Step Into "What's Next" with Integrity and Intention
Many ancient philosophical and religious traditions speak to the importance of virtue. The ancient Cynics said it was all that was required to live "the good life." The Stoics said it was "sufficient." As a kid, I learned the Catechism of the Catholic Church which instructed that a firm disposition to do "the good" by practicing the seven virtues was required to get to heaven.
My experience is that the Stoics got it right. Virtue is its own reward and sufficient for a life lived well. Your mileage may vary.
Whatever your relationship with virtue, virtue matters. It matters a lot. Pursuing excellence as a human being means cultivating the content of your character for its own sake.
Of course, nurturing virtue also means extending compassion and justice to others. In fact, you enhance yourself most when you elevate the lives of others.
But is there a downside to virtue? The current display of "virtue signaling" by politicians, social...
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are within our control, and some things are not.” - Epictetus
Agency is as intoxicating as it is elusive. When the breaks go your way, it’s easy to believe it’s due to your intelligence and planning. When things go awry, it’s easy to blame others or fate.
The truth is, very little within your control, but at the same time, you do control everything required to maintain your sense of well-being and prosperity.
You ultimately control only two things. You determine how you choose to perceive yourself, others, and your situation. You also control what you decide to do next.
Everything else is beyond your control.
Your body is subject to disease, decline, and ultimately death. The attitude and behavior of others are for them to decide, not you. And there are forces far more powerful than you at work in the social, political, economic, cultural, and geographical arenas.
Is “what happens next” due to fate or the exercise of your free will?
It's comforting to believe you control what happens next. But do you? What if what happens next has already been decided? What if everything that happens is fated?
"My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Why not love fate? A life that is fated does not imply that it just happens to you. Life also happens through you.
In a fated cosmos, you may be a tiny cog in the machinery of the universe, but you still have a vital role to play.
Past events alone don't determine your future. You can, and should, be an active participant in your life now. How your life proceeds may be fated, but it also reflects your character. Why not do your best and let what unfolds be what it will be?
Acceptance of what happens next is the path to well-being in your endeavor. This doesn’t make you...
“All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment, action for the common good in the present moment, and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.” — Marcus Aurelius
I had a fascinating discussion about Stoicism and creativity recently with my friend Chris Gill, Professor Emeritus of Ancient Thought at Exeter University. Chris is a deep thinker, a humble soul, and quiet dispenser of profound wisdom.
During our chat, we discussed acceptance.
As human beings and creative souls, we so often and easily attach ourselves to things beyond our control. Recognition, compensation, the opinions of others. These may appear important. They aren’t. The measure of our worth and that of our craft is reflected in how we approach them and toward what purpose we intend to serve.
We don’t control how we or our work are received. We must accept what comes. Resisting this is a path to suffering.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
Do you seek excellence in the work you do or an endeavor you engage in? How do you "level up" in an enterprise worthy of your time and effort?
It's one of the most profound lessons I learned in Seth Godin's altMBA.
Work we do for others is done better when it's done with others!
I believe in Epictetus' maxim, "Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily." But that "work" is pretty useless if it doesn't also elevate and enhance the lives of others. Toward that end, the advice of Seneca comes in handy. "Associate with those who will make a better person of you."
Find your people. Peers to train with, encourage, and support. Mentors, guides, heroes, and teachers to learn from. In turn, share, teach and train those you serve.
Navel gazing, self-help, and personal development that doesn't serve a greater good are pretty pointless (and a bit...
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.”—Viktor Frankl
At the beginning of this week, I encouraged building some intentional “quiet time” into your day-to-day lives. Paradoxically, it may seem, today I’m encouraging you to build in some struggle!
“It is difficulties that show what men are.”—Epictetus
Progress is facilitated when training is put into practice. You need obstacles, challenges, and misfortune that test and push your abilities.
Don’t hide from or avoid these moments. Welcome them. Embrace them. “Thank” them.
People, situations, and circumstances that encourage us to exercise and employ what you’ve learned are why you practice and prepare. You’ll grow or you’ll learn. Either is a lesson worth the time and effort.
“A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have...
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” ― Marcus Aurelius
In an age that seems to reward certainty and confidence, it's tempting to look for a map. The shortest, fastest, and easiest way to get where you want to go (or worse, where others think you should want to go).
The problem with maps is they can only take you where others have already been. They can't reveal the best course for you. Only a compass can do that.
Maps require obedience. Compasses cultivate empowerment.
Employing a compass over a map requires curiosity and courage. A willingness to learn as you go. It allows for course correction and tacking. The compass invites adventure and fellow travelers.
Are you trying to find your way or follow someone else's? Do you need a map or a compass?
Keep flying higher!
We spend a lot of time in our own heads. Probably more than is healthy. And much of this narrative is feeding questionable agendas and assumptions about ourselves, our situation, and those who surround us.
Piercing the veil of our self-fulfilling self-talk is an exercise worth doing more often. Here's a one-minute exercise that can help you "zoom out," provide a bit of context, and encourages empathy and cosmopolitanism.
It's called Hierocles' Concentric Circles of Concern. Starting with yourself, reach out to ever-widening circles of contacts and imagine pulling those people closer to yourself and into the previous circle. Your family, your friends, your neighbors, people living in the same city or town, and so on and on. You can extend this exercise all the way out to the planet and beyond.
Want to learn more? My friend, Massimo Pigliucci, shares more about this practice and its history in his blog.
What could you accomplish if you got out of your head and into the...
I run at the cemetery. It's a daily memento mori practice. A reflection on mortality. "Remember you die." Every cemetery run is an opportunity to contemplate my journey from "womb to tomb."
This ritual reminds me of the transience of earthly things and the futility of ego attachments.
My cemetery run reminds me to return to the here and now, and do the work I was born for. The work of being a human being. Cultivating character. Enhancing my life by elevating the lives of others.
What do you think? Is it possible that contemplating your death might inspire you to start living well?
Keep flying higher!
Do You Know That You’re Lying?
“Let’s start with a quick poll. Raise your hand if you’re a Creative. Great! If your hand is raised, put it back down. Now, raise your hand if you’re not a Creative. That's interesting. Keep your hand raised. Alright, if your hand is raised, keep it raised if you know you’re lying…!”
This poll is how I open my workshops on becoming a “bulletproof creative” (aka a Thriving Artist). The results are always about the same. One-third raise their hands to the opening query, another third to the next, and the final third to the last (often with nervous laughter).
We Are All Creatives
Here’s the deal: everyone is a Creative. A Creative is simply someone who brings something into the world that didn’t previously exist. Every time you make a meal, make a mess, or make amends, you’ve engaged in an act of creation. Creating is an everyday human activity.
Whether you’re a musician,...