If Epictetus Was Our Teacher, He’d Say This — My Stoic Musings 017

“I am your teacher and you are learning in my school. My aim is to bring you to completion, unhindered, free from compulsive behavior…

“I am your teacher and you are learning in my school. My aim is to bring you to completion, unhindered, free from compulsive behavior, unrestrained, without shame, free, flourishing, and happy, looking to God in things great and small — your aim is to learn and diligently practice all these things. Why then don’t you complete the work, if you have the right aim and I have both the right aim and right preparation? What is missing? … The work is quite feasible, and is the only thing in our power… Let go of the past. We must only begin. Believe me and you will see.” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.19.29–34

Epictetus, the great stoic philosopher, tells us that he is our teacher. At first, this might seem silly because how can he be our teacher? We don’t really go to any of his classes, do we? But he doesn’t need to be physically present here to teach us. He made certain that all his knowledge and wisdom be solidified in his writings. And over the past centuries, his writings have found us and we have all been fortunate enough to learn from him. He reminds us that once we have the right aim, all we have to do is begin. We must forget about our past failures and disappointments. We must not fantasize about the future since it doesn’t yet exist anyways. The past has already gone and the future might never come. We have no control over any of those things. All we can control is our present and we control our present with our work. It might sound funny but when Nike tells us to “Just Do It”, the Stoics would agree with that slogan because they have been telling us to do the same. Whatever it is that you are currently thinking of starting but are procrastinating because it seems too scary, remember that all you have to do is to simply begin, and the rest will follow. As author James Clear puts it, “Stop worrying about how long it will take and get started. Time will pass either way”.


This article is a part of my Stoic Musings challenge, inspired by the book “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, where I take a quote from the book and reflect on it, every day.