3. Carpe Diem

Where it’s from: In 23 BC a Roman poet name Horace wrote the phrase “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero” in one of his books. This translates to “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow.” Tomorrow is understood to mean the future.

What it means: To many in the modern world it means to throw caution to the wind and take a big risk. You might not have another chance! There’s no time like the present! But what Horace meant was that nothing in the future is guaranteed, so you should work as hard as you can every day to put yourself and your family in the best position going forward. It was very traditionalist.

How it Relates: Some people might argue that this cuts both ways. That the new meaning has given birth to entrepreneurs and emboldened the timid. Sure 50% of first movers fail, but the benefit of being in the other 50% is incredible. Is it worth the risk? That depends on your definition of success, and that’s what this cliché is really about.

The economy is recovering, but where is the wealth going? Things are good now, but what are the trends in my company’s industry? Can I learn a new skill to advance quicker, or should I start preparing for a new career in a new industry? How can I save on taxes, or vacation for cheap? How do I do that? Where do I start?

These are some modern equivalents of Horace’s uncertain future. They’re intimidating questions and even worse when you realize you haven’t been asking yourself any of these. It’s overwhelming to some. But Horace says your optimism, and confidence, will come from the work you put in today and the sense of security that brings.

It’s sensible enough, but if you tried to go any deeper into this cliché you inevitably run into one question: What am I seizing? Opportunity? Such a conveniently undefinable goal. Happiness? Same thing… Even if I have a goal, what is the actual work I need to do? What’s step one? Two? Three?

Before we think about putting in work every day, think about what that work is for. Blind optimism is ok, positivity tends to beget more positivity. But this cliché is all about effort and anything worth trying for is worth planning for, so try to understand your own wants and values first then build from there.

Make a (flexible) plan so you have a roadmap. Then gain confidence from the things you learn from the work you put in. Just remember: planning is essential, plans are useless. New opportunities come up, priorities change, but it’s good to take the time and make plans and take steps in a direction.

Confidence is also essential. It’s a key component of competence and improvement, but most of a person’s confidence should be proportional to their ability to do things like fulfill their obligations, have empathetic and informed world views (understand other perspectives), act consistently according to their values, help others, and progress towards their individual goals.

The rest should come from an understanding that nothing is that difficult. The information is out there, it’s just a matter of time and effort and maybe some luck.

But confidence is dessert for this cliché. Part of this cliché is realizing that you don’t have haters. In fact almost no one else is paying attention to what you’re doing at all. Whether you’re a risk taker ready to lay it all out for your big idea or a steady-as-you-go-401k-and-coupons type, it doesn’t matter. No one’s looking.

But what you’re buying by working hard today isn’t just faith that tomorrow will be ok, it’s actually improving the odds that they will be ok, and better. Because you know what you want and you’re working towards it. It’s about the long game, and not getting caught working until you’re dead.

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