Doing What I Love or Loving What I Do?


I recently had an opportunity to meet up with some old friends from the military at a retirement for a friend.  This friend was doing what he loved, the Air Force was his dream job.  I was envious.  I retired from the military precisely because it was not what I loved.  It was not my “dream job.”  My friend will be moving on to a high-powered corporate management gig, and I started to wonder how he will do outside of his “dream job.”  But then I realized something about my friend.  It wasn’t that he was doing what he loved, it’s because he loves what he’s doing.  My friend is going to love his new gig because he simply has a great attitude about things wherever he goes.  More specifically, he loves making “good things happen to people” (his words).  Fortunately for him, in management (a field used in every industry and calling) it always involves people.

This retirement event was a soul-searching one for me, Continue reading

I am a Failure! What Now?


“0h Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot.” –Plato’s Crito

For my job, I am required to pass an evaluation.  I recently took one of these evaluations, and although I passed, I did not leave the lasting good impression that I had hoped to leave with my new boss.  As the new guy, this was my chance to break through, to develop a trust from my employer that would be one I could build upon.  That did not happen.  Instead, as one thing led to another I ended up performing badly enough during one portion that I now am “in a hole” that I must dig out of.  It left my evaluator, who just happens to be my boss, with a lack of confidence in my ability.  For all intents and purposes, I failed.

If at first you don't succeed...(photo by Ben Earwicker)

If at first you don’t succeed…(photo by Ben Earwicker)

So what can I, as a Heroic Stoic make of this?  Here are some thoughts.

1. Control

“What does not kill me, makes me stronger.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

Much of what happened on this particular evaluation was out my control:  the situation I was put in, my own fatigue, my lack of situational awareness of how difficult the particular task was, my inexperience on the job, my own talent at performing the job, not to mention the boss’s opinion on the seriousness of the errors I committed.  These are not excuses, this is a simple acknowledgment that there are certain things that I cannot control, when I face a failure.  These are things that test me, that make me better.  They improve my skills.  Clearly, if I have failed then I have reached some kind of limit…at least I know where it is now, and what to do next.

2. Picking Myself Up

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”–Dale Carnegie

(Photo by Cheryl Empey)

(Photo by Cheryl Empey)

This failure has afforded me the opportunity to reevaluate my own attitude and what I can do better in the future.  For example, in this case I have committed to be better at the tasks I did not do well.  I will commit to never make those errors again.  They may be my weaknesses, so I am set on bringing them up to par.  Often, failures can close doors and force you to go in a different direction…it may lead to a change in focus in your life.  A failure may make you realize that you are not cut out for a particular task, and a new door will open.  It this is you, be on the lookout for it.

3. Worry (That is, Worrying About Fate)

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” –Marcus Aurelius

I could worry about how this will affect my future.  How will this affect my work environment?  Will the boss be looking for my mistakes now?  Will it affect any raises I get?  What happens if I make another mistake?  Could I lose my job?  All these things are possible, but they will largely be controlled by fate.  There is no reason to worry about these things.  What to be concerned about are the things I can control.  I need to do the best job I possibly can.  Will I make mistakes? Sure.  Will I have to prove myself? Most definitely.  All I can do is the best I can do…it is the only way to be virtuous.

4. Pride

“I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.”   George Burns

It is better to have tried at something I am committed to, than to not have tried at all.  Along the way, there will be failures for things that are worth it.  Failures don’t mean the end, and failures while doing something you love are worth it.  It is my pride in my craft that will motivate me to be better…to be excellent!

Failing at something he loves?

Failing at something he loves?

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” –Michael Jordan

How Can I be a Hero? Ten Things to Try Now!


“Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind.” –Kansas

“We are the champions my friend, and we’ll keep on fighting til the end!” –Queen

Fate and impermanence are powerful concepts.  I’ve dwelled upon them in my previous posts…just about all of them, in fact.  You can find examples of this here, here, and here.  If I am destined for failure, doomed to death, and my world will eventually crumble before me, what’s the point?  Should I just throw in the towel?  If we are all destined for misery, then why should I even try?

Should I just give up?

No, no, no!  That is not my point!  It is true that much struggle, much strife will befall us.  It is also true that your existence, as well as that of all around you will be gone in no time.  Face it, in about 100 years it will all be new people.  100 years…that’s a blink of an eye in the continuum of the 13.7 billion (or so) the universe has existed.  For comparison, think of the age of the universe as a year.  If you live to be 100 years, your life span would be less than second in that year (actually, about 0.23 seconds).  So if our time is so short, then what does that mean?  What is it you want to do with those 100 years…with that blink of your existence?  How can I be a hero?  Here are some suggestions:

13.7 Billion Years!

  1. Make Something – Set yourself to building, or creating.  Build your child a treehouse, build a business.  Create art, music or poetry.  Design a widget to make someone’s life better.  Leave a legacy…for your own sake.
  2. Help Someone – You can volunteer at a soup kitchen, be a crossing guard, find a career where you can help someone…as a doctor, nurse, architect.  Be a banker, but bank with passion and compassion to make a difference in your world (not the ENTIRE world, just yours).
  3. Become a Master– Master the piano, brain surgery, flying a helicopter, fixing motorcycles.

    Master Brain Surgery!

    It may take years, it may take much of your time, but find something you love and master it!  It will make you proud, it will be worth it.

  4. Love Someone – Take a chance on an old relationship gone bad, maybe it is with your mother, father, brother, ex-husband, or an old friend.   Take a chance on telling someone how you feel…someone who might not know it…maybe it’s that huge crush, or a friend who doesn’t know about your romantic feelings.
  5. Love Everybody – You don’t need to trust everybody all the time, but you can give them a chance.  “Respect all, measure each.”  Most of those around you struggle to hold their ground in this wrestling match called life, and many are doing it honestly.  Have compassion for them today.
  6. Be” with Someone – When you are with someone you love, pay attention to them.  Really listen.  Feel their feelings.  Empathize with them.  When you interact with anyone reallypay attention.  Be with them in the moment.


    You will notice more if you really pay attention.  Remember, you only have 100 years so use every moment wisely.

  7. Appreciate this Day– What kind of day is it?  The warm sun, the cold breeze, the wet rain, the cold snow…appreciate them all.  Take a deep breath…notice how it feels so refreshing as it replenishes your oxygen stores.  If 100 years is .23 seconds, then 1 day is 0.0000063 seconds.  Sands in the hourglass, no?
  8. Teach – Share what you know with someone.  Share your talents, pass on your skills to the next generation, or your current community.
  9. Reach a Goal – Finish that marathon, lose 10 pounds, golf below 80.  Finish college (just make it a degree worth pursuing)!  The pursuit makes life interesting.
  10. Relax – Yes, just take a break once in a while.  Maybe you could use a “staycation.”

No need to try them all, although you could in a 100 years, but maybe just try a few.  So, even though fate will have its way with you, you can take it on with tenacity.  You can be a hero if you put yourself to it.

…and you can be proud of it, because YOU made the effort!

The Truth Hurts: What the Gurus Won’t Tell You, but I Will.


Searching for the truth is hard work.  Particularly in this era, we are surrounded by conflicting theories.  They are available to us at the click of a mouse, or the selection of an app.  It is very difficult to ascertain what is true and what is propaganda or delusion (this includes the self-delusion of the provider of the information).  Speaking of delusion and propaganda, we have our own biases to deal with as well.  Delusion is all around us, but we can still seek truth, no?

We want to believe in something…something magical, or mystical even.  When someone tells us “it will all be OK,” we want to believe them.  For this reason, we may accept what they have to say.  If someone tells us that, “all we have to do is visualize our future and it will become reality,” then we certainly want to believe that as well.  The success of self-appointed and celebrity-endorsed gurus is an indication that we all want to believe something, especially if it is something positive; especially if it means that we can have more control over our destiny.  I think most people choose this route…to believe.  It feels better to “feel” like we are in control, even if it is only in our mind.  Furthermore, we want the biggest payback with the least amount of work, toil and suffering.  I think we are just wired that way.

The problem is that most of these guru-issued assurances are lies.  They are pretty, they are comforting, they are delicious (like a dessert), but they are lies nonetheless.

Is this really sustenance?

Eventually, the sugar-high wears off and we are stuck with more hunger, and we feel lousy as well.  Throughout my life, I have read a wide assortment of New-Age gurus, religious apologetics, spiritual advisors, and self-anointed prophets (maybe I should have spelled it “profits”).  The most successful of these seem to be saying things like this

  • Your future is yours.
  • Trust in the Lord, and it will turn out all right.
  • All of us have a destiny, when you are aware of yours, you can’t fail.
  • Just believe and it will happen.

This advice may help us cope, but I don’t think it changes the reality around us:  You win some, you lose some and sometimes you just keep losing.

This is not to say that having a positive mental attitude is not helpful.  Certainly if we envision something, like a goal for instance, this can help us obtain it.  It can direct our energies toward accomplishing our own betterment.  But that is only the beginning, and it’s a long haul indeed.  What the gurus won’t tell you is the following:

  1. Accomplishment requires hard work.  Certainly our desires and passions drive us to work harder, but desire and wishing will not get us to where we want to be.
  2. Your success is not guaranteed.  People fail all the time, over and over again. Some will die in poverty, depressed, alone.  Some will be ill their entire lives, some will lose their life too soon, possibly the moment they think they have figured it all out.  This is not their fault, it is just fate.
  3. You will suffer, as long as you are on Earth.  It is all around us.  You will face disease, death, and destruction.  You cannot wish this away.

You must train for the struggle!

To know these truths is to be armed and ready.  Ready for what we will be challenged with, and ready for when things don’t go our way.  The simple fact of the matter is that a large majority of our lives are out of our control, and much of life will pummel us.  This does not mean that we shouldn’t have goals, or try to make things better.  Knowing these truths, while maybe brutal at first, should motivate us to do our part to serve, to excel, to care.  In my view, this is what calls us to try, to accomplish, to wrestle with existence.

But you can’t be a wrestling champ if you don’t train.

Beer, Fire, and on Being a Saber-Toothed Tiger’s Dinner


For context, you have to read this post first: Important Things, Useless Things, and Beer.

While it may be true that the big things matter most, the real genius of living with virtue is mastering what those things are.  In the story from my last post, the teacher says that family, health, friends, and favorite passions are the large stones, the things that matter most.  Isn’t that a bit prescriptive?  How does he know, and what gives him the right to tell me what are the “large stones” in my life?

So, telling me that there are things that should be important to me and things that shouldn’t be important is somewhat helpful, although not very specific.  On the other hand telling me what should be important to ME, is quite specific, but a bit presumptuous, no?

But isn’t it just common sense that your family would be one of those big things?  Let’s look a little closer.  What if you have raised your child one way, and she decides to go another?  What if she provides you no respect whatsoever?  As an adult, this descendant of yours has cut you off. Should I force my will upon her?  Do I invite her to Thanksgiving dinner no matter what?  Do I try to establish an intimate father/daughter relationship regardless of her impudence?  What are the factors that led to our estrangement?  Couldn’t they be a series of “little things?”  What if you are a firefighter, and you are called to extinguish a blaze during your own family holiday gathering?  Do you say, “Hey man, family is way more important, you are going to have to find somebody else!”?

As I think about “The Stones in a Jar” story more and more, I am starting to doubt its usefulness.  This poor professor thinks there is a whole jar full of “big things” and “little things.”  He thinks family, health, friends, and passions are large stones.  What he has missed is that these things are actually lumped collections of “little things.”  They are clumps of sand…they are the seemingly unimportant things that together make the whole of my life.  To say that family, friends, health and passions are important is fair, but to call them big things might not be all that helpful advice for leading a virtuous life.

We tend to be like this as humans, we like to categorize things as big things and little things.  I think it was necessary for our survival.  A saber-toothed tiger about to pounce on us is a big thing.  Whether to build a fire out of maple or oak, might be a much smaller thing.  In any case, couldn’t you classify either in the family, friends, health or passions column?  It is very hard to have any of them when you are dinner for a predator.  As far as building that fire, doesn’t that provide welfare for your family/friends, and maybe provide you with the warmth and light to pursue your passion?  Doesn’t building a fire keep you healthy by allowing you to cook, keeping you warm, and warding off saber-toothed tigers?

The devil is in the details, isn’t it?  The fact of the matter is that the “big things” are nothing more than a collection of little things, aren’t they?  In my humble opinion there are very few big things, indeed.  When it comes down to it, the big things (the “large stones”) are the concepts that guide my life and my philosophy.  I can think of three categories of them:

As an alternative story to the “Jar of Stones” (and a much shorter one), maybe we can view things as a series of “clay projects.”  I think maybe the 3 concepts above could represent the water.  With this water, I can mix in the little things, the sand, and create my big things.  When you have water, all you have is water.  When you have sand, all you have is sand.  When you artfully mix them, you can build, mold, fashion many “bigger things” with the clay you’ve formed.

…including family, friends, health, and passions.