July 17

“Riches are slaves in the house of a wise man, but masters in that of a fool.” – Seneca

Money, wealth, and related instruments are exactly that to those who understand the limits between the things they have control over, instruments. People who understand that these things are tools to be used to make our lives more enjoyable, more comfortable or to improve the lives of those around us also tend to understand that they can get by just fine without as much as they currently have. Life may not be as comfortable or as interesting and they may have to focus more on their own issues and less on those around them but they will still be able to enjoy life.

Those of us driven by the accumulation of wealth on the other hand will never be able to truly enjoy life. Yes, those people will experience the finer things, they will have more comfort, more pleasure, and even more leisure than the rest of us but they will always be haunted by the need to accumulate more. They will serve their wealth instead of allowing their wealth to serve them.

We might not have everything we want but we have way more control over deciding to want less than we do over being able to get more.

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July 16

“I shall make whatever befalls me a good thing, but I prefer what befalls me should be comfortable and pleasant and unlikely to cause me annoyance.” – Seneca

Making the most of any situation is a skill that is learned and perfected over a lifetime. While it allows us to take the bad that life is going to throw at us and make the most of it, developing a skill for making the most of any situation is not a license to allow the things we do have control over to be neglected.

We should not, for example, stop making our car payments because we know that we could live comfortably without a car. Instead if we feel that we would do well without the car, we should return it to the dealership and allow someone who needs it more than we do to take advantage of it. We should effectively try to decrease the amount of chaos in the world, not add to it.

Furthermore, being able to handle anything that life throws at us is not a carte blanche for chaos. Simply because we know that we can handle a hectic workday is not enough of a reason to pack everyday as full as we can and leave ourselves trying to juggle more things than we can handle while also operating at our highest level.

Instead we should aim for a balance. Some days should be used to stretch our abilities in offering our absolute best in any situation and others should be used to handle as many things as we possibly can. And in both situations we should be taxing ourselves just up to the point where we can not take it.

We shouldn’t worry about trying to determine which days are for which ahead of time. That is not within our control. We just have to be ready to take things as they come.

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July 15

“Riches I say are not a good thing; for if they were, they would make men good: now since that which is found even among bad men cannot be termed good, I do not allow them to be called so: nevertheless I admit they are desirable and useful and contribute great comforts to our lives.” – Seneca

In and of itself, money is not a good thing. In and of itself, money is not a bad thing. Money is a thing, an instrument that we use to exchange our time, goods, and services for other people’s time, goods, and services.

Not having money does not make a person a bad person. Not having money does not lead a person to do bad things. Having a lot of money does not make a person a bad person. Having a lot of money does not lead a person to do bad things. There is a fair amount of people on either ends of these extremes that allow themselves to do bad things and even to become bad people. Why?

It’s not the money, lack of or excess. It is the desire to have more, at any cost. It is looking at the world and instead of seeing where a person could be content with what they have or where they could honestly make a change in their own lives in order to bring about a positive change, people choose instead to see where they can take advantage, where they can game the system just a little bit.

Sometimes these are little things, sometimes they are huge infractions. Either way it is the same. It is someone sacrificing something they do control, their integrity, in order to attempt to control something they can not, their fortune.

Let’s stick with what we can control in life. Become the best versions of ourselves. We might not get rich but we won’t be bad either.

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July 14

“As he is capable of performing a journey upon his own feet, but yet would prefer to mount a carriage, just so a man will be capable of being poor, yet will wish to be rich.”      – Seneca

It is the freedom that wealth buys us that most of us crave. The ability to choose when and how we spend our time. The ability to become less reliant on our work as a source of providing a living. In a word, wealth provides us with freedom.

We can be perfectly happy continuing on working, spending a little more than half of our waking hours committed to our professions. We can build a nice life around that and we can make the most of what life brings us.

But we would all prefer to be independent of our work. We would all prefer to know that we were working because we wanted to, or because we enjoyed it instead of doing it simply because we had to.

If we detach a little from the idea of independence we can see that this is more of a mindset than an actual reality. In reality we could be making millions of dollars a year and still be just as stuck in our jobs as we are now. On the other side of the coin, we could probably be making less than we currently do but limit our spending and simplify our lifestyle so that we are free to continue doing what we do because we enjoy the work and the relationships we’ve built along the way.

The key to being there is two fold. First we need to change the way we look at wealth and work. Second we need to commit to taking the steps to get ourselves where we want to be. And we need to be detached and honest with ourselves.

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July 13

“The wise man will not allow a single ill-won penny to cross his threshold; yet he will not refuse or close his door against great riches, if they are the gift of fortune and the product of virtue.” – Seneca

There are all kinds of things that could be counted as great riches but one in particular is often overlooked and often declined due to the effect accepting it would have on our own ego.

People will offer us assistance with all sorts of things, they may hold a door, offer to buy us lunch, or simply offer a word of encouragement or a compliment. And how often do we in turn decline or rebuke those gestures?

Why? These are not ill-won riches. These are the reflections of how we carry ourselves in the world. People want to help or be kind to people they think would help or be kind to them. When we are offered these blessings in life and we turn them down we take away the opportunity the other person had to feel good about themselves. This could have set the tone for them for the remainder of the day. In a way, by refusing the kindness of others, we run the risk of ruining their day for them. Let’s not do that.

Let’s instead approach the riches that people offer us, great or small, with a sense of gratitude.

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July 12

“Who can doubt, however, that the wise man, if he is rich, has a wider field for the development of his powers than if he is poor.” – Seneca

For a slight spin on this, yes we would all be able to develop faster or better if we had more wealth but easier than gaining more wealth is learning to require less of it to live. Always.

By learning to live without some of the luxuries that cost us small increments of our wealth each day, week, or month we free ourselves a bit from the need to earn that wealth in the first place.

Since wealth acquired is typically a direct reflection of time taken out of our lives to work at acquiring wealth, the less we need, the more time we have to improve other skill sets and work towards becoming the best versions of ourselves.

Oddly enough, by focusing on living with less and freeing up some of our valuable time to focus on improvement, we will find that our attitude and perspective towards acquiring wealth will change in a positive direction. This in turn often leads to a better outcome for those of us who depend on commissions or direct sales to earn a living. If we don’t seem desperate, somehow we seem more trustworthy.

But most importantly, by learning to live with less, we get to focus on what matters more. Becoming the best versions of us that we can.

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July 11

“The philosopher may own ample wealth, but will not own wealth that has been torn from another, or which is stained with another’s blood.” – Seneca

 

While there are still plenty of opportunities for us to avoid products and attainment of wealth that is actually marred by violent conflict, slave labor, and the exploitation of others, simply avoiding these products is not going to take us far in making us into the best versions of ourselves. In fact, we are far more likely to become caught up in the self righteous virtue signalling that comes with avoiding products or businesses on ethical grounds and miss the opportunity to grow as people if we select only this route.

Instead we should look to our day to day interactions with others and ask ourselves honestly, are we getting an unfair advantage by misleading or being disingenuous with our friends, coworkers, or family?  If the answer to that question is ever yes, we should actively work on removing that behavior from our routine as quickly and effectively as possible. Removing the root of our desire to gain some small advantage over our the people around us without regard to the cost to those same people is what makes us into better people. We do that by focusing on the small things we do every day, often subconsciously.

Yes we should avoid products made inexpensive through exploitation, or ones obtained through violent conflict but more importantly to our own well being, we should avoid exhibiting the behavior that makes these vile things possible to begin with.

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July 10

“If my riches leave me, they will carry away with them nothing except themselves.”             – Seneca

Wealth on its own is not a bad thing. Being afraid of losing our wealth, or being obsessed with attaining more of it that we risk compromising our integrity. The best way to view our wealth, like many things in life, is to look at it as a set of things we can control and things we can not control.

We might have some control over how much money we make, but not as much as we would like to think. Even if we are working for ourselves, the money comes from other people, they have to have some desire to spend it with us. And people are fickle.

We have control over what we spend to a higher degree but still we have needs and our lives have fixed costs. There will always be money that could be wealth being sent out the door instead. Always.

We have the most control over how we think about our wealth. We control how much we allow it to affect our day to day. This is a good place for us to practice the art of detachment. We can pull back from our own lives and look at them from the outside. We can ask ourselves if our needs are being met, if our lives are comfortable, and if we are afforded some luxury in life. If the answer to these questions is yes, we have no reason to allow wealth to occupy any portion of our minds. We can enjoy what life gives us.

And most of us can do that starting now.

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July 9

“Riches encourage and brighten up such a man just as a sailor is delighted at a favorable wind that bears him on his way, or as people feel pleasure at a fine day or a sunny spot in cold weather.” – Seneca

Luxuries are pleasant, they provide comfort, enjoyment, and add a little bit to our lives to help make them more enjoyable.

Like any situation however, we can get used to luxury, we can become accustomed to the increased comfort and convenience of a more luxurious standard of living.

If we allow this to happen to ourselves, when life corrects itself and we lose those luxuries that we have allowed ourselves to become accustomed to, we suffer all the more for it.

If instead we have maintained an appreciation for the luxuries our lives provide us with and we maintain an understanding that our lives would still be ours without them, when they are taken away from us we will find ourselves less troubled by the sudden loss of comfort and convenience.

This is part of the practice of purposefully denying ourselves luxuries at times in our lives. By denying ourselves pleasures we are used to enjoying we accomplish two major things. The first is that we prevent ourselves from becoming so accustomed to our comforts and conveniences that we find ourselves dependent on them for our happiness. The second is that we allow ourselves to appreciate and enjoy them even more because we know first hand how much they add to the enjoyment of that particular moment.

So let’s deny ourselves a little pleasure today, so that we might enjoy it more fully tomorrow.

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July 8

“Some things though they may be trifles compared to the sum total, and though they may be taken away without destroying the chief good, yet add somewhat to that constant cheerfulness which arises from virtue.” – Seneca

There is a dichotomy to this path. There are little luxuries in life that make life a little better, a little more enjoyable, and while we know we would be just fine without them, we also can enjoy them while they are a part of our life.

Money is an interesting part of this dichotomy. Stoic philosophy, and most philosophy in general admonishes us for being controlled or obsessed with wealth. But stoic philosophers also point out that wealth by itself, and attained honestly is not a bad thing.

So having wealth isn’t bad but we shouldn’t live our lives with the sole purpose of attaining it and once we have some we shouldn’t live our lives afraid to lose it. Like anything else we don’t control, we should be indifferent to wealth.

To continue the dichotomy, if we are far enough along the path of learning to control what we can and be indifferent to what we can not, we could also find ourselves working in just about any situation and not only would we be comfortable but would thrive and succeed because we control what we can and are unaffected by what we can not.

To tie the two dichotomies together and carry the thought out a little further, if we had a job that we really enjoyed, or we had a dream job and we also had a dream salary we could follow the following path and try to merge those two as best as possible.

We could make a list of all of the jobs we could think of that were close to or might eventually lead to our dream job. Once that list is complete, we start sending out resumes and cover letters, while also determining what salary will be necessary to leave our current job. We go on interviews, look at potential employers, negotiate, and stay persistent until we find what we are looking for. All while remaining loyal to our current employer and fulfilling our current job description to the best our abilities. Then we repeat the process until we reach our original goal.

It would likely take eighteen to thirty-six months at each step to find the right job with the right salary, maybe even longer if we are in a rural area and not willing to relocate. It would be very important to remain vigilant against complacency and a deterioration of our attitude towards our current employment during that time.

But it could be done, and it would help us along our path to becoming our best selves in several ways.

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July 7

“The wise man will not despise himself, however short of stature he may be, but nevertheless he will wish to be tall.” – Seneca

We can acknowledge our flaws and wish for our flaws to be different without hating ourselves or thinking less of ourselves for having them. It’s only human to acknowledge the imperfections nature has dealt us during our development and maturity, some of these will be physical, some of them will manifest in our personality and temperament. Some of them we can work on improving, some of them are here to stay.

For the flaws that are here to stay, we will likely always wish for them to be different. We may always wish to be taller, have a smaller nose, more symmetrical eyes, or a different voice. But as we work towards becoming our best selves, hopefully we will realize that it is possible to not like these things about us without having them reflect on who we are.

Seeing our flaws and acknowledging them for what they are helps keep us humble, it reminds us that no matter what we do we will never be perfect in our own eyes. This allows us the opportunity to detach, look at ourselves from the outside, and focus on addressing things that are actually going to make a difference. Things we can change that will make us better people.

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July 6

“The wise man does not think himself unworthy of any chance presents: he does not love riches, but he prefers to have them; he does not receive them into his spirit, but only into his house.” – Seneca

This thought is applicable to more than just riches. It lies at the heart of understanding what we actually have control over and what we do not. We might have riches today, we might lose them all tomorrow. But this detachment from things works on anything, even things that are not things.

We can invite the things people say about us into our thoughts without allowing them to reside in our minds, we don’ t have to dwell on something someone says about us or a criticism a person passes on to us. But we can think about these things and see if there isn’t some useful piece of information that we can glean out of their criticism or gossip. In the beginning it may help us to remind ourselves that we are winning if we take their bitter words and use them as a fuel for improvement rather than the stinging barbs they were meant to be.

But as we learn to take the things, good and bad, that life gives us and use them as we can to help us along our path, discarding the things we can not use, we will improve this skill set of detachment and emotional discipline.

And that will be worth more than riches.

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July 5

“Riches, comfort, safety, and long life. These things ought to be despised, not that we should not possess them, but we should not possess them with fear and trembling: we do not drive them away from us but when they leave us we follow after them unconcerned.” – Seneca

It is nice to have nice things, it is nice to be in good health, it is nice to have a lifestyle that allows us to stop and enjoy quiet moments without worrying that we are going to be injured or worse.

But those things are not our lives. Our lives would still be ours to live and to control the things we control and to learn to remain unaffected by the things we can not control even if we lose our wealth, our health, and our relative safety. In fact, in that situation learning to control what we can and to remain unaffected by the things we can not becomes even more important.

When we have a fear of losing these things, when we fear sudden poverty, when we fear loss of health, when we act in a way that makes us feel like we are somehow preventing these things – things which we have no control over – from occurring, we have lost our freedom. We are allowing ourselves to be trapped by focusing on things outside of our own control.

Let’s not be afraid. Let’s focus on the things within our control and let’s continue to move forward. Regardless of our situation and regardless of how much time we have left.

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July 4

“Whenever either nature demands my breath again, or reason bids me dismiss it, I will quit this life, calling all to witness that I have loved a good conscience, and good pursuits; that no one’s freedom, my own least of all, has been impaired through me.” – Seneca

Life is short. We are going to die. And when that time comes, there will be plenty that we will have to look back and admit we did not accomplish. There will be plenty of areas that we will look back at and feel we could have done a better job, or we could have handled better.

Our goal in pushing ourselves to become the best version of ourselves we can is to limit those regrets as much as possible. Just like mitigating risk, there is no way to completely eliminate the regrets but we can and should try to reduce them to the lowest amount possible.

Nowhere should this be worked on as hard as the way in which we deal with and treat the people that come into our lives. Ideally we should be able to look back at the end of our lives and honestly say to ourselves that we were as kind, fair, and generous with people as we could have possibly been from this day forward.

We are not ideal, we are going to fail, we will fall short of that goal. But that shouldn’t stop us from working each day to treat everyone we encounter just a little better than we did yesterday.

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July 3

“I will be agreeable with my friends, gentle and mild with my foes: I will grant pardon before it is asked, I will meet the wishes of honorable men halfway.” – Seneca

Other people remain firmly on the list of things we can not control. Their actions, their words, their thoughts, and their reactions to the world around them lie entirely within their own control. Whether they choose to employ that self control is also entirely up to them.

The one thing we can control that may affect the way they think about, speak about, and act towards us is how we treat them. How we interact with others doesn’t just tell them how they should feel about us, it also tells us how we are coming along on the path to becoming the best versions of ourselves.

The best version of ourselves doesn’t compare ourselves to our friends. the best version of ourselves is above treating our rivals and enemies the same way they treat us. The best version of us assumes the best of people and forgives them immediately when they act unpleasantly towards us. The best version of ourselves is accommodating and helpful and willing to compromise with everyone to reach the best results in any situation.

Most importantly, the best version of ourselves doesn’t just happen. That person is the product of our daily practices. We build that person slowly out of the product of the many tiny decisions we make about how we act every single day.

And while that person may never fully arrive, we should be a little closer to them every day.

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July 2

“In eating and drinking my object will be to quench the desires of Nature, not to fill and empty my belly.” – Seneca

Nutrition. If ever there was a more widely spread but poorly understood concept that affected millions to billions of people and was opined on by laypersons the world over, that subject would be neck and neck with nutrition. A quick visit across the interwebs can find us starkly contrasting theories and ideas about human nutrition each backed by solid – if not slightly cherry picked – evidence.

While it is very true that for most of us our version of our best selves involves and perhaps hinges on a person who is in better shape and healthier than we are right now, our position within these meditations is firmly ensconced within philosophy.

Our focus when we think about the food we eat, in terms of our current goals of becoming the best version of ourselves is that we do not indulge to excess in the things we eat or drink. We do not eat or drink to satisfy an impulsive urge. We do not eat and drink because we are bored. We eat and drink because we are hungry, we are thirsty, and our bodies require nourishment to continue on, to recover from the work we do to it, and to fuel our further work.

Our focus should be that our every move, each action is aimed at working us closer to our goal of becoming the best versions of ourselves.

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July 1

“I will do nothing because of public opinion, but everything because of conscience: whenever I do anything alone by myself I will believe the eyes of the Roman people are upon me while I do it.” – Seneca

There is a solid argument for the role a belief in the supernatural, specifically a super natural being or group of beings who watched with interest the going-ons of Earth, took an interest in its inhabitants and intervened in their lives, and the founding of a societies that followed a rule of law and therefore advanced into relatively safe and healthy places.

A big part of this is the “fear of god” that encourages people to behave within a specific set of social norms regardless of who is around because their god can always see them and is judging their behavior.

While this idea might seem quaint to us, living in a time and era where the validity and veracity of supernatural beliefs has been openly questioned by popular thinkers for almost two centuries, it deserves respect as a driving force and strong reason behind the development of the type of social behavior that allows people to feel safe enough to settle with strangers, build homes close to one another, share resources, share knowledge, and start the progress that advanced to the civilization we enjoy today.

Regardless of our current beliefs, we can enjoy the same driving force as we take steps on becoming our best selves. If it helps us to believe that there is a super natural being watching our every move, judging our intentions and our actions, than we should continue to do so. If for whatever reason that does not work for us, it might help to act as if someone we know, someone who would like to see us fail – we all know at least one – was watching and could read our mind at all times. This is a fun exercise to play, at work, parenting, interacting with our spouses/partners. We can imagine that they were watching and reading our minds and we could imagine what they would be thinking.

If that is what it takes for us to act solely on our conscience, at least in the beginning, let’s learn to get good at that.

And eventually let’s learn to do it because we know it’s right.

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June 30

“Whatever I may possess, I will neither hoard it greedily nor squander it recklessly. I will think that I have no possessions so real as those which I have given away to deserving people.” – Seneca

Life is going to put us through a lot. Much of it will be difficult and we will have to endure. Much of it will be mundane and will make up the part of life where we press forward and keep in mind our end goals. This part is like rowing through doldrums rather than waiting for the wind. And some of life is just downright wonderful, enjoyable and these are the parts that we savor and enjoy. they make the hard days worth it and the dull days more bearable. Enjoying the good times is a way to prevent the hard times from beating us down. The best way to enjoy good times is to share them with others.

Similarly life will bring us things, some of them very nice. We will at times even have the opportunity to own or experience things that we know are above our station in life. Being a good steward of what life gives us offers us the the opportunity to enjoy these rare things and experiences that we are provided with. But sharing them with others is the way that we truly get to experience just how good the good things in life can be.

We should be sharing our wealth, whether that wealth is material or immaterial, with the people we share our lives with.

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June 29

“I will live so as to remember that I was born for others, and will praise Nature on this account: for in what fashion could she have done better for me?” – Seneca

A good life. The best version of ourselves. The highest ideal we can hold ourselves to.

All of these have a single thing in common, they are all accomplished by putting others before ourselves. This can mean that we sell all of our possessions, give the money to the poor, and then dedicate our lives to service of one kind or another. And that would be admirable and that would lead to a good life. But it doesn’t have to be so extreme.

Instead, putting others first could mean, seeing that another person’s needs are met in every interaction we have. Maybe that means being sure that a coworker has the support and resources necessary to complete their job requirements without any added stress, maybe it means being sure we are present and available for our spouse. Or our children.

The place to start with these skills – and putting others first is a skill like any other – is general and broad. Like landscaping a lawn. The first thing to do is a general cut, so that you can see what else needs doing. Similarly, the first thing we should do when adopting a life of service is to develop a mindset that thinks of others’ needs first. We should start asking ourselves what each person in our lives now or who come into our lives in the future actually need from us. And then we should do our best to give it to them.

And we should repeat until we are good at it. Then, once the lawn is mowed and we have that part down, we can focus on the more detailed aspects. We can develop our ability to anticipate needs, or to actually sacrifice our own needs for others.

And we repeat and repeat and repeat. Until it is over.

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June 28

“I will despise riches when I have them as much as when I have them not; if they be elsewhere I will not be more gloomy, if they sparkle around me I will not be more lively than I should be otherwise.” Seneca

It’s not wrong to have nice things, it’s not wrong to enjoy nice things, it’s not wrong to work hard to get nice things that we want.

It is important to retain the perspective that the nice things we choose to enjoy are there simply for our enjoyment and while they may brighten our day a little, and they definitely make life a little easier, they are not the things that make life great. They are also not the things that make us great.

Wealth is a status symbol not because of what the wealth itself provides, but because of what it represents. A person who has accumulated wealth must have a level of ability and an intellect to allow such an accumulation to occur and persist. Those abilities and intellect are still there is the wealth is stripped away and in fact it is often people who are capable of much but content living with less who enjoy an ability to live outside of the normal bounds of social pressures. People who may not have accumulated wealth but are content and at peace with their position in life tend to garner the admiration and respect of people from all walks of life.

Let’s be those people. Even if the respect we earn is only our own.

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June 27

“A person who sets the rules of their life will soar aloft and strive to make their way to the gods: of a truth, even though they fail, they fail in a high emprise.” – Seneca

When we set the standards for ourselves, life doesn’t just happen to us, we control the one thing we have control over. Ourselves. When we fail to set our own rules, when we fail to create our own standards, life will set the rules and standards for us. We will drift into becoming whatever it is people become when they choose to drift through life like a ship without a captain. Let’s not find out what that is.

When we choose not to attempt to master ourselves, when we choose not to employ self discipline, when we choose not to control our thoughts, actions, and words then we are choosing to live through reaction and impulse. We are choosing to be less than we could be.

When we choose to work towards self mastery, and especially when we commit to it and understand that it is a life long commitment, we have to know that we will fail. But we fail high. We fail in a manner that still makes us great. Because the journey that ends in that failure will have helped push us into becoming the best version of ourselves that we were able to achieve within a lifetime.

More could be asked of no one.

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June 26

“It is the act of a generous spirit to conceive plans which are too vast to be carried into execution even by those who are endowed with gigantic intellects.”  – Seneca

Setting unrealistic goals is a surefire way to frustrate ourselves into wishing we had never started trying to accomplish anything in the first place. But if we are aware of how unrealistic the goal is and then set off to try to complete it and – most importantly – reflect back on how the effort we are making has changed us, then the goal isn’t unrealistic it is simply a point we are aiming at.

The point of a goal we can never attain isn’t to frustrate ourselves. The point is having an aim that pushes us into becoming people we would not have become without it. The fact that the goal is out of our reach is exactly the point.

If we set realistic goals in terms of personal development, if we know that our goals are attainable and we know what we have to do in order to attain them, we will never go as far as we can in that direction. Because we have no idea how far we can really go.

The point of a plan that can not be put into execution is who we are when we fail to arrive at the goal, because striving to make the goal will force us to become that person.

Enjoy the struggle.

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June 25

“If you would be great, look with respect on those who attempt great things, even though they fail.” – Seneca

Everyone who goes before us, everyone we reach to for guidance, everyone we look up to from our current position, they have all failed at self mastery. They have failed to accomplish goals they set for themselves. They have all failed to live up to the standards they have set for themselves.

Because they all set their goals further than they knew was possible. And because they were working towards a goal that seemed to move away from them the closer the got to achieving it, they made it further than they ever would have if they had set a goal that they knew was reasonable at the beginning.

And therein lies the trick to self mastery. We can’t set reasonable goals in the beginning because we have no idea how much improvement we are capable of over the next few weeks, or the next few months or even the next year. And we are always at the beginning. This path doesn’t follow a simple linear formula where we make steady progress. We may very well make little, hardly noticeable progress for weeks, maybe even months on end and then suddenly something clicks for us and within a week our skills at detachment or emotional discipline to choose two examples, have more than tripled.

And so we stay on the path, and we set the goals beyond our reach, and we keep reaching because we have no idea just how much we are capable of.

Let’s surprise ourselves.

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June 24

“You say no one acts up to his professions, or lives according to the standard which he sets up in his discourses: what wonder, seeing that the words which they speak are brave, gigantic and able to weather all the storms which wreck mankind.” – Seneca

We have set large goals. We have chosen high and difficult standards. We have accepted that self mastery is a goal we constantly strive for full well knowing that we will never attain it.

We invite mockery. We invite people to question our motives. We invite people to doubt our abilities. And we even invite self doubt to creep in and wear away our inner defenses during the times when we are most vulnerable.

But if we look closely, it’s true of everyone. If our ideal is not better than us, if it is easily accessible or even attainable within a single lifetime then it is easy to contemplate a better more superior ideal.

If instead, we understand that we have chosen a goal that is unattainable and that we will not reach that goal within our lifetime. And if we understand that no mortal could in all possibility achieve the level of self mastery we are working towards in a single lifetime. Then we will know that we have set the goals we want for ourselves at an appropriate difficulty.

And even though we will never achieve them, we will become far better than we ever could have imagined.

virtus fortis vocat

June 23

“I’ve lived. I’ve run the race which Fortune set for me.” – Seneca

Spoiler alert: the race that life has set for us is an obstacle race. Just when we think we can’t run anymore, we are relieved by having to carry five gallon buckets of crushed gravel straight uphill.

Here’s another fun fact. No one gets to the end of an obstacle race and is satisfied by all of the obstacles they skipped and all the walking they did.

No one gets to the end of an obstacle race and is proud of the creative ways they found to complain and moan about the course they chose to run in the first place. If we don’t think that we have chosen the race we are currently running, we need to reassess the inventory of our lives.

Do we want to risk getting to the end of this race and feeling like we complained too much? Or that we skipped obstacles that we would have been proud to have completed?

Life is going to be hard regardless of what we take on. It will be difficult regardless of the path we choose. Let’s choose the hard things that are going to mean something to us once they are completed. Let’s have a good attitude about navigating the difficulties life throws at us without our choosing. Let’s choose to always do the hard things.

And let’s finish the race life has set for us with pride that we made the best of it.

virtus fortis vocat

 

June 22

“Spite shall not hinder me from continuing to praise that life which I do not, indeed, lead but which I know I ought to lead, from loving virtue and from following after her albeit from a long way behind her and with halting gait.” – Seneca

Discouragement is a big part of attempting mastery of any subject. The discouragement that accompanies the feeling of failure when the subject of mastery of ourselves is immense. Fear of this feeling is likely what leads us to react to another person’s attempt to master themselves with mockery or doubt. It is a difficult path that requires a lot of reflection, to plan out what the best version of ourselves would look like, to aim for that and then to make the necessary adjustments along the way when we realize how naive our initial idea of our best selves was.

While there is a certain freedom that comes with the realization that we will never reach the point where our goal is met and our self mastery has been completely attained, we can use the same point as a reason to become complacent. Rather than focusing on the fact that we will never fully attain self mastery we should be taking a daily inventory of how we are doing along the way and then making the necessary changes to be a little better tomorrow than we were today.

And then we should be able to look back in one month and see that we have made small amounts of progress, and yearly we should be able to see how far we have come.

And we should never stop.

virtus fortis vocat

June 21

“Great philosophers all declared how we ought to live, not how they did live. I speak of virtue, not of myself, and when I blame vices, I blame my own first of all: when I have the power, I shall live as I ought to.” – Seneca

A few times daily we should be able to reflect on how the day is going thus far and how we are doing at controlling the things within our power and not being affected by the things that are not within our power.

Every time we do this, we should notice that we are falling short of our goals in some way. We shouldn’t be discouraged by this, the goal of self mastery is a life long one and mastery of any subject involves ever moving goal posts.

We should however, be able to identify a few key places that we are able to make improvements on what we are doing right away. Most frequently this will involve the way we are choosing to see a particular problem or issue as this is something that we can choose to correct almost immediately.

Every day we should be taking a few minutes and reflecting on how that particular part of the day is going, how we are feeling, and we should learn to identify a few thing that will make it better right away. And then we should be doing those things.

virtus fortis vocat

June 20

“I am not a wise man, and I will not be one in order to feed your spite: so do not require me to be on a level with the best of men, but merely to be better than the worst: I am satisfied, if everyday I take away something from my vices and correct my faults. I have not arrived at perfect soundness of mind, indeed, I never shall arrive at it. I make this speech not on my own behalf, but on behalf of one who has made some progress in virtue.” – Seneca

Choosing to work towards mastery of any subject involves accepting that one will never actually attain the goal they are working towards. Mastery of the self is a lifelong pursuit and we need to approach it with the understanding that we are not ever going to be complete. We will never be perfect, we will never have all of the answers, we will never behave exactly as we should in all situations.

But how much worse would we be if we were to never try at all? If we were to go through life simply reacting to the things that happen to us, not reflecting on how we might have interpreted things differently, or phrased our own words or actions in a better manner.

No, we will never be perfect. But we will be consistently better than we were the last time we took inventory. We will make slow and steady progress and we will look back on ourselves and cringe at how far we had to come. And if we are fortunate we will also look forward to being able to look back at ourselves now and cringe again in the future.

virtus fortis vocat

June 19

“He however, who is only on the road to virtue, although he may have made great progress along it, nevertheless needs some favor from Fortune while he is still struggling among mere human interests, while he is untying that knot, and all the bonds which bind him to mortality.” – Seneca

All of the binds which bind us to mortality. We will only shed those binds at one point in our lives, the end. Here we allow ourselves to understand that this is a life long pursuit and that we will not arrive at the end until we actually arrive at the final end.

No matter the progress we make, we will not be perfect, we will still have further to go. We will still have weaknesses to battle, we will even develop new weaknesses along the way. We will still stray from the path. We will still fall short of our goals.

And how could we not? We are aiming to forge ourselves into the absolute best version of who we are. This isn’t just a difficult task. It is impossible. The target is always moving a little further away. Our ideal will always pull just a little further away every time we make a successful step towards it.

And that is the point. Becoming the best versions of ourselves is a conscious, life long pursuit. It is the only hobby we will ever need, it is the only task that goes with us everywhere we go and takes up one hundred percent of our waking hours. And we will never achieve it.

But the effort alone will be worth the exceedingly small but meaningful results we do achieve.

virtus fortis vocat

June 18

“If all that a person needs is concentrated within themselves, how can they require anything from without?” – Seneca

Self reliance. This allows us to be dependent on the only thing we actually have control over. Ourselves.

Like any of the skills involved in developing ourselves into the best versions of us, learning to be reliant on ourselves is a skill we will work on and develop over the course of our lives. Mastery in this, like mastery in anything is a goal we will approach but never actually arrive at.

This skill starts in us recognizing what is within our control, and what is not. In our control are our thoughts, our actions, the words we use with ourselves and others, and the way we allow the things we do not control to affect us.

Outside of our control is literally everything else. The words and actions of others. The way the natural world affects the environment we live in. The things that happen within our own bodies.

By drawing those distinctions clearly for ourselves – no small task in itself- we can then make an inventory of the things that we can actually affect around us. Once we have that inventory we then have to pick up the incredible task of not being affected by anything not on that list.

Once we have approached mastery of choosing not to allow the things we do not control to affect us, we will have approached having all that we need concentrated within ourselves.

virtus fortis vocat

 

June 17

“Does virtue alone make us happy? Why of course for when we are placed beyond the reach of any desire, what can we possibly lack?” – Seneca

Being happy with what we have is a common platitude in today’s society. But the idea that wanting for more, desiring more, wishing for more, is exactly what keeps us from being happy is a truth hidden within the platitude.

We would do well to stop wishing for more. But to stop wishing for more without resigning ourselves to becoming complacent about getting better is a skill that will take a life time of practice. A way to begin this practice would be start at a level of absurdity and then move backwards from there.

Most of us are never going to own a penthouse apartment in a major city that we travel to and from in a helicopter we own. Moving further back, most of us are never going to have a driver who picks us up and ferries us to and from work. And of course most of us are going to be ok with this situation, because we can do nothing about it. As we move closer and closer to our current situation we will hit a point where we will reach some level of luxury we hope to attain one day. What will it take to get us there? Are we willing to do those things without compromising our integrity? If the answer is yes, then we should start towards doing those things. And we should be satisfied when we get there. If we get there.

There’s nothing wrong with taking an opportunity when it is presented to us. There is nothing wrong with making our own opportunities when we can. But there is no reason for most of us to be pining away for the private helicopter, penthouse apartment world we will never attain. It is a waste of time. Time that could be spent becoming better people.

That we can all attain.

virtus fortis vocat