Recenter on Success and on Failure

In June, I wrote about how when I get off track I like to pick up The Meditations and recenter. In fact one of the primary messages of the book is that you cannot despair at every slipup, flaw and gaff–and that all you have is to get up where you’ve fallen and try again. And in reminding yourself of this you can stop the self-perpetuating slide and regain traction.

Well I like to go through the same process when things are going well. After a few successes–no matter how small, I like to flip through the pages and recenter. Remind myself the answer to a few major questions: Why? What for? How? And with who? We find that time and time again, ego is more destructive than low esteem, that we lose our vision the closer we come to attaining it.

Soon you’ll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most–and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, trivial.

The chase toward immortality is alluring–even more so when you’re young, idealistic and inexperienced. So that cannot be the “Why,” life cannot be the means to that end. When you break down those things you covet–truly see them for what they are–they lose their gilded varnish. I like to read this not to corrupt the dreams but to temper them. It prevents exaggeration from overcoming hope, and allows you to more fully examine what you’re after. Is it fame? Or is it a chance to influence from that pulpit? Is it adulation or is it respect? Is it freedom from or freedom to? Is it to be or to do? It must always be the latter options.

“Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust or lose your sense of shame or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill-will or hypocrisy or a desire for things best done behind closed doors.”

The “How” and the “With who.” My favorite piece of advice ever–do what you love and be a good person, that is all you have. So now, as a clean slate, I try to preserve those more than anything else. What value is there in learning this young if you refuse to make it your foundation? Epictetus once wrote that knowledge–like strength–must be measured in what you’re about to construct with it, not simply what you can life. Anything else is vanity, hypocrisy. Again, as real, life-lasting decisions become more apparent, you must increase the stringency of this benchmark. Do I get red in the face when I think about someone discovering what I’ve done? Then I probably shouldn’t do it anymore. Have I been totally honest about my intentions–either maliciously or out of shyness? Then I must stop now, and be blunt. Am I more empathetic today than I was last month? Then I am traveling down a bad road.

For now, I’m please to say that this standard has not been violated. As I predicted, I am happier AND finding that others are equally pleased with my work. My advice here is to be as temperate in your relative successes as you are in your failures. Never use a good mood as an excuse against introspection. And never let the downhill–the momentum–dictate your speed. However you recenter is up to you–it doesn’t have to be Meditations, in fact it probably shouldn’t be. But find a rock to which you can return, be it a person, a book, a quote, an image, a thought, and use it maintain control. Prevent straying from Siren or by despair, for they are equally dangerous.

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