March 31

“A person should know that it is not easy for them to have a fixed principle, if they do not daily say the same things, and hear the same things and at the same time, apply them to life.” – Epictetus

Everything we want to accomplish in life, at work, in our family lives, in our personal relationships, and within ourselves requires the same thing. Discipline. The act of staying on the path, keeping with the standards we set for ourselves, this requires us to keep our goals in focus at all times. To recognize the small daily decisions that we make and have to continue to keep making in order to continue advancing along the path we have decided s the best for us. These things require discipline.

Not just in one or two areas either. No, we need to be disciplined in all things. By keeping ourselves accountable and sticking to the standards we have set for ourselves every single day, we build habits and strengthen our will power. By developing stronger wills we are able to take on increasingly more difficult tasks and accomplish them.

These small victories help to build our confidence and encourage more will power and application of further discipline to areas of our lives that might have been overlooked or were too difficult for us to handle in the beginning.

These small victories also reinforce to us that we are making the right decisions and we are seeing the changes we were hoping for.

And we do it by staying disciplined. One small step at a time.

virtus fortis vocat

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March 30

“Do not ask others to suffer through something that you would try to avoid. You avoid slavery, be careful that others are not your slaves. For if you endure to have a slave, you appear to be a slave first yourself. For vice has no community with virtue, nor freedom with slavery.” – Epictetus

We are all blessed with people in our lives that we can ask favors of; loved ones, coworkers, friends, neighbors, and others. Some of us are going to be fortunate enough to have employees or coworkers under us who might even feel obligated to perform tasks we request of them. And most of us will have heard that we should never ask anyone to perform a task we wouldn’t be willing to perform ourselves.

The same should be true of us in our personal relationships as well. We should be as willing to listen to other’s problems and struggles as we would want them to be. We should keep in mind when we request favors of others that there will be a time they may need the very same thing from us. If we would take steps to avoid the favor, we shouldn’t ask for it on our end.

On the other side of the same coin, we also need to be able to ask for and receive help when we need it. Sometimes we need to be able to receive help even if we don’t feel like we need it. Always being the helper and never the helped creates a similar divide that always asking and never giving creates. The next time someone offer us help, even if we think we don’t need it, we should accept and at the very least have a shared moment with a peer.

Because that’s how we form relationships. And relationships matter.

virtus fortis vocat

March 29

“As the sun does not wait for prayers and incantations to be induced to rise, but immediately shines and is saluted by all: so should you also not wait for the clapping of hands and praise in order to do good, but be a doer of good voluntarily.” – Epictetus

We all know that we are supposed to do good in this life. None of us are surprised when we learn that doing good is a key component to living well, in any philosophy. And starting out, many of us will do some good, we will volunteer some time, give to an organization, help our neighbors and otherwise do what we can to live well.

And no one will notice and we will become discouraged and start to slip back into hanging out in the break room, catching up on gossip, gossiping ourselves, being unproductive at work and generally choosing not to live well.

Because what we fail to realize is, the reason doing good contributes so much to living well is because of how it changes us not because of how it changes the way people see us. By choosing to do what we know to be good in every situation we find ourselves in, we change the way we actually see these situations. This will change the way situations affect us. By changing the way situations affect us, we change the way we act in these situations and that is the reward. We are actually different. We are actually living well.

So let’s not worry about who sees us doing good, let’s worry more about how we are allowing doing good to change us into who we want to be.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 28

“When you are going to attack any person violently or with threats, remember to say to yourself first, that you are by nature gentle; and if you do nothing savage, you will continue to live without repentance and without blame.” – Epictetus

Most of us, hopefully won’t find ourselves in situations where we are considering violently attacking or threatening another person. We are very likely however, to find ourselves in situations where we are going to find ourselves on the wrong side of unkind words or unnecessarily argumentative positions.

Same rules should apply. Before we go and start an argument we don’t need to have, or before we make the decision to say something we might think we need to get off our chest even though the words will be hurtful, we need to stop and think about the way we want to interact with the world. We also need to think about the reputation we are building as our reputation is probably the best metric we have to judge the character we are expressing to the world.

So before we go ahead and disagree with someone about a subject that might not be all that important, or before we tell someone what we really think without regard to their feelings, and definitely before we take a swing and knock someone in the face, we need to think about the way we want to be seen. Not in a vain way, we need to consider the fact that if we choose to go down that road, we are damaging our character and we have to ask ourselves if we are truly willing to trade our character for this moment.

And if our answer is yes, we should reconsider this point a few times before making a decision.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 27

“Pittacus after being wronged by a certain person and having the power of punishing him let him go, saying, ‘Forgiveness is better than revenge.'” – Epictetus

Pittacus was one of the seven sages of Greece, a general and ruler of Mytilene. Rumor has it that when his son Tyrrhaeus was murdered the murderer was brought before Pittacus who forgave him and made the statement above.

Anger is a common emotion, and it comes to most of us easily. If we simply think about a few of the things that make us angry, we will find ourselves becoming angry. Heart beat increases, we flush, blood pressure rises and our reflexes become very reactive. Anger prepares us for physical violence.

Anger is also very difficult to control. Anger can make us say or do things we later wish we hadn’t done. Anger can ruin relationships. Anger can cost us jobs. Anger can poison our lives.

Anger can also lead to the same rushes of adrenaline that thrill seekers often find in extreme sports or activities. It’s probably not that anger itself is addictive as much as we learn to love the rush that anger brings. Left unchecked, anger can become a very powerful bad habit. A habit that can really harm us.

Forgiveness on the other hand is difficult. Forgiveness requires us to put aside our feelings, usually anger, and let something go. And it usually becomes the best option when our emotions are running at their strongest.This is why having emotional discipline is a required skill set for living well. We need to have the ability to detach from our emotional response to things and recognize what the most appropriate response to any situation actually is. Rarely, but sometimes, it will be anger. Sometimes anger is required to convey the seriousness of a situation. More often, anger is more than unnecessary. Mostly, anger is the wrong move and the biggest victim of anger is almost always us.

Fortunately, life will give us many opportunities every single day to practice detaching from smaller situations, checking our anger and then practicing forgiveness. Even at the smallest levels we will find that the ultimate winner in forgiving people in situations that would typically make us angry, is going to be us.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

 

March 26

“You will stumble least in your judgments, if you yourself stumble least in your life.”             – Epictetus

We make judgement calls everyday. Some of them are about the choices we have to make, some of them are about the people we share our lives with, and some of them are a combination of the two. Sometimes our judgment is sound and sometimes we might look back at some of the decisions we’ve made or the people we have allowed to get close to us and wondered what we could have been thinking at the time.

The impulse when the outcome of our judgment leaves something to be desired is to look externally. If only this person would have revealed themselves sooner. If only someone had explained this situation better at some point.

Instead, we should be focusing on controlling the things that we can control, disciplining our emotions, and using these tools to make our decisions. As we get better at this, we will find that our judgment will also improve. We will attract new circles of peers who share a similar mindset, we may inspire our current peers to focus on what they control, and we will enjoy better decision making.

Most importantly, we will enjoy the understanding that we are learning to control the things that are within our control and everything outside of has to be left to fate.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 25

“Truth conquers with itself, but opinion conquers those focused on affecting things outside of their control.” – Epictetus

With the advent of 24 hour news cycles, opinion and fact have been melded together more than at any other time in written history. Likely, the need to fill the space was part of this shift but opinion has always had a heavy hand in the way the news was presented. Here in the United States a look back at the 1800 presidential election between Thomas Jefferson – the sitting vice president – and incumbent president John Adams and some of the mudslinging done by newspapers of the time.

Our easy access to others opinions gives us the opportunity to examine arguments being made from opinion and those being formulated from only the facts of a situation. We can evaluate in ourselves whether the arguments we hear serve to stir emotions directed at external things – the things that lie beyond our control – or at issues or positions that lie directly within our own control.

If we are committed to identifying the things within our control and the things outside of our control, we should be able to look at the arguments we see and the ones that look to stir emotions about external things should leave us less impressed than opinions or statements that speak to things we could have a direct impact on.

We could just as easily apply this practice to interactions during our day to day lives.

virtus fortis vocat

March 24

“If you seek truth, you will not seek by every means to gain a victory, and if you have found the truth, you will have the gain of not being defeated.” – Epictetus

If we think about a subject we are very comfortable with. Not just passionate about but something we understand inside and out. There will not be many, gaining that level of experience and knowledge is difficult and rare. But when it comes to that level of understanding, we all have a few things.

Now if we imagine that we are having an argument with someone about that subject and they are just straight up wrong. No one is going to get hurt by their being wrong, they just don’t know what they are talking about it. How bothered are we really? If we are getting a little better with focusing on what is in our control we are probably not all that bothered because we know that they are wrong. We might even feel a little bad for them.

Once we have identified the things we have control over and the the things that we do not, and we are comfortable with those boundaries, we will not be trying to score points or win arguments and we will not be concerned about being proven wrong in areas that we are not well versed in. Instead we can look at the criticism and negative things spoken to us in even the most vitriolic argument, we can tease out the things that may point to actual weaknesses in our lives (tip: these are typically the statements that hurt the most), and we can focus on eliminating those weaknesses.

Then even the most personal and hateful attacks will give us insight on areas of our lives we can work on. And that is something we can control.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 23

“As a wolf resembles a dog, so does a flatterer, and an adulterer, and a parasite resemble a friend. Take care then that instead of watch-dogs you do not without knowing it let in mischievous wolves.” – Epictetus

There is a quote often attributed to Jim Rohn that says, “You are the average of the five people you associate with most. Let’s take a minute and think about the people we associate with the most, they are probably people we work with, we see the people we work with every single day during the work week.

When we have an idea of the people we spend the most time with at work, the next question we should ask ourselves is, “Do I exhibit the principles that I want to live by when I am with the people I spend the most time with at work?” If the answer to that question is yes, and we are being honest with ourselves about what our principles are and how we are actually acting, then we are in the right group of people.

If instead we find that we are complaining about things we can control, gossiping, or avoiding productive work with the people we spend the most time with at work, well we need to be ready for some changes. We don’t need to make any changes just yet. Who knows? Maybe when we start to get a handle on the things we do control, our closest associates will see the difference it makes in our lives and follow suit. Maybe not.

If they do not, we need to be ready for the reality that they will not want to spend time with us as we learn to master the things within our control and ignore the things outside our control.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 22

“Examine in three ways the person who is talking with you, as superior, as inferior, or as an equal: if they are superior, you should listen to them and be convinced by them: but if they are inferior, you should convince them; if they are equal, you should agree with them; and thus you will never be guilty of being quarrelsome.” – Epictetus

In life, we are going to have to deal with people. In life, we are also going to need to solve problems. Sometimes, we are going to need help with a problem we are trying to solve. Sometimes, we are going to be the ones helping someone else solve a problem. Finally, sometimes we will have to solve problems with the help of others who are not necessarily more or less versed in the area of the problem.

When we require help from a person with more knowledge on a specific problem than we have, if does us no good to try to convince them to see things our way. We don’t have as much of the picture as they do. Instead, we should listen to the advice they are giving us, be convinced that it is the best way to handle our problem and then only interject when we actually find we have pieces of information that the other person will need. In this way, we are actually helping the person help us solve the problem.

In a similar fashion, when someone comes to us for help in solving a problem that we understand better than they do we should not find ourselves struggling to convince them that our way of handling the problem is the best way. If we can not convince them, we need to look at the way we are communicating with them by stepping back and detaching from the conversation a little bit fund a better way of explaining it and then proceed. We should always be ready to hear pieces of information that we were not aware of, specifics of the situation that may alter our approach for example. In this way, we make the other person a teammate. If still we can not convince someone that our way is best, it is better to stop trying to help than it is to argue and force our way.

In most situations we will be dealing with equals, in these cases there is no right or wrong way to approach the problem. We would do well to keep an open mind and listen more than we talk. If we have a way that is truly better, others will be easy to convince, if the other person’s way is better we should be easy to convince. When two solutions are equal we should always defer to the other person, especially if that person ranks below us in our organization. This way they will own the approach and will put in maximal effort along side us. Even if the other person’s approach is a little inferior but doesn’t change the actual outcome, we should take their approach for the same reasons.

In doing these things, we stay out of arguments and are less likely to become distracted from our end goals.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 21

“To live well differs from living extravagantly; for the first comes from moderation and a sufficiency and good order and frugality but the other comes from intemperance and luxury and want of order. If then you want to live well, do not seek to be noticed for living extravagantly.” – Epictetus

Keeping up with the Joneses. That old colloquialism that still rings true for many of us. In most of us, perhaps all of us to a certain extent, there is a strong desire to fit into our social circles and a big way to do that is to acquire the same things that others in our social network possess. It gives us common ground, a shared experience, something to form a bond over. In many ways this is not such a bad thing.

But like so many things in life, if we allow our desire to fit in and bond with our peers to control us we will make decisions that ultimately harm us and pull us away from living well.

We don’t control what our friends and neighbors do, we don’t control how they think of us and therefore we do not ultimately control how we fit into our social circles. Instead, we control how we act, how we think, and how we see the things happening around us. We control how far we allow ourselves to go in fitting in with our peers. We control how we allow the moments where we will not fit in to dictate to our emotions.

If we choose to set an example of living well, it might take time, but eventually we will find ourselves surrounded by like minded peers.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 20

“It is not poverty which produces sorrow, but desire; nor does wealth release us from worry, reason does that. If then, you acquire reason, you will neither desire wealth nor complain about poverty.” – Epictetus

Desire places our expectations and hopes in the realm of external things. Things we do not have any control over. When we allow our desires to control our thoughts and control the way that we see our own lives, we will never have enough to be happy. There will always be some experience, some luxury that we can not attain. If we allow our desire to run rampant, it will consume us and show us all of the areas in life where we are missing out.

This is one of the ways social media can be dangerous. When we only see the best in other’s lives – the vacations, the new cars, the new babies – we make comparisons to our own and fall short. Even though we do the same thing to others with our own social media accounts.

Instead, if we control how we see our lives based on the choices we are making internally, the way we control our emotions, how we discipline ourselves to listen more, and how we choose to see the things that happen to us, then we give ourselves a chance to make the choice to be content with what we have. We can stop contrasting what we have against what we don’t and focus on improving the things that are within our control.

And when we can do that, we are free.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 19

“Just as it is better to squeeze yourself into a small bed and be healthy than it is to lie on a large bed with disease, so also is it better to have little but be happy than it is to have a vast fortune and be miserable.” – Epictetus

There is nothing wrong with having wealth. There is nothing wrong with attaining a better economic position or even attempting to attain wealth. But the desire to become wealthy will force us to make some compromises that will remove our ability to be content with what we have. Because when we make attaining wealth our end goal, we force ourselves into the position that wealth in itself is going to make us more content. When that proves to be false, many of us will fall into a sunk cost fallacy and will start a cycle of attempting to attain more and more wealth with the idea that eventually, we will also attain happiness.

This is a trap.

It will always have been better to remain in the position we were in and be grateful for what we have than to compromise our standards in order to make the acquisition of wealth our goal. It is always going to be better to choose to be content with what we have, require very little, and continue to work on making ourselves better.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 18

“If you had been born among the Persians, you would not have wanted to live in Greece, but to have lived in Persia happy: so if you are born in poverty, why do you seek to grow rich, and why do you not remain in poverty and be happy?” – Epictetus

This is less about being happy being poor, which by now is a cliched romanticized story in our wealth obsessed culture, and more about choosing to be happy no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

We do not control where we are born. This true geographically, socially, and economically. We do not chose the nations, the families, or the level of wealth we are born into.

It is possible we could work hard, take advantage of a few opportunities, enjoy some measure of success, and rise above our current station.

It is possible we could work hard, take advantage of a few opportunities, have everything fall apart, and end up in worse shape than we are now.

Fate can be frustrating if we choose to allow it to be.

Happiness, which I am interpreting at contentment with life, is a choice we make no matter where we are in life. We choose how we see things, we choose how we experience things, and we choose how we allow our situation to affect us. We can choose to be grateful with what we have in life and we can choose to be content where we are.

Being content with where you are doesn’t mean that you have to stop trying to be better, it just means you are going to be happy no matter how the game turns out.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 17

“Wealth is not one of the good things; great expenditure is one of the bad; moderation is one of the good things. And moderation invites to frugality and the acquisition of good things.” – Epictetus

If we are focused on living better, we aren’t going to be focused on attaining wealth and we are going to be avoiding spending more than we can afford, or really even more than we absolutely have to. We will start applying discipline to all aspects of our lives and in doing so, we will find that we become better at moderating all of the aspects we wanted to get control of in the first place.

By disciplining our emotions we find that we are less susceptible to making impulse purchases when we see advertisement or are waiting in line at our favorite store or we think of something we want. We avoid the vice of expenditure in the accumulation of things by applying discipline to our emotions.

By disciplining our bodies we learn to listen to them better. We are able to avoid the impulse food purchases when we think we are hungry, thirsty or need to be satisfied by the immediate junk food purchase. Instead we learn to fuel our bodies better and moderate our expenditure of immediate pleasure by avoiding wasting money on junk food.

By moderating these expenditures and disciplining ourselves away from wasting our money, we will realize that we require less wealth than we would have thought in order to be content. By realizing we are content with less we are able to focus more on the better things in life, time. Time, experience, and connections.

By applying discipline to our lives, we learn how to live better on our terms, by learning to live better we set ourselves free.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 16

“Those who are well constituted in the body endure both heat and cold; and so those who are well constituted in the soul endure anger and grief and excessive joy and the other affects.” – Epictetus

What? It’s true. If we were to work out for six weeks and change our bodies. Really work out, not jump on a treadmill and slow run for half an hour but work our bodies until we don’t need to feel for a pulse because we can hear it in our ears. Every day. For six weeks. We will notice that we don’t get cold as east, we don’t get hot as easy. Our bodies will have improved their ability to adapt.

The same is true of our emotional control. The more we work at it, the more we exercise it, the stronger it gets. The better we are at handling situations and issues that make us uncomfortable. Those situations where our hearts start to race we can feel ourselves flush and we know we aren’t saying or thinking what we should be, they will get easier the more we work at this. But we have to work at it. And the way we work at getting better about handling situations that we aren’t good at handling right now, is we experience more of them. We have the difficult conversations, we accept the help we would typically decline, we bring it up when someone does wrong to us, and we do it all with the idea that we only control our attitudes and actions at the very forefront of our minds. At all times.

And we will develop a constitution to endure all of the affects.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

 

March 15

“When we have been invited to a banquet, we take what is set before us. If a guest makes specific requests of the host he would be considered an unreasonable person. Why then do we ask the gods for what they do not give while ignoring the many things they have already given.” – Epictetus

Being content with what we have available to us and accepting things the way they are without stressing about the way we would like them to be. This philosophy goes hand in hand with recognizing what is under our control, what is not under our control and then limiting our energy to the things we can control. When we understand what we can and what we can not control, we understand how we are in control of our own happiness. We may not control the things that happen but we control how we see them and how we respond to them.

In the same way, we do not control what we have been given by life. We do not control our height, our eye color, the family/country we were born into, or any number of things. But we do control whether we chose to view these things as positives or negatives in our lives.

We can chose to be thankful for the opportunities and experiences that life has afforded us thus far and we can chose to appreciate the ones that life has in store for us as they come.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 14

“No man who loves money, and loves pleasure, and loves fame, also loves mankind, but only he who loves virtue.” – Epictetus

When we think about these four traits, the one thing that unites them all is that none of them have a limit. We can always chase down more of each.

The difference is that the first three all focus on the individual doing the action.

Love of money can be consuming, people who love money for the sake of money often will not even recognize when their action are inconveniencing or even harming another. This can manifest itself even in people without a lot of money to work with by them buying things that they do not need at prices that require the items to be sourced from less than reputable suppliers. Think sweat shops.

Love of pleasure is akin to hedonism. The idea that, ‘if it feels good for me, that’s all I care about.’ Think about the best hosts for parties, the best entertainers, or even the best lovers. They are not the best because they are focused on their own pleasure, they ensure that the others involved are also enjoying themselves. It’s great to experience pleasure but it’s greater to be aware of those around us as well.

There is no end to the love of fame, having people we don’t even know adore us feels amazing. Of course we want as many people as possible to be in love with us. The bright lights of fame are addicting, but to seek them out for their own sake involves a level of narcissism that requires no further investigation.

Pursuing a love of virtue on the other hand, puts us in a position where the main focus of our energy is on just how our actions affect others. How much good can we do? How much suffering can we eliminate? These are the questions of people seeking virtue.

Trying to be our best selves will lead us to loving others.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

 

 

March 13

“As you would not chose to sail in a ship ornamented in gold and to be drowned, so do not choose to dwell in a large and costly house and to be disturbed by worries.”                  – Epictetus

We could chose to replace the house with anything where the expense of maintaining the object in question could become a burden and anything that we might be tempted into owning for the image that it projects. A car we financed, clothes purchased with a credit card, vacations put on credit cards, and on and on.

Most of us, especially here in the United States live beyond our means. In the U.S. our economy actually depends on consumer spending. Without it, we wouldn’t see economic growth and a good amount of consumer spending is done with credit cards or debt. You could say our debt makes us patriots.

But in the developed world, money is also a huge source of stress. Financial issues are at the base of most marriage troubles and divorces. Financial stress is a leading source of stress for people in the developed world. People who have their basic human needs met with ease. People who enjoy luxuries that border on the ridiculous. But it’s not enough.

We have set sail on the golden ship and we are drowning. We need to learn to recognize when we are moving outside of our means and we need to be able to ask ourselves if we are fulfilling a need or are we actually just adding to our troubles.

If we can retrain ourselves in this way, we would find ourselves wealthy (content) before we realized it was happening.

virtus fortis vocat

March 12

“Examine your intentions and ask yourself if you wish to be rich or to be happy. If you wish to be rich, you should know that it is neither a god thing nor at all in your power. But if you wish to be happy, you should know that it is both a good thing and within your power. For riches are a temporary loan from fate and happiness comes from the will.”        – Epictetus

Rich or happy. Are those two really mutually exclusive? The key point is the word wish. Just as the often misused phrase about money being the root of all evil misses the point. The entire phrase from the book of Timothy reads: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”

The operative point in both cases is the intention. If our intention is to accumulate wealth, we don’t really have a stopping point, nor do we set out with a good goal. There are many ways to accumulate wealth. Not all of them are honest and many of them require us to compromise at least some of our integrity in order to reach the numbers that a person focused on the accumulation of wealth would be satisfied with.

If our intention were to be happy or better yet, if we ready the 1800 year old text as content instead of happy, we would be onto something entirely different. In order to be content we have to learn to be satisfied more by the things we already have. When we start to do that, we find we can be content with less than we would think. This is especially true compared to someone who is intent on accumulating wealth. Someone who wants to be rich. The less we need to be content, the less we need to acquire in order to be satisfied.

Once we are content, we are free to do what we like more often because we have to do what we need to do to survive less often.

virtus fortis vocat

March 11

“The bond of the body is loosened by death, the bond of vice is loosened by money, but the bond of the soul is loosened by learning, and by experience, and by discipline.”            – Epictetus

We are going to die. That is simply the cost of getting to experience this life. For some of us, death will free us from painful, debilitating, or otherwise awful conditions. For those of us experiencing these things at the end of life, death will feel like being freed from bonds. For the rest of us, we will be freed from the bonds of being alive but it may not necessarily be as evident. Many of us will fear it for the rest of our lives. Still, it will come.

Most of us carry some level of debt. Maybe we have student debt from our education or training, maybe we carry consumer debt in credit cards or car payments, or maybe we have mortgages to pay. We also have recurring bills for lights, water, internet, television, etc. These are what is meant by vice. These are external things that could trap us or cause us to feel trapped. If we discipline our spending, our saving, and our use of debt we may eventually find ourselves coming out from under the burden of debt. Or we may find ourselves slaves to it for the rest of our lives.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves is to prepare our minds, our souls, our spirits, or whatever we choose to call the part of us that is intrinsically us. We do this through learning and then more importantly, putting what we learn into action. We carry out these actions by utilizing discipline and learning more from the experiences we gain by putting what we have previously learned into action. It is only through learning, experience, and discipline that we will find the financial tools we will need to free ourselves from vice. It is only through learning, experience, and discipline that we will understand life enough to be prepared for death. It is only through learning, experience, and discipline that we will train ourselves to live good lives.

So let’s learn, let’s put our learning into action to gain experience, and let’s discipline ourselves into making this a lifelong pursuit.

virtus fortis vocat

 

March 10

“Freedom and slavery, one is the name of virtue the other the name of vice; and both are acts of the will. But where there is no will, neither of them can affect things. No man is a slave who is free in his will.” – Epictetus

It is important to remember that Epictetus was born into slavery in Rome. When he writes about slavery he isn’t being figurative in his understanding of what slavery means. He knew first hand what it meant to be an actual slave.

For us, the meaning is figurative. We are at no risk of being physically enslaved but we are at risk of enslaving ourselves figuratively to external things. We are at risk to becoming figuratively enslaved to our emotions.

The biggest risk we take however, is that we might not have the will to experience anything. Instead of being figuratively enslaved by our emotions or external things outside of our control we end up going through life with no real interaction with the outside world. Worse than slaves we are sponges who might as well sit on our couches, watch television, and take our meals right off the coffee table.

So we take a risk, we aim for freedom full well understanding that if we can not develop the will to ignore external things outside of our control, if we can not learn to discipline our emotions, then we may find ourselves figuratively enslaved to these things. But more importantly, if we can. If we fight every day to get a little better, a little closer to our goal we might just get that one goal that makes it all worth while. Freedom.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

March 9

“Do not be as afraid of the judgement that comes from the opinions of others as you are from that which comes from the truth.” – Epictetus

We know the standards we have set for ourselves, each of us will have our own personal ideal that we are working towards. The common theme is that we all want to be better than we are right now. Becoming better involves identifying things we want to change and then taking the actions necessary to change those things.

It does not matter what we do, when we decide to make changes to better ourselves, we are going to have to stop doing things that other people may very well consider normal. When we are not doing the things that others consider normal, we will stand out. When When a person stands out from the crowd, other people have a habit of forming opinions about them and their motives. We can not control that.

We can control how we choose to see things. People are going to talk, they are going to gossip, and they are going to be wrong. It will feel like we are being lied about. We aren’t. They are just wrong.

We should be far more concerned with what our motivation for our changes and our actions actually is. If we are making changes to look better to everyone around us, we might have the wrong motivation. If we are truly looking to be better our motivation should be to be better. We should want to make changes without announcing them to the world and we should want to put those changes into action whether or not anyone notices.

We should try to become our best selves whether people are looking or not.

virtus fortis vocat

March 8

“If you wish to be well spoken of, learn to speak well of others: and when you have learned to speak well of them, try to act well so that people have something good to talk about.” – Epictetus

How we act has the biggest impact on how we make other people feel. People always remember how they feel when they are in our presence. They might not remember the things we say or exactly what we do but they will always remember that feeling they have when they are with us.

If we want people to remember that feeling as a good feeling – and we should want people to feel good about being around us, the best measurement of our character and who we are as people is how they feel when we are around – then we need to discipline ourselves in the practice of speaking kindly about those who are not around without sounding self righteous. If you do not gossip, you have no reason to admonish a gossip. Just don’t be like them. Once we have mastered not gossiping without telling others not to gossip we can focus on our next level, whatever that might be.

Maybe we want to spread kindness. Great. But we should want to do so quietly, from the back ground, without bringing it to everyone’s attention. It might take longer to have it become recognized as part of our character but that is because it takes time to actually become part of our character.

Once we master these things, people will feel good about being around us. When people feel good about us, they tend to speak well of us.

virtus fortis vocat

March 7

“Punish your passions that you may not be punished by them.” – Epictetus

So many directions we could go with just a few words.

We could look at this as a warning to reign in our dreams and desires before our happiness becomes dependent on their fulfillment.

We could read it as a warning to not let the things we love take over our lives and distract us from our responsibilities.

Let’s focus on the hardest to control version of our passions, our emotional responses to the world as it happens around us. Restraining our response to things that happen to us from external forces – either good or bad – is likely the hardest but most important part of the teachings of Epictetus.

Even if we go through life acting like complete jerks, good things are going to happen to us. If we want to perpetuate the trend of being a complete jerk we will assume that we are the reason that good things happen to us. In reality, we play a very small role in the things that happen to us. While we may have worked hard, there is likely someone who worked harder and failed. While we might be smart, smarter people have had less fortune. We should restrain our egos, punish our passion for believing we are deserving of success.

On the other side of the coin, even the kindest and best of us is going to have bad things happen to them. If we throw our hands up in the air and complain that we are bad people and can’t get anything right or that life is being unjust to us, we are giving into our passion of negativity. We are choosing the negative view. In a way this is a toxic egotism, ‘of course bad things are happening to me. This is the life that I must endure,’ Our egos scream while at the same time claiming that everyone else is luckier than us or could not endure the same hardship.

As usual, the best course is in the middle. Restrain our passions, punish them, tell our ego whether it is being overly negative or overly positive to keep quiet. Focus on the small roles we actually play.

We should check ourselves lest we wreck ourselves.

virtus fortis vocat

March 6

“It is better to do wrong and to admit it and work towards acting right than to never admit to doing wrong and do wrong often.” – Epictetus

We are going to fail. We will forget to listen and talk over others. We will talk about ourselves. We will let a situation get to us. We will lose our tempers. We might lie. We might even steal or hurt others.

The fact that these things may or are likely to happen does not excuse us from being responsible for them when they do. Offering ourselves the same level of understanding that we would to others when we do fail is not the same as accepting the failure. There is no good done by lamenting something we did in the past. Even the very recent past.

But not learning from the past? We are cheating ourselves if we ignore the very lessons we create every single day. We are not on the path we would like to be if we are not actively trying to learn from our mistakes. And we will make mistakes.

Instead, we learn more and get more out of admitting when we have done something wrong. Even if it was something as simple as talking too much about ourselves, or controlling the conversation. We do well to admit to talking about ourselves too much, apologize and try to do it less.

As in everything else, the harder path is usually the more rewarding.

virtus fortis vocat

 

 

March 5

“If you wish to be good, first believe that you are bad.” – Epictetus

So much to glean out of just a dozen simple words.

Take any skill or ability. While some natural ability might be available from birth or genetics, it takes practice and work to get better at anything. The best practice is going to be targeted at existing weaknesses. We identify our weaknesses but understanding what we are bad at and then finding ways to eliminate those weaknesses by focusing on them.

Living the life we want to live is also a skill that requires practice. We practice getting better at living by identifying the things we are bad at, recognizing that they are weaknesses, determining the most effective ways to eliminate the weaknesses we have identified, and then executing on the plan to improve.

Getting better at living is also a skill, it takes practice. We are going to be bad at it, really bad at it in the beginning. That is why we are going to take one or two things off the list of things we want to get better at and we are going to work on those. Everyday.

When those two things become second nature we can recreate our list and we can pick another two things off the list and we work on those until they become second nature.

And we continue to create lists and work on things until we are finished. The dirty secret is, we are never finished. We can continue this practice for the rest of our lives.

virtus fortis vocat

March 4

“A soul which is well acquainted with virtue is like an ever-flowing source. It is pure, tranquil, potable, sweet and social. It is rich and harmless and free from mischief.”             – Epictetus

Well acquainted, not in possession of. Because it is a lifelong journey, we will never be in possession of virtue, we will be constantly looking to get better. Forever.

But as we get closer to our goal, we start to see the benefits of all of the work we have been putting in. We could compare it to an investment account, once it reaches a certain point, it starts to earn more than we are putting in every month or year. It takes on a life of its own and starts to surprise us with benefits. The same is true of our hearts and minds as we constantly invest in working on making them better. When they get closer to our goal, they start to surprise us by making the behaviors and actions we are looking for second nature.

If, for example, we are working on speaking less and listening more we might find ourselves in conversation one day not having to remind ourselves to listen and we may just catch ourselves really hearing everything someone has to say.

Similarly, if our goal is to control how we respond to a situation we will find ourselves not having to remind ourselves that how we respond is the only thing we control when something goes wrong in our lives. When this happens we might just find that we are able to stay calm, assess the situation and deal with a problem without allowing it to upset us; all without having to put in the effort to control our emotions.

So we will stay on the path and we will start to notice that the more we work on these things, the easier and more natural they become.

virtus fortis vocat

March 3

“The life which depends on great wealth is like a winter torrent. It is turbulent, difficult to cross, tyrannical, noisy and brief.” – Epictetus

In reality all of our lives are brief. We are here for a short time relative to the world around us and the going-ons of our species. Book-ended by events that come before and events that come after, our own lives will touch on a very small part of human history. A lot can and likely will happen during that period but it is a small piece regardless.

Still, in these short lives we can get a taste of luxury. And we can become quite acquired to the taste of these things. We can even let the little luxuries we get to experience in this life become our end goal rather than viewing them as distractions and amusements.

When we chose to make the acquisition of wealth our life goal we take on the risk that we will create a life that becomes dependent on that wealth. Wealth is not something we have as much control over as we might think. Markets change based on factors we can not control, the value of homes and goods can plummet and we are left wondering what just happened. Huge amounts of wealth can disappear overnight when these markets take sharp turns. If our lives are dependent on this wealth, they could be destroyed.

Living lives dependent on something so outside our own control creates stress, worry, and unrest. It will inevitably give us reasons to consider doing things that lie outside of our own standards in order to preserve that wealth.

Instead we should make our lives dependent on the things we do control and enjoy the luxuries we attain in life for what they are. Extras.

virtus fortis vocat

March 2

“And if anything laborious, or pleasant or glorious or inglorious be present to you, remember that now is the contest, now are your Olympics, and they are not optional. It all comes down to one defeat, one concession that everything you have attained is forfeited or maintained.” – Epictetus

A strong position to be required to hold. Looking at everything as a compulsory contest in which all of our winnings, all of our progress is contingent on the results. But this is precisely the way we need to look at the things we really want to acquire or accomplish. Every little step takes our best effort. Maybe not maximum effort, because using more effort than necessary is a waste. But it requires our best effort, recognizing what we have to do to accomplish a task and then doing exactly that.

It works in the opposite direction as well. Every time that we stray off the path that we have set out for ourselves, we allow that moment of weakness to chip away at all of the progress we have made. If we have decided that we will wake up early to exercise and we decide to sleep in, what are the chances we fit that workout into the rest of our day. If we forget to listen more and spend a conversation talking about ourselves instead of learning about the other person, we can not get that back.

And so, yes. We need to approach everything we do as if it were a contest where everything is on the line and each task requires our best effort. By bringing our best effort to even the little things in life, we build a pattern of doing our best in everything, we build a habit. We make it a discipline.

virtus fortis vocat

March 1

“And whatever any man shall say about you, do not attend to it; for this is no affair of yours.” – Epictetus

“What other people think about you is none of your business.” We’ve all heard it before but looked at again, in slightly different wording through the eyes of Epictetus the words take on a little more life of their own. When we consider that the basis of Epictetus’ writings and the cornerstone of his philosophy is that we are in control of how we react to the things that we do not have control over. Furthermore, our reaction to these things is a major part of what defines our character.

We do not control what other people think or say about us. We do not control how hard our coworkers work, we do not control how hard they think we work or how good/bad they think we might be at our jobs. We do not even control how our spouses think about us. All of this is true, to a point.

Whatever anyone has to say about us when we are not around, even if it makes its way back to us, is really none of our concern. Doesn’t matter. This is not feedback. It is gossip. We can choose to use it as feedback but we should be careful here. Changing around our actions in response to gossip is a dangerous precedent and most of us are probably not truly detached enough to see this objectively and use it for good. These things are better ignored.

It is important, however, that we remember that we do control how we act, how we speak about others, how we view each and every situation, and how we approach our responsibilities. At work and at home. If we would like to be well thought of, we need to be putting in the effort to be well thought of.

We can do that, it just takes recognizing what we have control over and controlling it.

virtus fortis vocat