I'm not well-read in the classics, but a few pieces have been important sources of meaning to me over the years--most notably Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. There are a number of concepts in Stoic philosophy that I find relevant in my work as a coach--and in my personal life: acceptance of limitations and failure, resilience in overcoming challenges, humility in success.
In my ramblings I've come across a number of references to Seneca's essay, On the Shortness of Life, and the other day I decided to finally look it up and read the whole thing.
Damn--talk about a wake-up call. It really stirred me up, and while it's too early to say just what impact it'll have on my life, it's safe to say I'll be re-reading it. A few of the passages I found most striking are below, and you can find the complete text at the Forum Romanum. (Also, here's a longer series of excerpts [PDF].)
“On the Shortness of Life,” Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Translated by John W. Basore, Loeb Classical Library, London: William Heinemann, 19321. The majority of mortals, Paulinus, complain bitterly of the spitefulness of Nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, because even this space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live... It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it...
3. ...No one is to be found who is willing to distribute his money, yet among how many does each one of us distribute his life! In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal... What, then, is the reason of this? You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last... You will hear many men saying: "After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties." And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!...
7. ...[E]verybody agrees that no one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is busied with many things...since the mind, when its interests are divided, takes in nothing very deeply, but rejects everything that is, as it were, crammed into it. There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living: there is nothing that is harder to learn... It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and—what will perhaps make you wonder more—it takes the whole of life to learn how to die...
8. I am often filled with wonder when I see some men demanding the time of others and those from whom they ask it most indulgent. Both of them fix their eyes on the object of the request for time, neither of them on the time itself; just as if what is asked were nothing, what is given, nothing. Men trifle with the most precious thing in the world; but they are blind to it because it is an incorporeal thing, because it does not come beneath the sight of the eyes, and for this reason it is counted a very cheap thing—nay, of almost no value at all...
9. Can anything be sillier than the point of view of...those who
boast of their foresight? They keep themselves very busily engaged in order
that they may be able to live better; they spend life in making ready to live!
They form their purposes with a view to the distant future; yet postponement is
the greatest waste of life; it deprives them of each day as it comes, it
snatches from them the present by promising something hereafter. The greatest
hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends upon the morrow and wastes today…
All things that are still to come lie in uncertainty; live straightaway!...
20. And so when you see a man often wearing the robe of office, when you see one whose name is famous in the Forum, do not envy him; those things are bought at the price of life. They will waste all their years, in order that they may have one year reckoned by their name... Meantime, while they rob and are being robbed, while they break up each other's repose, while they make each other wretched, their life is without profit, without pleasure, without any improvement of the mind. No one keeps death in view, no one refrains from far-reaching hopes; some men, indeed, even arrange for things that lie beyond life—huge masses of tombs and dedications of public works and...ostentatious funerals. But, in very truth, the funerals of such men ought to be conducted by the light of torches and wax tapers, as though they had lived but the tiniest span.
 When this essay was written—around A.D. 49—Paulinus was praefectus annonae, the official who managed Rome’s grain supply, and an important civic figure. He is believed to have been a close relative of Seneca's wife.
 The Roman year was dated by the names of the two annual consuls.
 i.e., as if they were children, whose funerals took place by night
Photo by kris krüg. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.