A passage in the Enchiridion by the Roman slave-turned-Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, caught my attention this morning:
“In every act observe the things which come first, and those which follow it; and so proceed to act. If you do not, at first you will approach it with alacrity, without having thought of the things which will follow; but afterward, when certain ugly things have shown themselves, you will be ashamed.”
He then illustrates the advice with an example from an athletic competition:
"[Say you] wish to conquer at the Olympic games. But observe both the things which come first, and the things which follow; and then begin the act. You must do everything according to rule, eat according to strict order, abstain from delicacies, exercise yourself as you are bid at appointed times, in heat, in cold, you must not drink cold water, nor wine as you chose; in a word, you must deliver yourself up to the exercise master… When you have considered all this, if you still choose, go to the contest."
Epictetus wrote these words almost 2,000 years ago, but they ring with truth today.
Let’s take our own example of signing up for a race such as a marathon, half marathon, or a 5K. It’s exciting to sign-up for a new race. But Epictetus counsels us to consider all the following events: the long training runs, early mornings, sore muscles, stricter eating, and time away from family and friends. After considering all that must follow, sign up for the race with a clear conscience and determination to do the work required. If you don’t fully consider your decisions, and I can attest from personal experience, when you hit the challenging parts of training – sore legs, long workouts – you won’t have the discipline or motivation to get you through to your goal and reach new personal bests.
Epictetus’ words serve as a timeliness reminder that success in any endeavor requires careful consideration of both the initial excitement and the challenges that lie ahead.