You Are an Actor, Not the Playwright

“Remember that you are an actor in a play, playing a character according to the will of the playwright — if a short play, then it’s short; if long, long. If he wishes you to play the beggar, play even that role well, just as you would if it were a cripple, a honcho, or an everyday person. For this is your duty, to perform well the character assigned to you. That selection belongs to another.”


Epictetus knew well what it meant to “perform well the character assigned to you”. Born a slave, he didn’t really have any other choice but to accept his lot in life. However, he didn’t let his assigned character keep him from excelling and transcending, as he eventually gained his freedom and became a respected thinker and philosopher.

Marcus Aurelius was assigned the role of emperor — a life which he didn’t really want either, as author Ryan Holiday points out in The Daily Stoic book today. But he made the most of it and made the role his own, applying his strong principles and ethical intuition to become perhaps the most famous stoic of all, and essentially the foundation for Holiday’s book.

Both people were dealt particular hands by fate, and rather than fight against them, they accepted the roll of the dice, and fulfilled the character they were assigned in life to the best of their ability. For whether destiny has trials or triumphs in store for us, our mission is to accept, understand, and fulfill.

Can we out-perform, overcome, level up, and metamorphosize? Can we adjust and redefine our character as it’s been given, and do even more than is expected? Absolutely. Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus both are great examples of exactly that — examples we can and should aspire to.

Remember though that you are an actor, not the playwright. Your role in life is assigned to you, and you don’t get to choose that. Fate does. Not only are you not the playwright, you’re not even the director of your own universe!

Do your best — excel, and transcend — but remember that fate does as it will. Embrace that (amor fati), as best you can!

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