Apotheosis episode 36: Hurry up, slowly. "The cautious captain is better than the bold." ~Caesar Augustus

Episode 36: Hurry up, slowly

Ryan D Thompson Ancient, Discernment, Skills, Stoicism

Key ideas

Haste makes waste, as the cliche goes. The Stoic concept of festina lente suggests we will achieve better results by taking our time and doing things right. 

  • Especially in our hyper-busy world, we can be really impatient for results. We want something, and we want it now. But sometimes, we need to suppress this urge for immediate action.
  • When we rush, we’re more likely to make mistakes. We’re more likely to miss seeing important details.
  • When we take our time, pay attention to what we do, and execute each action with intention, we will avoid having a mess to clean up down the road.
  • Real, lasting progress often requires a slow – even boring – process of consistent action over a long period. The turtle beats the hare if it just keeps moving.


Many years ago, I worked on a construction site as a barely skilled laborer. Most of the time, I would handle tasks like carrying supplies, digging holes, smashing old walls, or mixing cement – things that didn't require special training. One of the many skills I did not possess was grouting tiles. And yet one day, that was a job that needed to be done. Eager to learn something new, I absorbed the few words of instruction from the foreman, grabbed a trowel, and got to work. It took me quite a while to get started and even longer to successfully lay even a handful of tiles. 

When the foreman noticed my glacial pace of progress, he barked at me to speed it up. He told me I needed to finish this bathroom before the end of the work day. So I did what he asked, picking up my pace considerably. I slathered on the grout, moving quickly from one tile to the next. 

Indeed, I finished the bathroom by the end of the shift, but the results were… let's just say, not up to standards. Embarrassingly bad, in fact.

That was one of my first clear lessons on the trade-offs between speed and quality.

Years later, I realize this experience also demonstrates clearly the Stoic concept of festina lente: "make haste slowly."

This seeming paradox points to a practical truth: often, when we rush things, we end up spending a lot more time later fixing problems that arise from poor planning or poorly executed efforts. Problems that wouldn't have happened if we had taken our time to do it right the first time.

Most of us have probably experienced some variation of this concept. We see it in kids who rush their homework only to have to redo it later. We see it with a business that's eager to launch a new website or product but neglects to do in-depth research into its audience and the market's real needs. And we see it in ill-conceived government policies that might be rooted in good intentions but fail to consider the second-order consequences of enacting that policy.

We all want results, and we want them now. But sometimes, we need to suppress that urge for immediate action. Sometimes we will get the best results with slow and steady progress over time rather than a burst of intense effort.

Shane Parrish, the founder of Farnam Street, offers a great analogy between bamboo and how we make progress. It takes three to five years for bamboo to develop its root system. On the surface, it looks like very little is happening during this time. But the roots are steadily expanding and establishing a solid foundation underground. Then, one day, there is a sudden burst, the first shoots breaking through the surface. And then watch out: the bamboo goes wild, growing upwards and outwards in all directions. Sometimes to the dismay of neighbors who don't want the potentially invasive plant taking over their land.

Our own efforts can likewise benefit from a period of laying down roots. If we spend the time necessary to really dig into developing a skill, strategy, policy, or product, we can avoid many headaches down the road. Doing small, effective actions many times over a long period leads to lasting results. 

On a related note of not rushing work, this will be the last episode in season 2 of Apotheosis. I need to take some time off to refresh my brain, clarify new ideas, and prepare to gear up for a new season. And more importantly, to spend time with my new baby boy and the rest of the family. In the meantime, I hope that you find time to take things slowly, do them right, and achieve success over the long term. Until the next time, be well!

Podcast soundtrack credit:

Our Story Begins Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License