“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.” Epictetus
You might be inclined to wonder how the advice of someone how lived in the first century AD could possibly pertain to someone living in the twenty first century. The fact is, all the advances we’ve made over the past two thousand years affect the outside of our lives. How we travel, how we acquire and share information, how we communicate etc, but none of that affects how we tick internally.
No matter how smart our phone, all of us have to motivate ourselves to do what needs to be done everyday.
When we think of rising through the ranks, our starting point is from luxury unimagined to anyone in the ancient world. An appliance that keeps food cool and fresh? Another to cook it? Another to clean your clothes? Another to take you from place to place in minutes rather than hours? A device in your pocket with access to the entirety of human knowledge? All of us today lives a life of more ease and comfort than even kings and queens of centuries past.
A slave by birth, Epictetus started from about as low a position as it was possible to start. He was smart though and his wealthy roman master allowed him to study philosophy. Eventually Epictetus was granted his freedom and began teaching philosophy himself. So when Epictetus says “Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself,” he’s not just stringing pretty words together because they sound good he’s speaking from hard won experience.
No matter how hard you try or how many contingencies you prepare for, life will sometimes work out how you want and sometimes it won’t. It’s not the circumstances that will determine the course of your life, it’s how you react to them. Never forget from the perspective of just about everyone who’s lived before you, you are already starting from the top!