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.
This post is Day 58 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com
Know how to suffer fools. The wise have always been the least patient, for as knowledge increases, so does impatience. It’s difficult to satisfy someone who knows a great deal. The greatest rule in life, according to Epictetus, is to endure things, and he reduced half of wisdom to this. If every type of stupidity is to be tolerated, a great deal of patience will be needed. Sometimes we tolerate most from those on whom we must depend, which fact enables us to triumph over ourselves. From tolerance arises peace, the inestimable joy of the world. Those who find themselves unable to tolerate others should retreat into themselves – if they can actually tolerate themselves.Baltasar Gracián, The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, 159
I’ve often said that I “don’t suffer fools gladly”. And I don’t; I have zero patience for those that mess me about, are disingenuous, or otherwise exist more for entertainment than industry.
However, Gracián points that we all depend on other people and it’s necessary to tolerate them. Further, without developing patience, we may end up in a situation where we find it difficult to tolerate ourselves.
Marcus Aurelius writes in a similar, albeit tangential vein:
[L]ook at the characters of your own associates: even the most agreeable of then are difficult to put up with; and for the matter of that, it is difficult enough to put up with one’s own self. In all this murk and mire, then, in all this ceaseless flow of being and time, of changes imposed and changes endured, I can think of nothing that is worth prizing highly or pursuing seriously. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5
I wouldn’t necessarily agree with his assertion that there’s “nothing worth prizing highly or pursuing seriously”, but I suppose that’s the logical conclusion of a lack of patience.
My conclusion? Patience is worth practising and cultivating.
This post is Day 55 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com
Cultivate these, then, for they are wholly within your power: sincerity, for example, and dignity; industriousness, and sobriety. Avoid grumbling, be frugal, considerate, and frank; be temperate in manner and in speech; carry yourself with authority. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5
There’s so much to unpack in just this small section from one of Marcus Aurelius pieces of life advice. Taken at face value, it could be seen as an exhortation to an austere way of life; joyless, serious, and overly-focused on work.
Taken in context with his other writing, though, it’s clear that this is Marcus Aurelius’ reminder to himself to act in a way that would befit a Roman emperor. After all, when you have supreme executive authority, you can pretty much do what you like.
Many mornings, I get up before anyone else and sit by myself with a cup of tea studying something from my daily reading. Doing so helps start the day off on the right foot, with priorities that are important to me rather than other people. I find Marcus Aurelius particularly useful in that regard.
This post is Day 54 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com
Some people have jobs that mean they need to be contacted immediately. They have occupations that require them to act quickly in critical situations.
I’d like to think what I do makes the world a slightly better place, but I can’t really think of what a true emergency would look like in my line of work.
Over the years, more and more work-related apps have crept onto my phone. It’s only when I go on holiday with a strict ‘no work’ policy that I reflect on the impact this has on my leisure time.
I’ve worked from home for the last eight years and, for the last six, in a house with a separate home office. I have the ability to literally shut the door on my work at the end of the day and go ‘home’.
Instead, work tends to follow me home through the apps on my phone; despite being relatively disciplined with notifications, I’ve slipped into an unhealthy elision of work and leisure time that diminishes both.
For the last 10 days, while I’ve been on holiday, I uninstalled or disabled all work-related apps on my phone. It’s what I usually do when I’m on holiday: all or nothing.
So far, the only work-related app I’ve re-enabled is my calendar. I’m thinking of keeping it that way.
This evening, I scrolled through the list of apps I had installed and deleted about half of them. The main things I want to use my phone for are communication, music, and short-form reading and writing. Occasionally I use it for navigation, or a contactless payment if I forget my wallet.
I do sometimes wonder what ancient Stoic philosophers would do if they were alive today. What would Marcus Aurelius do? Epictetus? Seneca? Keep it simple, I guess.
This post is Day 27 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com
Further to yesterday’s post, I’ve continued reading the Roman Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus. It seems like he was a cool guy.
On the subject of food he used to speak frequently and very emphatically too, as a question of no small significance, nor leading to unimportant consequences, indeed he believed that the beginning and foundation of temperance lay in self-control in eating and drinking.Musonius Rufus, ‘That One Should Disdain Hardships’
It would appear that he didn’t eat meat.
On the other hand he showed that meat was a less civilized kind of food and more appropriate for wild animals. He held that it was a heavy food and an obstacle to thinking and reasoning, since the exhalations rising from it, being turbid, darkened the soul. For this reason also the people who make larger use of it seem slower in intellect.Musonius Rufus, ‘That One Should Disdain Hardships’
Having just come back from a beach barbecue this is top of mind at the moment. Thankfully, with friends and family we’re past the inane questions about the smell and taste of bacon butties. Yes I like the taste of meat. Yes I’ve realised it’s cruel to kill animals and eat them. No I’m not tempted just this once. No I’m not virtue signalling.
It’s worth noting that I do eat fish, although I try not to think too much about this, as I don’t have strong arguments as to why I’m pescetarian rather than vegetarian. To be quite honest, it’s a matter of convenience, as it makes me easier to cater for, and affords me more options when we go out for dinner.
This post is Day 18 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com