1-Sentence-Summary: Discourses is a transcription of Epictetus’s lectures which aim to address a series of life ethics and tales that can help us make sense of certain things happening to us, such as hardship, challenges, and life events that ultimately lead to a stronger character.
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Epictetus was one of the most influential philosophers of all time. In fact, he is considered the world’s most prominent Stoic philosopher. He lived between 55-135, a little before Aurelius. What makes Epictetus’s work so remarkable are his valuable insights on life, the man’s purpose on earth, and the meaning of one’s challenges and hardship in the bigger picture of life.
Discourses is a collection of some of Epictetus’s informal lectures that he served to his students during the course of his lifetime. His work was studied intensely after his passing and served as a basis for the cognitive behavioral therapy we know today. Moreover, his work led many people to discover themselves and help make sense of certain events in their life that ultimately lead to their growth.
Here are my three favorite lessons from the book:
- Without life’s challenges, we wouldn’t feel the need to grow and evolve.
- Everything that is great in life takes time and effort to build.
- If you can’t control it, don’t stress over it.
Of course, there’s more to the Stoic philosophy and Epictetus’s valuable life lessons, but for now, let’s explore these three lessons!
Lesson 1: Life’s hardships help us grow as individuals.
Epictetus tries to make sense of life’s challenges by looking at them from another perspective. What if everything you’ve been going through and everything bad that’s happened to you was for a reason? What if your challenges shaped you into a stronger individual? If you don’t buy into this philosophy yet, stick with me, as I’ll walk you through an example.
Let’s remember the story of Hercules. This all-mighty, mythological hero seems to have had supernatural strengths, right? After all, he’s faced so many obstacles and situations that nothing could have touched him. Well, that’s sort of how things are for us, humans, as well. You don’t need to be a mythological hero to go through hardship and then gain some remarkable strengths. In fact, this happens to all of us!
Now, imagine if Hercules didn’t have any challenges to face, nor any obstacles to overcome. Would he still strive to achieve a better version of himself, or grow and evolve? Probably not. Therefore, you ought to look at life’s drawbacks as something everyone, including yourself, must go through to become a better version of themselves and achieve their purpose in life.
Lesson 2: Building greatness takes time.
You might’ve heard this before, but success doesn’t happen overnight. Just like Epictetus says, even grapes and figs take time to ripen. As such, he suggests that you grow like a fig, slowly but steadily, but never rushing the process. If a fruit can’t be brought to maturity in an hour, nor can you. And frankly, this isn’t a bad thing. Life isn’t supposed to make you grow fast and then stagnate there.
Instead, growth happens incrementally, through everyday small steps. However, sometimes life makes us take huge leaps ahead, especially through difficult times. But again, they help us grow and evolve as we learn to navigate through them. Now, back to the grapes and figs. Epictetus mentions that our growth as humans resembles these plants’ life cycle.
“First it must blossom. Then bear fruit. Then ripen.” – and therefore, no great thing happens overnight. As such, next time you feel stuck in your life, just remember that you’re undertaking a lengthy process and that it’s all going to work out for you. Essentially, if you’re working towards your dreams, creating your dream life, and going on your desired path, you’re just growing slowly into your best self.
Lesson 3: The Stoic philosophy states that you must not stress over the things you can’t control.
One of the fundamental principles of the Stoic philosophy is that life is composed of things we can control, and things we cannot control. As such, the external things that surround us are outside of our control, but we can choose how to react to them, and that is where our responsibility begins. The good and the bad are to be found in our choices and reaction to the outside world.
Once you understand this concept, it will be easier for you to understand why certain things happen to you and prepare yourself better for future events. The secret lies within finding out what’s within our control, and what isn’t, because if we confuse them, we will waste time thinking and reacting to things outside our control, and pay too little attention to what truly matters.
As such, consider life as a series of circumstances, without asking why certain things are happening to you or not. Instead, learn to target your focus on the response you can offer to certain situations. Keep in mind that good and evil exist only in our mind and our will. Whichever response we choose, it’s up to us.
Discourses is a remarkable compilation of Epictetus’s informal lectures given to his students. The book addresses the Stoic philosophy of life and delves into a series of concepts such as happiness, well-being, hardship and challenges, and the way the human mind works in relation to emotions. To fully grasp the meaning of this book, I recommend reading and re-reading it until you reach a full understanding of the universal truths presented. If you manage to understand and apply the Stoic concepts from this book, you’ll be one step ahead in life.
Who would I recommend the Discourses summary to?
The 24-year-old philosophy student who wants to deepen their knowledge in the domain, the 50-year-old person who gained an interest in philosophy and ancient wisdom, or the 35-year-old person who wants to optimize their life using time-tested strategies and wisdom from the old world.