Control and Choice

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .”

—Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5

Today’s passage from The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living is a perfect way to start this year. If there’s anything we’ve learned from last year, it’s that there is a lot that we have little control over. At the beginning of 2020, I found joy in going to concerts almost every weekend. I had also planned on travelling to at least 5 states for my 50 state journey. Early in the year, my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. So we were planning on throwing a party later in the year when they came up from Florida. I turned 50 years old later in the year, and it would have been nice to have a big celebration for that. But, we all know what happened. And to make matters worse, I lost some people who were very close to me.

Sure, there were some horrible depressing days. But, I had no control over what was happening. However, there was plenty I had control over. In August 2019, I chose to go back to school so I could receive a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. Now I can focus on school, and I am kicking some ass if I may say so myself.

Since I couldn’t celebrate my 50th birthday in any sort of traditional way, I chose to take my birthday week off, and took some time to sit by the water in Newport and Plymouth, and began my memoir.

Gyms were closed for a good part of the year. Instead of pouting, sitting on my couch with a pint of ice cream in my lap, I chose to go running as much as my ankle would allow (which was a lot more than I’ve been able in recent years) and I chose to work out at home by using different apps (such as Lose Weight and Plank Workout) as well as workouts from videos that some generous trainers posted online. Instead of gaining 25 pounds, in the first shutdown, like I thought I would, I ended up losing 10 pounds.

I’m not saying all this to brag. Instead, I want to point out that it is important to identify things that you cannot control as well as things you can. If we focus on things beyond our control for too long, it is a waste of time and energy.

The Serenity Prayer comes to mind for me. I am not in a 12-Step program, but there are many people in my life who are. So I am very familiar to The Serenity Prayer. I think it’s powerful whether you are “in the program” or not.

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

That is my takeaway from the first official passage of The Daily Stoic.

What is your takeaway?

If you missed my introduction to The Daily Stoic, I invite you to join me in reading a passage a day. If you buy the book, you can read the passage, and get commentary from the authors of that book – Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. You can get the book in any format from Amazon through the link below:

Let’s have a great year Everyone!

Until next time, I’ll see you out on the Rhode!

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