Smashing Success

by Tom Swift

“For your own part likewise, you’re sometimes an athlete, sometimes a gladiator, then a philosopher, then an orator, but nothing at all whole-heartedly; no, in the manner of an ape, you imitate everything that you see, and one thing after another is always catching your fancy, but it ceases to amuse you as soon as you grow accustomed to it.  For you’ve never embarked on anything after due consideration, nor after having subjected it to proper examination and tested it out, but always at random and in a half-hearted fashion.” -Epictetus, Discourses, 3.15, 6-7.

Ouch. The truth hurts, as they say. It is hard to be a natural dabbler. To cast about this way and that. To not have a singular passion. The good news is that you can cultivate and consolidate: you can let go of the fantasies of what you secretly wish you would do and be.

(Let us also say that there is use in not having a singular focus; houses need more than one kind of material in order to be built and then, once erected, withstand the weather.)

Commonly, children dream of becoming astronauts, firefighters, sports stars. Eventually, these dreams fall away, whether because of a confrontation with facts or a replacement of passion. This is natural.

Less talked about are those adult persons, like you, who secretly harbor enthusiasms for many endeavors, things that are not necessarily unrealistic or against type. These endeavors may, in fact, have value to you and to the world. This is why the considerations entice and linger. There is a path. And it’s not an unpleasant one.

Yet, still, when we check the clock we see we have just the 24 hours allotted today. You can’t do it all — when would you have the time?

Some things — many things, most things — must be given up if you are to fulfill your purpose. Actively allow for this letting go. Say not merely that it is OK for these alternative realities not to be pursued. Push them away. Cast them aside with good speed. Hear them hit the wall and break into many pieces.

For if you do not remove these objects from your view they will not merely benignly sit, like potted plants on a shelf. Instead they will serve to get in your way. Every time you turn around they will be there.

There is grief in letting go of promising possibilities. But greater pain awaits if you do not.

You can’t create what you do not make the space to build.