How does ancient philosophy align with the CliftonStrengths?
Discovering the quote which appears above, “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself”, I was struck by the call it makes to align ourselves with our talents (Strengths) so that we can endeavor to be our best.
Transparency requires me to volunteer that I possess no expertise or authority related to the field of philosophy. I have not so much as taken a philosophy class. With that in mind, I still decided to see if I could connect a few thoughts of a 1st century philosopher to the call that the Strengths movement echoes for us to better ourselves.
Epictetus was a Stoic. Stoicism is a school of philosophy developed by the
Greeks, but more closely associated with the Romans. Its three best known
proponents were Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius,
Imperial advisor and playwright, Seneca the Younger and Epictetus, a former
slave turned philosophy teacher.
Epictetus lived in the first and second century AD. A major theme of Epictetus’ writing is that most of what we encounter in life is beyond our control. What is within our control is how we react to and with these unchangeable things.
“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”
His life experience as a former slave and partial invalid, probably brought this concept to the forefront for him. Much like Viktor Frankl stated in Man’s Search for Meaning, ” Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. “
Applying Epictetus’ reasoning, we are required not to waste energy and emotion on things we cannot influence, but rather we should examine our thoughts, take responsibility for our actions, and apply self-discipline to live a valued and valuable life. A version of the serenity prayer comes to mind.
The full version, of the line quoted in the picture above, comes from Epictetus’ Discourse 51, and reads:
“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.”
The quote probably makes more sense to our 21st century ears,
changing first line to read, “How long are you going to wait before you demand
the best of yourself”. Also, please avoid fixating on the male centric “boy”
and “full-grown man” but recognize the subject is an adult. This is much as
Paul in 1Corinthians says, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I
understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man (adult), I
put away childish things.” In other words, you’re a grownup; act your age. Relating
this with Strengths, it is good to remember that the results of the assessment should
be accurate and for the most part unchanged after 25 years of age, since that
is about when our brains have completed their growing phase and sort of stabilize
Epictetus goes on to say, if you do not put in the work that demanding the
best of yourself requires, you are likely to spend your entire life being
mediocre. Stoicism teaches recognition that we are temporal and mortal beings.
Tempus fugit. The clock is ticking. Do and be while there is still time. It is more
important when our mortality is considered.
CliftonStrengths or StrengthsFinder separates itself from the other major
assessments by being more than a test which reveals who you are. It reveals what
matters to you and asks what are you going to do with it. And it even goes a
step further because it reveals your hows, your whys and your motivation. It is
both a map and a compass. Understood, aligned and followed, Strengths can be a
way to live and die as someone quite extra-ordinary.