Musings about wanderings

Month: February 2019

Forged by a challenge

“What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar – and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?

Obviously, he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So, by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.

And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir into him action?”


We all face many challenges in our lives. And one of the responses to these challenges is to wish them away. To feel aggrieved that there has been an intrusion into our lives of something unexpected.

However, what if we were to welcome the challenge?

Epictetus’ quote above concerns the making of the great hero of legend, The Demi-God Hercules. He only became who he was truly meant to be by being faced with great challenges and overcoming them.

We too are presented with challenges every day. Some small and some not so small. Some are simple to overcome some are almost impossible. Some are trivial and some so large that they threaten the whole of our being.

Of course, one element of the challenges we face are that they are often much larger in our minds than they are in reality. There is no problem so bad that thinking about it won’t make it worse.

As much as we wish, we won’t have an easy life, problems and challenges present themselves all the time. So flip the thinking around. Relish the challenge. See it as an opportunity to prove yourself and a crucible in which a better you is forged.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Memento Mori

“You could leave this life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think”

Marcus Aurelius

I was at an exhibition in the Royal Scottish Academy last week while there, saw a very powerful work. It consisted of nine black glass panels, each of which had the picture of a smartphone engraved on it. On the screen of each smartphone was a skull. Below the panels was an old iPhone with a skull engraved on the screen and the title of the work “Memento Mori”. Remember that you will die.

Like all the best art, this got me thinking and has stuck with me in the week since I viewed the work. Imagine how we would act if, every hour on the hour, our phones stopped what they were doing and told us that we were mortal.

Time is the most precious thing that we own. Yet it is the one thing that we treat often with total indifference, spending it like it was an infinite resource. Hours are whiled away doing nothing. Plans put off. Meetings with friends postponed.

Yet there is nothing that I can do to stop the passage of time. My life on this Earth is finite and limited. Furthermore, I have no real control over when I might leave this life nor knowledge of when that might happen. I could walk out of the Starbucks that I’m sitting in and be hit by a car. Or I could live to 100 before succumbing.

Should I spend what limited and unknown time I have in pointless arguments that never really reach a conclusion or browsing the internet for no purpose other than demanding that someone entertain me? Should I put off contacting friends and family? Should I say yes to every call on my time, handing over control to others?

“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason? You have been given the principles that you ought to endorse, and you have endorsed them. What kind of teacher, then, are you still waiting for in order to refer your self-improvement to him? You are no longer a boy, but a full-grown man. If you are careless and lazy now and keep putting things off and always deferring the day after which you will attend to yourself, you will not notice that you are making no progress, but you will live and die as someone quite ordinary.”


Memento Mori is a call to action. If I can hold that thought in my mind then I can follow Marcus Aurelius’ command to let it determine my every thought, word and deed.

I can spend my time following my passions, doing the things that I enjoy and spending my time with those I care about.

And as Epictetus says, I can this day start the process of self-improvement. In each moment I can make a conscious choice to spend my time in a way that improves me or the world around me. Perfection is not an end goal but a journey, a moment by moment process of choices that move towards a better me.

And then, by living this way, I can leave this life at the moment that fate appoints satisfied that I did my best.

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