Perspective From The Field

“As a military man, I think you’ll have a special interest in this. Frederick the Great never went on a campaign without a copy of this handbook in his kit.” -Phil Rhinelander

A Stanford philosophy professor and WWII Navy veteran, Phil Rhinelander, introduced James Stockdale to the world of philosophy, and most importantly to Epictetus.

It was through years of reading and studying Epictetus on his own that Stockdale gained a new perspective on both life and challenges to be able to survive for over 7 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

“After ejection I had about thirty seconds to make my last statement in freedom before I landed in the main street of a little village right ahead. And so help me, I whispered to myself: ‘Five years down there, at least. I’m leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.’” – James Stockdale

Like Socrates, Epictetus never actually wrote anything down.

The Enchiridion was transcribed by his student, Arrian, a smart, aristocratic Greek in his twenties. Enchiridion means “ready at hand,” Today it is often referred to as a handbook. It still is a useful handbook for living.

Epictetus knew the importance of perspective. He knew that one must get out and live to the best of your ability.

“Do you not know that ‘life is a soldier’s service? One must keep guard, another go out to reconnoitre, another take the field. If you neglect your responsibilities when some severe order is laid upon you, do you not understand to what a pitiful state you bring the army in so far as in you lies?” – Epictetus

Stockdale also knew the importance of perspective. He even drew strength from the perspective of Epictetus.

Too often we let life happen to us. We forget that it is our job to get out and be on the front lines. We must think of the perspective of a soldier or commander checking the front echelon of where the fighting occurs.

On the front lines, it is actions not ideas that rule the day.

Epictetus helps us all to remember what it takes to gain a better perspective and ultimately a better life.

“Two words,” Epictetus says, “should be committed to memory and obeyed by alternatively exhorting and restraining ourselves, words that will ensure we lead a mainly blameless and untroubled life. Persist and resist.” – Epictetus

How can you persist and resist? Learn to focus on what you can control. We forget that so much of what happens to us is random. Pure luck. Serendipity. Misfortune. Bad timing. It all is the same.

“Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace.” – Epictetus

Not getting the right information? Get out to the front lines to see for yourself.

Unable to remember what lessons were learned on your last project? Improve how you and your team document information moving forward.

Not getting the best answers? Learn to ask better questions.

Be the standard. We have a choice in how we show up – for our families, for our friends, for our co-workers. Decide to demand more of yourself.

“How long will you wait before you demand the best of yourself, and trust reason to determine what is best?” – Epictetus

Actions over ideas. Don’t wait. Start now. Change now. Improve now.

It is not so much what you tell people that is important. It is not so much what people think of you that is important. It is what people see you do. It is the action that you take.

Actions will always be louder than words. We are better when we are always trying to get better. It can be small progress, but forward progress is all the same. It is moving you and your team forward.

“Finally decide that you are an adult who is going to devote the rest of your life to making progress.” – Epictetus

It is easy to blame others – the market, the underwriters, the managers, the field staff.

It is harder to take control and set the standard. Get out and live on the front lines. Life and perspective are different in the field.

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