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The First Defeat

Early victories and John Adams' Herculean seal for the United States

How closely do you guard the start of your day? That alarm clock sits by the bedside or maybe a few feet from the door (if you’re clever) and it calls you to a commitment you made the night before. When the sleep is good, or even more so when the sleep was bad until about 3 AM, this otherwise small battle feels like a D-Day level effort.

This can be the first victory of the day or the first defeat.

You know how these things cascade. You hit snooze one too many times, miss the chance to shower, then scramble to the closet and throw on mismatched socks, and then you’ve missed a chance to have a decent breakfast. Money in the bank account is low, but your credit card can handle a quick Dunkin Donuts combo, right? So you break that promise to yourself too.

It’s funny how much like the Hero’s Journey our daily lives can be. The iconic arc of hero characters begins with The Ordinary—> The Call To Adventure—> Refusal Of The Call. What is the morning routine if not this first sequence of narrative storytelling?

These crossroads moments come to define our lives faster than I’m comfortable admitting. If what Albert Camus said is true, that “Our lives are the sum of our choices,” then putting off that First Defeat seems wise.

I’ll share what I try to guard daily: 6 AM wake up at the latest, one mile walk with the dog, then coffee, then I write something. I try to do all of this before checking email or any social media. I fail a lot, but the days I win….boy do I love it. Those days rock!

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

BTW! A new video out now from Geeky Stoics.

Some people beat the drum about “making your bed” as a First Victory. Some promote the cold shower, and others the 4:45 AM wake-up time. This is up to you. Make something a marker of First Victory.

The seal proposed by John Adams for the United States (Left) versus the seal we ended up with (Right)

Meet me at the crossroads

John Adams, America’s second President and Founding Father, in the years after the Revolution advocated for the design on the left to be the United States seal. It’s the Western world’s first popular myth: The Choice of Hercules. The demigod son of Zeus finds himself at a crossroads, faced with the path of Virtue or Vice, both embodied by a beautiful woman.

The easy road or the hard road. Pleasure or (purposeful) pain.

Adams surely would have identified with Camus’ insight about life being the sum of our choices, and he wanted the United States to be reminded of this as a new nation. I don’t hate the seal we ended up with, which embodies sovereignty, peace, and war — but I wish Adam’s design had been realized.

Who we are at the crossroads each day is who we are in the end.

I think the United States needs the crossroads imagery more than it needs arrows and a badass eagle.

But the great thing about being alive is that if we go down the wrong road, we can always turn heel and hike back.

Anyway, this is my long-winded way of saying that we all need to set up something for ourselves that is easy to win at when the day begins. It sets the tone and affects how we see ourselves in the mirror.

Set up an early victory before you’ve even left your room.

Give that gift to yourself. See where it takes you in the days ahead.


First Defeat - By Noah Gundersen

It's the first defeat that cuts you to your bones
Knocks you off your feet

You discover that home is not a person or a place
But a feeling you can't get back

And the second round throws you to the floor
Leaves you stuttering
"What the hell was that for?"
Takes you by surprise
Like the bullet you never saw coming

This will be the last time
This will be the last time
This will be the last time
You take me

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Geeky Stoics
Geeky Stoics
Your favorite stories are part of your real life. Star Wars. The Lord of the Rings. Marvel. Batman. Are you listening to what they’re trying to tell you? Geeky Stoics is all about Stoicism, Philosophy, and Wisdom found in Pop Culture.
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