The Book in Three Sentences

Some things are in your power and some are not—do not confuse the two and do not desire the things that are not in your power. It is our opinion of things that determines how we feel about a particular event, not the event itself. Think carefully about how you spend your life because people often spend their lives chasing things that are neither as desirable nor as important as they seem.

Manual for Living summary

This is my book summary of Manual for Living by Epictetus. My notes are informal and often contain quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts. This summary also includes key lessons and important passages from the book.

  • Some things are in our power and some are not. Examples of things not in our power: reputation, power, and the things that are not our own acts.
  • Remember, if you think the things that are in the power of others are in your own power, then you will be hindered, frustrated, and annoyed.
  • If you desire to do great things, then remember that you must give things your full attention — not just a mild effort — and leave many other things alone for the time being.
  • Before setting your sights on a goal make sure that said goal is within your power — that is, that it is something you actually have control over — and if it is not within your power, do not let it concern you.
  • Do not be averted to the things not within your power — illness, death, disease, etc. — if you desire anything not within your power, the result will be unfortunate.
  • “It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition.” Your opinion of things is what makes them good or bad. You are responsible for your own opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Most challenges are an impediment to a particular thing, but not to your will or to you as a person. “Going lame is an impediment to your leg, but not to your will.”
  • If you get the raw end of a business deal or if someone steals from you or if some small misfortune befalls you — don’t fret over it. Such is the price of living in tranquility and not allowing every small setback to ruin your life. It is much better to live this way than to try and squeeze every ounce out of each opportunity for you to get more or get what you are owed.
  • If you seem to be a person of importance to some people, ignore them. Realize you know nothing. If you accept that you are a person of importance, it becomes harder to learn.
  • Accept the things that come to you — wealth, power, food, relationships, etc. — with grace and dignity, but do not desire them before they get to you.
  • When someone responds negatively to an event — like crying when their child goes off to college — offer them sympathy and support, but notice that this event does not effect others. The stranger on the corner does not weep. Thus, it is not the event that is negative, but the person’s opinion of it. Although you may offer outward sympathy and support, do not let such events effect you internally.
  • I disagree with Epictetus’ point about “we are all actors and your job is to play the role you’ve been given.” I get that he is making an attempt at saying, “Don’t try to be someone you’re not,” but I think the language could have been better. His phrasing makes it sound like, “You have no control over your life. If you’re poor, you’re poor. Get over it, accept it, and be happy being poor.” In some ways, useful. In other ways, too much of a fixed mindset for my taste. I prefer a more empowering view of your life and the control you have over it.
  • Each day, keep in mind that death can be close to you. You will not take your time for granted.
  • “Which would you rather have? Money or a faithful and modest friend?”
  • “Observe both the things that come first and the things that follow.” You can’t just look at someone competing on the Olympic stage and desire that. You must also look at the practice, the effort, the time, and the sacrifice that came before the result. If you consider all of what is required for a task and then still wish to do it … only then should you proceed because you will properly understand what is required.
  • “If a man has reported to you that a certain person speaks ill of you do not make any defense to what has been told you, but reply, “The man did not know the rest of my faults for he would not have mentioned these only.”
  • Do not complain of all the bad things that have happened to you. It is not of interest to others.
  • If you are doing something that you believe is right do not worry about people who will criticize it wrongly.
  • Whoa! Chapter 40 is an ancient shout out to female empowerment and equality. “It is worthwhile to let [women] know that they are valued by men.”
  • “You are neither possession nor speech.” If you have more money, then you’re just richer than someone not better than them. If you are more eloquent than someone, then you are just better spoken not a better person.

Manual for Living by Epictetus

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