There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. – Epictetus, Enchiridion
When we think about Nature we tend to immediately recognize that some things are simply outside of our control. The weather can turn, an earthquake can strike and a volcano could erupt and we would never be upset at ourselves for failing to prevent a storm from occurring. I mean, Nature is just being Nature after all.
How strange, that we are not nearly as kind with chance in our daily lives. I think that’s a shame. There are many things in our lives that we cannot control and it would do us well to remember to treat ourselves and others kindly when we experience them.
Traffic, power blackouts and internet outages are just a few examples of modern inconveniences which remain outside of our control, and still we often allow these things to disrupt our peace of mind.
What good does it do to stress and complain about the things you cannot change? Just as you cannot change the traffic, you also cannot change the opinions of others. So, why bother being upset about these things?
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the best plans possible in our lives, but it does mean we shouldn’t be upset when things don’t go according to that plan. Nature is unpredictable after all, and therefore our lives are clearly subject to change without notice.
So, be kind and patient. Make it your goal to endure wisely the situations you cannot change. Don’t become another misanthrope or an angry voice. Nobody needs another annoyance added to their lives. Take care that you never become one.
You don’t go around being careless about nails getting into your shoes, and you walk in such a way as not to sprain your ankle. So why are you so careless about your ruling faculty [your mind or thoughts]? Why do you let it be offended and polluted by all sorts of garbage, instead of guarding it against assaults from without, and taking care from within to sharpen it as much as possible?
Massimo Piggliucci, A Field Guide to a Happy Life, Lesson 38
I’ve read several versions of Epictetus’ classic Handbook, and this is the first time I’ve been able to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Coincidentally, I was actually writing my own interpretation of this text to use in my personal meditations when I came across this new edition. Maybe I’m just too lazy, but I found Piggliucci’s version met all of my needs and I ended up setting aside my little project. But I digress, the point is that before I found this version, I was stumbling over archaic translations or struggling with cultural bias from millennia ago. This book was the solution to those problems.
For the first time I found myself reading not just a new translation but an exciting interpretation of the Enchiridion. For those readers familiar with virtue ethics, you aren’t going to find anything truly new here. The lessons are timeliness. The principles unchanging, however, it’s still an excellent reminder of how perception frames everything in this life.
At the end of the day, I think this one is a keeper. After a long day of work when I find myself a little overwhelmed with my day, a quick glance at a couple of pages reminds to focus on what I can control. I let go of pretty much everything weighing on my shoulders. After all, most of our pain and frustration are the result of wanting something that’s beyond our control. Once we understand that trap, we can avoid the headaches and disappointment we experience when things don’t go our way.
If you’re looking for an introduction to Stoicism or maybe just some Reason and Common Sense, here’s an excellent choice whether you’re gifting it to friends or adding it to your own collection. It’s light, fun and practical. So pick this one up at your local bookstore and tell me what you think.
We take risks. We mess up. The problem is that when we get our identity tied up in our work, we worry that any kind of failure will then say something bad about us as a person. It’s a fear of taking responsibility, of admitting that we might have messed up. It’s the sunk cost fallacy. And so we throw good money and good life after bad and end up making everything so much worse.
Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy, p.189
You can’t tell from this carefully staged photo, but if you turn this book to its side and look at the edges you’ll see a disaster—about half a cup of coffee is splashed along the outer pages and leaves some embarrassing evidence of my clumsiness one fine November morning. It also quite clearly illustrates that “stuff happens” and regardless of the outer mess that sometimes gets thrown at us, at our core we can remain unchanged like the words on these pages.
Sure, there’s some coffee spilt and some pages are stained, but the words—the message—is still there if you’re willing to open the mess up and look for it. We still control our stories even if we can’t control the scratches, torn pages, and other “stuff” life happens to throw at us.
Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best version of themselves.
Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy, p. 197
Here, we have a book about the phantom of success. Ryan Holiday gives us a guide for practicing mindfulness and humility during the good times as a caution against the downfall that can follow when our egos run amok. Too often, when things are going our way and we’re winning, we begin to lose the perspective that helped get us to the top. Once that frame of reference is lost, it’s just a matter of time before we experience our own fall from grace.
The danger lies when we come to expect greatness but forget about the sacrifices or lucky breaks that led to our success. That’s where Holiday excels in this book. He delivers us a variety of material to help us find our center in a world of uncertainty where success and failure are not a matter of fairness but often a measure of both luck and perseverance.
Ego is the Enemy is a fast, accessible read and an entertaining source of real world histories and anecdotes that illustrate the perils of allowing the ego free range in our lives. Some may argue that the Ego can be a source of motivation that drives one to achieve greatness, but Holiday counters that the Ego is more often a toxic mindset.
We love the big personalities of our celebrities, trailblazers and industry pioneers. However, we tend to confuse personality with Ego when we create fictitious narratives about the lives of our heroes.
Ego tells us we’re the best and we will always be the best.
Perseverance acknowledges that we may be the best today, but that it’s going to be a lot of hard work to stay the best.
Personality reflects how well we communicate and connect with others.
Clearly, personality has nothing to do with either. We can have a great personality and be a terrible decision-maker. That’s the message I enjoyed the most in this reading. Through the lives and experiences of notable men and women, we get an opportunity to learn from their experience and a chance to mitigate our own failures.