the same time.

We would be wise to prepare our minds for the end of our party. How do we do this?

By comparing the depth of experience and opportunities we have enjoyed to those who have already left the party. Seneca for example, would likely have been content to live a single day with the amount of knowledge and information available at our fingertips with the advent of the internet. And we take it for granted.

We have already been blessed with lives full of opportunity, we should keep that in mind as we travel through our days. We should be content with what we have been given thus far and should look at every day as a little bit extra.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership

September 14

“Life is most delightful when it is on the downward slope, but has not yet reached the abrupt decline.” – Seneca

As a society, we complain about getting older, we work against the ravages of old age, we esteem youth and beauty, and we marginalize our elderly.

We should keep in mind, that Seneca was writing these words almost two thousand years ago. Life, even for the wealthy, wasn’t exactly easy at any age and would have been harder as a person got older. But here’s Seneca an older than middle aged, wealthy individual finding what we consider our later years to be the most delightful.

There has to be something we can learn from there. And we can. We can strive to also make those years the most delightful for ourselves and for those we will share them with. We do this by setting aside some of our current wealth to carry us through those years. We do it by taking care of our bodies with our diets and our exercise regimens. We prepare to enjoy our downward slope by keeping our minds healthy with learning, conversation, reading, and new experiences.

We do not do this by acquiring wealth at the risk of compromising our integrity. In every situation, the best way to increase the amount of wealth we have is not to try to get more. It is always to need less. The less we need, the more we have.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership

September 13

“Happy is the man who can make others better, not merely when he is in their company, but even when he is in their thoughts.” – Seneca

We don’t actually get to control what people think of us. We don’t get to control how they see our actions or how they hear the things we say. We have zero control over the things they say about us when we are not around.

We do get to control how we act and how we speak and that should be our only focus. We can share with people what we meant, our actual intentions, and how we would like to be perceived until we are blue in the face but if our actions don’t match our words, people will know. People see through fake people.

But if we keep our actions inline with the type of person we want to be, eventually, our actions and the words we speak will help shape the way we impact people’s lives. It takes time, this is especially true if we have been known to be a bit full of the fertilizer in the past. It just takes time. Time and effort.

But when we start to get that feedback. When we start to see that we have a positive impact on people, one that is lasting, it takes hold and we will want nothing more than to continue to make people’s lives a little richer just by being a part of it.

And most importantly, we will do it by being the people we want to be.

Our best selves.

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Discipline Equals Freedom

September 12

“For by no wisdom can natural weaknesses of the body be removed. That which is implanted and inborn can be toned down by training, but not overcome.” – Seneca

Anyone who has ever interviewed for a position with a company or organization has likely been asked to describe their biggest weakness. The idea behind it likely being that people who understand their own limitations will also understand the need to collaborate with people whose strengths complement their own weaknesses. People who can recognize and talk about their weaknesses are also more likely to work on improving in these areas. This makes them better leaders. We all need to be leaders, even if we are only leading ourselves.

But we also need to recognize that our weaknesses, whether they are things we have had for life or if they are weaknesses we have allowed to develop, they will always be there. We can work to minimize their effects, we can build new habits and new strengths to counteract our weaknesses, we can even work at turning weaknesses into strengths but they will always be there.

Our weaknesses will always haunt us in the background, even when we are at our best. We will never be completely rid of them. They lie there waiting, waiting for us to have a bad day, for us to get tired, for us to get weak. And then they will bubble to the surface, we might not even recognize it when they come.

That is why we need to stay vigilant, we need to recognize our weaknesses and we need to be working to keep them at bay, to minimize their effects. Every single day. As we build healthy habits, it will become easier. But they will always be there, waiting for us to tell ourselves we can relax a little, let our guard down.

And that is why we have to stay vigilant.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership

September 11

“When persons are in mourning, or fearful about something, we are accustomed to watch them that we may prevent them from making a wrong use of their loneliness.”        – Seneca

How often do we find ourselves watching over ourselves, when we are lonely, anxious, or maybe just bored? This is when we will find ourselves at our most self destructive and we will find ourselves more likely to self sabotage.

Whether we are trying to quit smoking, start exercising, or just eat a little better we will always find that the times we stray from those goals are times when we have the down time to allow ourselves to self sabotage.

Whether we are talking ourselves into making the wrong choices, rationalizing it by comparing ourselves to our peers, or allowing the weakness to creep in under what we thought were our best defenses, we will find that when we are engrossed in other more productive endeavors, we don’t struggle with these things as much. Not to say we should keep ourselves busy for the sake of being busy but it would do well by us to find several projects at a time that require a good deal of our attention and ability. Things we may have always wanted to accomplish. Maybe some things we have always wanted to learn. And when we find ourselves with some down time, we should pull out these projects and work on them for a little while. We should carry with us the books we want to read, the things we want to learn. And when stuck waiting, we should use that time to read, to learn, to improve. Ten minutes of reading three times a week works out to twenty six hours a year.

As we develop this into a habit, it will get easier. We’ll get used to pulling out a book instead of lighting a cigarette or reaching for junk food.

Our lives are made up of a composite of all of our little choices. Let’s make them the ones we want them to be.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership


September 10

“It matters not what one says, but one feels; also, not how one feels on one particular day, but how one feels at all times.” – Seneca

Deciding to start down any path of self improvement in any direction is going to be difficult. Actually sticking to the path is going to prove even more difficult.

Whether we want to be in better shape. Or if we want to learn new skills. Or if we want to start a business. Or we want to improve our relationships. Maybe we want to be better parents. Maybe we want all of those things.

Here’s the big message we can never forget if we want to succeed; we will not want to take steps on the path every single day. In fact, most days we probably won’t want to take as many steps as we could or should. And that is kind of the point. Any lath to improvement is hard, if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be improvement, it would just be how we all were.

But we can’t count on being motivated or waiting until we feel like taking steps along the path, that is the best way to ensure that we stagnate and give up.

We need to have discipline, we need to have control over our thoughts. When our mind tries to rationalize with us that we made enough progress on the path yesterday, and that today we can rest, we need to resist those thoughts and take the steps. Even when we really don’t want to, especially when we really don’t want to. Those are the days that matter.

No matter which path we have chosen.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership

Raising Monarch Butterflies

This Summer our family vacation took us on an eight day camping adventure through Massachusetts, Washington D.C., and Western Pennsylvania. Throughout the entire trip and still as I sit typing this, our daughter Rachel kept and cared for a little caterpillar. It is currently in a cocoon but has been with the McNutt family for almost two months now. It is some type of moth, identity to be discovered when it emerges.

When we returned from the trip Amanda, the smarter Dr. McNutt, looked at all of the milkweed on the hill across the street from the house we rent here in Maine and wondered if we would find any Monarch Caterpillars if we looked. So we looked. And we found six the first time we looked. Then we found some eggs. Then our caterpillars turned to chrysalis’ within the first weekend, then our eggs hatched, and a family hobby was born within a weekend. And we have been  borderline obsessed for the past month. As I sit here there are twelve Monarch chrysalises with butterflies waiting to emerge, we have seen seven emerge, and have another four caterpillars munching away on milkweed. And we will probably collect some more caterpillars this evening.

If you wanted to try this out at home, I would highly recommend it. It is super fun, the turnover is fast so there’s not a lot of time to get bored with it and watching a butterfly you have seen grow and develop fly off is a pretty cool feeling. Oh yeah, and the kids seem to enjoy it as well.

Here’s what we did and also a few ideas about what we will do differently next year.

We went out and looked around in established fields of milkweed to find caterpillars. When we found them we would bring them back to an aquarium we kept well supplied with milkweed while they were growing. If you have a lot of large caterpillars in there, you can hear them munching away on the milkweed, especially in the evening.


This is the aquarium we used to grow our caterpillars.

Next season I am going to order some milkweed seeds for two reasons. The first is that if I plant milkweed I will have a ready source of food and a place for butterflies to lay their eggs, the second is because I plan to grow several potted milkweed plants so that I can gift the caterpillars to friends. I am looking at these seeds here: Milkweed Seeds

And will plant them in pots like these: Plant Pots

Though I may also order these pods to plant outside at the end of Autumn so that the Milkweed is up early next spring. Fall Seed Pods

And of course to me the idea that I could order these pre-soiled seeds to leave in untended areas and increase the amount of Milkweed around was pretty attractive as well.   Guerrilla Droppings


Watching and even listening to these cuties eat is more enjoyable than you might think.

On our own planted milkweed we can be more vigilant about checking for eggs and watching for caterpillars. The eggs can be hard to see and the freshly hatched caterpillars are tiny. I mean tiny!


Those white specs are eggs. they are hard to find at first. They get a dark spot right before they hatch.


Having our own planted milkweed also gives us access to more fresh milkweed. These guys eat a lot! And milkweed wilts quickly once you pick it. By growing our own we can relax a bit and not feel like we need to fill the aquarium with milkweed every other day.

If I had known we were going to get so into raising Monarchs, I would have ordered a book about it ahead of time. While geared for children this book gives some great straight forward instructions and is well worth a read:  Monarch Book

The other thing I might do a little differently next year is I might adapt the habitat a little better. In the aquarium they like to put their chrysalis on the top of the aquarium and I feel bad disturbing the ones that are in the J-hook position or the ones that are about to emerge every time I want to feed the other caterpillars or clean up the aquarium a bit. These guys poop a lot too! If I were only going to raise a few or if I were going to add a habitat to a gift of a potted Milkweed and caterpillar I would order some of these habitats for them: Habitat These habitats would be great for holding one potted Milkweed plant on which you could grow between two and four caterpillars depending on how leafy your plant was.


These caterpillars do not like having the lid lifted when they are in this position.


They also do not appreciate being disturbed when they are this close to emerging.

Everything I was able to read about Monarch life cycles says that it takes about four days for an egg to hatch, since we have been finding ours without having witnessed the laying event, I can not confirm that but it seems pretty accurate. The caterpillars go through five little lifestyle changes where they gain their stripes, their cool looking antennae on either end. They molt roughly once every one to three days depending on the temperature and the food supply. If you want to find eggs, look under the leaves for little waxy white specks like in the picture above.

Caterpillars stick around for between nine and fifteen days, though in our habitat, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one last more than ten days. They are eating machines and if you keep feeding them and they don’t get disturbed, they grow fast!

At the end of the ten days of eating, the monarchs leave the Milkweed and spin a very sticky silk web in the area they will pupate and they shed their skin for the last time. They hang out in that J-hook for a long time, sometimes a whole day and then suddenly start shedding their skin. It’s kind of creepy, they just seem to split near the bottom of the hook and the skin wriggles and falls off and there is a waxy green chrysalis left behind. They stay in the chrysalis for about two weeks, at least in our aquarium they do. As I mentioned, they really like the top of the aquarium.


So far they have had zero interest in that stick in there. Zero!

After about two weeks, the chrysalis gets darker until it turns black, at the same time the butterfly inside becomes more visible until you can see it clearly. Apparently this is because that is when the color develops and not because the chrysalis becomes transparent. I’ll take an entomologist’s word for it, I’m not cutting up any of my chrysalises!

When they emerge they need space to fill their wings with fluid that they pump from their huge abdomens, this takes a few hours and it is several hours before they are ready to fly away.


See those small wings and that big abdomen? That all changes after a few hours.

For the amount of money and time you have invest, almost none, raising Monarch Butterflies brings a lot of reward. I think everyone should do it at least one season, though if you do one season, I am willing to bet you’ll never stop! I know we won’t.


Thank you for reading.

September 9

“The Stoic also can carry his goods unimpaired through cities that have been burned to ashes; for he is self sufficient. Such are the bounds which he sets to his own happiness.”    – Seneca

When we are aware of what we can control and what we can not, and we can start along the path of focusing on the things we can control while accepting the things we can not control we find a level of contentment that can’t be shaken.

If we are only focused on controlling our thoughts, our actions, how we respond to the world around us, and how we allow the world around us to affect us, we can endure just about anything.

If we take the time to read stories of people who survived being prisoners of war, being trapped in major natural disasters, or being imprisoned for political reasons we find that at some level every single one of them were able to endure their predicament because they learned to focus their energy only on what they could control. And more importantly, they learned not to allow the things they could not control to affect their attitude or their emotions.

If focusing on what they could control helped people through such dire situations, how much more helpful will we find it navigating our relatively luxurious lives?

Much, much more.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership

September 8

“If the good seeks any portion of itself from without, it gives over to the play of Fortune.”    – Seneca

We control only a few things in this world and none of them are outside of ourselves. If we find ourselves looking for benefits from the outside world we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. We need to be prepared to depend on ourselves for validation, we can certainly use the responses of the outside world for feedback but we don’t control the responses of the outside world.

If we find ourselves expecting our relationship with a spouse or significant other to provide us with emotional validation or a sense of self worth, we are going to find ourselves disappointed. We do not control how our loved ones act towards us or what they provide within the confines of a relationship.

If we find ourselves looking to our profession to provide our sense of identity we are going to find ourselves not feeling fulfilled. We do not control how the world views our profession or how they react to our professional contributions. We can’t control people reacting poorly to us and undermining our careers with complaints or damaging our reputations with lies. We can’t control unfair competition or new, unfair regulation of our industries.  These things are outside of our control but can still derail even the strongest professional.

If we find ourselves dependent on our wealth for a sense of self worth we will find ourselves in a vulnerable position. Our wealth can be taken away by changes in markets, by unforeseen situations we find ourselves in, or by political destabilization of our regions. And we are powerless to do anything about it.

If instead we focus on ourselves and the things we do control and we put our values there, these things can not be taken away from us. We could find ourselves broke, homeless, and even imprisoned and we would still maintain our sense of self worth, our identity, and our sense of validation. In fact, when we focus on the things we can control, our struggles strengthen these things rather than detracting from them.

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The Dichotomy of Leadership

September 7

“He craves as many friends as possible, not, however, that he may live happily; for he will live happily even without friends.” – Seneca

The key to living happily comes down to knowing what we can and what we can not control and then focusing our energy and time only on the things we can control. We might think that this doesn’t relate to our friendships or social relationships and that thought would lead us into having expectations about how a friendship should work. When these expectations are not met, this eventually leads to resentment, even small amounts of resentment, that will eventually undermine the foundation of what could have been a wonderful relationship.

We have control over only one person in any relationship. Ourselves. And if we focus on that and control our thoughts, our words, and our actions we can work towards becoming the best friend possible to those around us.

If we do that, many of our friends will come to value us immensely, because we will always have their best interests in mind. Some people will be turned off by us because we will reflect qualities that they recognize as lacking in their own lives. And some people will just not like us. But we have no control over the thoughts and actions of others.

And the sooner we accept that, the happier we will be.

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September 6

“The wise man is sufficient unto himself for a happy existence, but not for mere existence. For he needs help towards mere existence; but for a happy existence he needs only a sound and upright soul, one that despises Fortune.” – Seneca

Life is going to heap some misery on us and it is going to dole out some blessings as well. Neither of these are necessarily reflective of how well we are doing or what we really deserve in life. Life isn’t really like that, we don’t all get what we deserve and sometimes life is really hard and for some of us life will be relatively easy. And we have no control over that.

We do however, have control over our own minds, our actions, our reactions, and our thoughts. Well we should anyway and we can learn to gain control over these things. And by doing just that, that little thing we unlock the secret to so much of life’s happiness.

Learning what we have control over and what we do not is not complicated, we have control over ourselves. That’s it.

Then we simply have to exert that control at all times towards the best possible outcome and we will be happy. Simple right? Simple yes. Easy, not so much. In fact learning and mastering self control is likely the most difficult thing we will face in our lifetime.

It is also the most rewarding. It is the key to a happy life.

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September 5

“One who seeks friendship for favorable occasions, strips it of all its nobility.” – Seneca

Friendship is a great gift to give another person but it is even better to receive it yourself. The best way for us to have friends who think well of us, would drop everything they were doing to help us, and return our friendship with true friendship is for us to actually be true friends.

A true friend wants nothing from us but everything for us. A true friend wants to see us succeed in every endeavor and is there to protect us from as many hardships as possible. Even when we are the source of our own hardships as we often are.

The best way to have a true friendship, is to be a true friend to others.

If we find ourselves in any situation thinking about what is truly best for our friend and doing our best to be sure that is going to be the outcome, in any area we can control of course, we might just be true friends to that person.

Too often, however, we will have friendships that we see as a give and take. Too often, we might expect a friend to pull their own weight. These are not true friendships and they aren’t true friendships simply because we are not being true friends.

We’d do better to be true friends. Even if it means having fewer friends.

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Buy an Instant Pot

September 4

“For what purpose the, do I make friends? In order to have someone for whom I may die, whom I may follow into exile, against whose death I may stake my own life, and pay the pledge, too.” – Seneca

A paradox about being successful, or even feeling successful, in this life is that it is incredibly rare to attain a reasonable level of success without having also provided a comparable level of service to others.

Why not apply this also to our personal lives? Imagine for a moment just how much better all of our relationships will be if we turned our focus from what we are getting out of them to what we are giving to the people in our lives.

At the most basic and personal level, let’s imagine if we worked an entire day, came home and made dinner, while dinner was cooking we emptied the dishwasher and prepared everything for the day tomorrow, after dinner; we cleaned up, put away any clean laundry, started any dirty laundry, emptied the cat boxes, took out the recycling, and still had a good attitude while we did it. Then imagine that we lived with a spouse, a room mate, another human being who was trying to do the same thing. Life would be easy.

And it can be, if we live our lives with the goal of making life a little better for everyone around us, our lives will become infinitely better.

And like many things, it’s best to start at home.

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September 3

“When one is busy and absorbed in one’s work, the very absorption affords great delight; but when one has withdrawn one’s hand from the completed masterpiece, the pleasure is not so keen.” – Seneca

As humans, we are happiest when we are operating within the moment. When we are so engrossed in a subject that we lose track of time, we forget to eat, we don’t even realize that we’ve had to pee for an hour until we take a short break and have to do a run-dance combo to the bathroom, that is when we are the most content. When we finish a project, when are done reading a book, when we have to leave a job, we feel a sadness, a break as if a part of our lives is over. And it is.

We would do ourselves a favor to pay attention to that feeling, to use it to identify the areas of a project, a book, or a job that we are going to miss the most. And we can use this knowledge to guide us towards our next move.

If we use this method a few times we will find ourselves reading things we truly enjoy, working on projects that bring us immense satisfaction, and possibly even a career we never really want to retire from.

And that would be a life well built.

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September 2

“In this sense the wise man is self sufficient, that he can do without friends, not that he desires to do without them.” – Seneca

We are social creatures. In fact, one of the components to a long and healthy life is having a decent amount of social engagement. Being involved in our communities gives us a sense of purpose, it also gives us things to look forward to. Both of these give us reasons to go on and reasons to take care of ourselves.

But, as we move along the path to becoming the best versions of ourselves we can become there will be periods of time where we have to travel alone. Alone in this case may be literal, it may also be figurative as in we lose the ability to confide in the people closest to us. This might be because we have gown apart from our current circle of friends, it might be that people no longer want to spend time with us, or we might find that we no longer want to spend time with others. Whatever the case, we should look at these moments as temporary and important to our personal development.

We should use our solitary time to develop skills and abilities in ourselves that make us better friends, better family members and better community members when we are able to return to our communities both physically and mentally.

We should get good at being alone so that we can become better at being in a community.

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September 1

“Despise everything that useless toil creates as an ornament and an object for beauty.”       – Seneca

Many of us have likely looked forward to a day where we no longer have to work, we can kick back and sip a beverage in the sun and just enjoy doing nothing. The problem with not working is that it will literally kill most of us.

We are made to work. Sure we can enjoy some well deserved down time but if we are honest with ourselves, if we really pay attention to what makes us happy, we will recognize that we are made to be productive.

We are made to be useful, when we do not feel useful we stagnate, when we stagnate our health declines. The reasons for this aren’t terribly well understood at this point. It likely has something to do with a sedentary lifestyle, poor health choices related to diet and sleep patterns and increased risk of depression and other mental health issues.

Regardless of the reasons, being idle is bad for our health. This doesn’t mean we need to be working right up until the day we die nor does it mean that we can’t enjoy some down time. But we should avoid feeling stagnant, we should avoid feeling useless, and we should avoid the illusion that leisure is better than productivity.

We should get some exercise daily, we should read to learn, we should build things, make things, create art, make new friends, and be involved in our communities.

And we should do these things daily.

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August 31

“Eat merely to relieve your hunger, drink merely to relieve your thirst, dress merely to keep out the cold, house yourself merely as a protection against personal discomfort.”       – Seneca

While this is difficult maybe even impossible to live by, it is a way to understand where our baseline of contentment should be. The baseline of contentment is a good base line to have an understanding of. By knowing what we actually need we can accomplish several things that help us take steps towards becoming the best versions of ourselves.

The first thing we accomplish is that we allow ourselves to recognize the things that we take for granted that are actually luxuries. When we eat food that we enjoy rather than simply eating to satisfy our hunger, that is a luxury. When we drink for pleasure, or even when we add flavor to our water, that is a luxury. When we dress in clothes that make us look good in addition to helping keep us warm or cool, that is a luxury. When we start to recognize all the luxuries in our lives we allow ourselves the opportunity to be grateful for all that we have.

Recognizing our baseline for contentment also allows us to identify excesses and simplify our lives. While having luxuries is pleasant and we all prefer having them to not having them, it is outside of our control whether or not we get to keep them or maintain the same level of luxury forever. The part of the equation that is within our control is how dependent we are on those luxuries. By reducing our dependence on the excesses we already have in our lives, we free ourselves to be more content with less. This leaves us needing less to reach our current level of contentment.

By lowering the bar for our contentment we allow ourselves to be content easier.

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August 30

“Hold fast to this sound and wholesome rule of life – that you indulge the body only so far as is needed for good health.” – Seneca

While this is good advice for keeping our diets in check, our habits healthy, and our excesses to a minimum there is no reason to stop only at the indulgences of our body.

There are also the indulgences to our wishes, our laziness, our complacency that we allow ourselves daily.

We all know that the best time to finish a project, especially a project with a deadline, is right away. But we allow ourselves to procrastinate, we allow ourselves to check our email one more time, we allow ourselves to scroll through social media, and we put off the things we know we should do.

We all know that it is useless and counter productive to get angry or upset at situations that we have no control over, but we allow ourselves to be short with loved ones, pitch little fits, and waste time worrying.

How do we stop? The answer is simple. Simple but not easy. Discipline. We declare complete control over the one thing we can control, how we respond to the world around us. And then we use discipline to hold ourselves to that.

It won’t be easy. It will be worth it.

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August 29

“Halt before every good which Fate brings to you, in a spirit of doubt and fear; for it is dumb animals and fish that are deceived by tempting hopes.” – Seneca

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the luxuries and comforts life provides us with. There is nothing wrong with working hard, sacrificing in other areas, and enjoying some well earned rewards once in awhile.

But there is something wrong with trading the time we have spent for goods or services we don’t really need and that we are going to end up taking for granted or worse, regretting.

And that is exactly what happens when we start to spoil ourselves and allow ourselves to become soft and accustomed to the easy life. It’s called hedonic adaption and we are all susceptible to it’s pull.

We get used to our current level of comfort, if we maintain our current level of comfort. This can be used for and against us. We can continuously increase and improve on our current level of comfort and luxury, we can grow fat and soft, we can become dependent on our luxuries for our happiness. And we can become those people who complain when the power goes out, if a flight has to be canceled, or if they are inconvenienced by any other little thing that is outside their control.

Or, we can continuously and purposefully strip away out comforts, little by little we can become less dependent on our technology, the world around us. We can learn to be comfortable wherever we end up. And then we can enjoy the moments that life brings us a bit of luxury all the more.

We can become any variation of either person that we choose.

But we have to choose.

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August 28

“Your good qualities should face inward.” – Seneca

While loving ourselves unconditionally is not likely to lead to actual progress in becoming a better person, remembering that we are human and forgiving ourselves will help keep the brutal self reflection required to maintain forward progress from turning into self hate.

We should remember to be kind to ourselves. Not to overlook our faults but to accept them and understand that if we are going to change them, we need to acknowledge that we have the ability to change them. We are capable people.

We should remember to be generous with ourselves. We shouldn’t spoil ourselves but we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves when we enjoy a bit of comfort either. It is good to know we could have done just fine without the comfort but it’s also fine to prefer to be comfortable.

We should be forgiving with ourselves. We don’t need to indulge our weaknesses but we need to have the detachment necessary to recognize when we have allowed weakness to win and to see the ways in which we could have done better. Then we need to find the strength to actually do better.

Most importantly we need to be honest with ourselves. And just like with others we need to remember that honesty and rudeness have a fine line. We make mistakes because people do that. We fail because we try difficult things and are still learning. We will never be perfect. But we can’t stop trying.

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August 27

“You may say: ‘For what purpose did I learn all these things?’ But you need not fear that you have wasted your efforts; it was for yourself that you learned them.” – Seneca

If we are starting to get down on ourselves because we have decided we are going to get in shape, we’ve worked hard for months and are finally seeing the changes we were going for and no one noticed, we are forgetting the point of getting in shape.

If we have been working hard at managing our time and not allowing distractions to take away from our focus and we have been getting things accomplished left and right but we are upset that no one has noticed, we are forgetting why it is important to manage our time well.

If we have been working on controlling our emotions and we have found ourselves becoming less upset, taking fewer things personally, and making clearer decision but we are bothered by the fact that our loved ones haven’t mentioned how collected we seem, we are missing the point of practicing emotional discipline.

We are trying to become the best versions of the people we could become because it is the right thing to do with the time that we have on this planet. Not because we want other people to notice us or our accomplishments but because we want to actually have achieved something and self mastery is available to all of us. If we are willing to put in the effort.

At the end of it all. We are the trophy.

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August 26

“Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better man of you.” – Seneca

Our friends should be a source of encouragement for us, they should give us something to aspire towards, they should hold us accountable. And we should do the same for them.

We should be choosing the people we call friends, especially the ones we spend the most time with based on what they make us want to do. Do they make us want to be better people? Then they are our friends. Do we only see them in situations that distract us from the path we have chosen? We probably want to keep some distance. Not that we can’t associate with those people but we have to remember that they are a distraction and can not be relied upon when we are struggling with our weaknesses. Our friends on the other hand, are exactly who we reach to when we are feeling weak. They will help us up.

Sometimes we need to rely on ourselves. Sometimes we need to reach deep within and find the strength to avoid temptation, to stave off weakness, and to hold our standard. This does not come naturally to us. It is something we have to practice and get better at. It is a skill that depends on reflection, learning, planning, and executing the plan without deviation while at the same time being open to changing the plan if it isn’t working. It is something we can practice everyday.

And we should.

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August 25

“Much harm is done by a single case of indulgence or greed; the familiar friend, if he be luxurious, weakens and softens us imperceptibly.” – Seneca

Our weaknesses appear to breed like rabbits while our strengths seem to take longer than elephants to reproduce. We also tend to rationalize our shortcomings by comparing them to others. We think to ourselves that a person we respect and admire does or doesn’t do things we know we should or shouldn’t be doing and we can follow the same path. The problem with that logic is that we don’t see the whole picture. We don’t see where they sacrifice and where they fall short. We don’t know where their path is leading or even if they have one planned out for themselves. And we have no control over them, their lives, or how they present themselves.

We do have control over our own thoughts, plans, and actions. We should stay focused there. Mastering the art of self control will keep us plenty busy for a lifetime. If by chance we ever do master our self control, we’ll likely see that we don’t want to try to control others as it takes energy away from areas where we can actually be productive.

By focusing on our self control and ignoring the things we can’t control, we set an example. Leading by example is really the only way we are equipped to lead others in lifestyle. No one wants to be told how to live, but when they see us meeting short term goals while staying focused on our long term goals, they may start to wonder how we’re getting where we want to be.

We will know.

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August 24

“I mean that I come home more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous, and even more cruel and inhumane, because I have been among human beings.” – Seneca

Regardless of the situation we find ourselves in, we always have a choice. At the extremes, remaining in this life at all is a choice we make everyday.

Sometimes the choices we have to make are literally that difficult, sometimes we might actually have to make life and death decisions. But more frequently, the decisions we make will be between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing. Doing the right thing is always going to be against the directions of the crowd. The easiest example of this is staying out late at a party or at the bar. No one ever wants us to leave and ruin the party. But it’s usually the right thing to do.

Interestingly, making the right decision and going against the crowd also sets a strong example. While this example might not make us popular, it will gain us respect. And it might just give someone else the strength to make the right decision for themselves. and that might snowball into them making more good decisions. Who knows, us going against the crowd just one night when we know it is the right thing to do might give someone the strength to change their lives for the better.  

And we can do it without being preachy. We just need to do it.

We can be the example.

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