Actors In A Play – The Daily Stoic – Part 11 of 366

Remember that you are an actor in a play, playing a character according to the will of the playwright — if a short play, then it’s short; if long, long. If he wishes you to play the beggar, play even that role well, just as you would if it were a cripple, a honcho, or an everyday person. For this is your duty, to perform well the character assigned you. That selection belongs to another.”

Epictetus, Enchiridion, 17

Play the hand you are dealt, and play it well. It is the only hand you get. This is the lesson the Epictetus is trying to impart. The book goes on to mention that accepting and fulfilling our part is not at odds with ambition which is not obvious at first glance. After all, if we are assigned a part then why try rising above our station? If we must play the beggar then how are we not locked into such a poor life?

There are many stories where the mighty fall, and there are many stories where the less fortunate rise. You may be assigned a part when you enter the story, but the story itself is not yet written. The question really is this: what do you want your story to be? If someone tells your tale, what will they say?

In order to change your story you must first accept and understand the role you have been tasked to play. You cannot change where the story starts or where it has already been, but once you are in control then your story will go wherever you wish.

High Performers Double Check Their Work

It seems simple and obvious. However, I seem to have this discussion with seemingly everyone, so I’m going to assume this is actually some secret sauce that I have uncovered: the quickest and easiest way to up your skill level is to double check your work.

I think math class burned the phrase “check your work” into our minds with some negative connotations. I also think people are just generally trying to move too fast, and attention to detail really suffers in an era of incessant multitasking. Doing something 80% or 90% of the way may be good enough, but good is the enemy of great. If you want to be a high performer and to have a sterling reputation then you need to set the quality bar high and keep it there. If you hand off work that is actually incomplete or wrong then you gum up the works, you look unprofessional, and you waste valuable time and money. Don’t make people double check your work for you unless that is what they are literally paid to do (i.e. editors, auditors, etc). Even then, your goal is to make their lives as easy as possible so they can work efficiently instead of cleaning up stuff you could have caught yourself.

One of the great things about this piece of wisdom is that it is universally applicable. Ordering, writing, cleaning, coding, building, planning, presenting, calculations. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, it will always be to your benefit to double check the quality before handing something off.

Should you re-read that email you wrote to make sure you don’t sound like an idiot? Yes, you should. Should you review your own pull request, or better yet, review your code before making a pull request? Yes, you should. Should you double check that everything in your Amazon order is correct before buying? Yes, you should.

Start building the habit, and eventually it will become second nature. It is amazing how many things you will catch and how many snafus you will avoid by simply taking a few extra minutes to look things over. And, if something is really important, then go over it three or four time for good measure. Call it quits there though. There are diminishing returns, and it will either be good enough or it needs peer review from someone else with fresh eyes.

We Were Made For Each Other – The Daily Stoic – Part 1 of 366

You’ll more quickly find an earthly thing kept from the earth than you will a person cut off from other human beings.

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.9.3

As the book notes, Marcus Aurelius and his fellow philosophers did not yet know about Newtonian physics, but it is still an apt analogy: the human need to be with other humans is more powerful than the law of gravity.

We are social creatures, for better or worse. As an introvert it took me many years to come to grips with this fact. Oh how tempting it is to cut out all others and just live a life of the mind! All day focused on solving your problems, reading, writing, and so on. And yet, as someone who has done this, I can say it does eventually wear on you and cause problems. You simply cannot overcome millions of years of evolution and your very own biology. I myself realized after many years that I’m not nearly as introverted as I thought, and I became much happier when I found a better balance between “me” time and “we” time.

Some parting thoughts on this concept:

  • The greatest things ever built were made by teams of people, not individuals. If you want to achieve great things, you must strive to work and learn from great people.
  • Invite that weird guy or girl you work with to lunch. It will be good for both of you.
  • It is not easy to care for someone else, but it is also not easy to be cared for.
  • As a general rule, be pro-people and pro-inclusion. Our society seems to have lost this concept along the way, but it is the only way we will survive.

The Daily Stoic – Part 0 of 366

My life has been crazy. Like, really crazy. I would go into further details, but it is a long story (well, many long stories) that can wait until another day. The important takeaway is simply this: life is hard, stressful, unfair, and unpredictable. This isn’t unique to me, or to anyone else, so eventually I started to wonder: how the hell did people deal with the chaos of life over the past two thousand years?

I feel like it took me a long while to arrive at this thought considering people have been dealing with the stress of every day life since… well, literally as long as we have existed. While we have new modern problems, it turns out that many of the problems in our lives are not that different from those who lived thousands of years ago. Love, grief, wealth, happiness, success; a lot of time and energy has been spent thinking about these things over the course of human existence.

Now I know what you are thinking: didn’t you take philosophy in school? The answer is yes, and I enjoyed it. However, it never felt useful or practical. My goal when asking the question above was to find a framework that can help me deal with some of the bullshit life throws my way, and to help me de-stress my life. Researching how great people in history dealt with their problems led me back to something that was always on my “learn about this eventually” list: stoicism.

I’m not going to dive into the virtues of stoicism here, but I would highly recommend The Obstacle is the Way as a crash course that will get your feet wet and point you in the direction of what to read next. The main thing I will note here is simply this: stoicism is a timeless, battle tested, and, most importantly, practical mental framework about living a good life.

My goal with this long series of posts is to think about and practice these concepts regularly so they do not become stale, fuzzy, or worse, forgotten. Thankfully this is precisely what The Daily Stoic prescribes: read one specific stoic proverb or thought every day, and then articulate my thoughts and reactions. There is one for each and every day, so this will be a year long journey and thus very long series of posts.

Let’s get started.

(Also, as a brief aside, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, considered a god by his people and the most powerful man on the planet during his lifetime, took the time to write in a journal about virtue and how he could become a better person. This writing survives to this day, and you would be crazy not to read it.)