People ask how they can get their message out to more people. They want to know how to land what it is they're doing. They want to know how to be successful. I can only answer with my own experience. I reached people by accident, not by design. I wrote, and still write, about things that matter(ed) to me. One day, years into my blogging and entrepreneurial career, a person from a magazine got in touch. The message went to spam. I fished it out. The person emailing wanted to do a story. They wanted me to be on the cover of their magazine.
I responded as I usually do to things that sound unbelievable. I said I didn't believe it. Within a month I was in LA for the photo shoot.
At the time I got just famous enough to know I didn't want to be famous in the future. There's a stress to the whole thing that famous people talk about sometimes. They probably don't talk about it often because of that old standby phrase I'm sure they hear quite often: don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
In other words: you were given the gift of fame, don't evaluate it too carefully.
Part of the reason my brush with miniature fame went as badly (to my mind badly) as it did? We'll go into it in Stoic Systems but in brief: I didn't have systems in place for fame. Now I do have them in place. And I've also got a Stoic spine so that if I never brush fame again, it will not matter. I have lived well, and am calm inside, and that is the point of Stoicism. Not wealth. Not happiness (gasp! More on that in future chapters). Not fame.
For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years be behind us are in death's hands. - Seneca to Lucilius
Tranquility. The ability to cope with anything life presents with equanimity.
The goal is clear: learn to respond with an unfettered mind.
Any time I respond to something with anything other than tranquility I know that area requires more flexing of Stoic muscles.
Whether you're famous or not. Whether you're wealthy or not. Whether you own land or don't. Stoicism has something to offer everyone.
Stoicism came up around the time Rome was falling to outside invaders. The beleaguered population needed something to -- beyond believe in -- practice. All sorts of philosophies were on offer. There was the Epicurean approach of go out big stylie, cramming whatever brings you pleasure into your face.
But the Roman baths were apparently full of unspeakable filth, so there came a point when that wasn't bringing people pleasure anymore.
As I read and experience it, that's a key tenet in Stoicism. Learning to acknowledge that what once brought a person pleasure might not always bring pleasure. And more than that: that tranquility trumps pleasure. There's a bit of pleasure built into tranquility (but you have to hang with it for a while to experience it).
Marcus Aurelius wrote and spoke on the topic of Stoicism, and really pioneered it in one form, to get his soldiers battle ready.
Seneca the Younger also made a career, though his ended ostensibly in a bathtub committing suicide with an emperor present to be sure he was really and truly dead (some people think this was an elaborate story to get out of harms' way, but no one will ever know what happened there).
I've found Stoicism to be a good philosophy to study and practice during times of decline. I got interested in it in 2012 while living in San Francisco, California. Everywhere I looked I saw suffering. I was repulsed to see syringes and human feces on the streets. I heard and witnessed tales of woe. It seemed as though people were still striving for what they'd defined as the good life. They talked and behaved as though it was somewhere out there, always just beyond their reach.
Stoicism takes a different approach. Rather than thinking there's something, somewhere that's better it asks us to consider in what ways things might be worse. And to prepare for that inevitability. Because it can always be worse. Bearing that in mind we keep a fresh perspective. It might even be a life-saving perspective. Compared to 'think happy' when you aren't, it instead says: ok, you are sad. (Acknowledge that sadness is just a mental state, a feeling, fleeting.) What would be worse than feeling sad? Having a gang of angry marauders pilfering your bag? What terrible things could happen on your way to the store today? Negative visualization means imagining said possilbities. You might find you're delighted when you get back to your apartment with your personhood intact.
Stoicism is a system of thinking. It might reshape your brain over time (it has mine) into something more resilient, more ready to respond and to respond well. To whatever life brings.
λ Stoicism is the perfect match for technology in that it advises us to approach life with as much of a plan, as much of a system, as can be applied to an organic experience.
Applied well, it leads to more tranquility. More tranquility leads to more productivity because a calm mind is a focused mind. A focused mind is a mind that can do the work. A mind that can focus and do the work is a mind that can survive a challenging, and changing, time.
I'm a multi-year Buddhist practitioner but have always been terrible at it. Once I landed on Stoicism I began to see why. Buddhism doesn't offer a practical thing or set of things to do to get through the day. Of course you could ostensibly escape to a monastery in the mountains of Japan but actually, could you? It's hung out there the way a carrot is dangled in front of a horse. How many people do you know in the Western world that have been invited to live in a Zen monastery? I only know one guy personally, and he didn't permanently move in.
Zen Buddhism holds out a fantasy that is always just beyond the reach of the modern person. In that way, and not that it's trying to, Stoicism wins. There are no Stoic places in the heavens or in the mountains far away that you might check yourself into so as to check out of reality.
λ Stoicism shows ways to keep both feet on the ground, even if the ground is shaking, capsizing or mudsliding.
I wrote Stoic Sytems to help you get your systems in place so that when the ground shakes you might have an inkling of what to do already in place.
While I'm on the topic of how this has impacted my life, you should know I've not always been a systems thinker. I used to be a below average systems thinker. I surrounded myself with as many people as possible who thought in sane ways, but I let myself off the hook when I acted poorly. No longer. I now know that I have room to grow and I start each day thinking Stoic thoughts and I end it with a Stoic review. To see how my behavior stacks up to the behaviors described in Stoic Systems.
I have a long way to go. Maybe you do, too. Probably not, but maybe. Let's do this together.
current focus: stoic systems
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