Epithets for Life

Day 4 of the 14 Day Stoic Challenge put on by the Daily Stoic, was about defining your epithets, and putting them out there in the world. The immediate analogy that came to mind, is the business world’s Values statement that every company seems to have. At Sapient, in the early days, these were our Core Values, which I like better as they are not exclusionary. Meaning that like Core Hours, these are the values we all agree we have in common, each of us as individuals also have our own values, family values, faith based values, etc. At work we held our Core Values in common, and we used them to navigate day to day decisions. I’ve written a little more about that previously.

Although this exercise is a little different, it is constructed in a way that creates more personal accountability for me, as an individual. Not what I say I value, since after all I am likely to tell you, to tell myself for that matter, that I value admirable and intrinsically worthwhile things. The challenge is directly from the writings of Epictetus:

“Say to yourself what you would be and then do what you have to do.”

In other words, not what you value, but what you will be.

There is so much more power, and accountability, in that framing – to be a better version of yourself. It also brings to mind the Scout Law, for anyone who was ever in the Scouts in the US, you likely still have it committed to memory:

A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

The Scout Law

It’s not some corporate-y, aspirational values statement, it’s a clear call to be a certain kind of person. A Scout IS. Those that know me won’t be surprised to hear that it also brings to mind the US Army’s Soldier’s Creed, which make heavy use of I am and I will statements.

So, now to the exercise itself.

I will be:

  • Forthright
  • Reliable
  • Trustworthy
  • Resilient
  • Curious
  • Generous

Forthright. I really like this word because it mean both being direct and outspoken, so it encompasses openness and honesty, but it also connotes a duty to be so. Which means I cannot avoid difficult conversations. I don’t do this at work, but maybe because of the energy that takes I do put these off in my personal relationships, but no longer if I want to live up to this.

Reliable. This is here because in fact it is something I need to improve on. I am very reliable at work, but that comes at a cost of not being as reliable for family and especially friends. This comes partly as a result of the comment above – I’ve often found it easier to say “maybe” I’ll make to the [whatever] instead of just saying no.

Trustworthy. Another great word, with more accountability than just being open, or honest, or good. It is being someone worthy of someone else’s trust. It isn’t good enough for me to feel like I am honest because I say whatever comes to mind. I need to be honest, and reliable, and diligent, and able to hold something in confidence.

Resilient. This wasn’t one of the first things that came to mind, but I kept seeing it come up in other people’s posts in Slack, and the more I thought about it the more I liked it. It encompasses all the hard work and focus needed to be strong, and healthy, and able to stay in the fight for the long haul. Calm of spirit and mind, while strong of body and will. Lots and lots of training required for this.

Curious. Another word that didn’t come straight to mind, but again pulls together several threads which I really like. It means of course that I need to keep learning, keep reading. But it’s 2019 so that means, listening to lots of podcasts, and watching Ted talks, or my favorite thing on YouTube PBS Space Time. But it also means being open to other points of view, in fact it requires me to seek them out.

Generous. I struggle a bit with this last one, it was in competition with things like kind, calm, empathetic, clear headed, etc. I chose this instead because it requires action, where the others are more a state of being. To be generous, I have to give of myself to another. That can be time, money, experience, and the most exciting aspect of this for me is growth – I get true satisfaction from seeing others grow and by being generous with my time, feedback, coaching, experience, network, etc. I can have a bigger impact than ever.

2 thoughts on “Epithets for Life”

  1. Consistent. I have always worked towards consistency in my life as it pertains to a steady conformity of character and behavior. Consistency helps immensely with relationships whether they are at home or at work. Striving for the best effort at something is good. Being consistent at that best effort is better. Producing the best results consistently is best. I work endlessly at being consistent- For my family, to provide a good, healthy living. For my employees and my customers, because they know I have set a high bar of achievement and we don’t want to settle for less. For myself, because I look forward to tomorrow and what it may hold. Consistency allows me to make stepping stones out of obstacles and to take the victory when I’ve earned it. In the spirit of the Stoic Challenge, I recall the quote from Seneca ‘It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness’. Consistency helps me navigate that road.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful addition, definitely a great one. It could be said to be what determines whether you achieve the other ones. Someone once told me they thought the highest compliment you could receive was that you were consistent, I wish I could remember who that was. I think consistency has a lot in common with reliability, and it’s something I’ve always told people at work – you can’t be in the top (rank/band/whatever your organization calls it) by having one good year, you have to show consistent high performance to truly be a so-called ‘top-performer’. These days I just want to be the best me I can, and this is a nice measure for that.

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