We’re at a moment in history where everything that went before seems somewhat… quaint. Both 2019 and the years that preceded it seem to me like a quieter, more innocent age. It was certainly a time when I was unaware of how quickly situations can change for the worse at both a macro and micro level.
Like many people, I’m sure, this year is definitely a candidate for The Worst Year of My Life. It has been difficult on the professional front, with attempts to stick to my moral compass bringing me into conflict on a number of occasions. And on a personal level, I feel like I’ve been hampered by those closest to me in their unwillingness for me to change and grow.
The two things that keep me going through all of this, other than the sustaining love of my family, are the words of the Stoic philosophers and the help I’ve received from my therapist. They work in tandem.
For example, in my most recent therapy session, I was challenged to reflect on the places from where I get reassurance. Having read a lot of Stoic philosophy, I already knew the ‘right answer’ to this: the only place you can get reassurance from is yourself. However, this was head knowledge; I didn’t feel it.
In The Joys of Being a Stoic, Massimo Pigliucci quotes the opening of Epictetus’ Enchiridion. In my opinion, it’s one of the most succinct, powerful, and practical philosophical statements ever made:
Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing. (Enchiridion 1.1)
This is sometimes called the Stoic Fork, as it forces you to realise that there are some things you can control (not much) and some things you can’t (everything else).
I turn 40 at the end of next month, meaning that I’m looking at the start of 2021 as marking the beginning of the second half of my life. When I look back at the first half, there are many things to be grateful for; many achievements and good decisions. But there are also things that make me almost bite my fist in their cringeworthiness; I have been at times naive, arrogant, and quick to anger.
There is no point in making resolutions or grand statements about how things are going to be different in the future. All I can do is to try and make each day better than the one before it. This includes acting increasingly in line with my moral compass, values, and the better parts of my nature. But it also includes, perhaps painfully, cutting out of my life things that do not add value and which stop me from being the best version of myself.