Seneca The Younger, or more popularly knows as Seneca was one of the most prolific stoic philosophers this world has every seen. He was also an advisor to King Nero.
He wasn’t just another academician from 50 AD who used to teach people about philosophy. No. He lived his teachings. He was a famous playwright and a writer.
One of the richest men in Rome, and of course an advisor to the king.
He had seen his fair share of hardships in life to the tune of being exiled to Corsica for 7 years. His life ended with a stoic suicide that was ordered by none other than King Nero himself.
He wrote mostly about tragedy and is most popularly known for a compilation of his letters which mention Lucillus quite a few times who was the governor of Sicily in around 65 AD.
His letters are an amazing resource for someone living in the 21st century.
I was too.
The letters have a very high applicability in our times as well. This is because he talks about loss of a friend, of a loved one, being rich and being poor, on contemplating our mortality and more real life day to day problems.
His philosophy, Stoicism in general is not an esoteric philosophy. It is very well connected to our daily lives.
In a letter on choosing your teachers he talks about quite a few prominent ideas that I thought of sharing with you guys.
How mad is he who leaves the lecture-room in a happy frame of mind simply because of applause from the ignorant! Why do you take pleasure in being praised by men whom you yourself cannot praise? Pythagoras made his pupils keep silence for five years; do you think that they had the right on that account to break out immediately into applause?
Seneca, Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers
The applicability of the above line in 2020 from the letter comes as no surprise to me.
In this day and age of online course creators, and people who make videos and write articles teaching other people for social media followers and views, bangs right on.
It makes me wonder how the 1st Century Rome was. We might think that the world has changed drastically, but by this sentence alone, I know there were teachers preaching only for the claps and applause.
Teachers must lead by example and not just by word. That does not mean you cannot share what you are learning while you’re learning something but it is always better to apply before you teach.
Those are the types of teachers we should seek. A real teacher does not live for the applause but for the transfer of the knowledge itself so that when he dies, his knowledge is passed on.
These outcries should be left for the arts which aim to please the crowd; let philosophy be worshiped in silence. Young men, indeed, must sometimes have free play to follow their impulses, but it should only be at times when they act from impulse, and when they cannot force themselves to be silent. Such praise as that gives a certain kind of encouragement to the hearers themselves, and acts as a spur to the youthful mind. But let them be roused to the matter, and not to the style; otherwise, eloquence does them harm, making them enamored of itself, and not of the subject.
Seneca, Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers
I love that he says philosophy is worshiped in silence. I believe that real work in life gets done when nobody is watching.
We all put a mask on when people are watching us. Stoic philosophy is not a mask we can wear that easily.
Principles and teachings of Stoicism need to be contemplated upon, studied and applied to the situations in life.
If we start getting aroused by the way a teacher teaches, by how that person dresses and portrays himself, we are on the wrong path.
As a student we must get charmed by the subject matter and it’s application rather than just the style of the person teaching the subject. especially when it comes to practical philosophy of living life.
I should accordingly deem more fortunate the man who has never had any trouble with himself; but the other, I feel, has deserved better of himself, who has won a victory over the meanness of his own nature, and has not gently led himself, but has wrestled his way, to wisdom.
Seneca, Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers
This is classic Seneca. Tragedy teaches us more than the good times.
It is fine to choose to follow people who never had a conflicting opinion with themselves.
Maybe they have never wanted to do too many things or loved many things and had to choose only one or two of them.
The experience of letting go of something that you love, the experience of fighting with your own self, makes you a better teacher and a better student.
There are obstacles in our path; so let us fight, and call to our assistance some helpers. “Whom,” you say, “shall I call upon? Shall it be this man or that?” There is another choice also open to you; you may go to the ancients; for they have the time to help you. We can get assistance not only from the living, but from those of the past.
Seneca, Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers
When looking for teachers, let’s look at the people who have lived in the past and have passed on their teachings, their philosophies on life and their experiences are going to be the first ones to choose.
Those guys have nowhere to go, so you practically have an unlimited amount of time with those people and their teachings.
I get a lot of people who ask me about finding a mentor.
Lo and behold, I give you unlimited resources at your disposal.
Let the Marcus Aurelius teach you leadership, let the President Lyndon Johnson teach you politics, let John Bogle teach you investing, let Charles Darwin teach you evolution and let Da Vinci teach you how to watch closely and think.
Choose as a guide one whom you will admire more when you see him act than when you hear him speak.
Seneca, Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers
And when you have chose from the dead, choose a teacher from the living.
But don’t choose too many teachers at once. Look for one or two sources and then dive deep into those sources, building upon what you learn from them.
The real teaching does not happen while listening to the teacher. It happens when you think about what the teacher taught.
The best way to find a great teacher is by observing at what they do and not what they say.
Follow people who were in a similar situation as you in their lives and progressed from there.
Look at what they did to come out victorious on the other end.
Philosophy has been popularized as something learnt in a college from a 2000 page textbook where you try to find meaning of life itself.
As Ryan Holiday jokes, philosophy is not just limited to academia where people in turtleneck t-shirts ask difficult questions about life, rather philosophy is the practical guide to living life.
Many people think philosophy is something that you have once you have become successful in your life. They could not be more wrong.
Look at the masters like Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, they never got a philosophy degree in their life and yet they are given the ranks of the great philosophers.
Shah Rukh Khan, one of the greatest actors India has ever seen is famously quoted with the line: “Don’t become a philosopher before you become rich”
Well in my opinion, that advice is simply wrong. Now of course, I am not even nearly successful as Shah Rukh Khan, but I know a faulty advice when I see one.
You see, philosophy is a set of rules we choose to live our lives by, successful or not, rich or not.
Successful people have their own philosophy to life, with which they stick by throughout. That is why they are successful and not the other way round.
Let’s take the example of Shah Rukh Khan himself.
Once he had seen poverty closely, and tasted success through extreme amounts of hard work he got a clear picture on what he wanted in his life and the direction he wanted his life to follow. So, he decided a path for his life.
Every step he took had to be in that very direction. In short, he had a philosophy that revolved around the fact that being poor is bad. He never wanted to go back to poverty.
Living up to that one rule that he had constructed on his own for himself, was his philosophy about for HIS life.
This (philosophy) has been quoted as the biggest motivation of Shah Rukh Khan’s life by none other than he himself.
We are an evolved species because we have a philosophy on life. Even animals have a philosophy in their lives. What makes us Humans different is that we can choose our own philosophy, construct and edit it as we experience situations in our lives.
This gives us immense power over not just our own emotions and momentum but also on the events that can happen around us. It gives us power over events and situations that would simply be out of our control.
Vegans have a philosophy towards animal love, academicians have a philosophy towards knowledge, Maria Popova has a philosophy about consuming interesting art and sharing it with her millions of readers, Elon Musk has a strong philosophy revolving around evolving the human race and so forth.
So, in this article I took apart the meditations or set of rules that the Emperor Of Rome from 161-180 A.D. used to live by. This guy, none other than Marcus Aurelius, has been treated as one of the key figures in stoic philosophy as well as the history of the world as we know it.
Marcus Aurelius was known as one of the last good emperors of Rome under whose rule Rome flourished. After him the downfall of the empire started.
Marcus chose mornings to write his meditations, not for publication but for himself. It has been discussed at a lot of places that this compilation of meditations were more or less his own journal for himself and the lessons he was learning as he was living as the most powerful man on Earth.
For all of you who might be unaware of stoic philosophy, it is a way of living life where we take events as they are. The aim is to remove the negative and positive connotations from them.
If you are a Game Of Thrones fan, in the last season, have a look at when Baelish gives advice to Sansa Stark about warfare.
He says something along the lines of “Every fight must be fought at the same time. Imagine you are being attacked by everyone from all directions at all times. Prepare yourself mentally for that situation so when it really occurs, it does not have the element of surprise anymore”
Well, that sounds a lot like stoicism, doesn’t it? The aim of this article is to give you a few key set of ideas that might make you think a bit deeper on what you want to do in your life and give you a sense of control and direction.
I have laid out my interpretations of these various phrases by Marcus Aurelius, in his journal: Meditations. If you have a different interpretation on either of these, I would love to hear about them in the comments below.
1. Through not observing what is in the mind of another a man has seldom been seen to be unhappy; but those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.
We must be at peace with ourselves. The aim is to have a deep understanding of ourselves through experience and deliberate practice.
If we do not put in the time to become familiar with ourselves and who we are, we will never be able to find a true sense of happiness. We can always be happy when we do not know what others are thinking, however, if we are not sure about what we truly want in our lives, we can never be happy.
I see and meet a lot of people my age, people who would otherwise be extremely happy with what they are doing but for some reason cannot seem to get the much needed peace of mind. They are either thinking about leaving their current job or have already left it and feel empty inside.
This situation occurs with people who either have not listened to who they are, have not paid close attention to their child like spirit and taken steps to nurture that spirit and take action upon what it wants or people who listened to it but ignored it and went along the masses.
It becomes extremely important today to listen to your heart and know that most career choices which would have been laughed upon 10 years ago, offer millions of dollars. For example, being a gamer, being a YouTuber.
Be in tune with yourself, the voice inside you and try and resonate your life according to it and not the other way round. I have kept this point at number one, because I believe mindset is the key. Self awareness is one of the most powerful assets we can have in our lives.
So I push you towards spending some time alone. After the lockdown is lifted go for a coffee on your own, deal with the stupid stares and the pity the waiter shows you when they see you’re having coffee alone. Have some fun and discover yourself and your thoughts.
Try to figure out who you are, take a deep dive into your own heart and mind. See what drives you, see what keeps you down. Just by knowing these things we can improve our choices in our lives by leaps and bounds and move a step closer towards happiness.
2. Let no act be done without a purpose, nor otherwise than according to the perfect principles of art.
Every single action we take, be it in our career, relationships, business, health or any other subject, there always needs to be a higher purpose.
In the past 5 years of studying all these successful people, picking their brains and being able to work with some of them them I have seen this common trait occur again and again. They not only take actions with purpose, but walk, talk and live with purpose.
People like Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, Neil Strauss have made systems in their life which allow them to do everything with a purpose.
For example, the best selling author Neil Strauss has automated his lunch delivery for everyday so he does not have to waste time in deciding what to eat.
He uses an app while writing, that locks his computer on one single screen(the word processor he uses) until he writes a specific number of words.
He is able to use that time and brainpower to do something that he is the best at.
Yes, we have to be sure of what we want in our lives and what our purpose is, which the previous meditation will help you achieve.
It is not just about knowing our passion in life. Maybe, I want a better job, or a raise. So, all the actions that I take during my day should point me towards getting a better job or a raise.
Every single thing I do, person I help, things I learn should put me one step closer to my virtues and my ultimate goal. That is why understanding ourselves, and knowing our goals is highly important in life. They help us figure out what needs to be done everyday.
Everything we do, has to be done with a greater sense of purpose.
3. Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away.
If I manage to remove my opinion on how a certain something should have been done, I will be left with nothing to complain about. Sometimes we believe that there is only one way to do something, and when people tend to not follow that line of progression it takes a mental toll on us.
When these do not get followed we naturally complain and destroy our own sense of composure. And when we remove the expectation that everyone will behave according to how we want them to, we end up not complaining about things at all.
Once we do that, everything that happens around us, has no effect on us. That brings for us the ultimate peace of mind where we can think inwards, work on our inner self, figure ourselves and our true purpose out and in turn achieve real mastery.
Just by removing the predisposed opinion on events happening around us we remove the ability of that event to negatively affect us in the long haul.
I want to give you an example here just to make it clear in case the words above felt a bit abstract: Let’s say I believe everyone should shun offline marketing channels and take up online marketing channels.
When someone I know does not do that, I get angry and complain. And that harms my mental state, even though it has nothing to do with my life or business.
All I have to do to make the situation better, or make it impossible to occur, is to remove my opinion on offline advertising. Now, I do not want to remove that opinion, well, I don’t have to completely terminate it.
I just remove my opinion from other people’s actions. If I hate offline advertising, I won’t use it. I cannot expect everyone to do the same. Once I take a note of this fact, everything that happens around me is just an event.
The negative connotation to that event is automatically removed from the equation.
4. Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good.
When people talk about dying, or death we say that the whole thing is a bit morbid. However, there are so many successful people who are motivated by death.
It is much less about death and much more about us realizing that our time on this planet is very limited. So, the question to you is are you doing enough good for other people that when you die you will be remembered?
And by that I do not even mean being remembered by millions of people. Even a 100 people? Those are a 100 human beings whose lives as well as their family’s lives would have been blessed by something that you did.
That, now is a huge accomplishment. Much bigger than most of us would ever do in our lifetimes.
MEMENTO MORI: a saying that reminds us of being mortals. One day we are going to turn to dust, but what we do before that one day comes makes us who we are.
Marcus Aurelius made great choices. He felt great and proud of himself of not raping slaves, not treating people with disdain and bringing unnecessary harm to the ones around him, yes even the ones in his family who conspired against him.
Imagine, the most powerful man on Earth, who can do whatever he wants going against what other powerful men did at those times(rape, drink and go crazy) choosing not to do anything like that and bring no harm to the slaves around him.
Now that is a great decision.
5. Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.
This quote is something that piques my interest.
I have lived by this quote indirectly.
It has a deeper meaning behind it.
We tend to rely on our past accomplishments and become complacent. However, in the real world, these accomplishments do not last long. Same is the case with negative stuff.
So if you are doing something good, you have to do something good everyday.
If you are facing criticism and pushback from haters, well, it too will last for a very small period of time.
Keep moving forward.
6. About what am I now employing my own soul? On every occasion I must ask myself this question, and inquire, What have I now in this part of me which they call the ruling principle? and whose soul have I now,—that of a child, or of a young man, or of a feeble woman, or of a tyrant, or of a domestic animal, or of a wild beast?
Well, this one took me quite some time to get my head around. I had to push myself quite a bit to really understand this one and translate this to normal people English.
The gist is simple. He talks about having a different viewpoints for different situations that occur in life. Just by having a different viewpoint or in other words getting into different shoes each time a different situation strikes we use all of our potential or soul.
As Ramit Sethi says we all have lenses we view the world by. Now, how willing are you to just for the moment put on another pair of glasses and see the situation as someone else might see it from.
This would require a huge deal of empathy towards others, and that is what makes it difficult.
We must strive towards using as much of our brain as often as possible for as many situations as we can.
Napoleon Bonaparte was a master of this form of thinking. He went against the popular belief of having a big army to invade.
In a lot of his battles, he would March in with an outnumbered ratio of 1 to 2 or even 1 to 3. This would give him the flexibility to move at double speed than the enemy and steer the direction of the battle itself.
This kind of warfare also gave him the ability to find ways to attack the enemy that they would not expect. Napoleon had to be flexible in envisioning various scenarios and employ totally different ways to move in on the enemy forces.
This gave him the ability to really step into the shoes of the other person and think on what they might be planning with the information and the size of the army they had they had.
It simply showed him that the other person because of the sheer size of the army isn’t going to be able to out maneuver him quickly.
He also employed the fact that if he is able to scare off a chunk of opponent’s army, the whole formation would disintegrate leaving an opening for his small yet flexible squadron to mount a surprise attack.
Now, I believe this type of thinking is not uncommon and it should definitely be cultivated.
7. It is in our power to have no opinion about a thing, and not to be disturbed in our soul; for things themselves have no natural power to form our judgments.
Situations or circumstances are not alive. They do not carry a very specific instruction sheet with them on how we should act.
We carry a manual on how we react to situations and happenings in our lives. Normally this manual that we carry is built upon the past experiences we have had in our lives.
A true stoic however, studies the past experiences in a neutral light and takes notes from them.
We have an initial emotional response to those events and the lessons learnt that hinders our future experience.
Guess what, manuals can be edited, rewritten and reprinted whenever we want.
The aim is to not let a situation affect us in a way that negatively affects our life or our state of mind. A situation is just a situation, neither negative nor positive.
It just is.
8. Accustom thyself to attend carefully to what is said by another, and as much as it is possible, be in the speaker’s mind.
Hearing is different than listening. All we have to do is be present in the moment and really hone in on what the person is saying.
By doing this we can step into their shoes and watch the world with a totally different perspective. It is great to see the different parts of the world with your perspective but even better is to see one part of the world with hundreds of different perspectives.
A lot of people I meet ask me why I read so many books or what is this obsession with consuming so much information. Well, all that reading and constant learning gives me a different set of eyes to look at the world from.
By being able to look at the world from someone else’s reality I can not only learn what not to do but it also teaches me about human beings in general and how we make decisions, and that in turn places the power in my hand.
9. To the jaundiced honey tastes bitter, and to those bitten by mad dogs water causes fear; and to little children the ball is a fine thing. Why then am I angry? Dost thou think that a false opinion has less power than the bile in the jaundiced or the poison in him who is bitten by a mad dog?
Having an opinion is natural for human beings. However, having an opinion that clouds our judgement is not.
The world can be seen through many different lenses and everyone views the world in their own way. Now, it is not necessary that you like what I like and you hate what I hate.
So, having our own opinion is great but trying to impose it over someone else or the situations around us causes nothing but a mish mash of the events we do not want or like.
What Marcus Aurelius says is simple, having a false opinion on something is more dangerous than anything else. He pushes us to educate ourselves before we make our decisions based on half knowledge or stuff that we just heard from someone without credibility.
It might take us an extra minute or two to verify the statement before we make it public, and those extra minutes are going to be worth it because the scenario on the other end could even make us lose everything we have.
Robert Greene talks about this in his book 33 strategies of war as well. Never trust information from one single source. It could be that the person is trying to betray us or laying a plot for some future action.
Any information before being acted upon should be verified through multiple sources and then carefully thought upon before taking the final step. This once again, gives us power over people around us.
10. Be not ashamed to be helped; for it is thy business to do thy duty like a soldier in the assault on a town. How then, if being lame thou canst not mount up on the battlements alone, but with the help of another it is possible?
Okay, I am going to pivot a bit from the example Marcus Aurelius gives. Of course it is an apt example for the time he lived in. It was a time without internet, phones or anything else.
People wanted real power, power to dominate the planet and rule over everyone else.
Marcus Aurelius lived in a time where conspiracies were common, overthrowing emperors was what revolting people used to plan in the darkness of the night. He lived in a time where family conspired against family.
His own daughter, Lucilla conspired to have her brother(Marcus Aurelius’s son, Commodus) assassinated.
Those were some interesting times. However, a lot of this advice as with stoicism in general is quite practically applicable in this century.
Let’s talk about the so called ‘self made millionaires’. Are they really, ‘SELF MADE’?
Yes they are self made, only if we ignore the part following people might have played negatively or positively in their lives into shaping these so called ‘SELF MADE’ millionaires.
Parents, Friends, Family Members, Co-Workers, Random people they met, People whose interviews, documentaries, movies that inspired these millionaires, their employees, government, politics and let’s not forget a lot of times their pets to keep their sanity in place.
Humans are a collaborative species, we need help of each other to sustain the species and live for years to come.
Just imagine if you were the only human being on the planet. Not to mention the insanity it would cause, but think of what you would not be able to do without anyone around.
11. Be thou erect, or be made erect
HaHa. This one always gets me to giggle.
Are you with me? Yea, let’s move forward.
So, what Marcus Aurelius says in this simple yet extremely applicable quote is that sometimes we need to be flexible. Even though he uses the exact opposite word of flexible.
If you’re a fan of Bruce Lee, you might have watched his video where he says ‘be like water my friend’
Water takes the shape of the container it is poured in. Water adapts to what is expected of it and in the long run even destroys huge rocks that stand in its way.
Then we also have Conficius who talks about the fact that a strong bamboo is the one that bends along with the wind. That is the bamboo or the green reed which survives the storm.
12. To the rational animal the same act is according to nature and according to reason.
So, this one took some time for me to contemplate and work upon.
Human beings are rational animals. It means that we think before we act and we have set rules we act upon. This means we human beings are not expected to be reactive but to be proactive in what we do.
Any situation or scenario needs thinking before doing, and in consistently doing something like this we develop a habit of following virtues in our lives. These virtues then become our second nature.
As we apply this logic and reasons more and more to our daily life these become our truth. So we need to consciously develop our nature in a way that makes us balance and think before we take certain actions.
With enough deliberate practice, this virtue then also becomes automatic and ingrained into who we are.
13. Life must be reaped like the ripe ears of corn. One man is born; another dies.
There are a lot of moments in our lives which make us change who we are.
It is in our power if we let these moments become either big or small. If I want I could learn something new every hour of the day and change who I am every single hour.
But I will have to kill who I was an hour ago and a new ME will be born. Life then is a series of births and rebirths where we constantly improve and reinvent ourselves in order to grow and become a better human being.
Charles Darwin, had quite an experience with nature and recognizing species within England and he already knew quite a bit about nature at that point. However, once he reached the island of Galapagos, he realized there were thousands of new species, alive and dead which he knew nothing about.
If at that moment, he would have not thought wow, there is so much I don’t know about, he might have never collected the samples that then he worked upon throughout his life and we would have never seen the evolution theory.
So, he had to kill the old Charles Darwin and a new Charles Darwin was born who had more excitement, more awe about nature and even more so curious about what lies beyond that he had seen in England.
14. Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if thou wilt ever dig.
All human beings are made up of the same framework. The building block for each one of us is the same.
The atom, the cells, the body systems, the skeleton. We are all same from the inside.
However, our mind and the way we use it makes us totally different from each other.
If need be we can always reach deep down inside and get to our core where we all have that touch of human-ness. We all know what the right thing is and all we have to do is look on the inside and act on what our heart says.
15. On the occasion of every act ask thyself, How is this with respect to me? Shall I repent of it? A little time and I am dead, and all is gone. What more do I seek, if what I am now doing is the work of an intelligent living being, and a social being, and one who is under the same law with God?
Marcus Aurelius, wrote these thoughts out for himself every morning.
He; the most powerful man on earth at that time wrote to himself that if he ever has a difficult decision to make, all he has to do is ask himself of certain things before taking the next step on it.
We must ask ourselves “if this action that I am about to undertake complies with my belief set or not?”
Will it make the world a better place and my name and legacy a good one after I am dead?
Is the action that I am about take, will I be able to say that I made an intelligent decision here after I am dead?
16. Thou hast not leisure [or ability] to read. But thou hast leisure [or ability] to check arrogance: thou hast leisure to be superior to pleasure and pain: thou hast leisure to be superior to love of fame, and not to be vexed at stupid and ungrateful people, nay even to care for them.
Even if you are not as educated as a doctor, or a lawyer you still have the ability to check your actions.
You still have the ability to detach yourself from the current situation and look at it as it is. Something I learnt from stoicism and Ryan Holiday: situations are not negative or positive, situations are just situations.
You have the ability to detach yourself from the greed of fame, and to detach yourself from the comments and actions of people who do not want your betterment.
There are going to be all types of situations and people in your life, and a lot of ungrateful people but you can still take charge and detach yourself from those people and their deeds.
17. Everything exists for some end,—a horse, a vine. Why dost thou wonder? Even the sun will say, I am for some purpose, and the rest of the gods will say the same. For what purpose then art thou,—to enjoy pleasure? See if common sense allows this.
A big idea that all the stoic followed was of fate.
AMOR FATI, which translate to love of fate. They believed that everything exists for some or the other reason.
Every single thing, every single situation that occurs. From horses to grapes to the sun, has a purpose to fulfill.
Even the situations that are not in our favor have something to tell us, something to teach us. The stoics had a way of looking for neutrality in every situation and every occurrence around them.
What is your fate going to be? What purpose are you fulfilling by being on Earth? Are you just existing for pleasure, or are you here to serve a higher calling, serve your true purpose on the planet.
18. Receive [wealth or prosperity] without arrogance; and be ready to let it go.
If there is one thing I have seen in all the successful people that I have studied over the last 6 years is that they all are extremely humble and have a student mindset.
The most successful people I have met have often times just taken out their notepad and started taking notes while talking to me which seems to amaze me every time since these guys have amazingly successful businesses and amassed superb wealth.
Surely they know more than me, however they always seem to grind one or two lessons in each conversation and are very humble about it.
Seneca was one of the richest people in Rome, an advisor to Emperor Nero, and a celebrated playwright in Rome. He had this monthly practice of taking 24 hours every month and acting as if he was poor.
He wood dress shabby, live on measly food exactly like a homeless person.
Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared? – Seneca
We all tend to underestimate our future misery and are never prepared for tough times.
This is an amazing lesson to learn from the stoics. Be humble when on your way to top and be ready to lose it all if it ever happens.
19. To-day I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out all trouble, for it was not outside, but within and in my opinions.
Ryan Holiday was a talking about a situation he sometimes finds himself in where he is getting frustrated and says to his wife ‘you’re frustrating me’ and she says, I cannot frustrate you. Only YOU can frustrate you.
Situations are situations, neither negative nor positive. Be an observer and not a participant and you will see the world as it is, and you will see how to make decisions without being affected by them. It’s all in our own control.
20. No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such.
Bla Bla Bla Bla, Bla Bla.
That is how most of us are. Bla, Bla, Bla and on and on.
In this world of social media we tend to show the flashy parts of our lives, rent a Lamborghini for social media posts and on and on.
All we need to do is walk the talk. Put our money where our mouth is.
It is easy to blabber about how things need to be done, or how you can do it better, but what takes real courage is actually taking up the charge and doing them.
We humans are naturally compelled to compare ourselves with one another. We are continually measuring people’s status, the levels of respect and attention they receive and noticing any differences between what we have and what they have. For some of us, this need to compare serves as a spur to excel through our work. For others, it can turn into deep envy – feelings of inferiority and frustration that lead to covert attacks and sabotage. Nobody admits to acting out of envy.
You must recognize the early warning signs – praise and bids for friendship that seem effusive and out of proportion; subtle digs at you under the guise of good-natured humor; apparent uneasiness with your success. It is most likely to crop up among friends or your peers in the same profession. Learn to deflect envy by drawing attention away from yourself. Develop your sense of self-worth from internal standards and not incessant comparisons.
Robert Greene, The Laws Of Human Nature: The Law Of Envy
I went through an interview of the author Robert Greene talking about his book, The Laws Of Human Nature.
The daily stoic team had to visit Robert personally at his house for the interview as opposed to the regular thing; getting Robert to type out the answers to their questions and sending them via a simple email.
Robert had a stroke sometime before the launch of his book and was unable to properly use the left side of his body. So he was unable to simply type and send over his answers. He had to learn quite a few things right from the start, like getting his body used to using the left hand once again.
The reason Robert’s writing stands the test of time is because of his storytelling. Most of his examples span centuries back, so these stories have stood the test of time themselves.
Hence Robert’s work has always had the charm of feeling like an evergreen piece. The information in these would be applicable to our current and the future decades as well.
Robert put special attention to envy in his book and the interview.
In this book he explores envy and mentions it as one of the most poisonous human characteristics.
To take Envy next: we can see on what grounds, against what persons, and in what states of mind we feel it. Envy is pain at the sight of such good fortune as consists of the good things already mentioned; we feel it towards our equals; not with the idea of getting something for ourselves, but because the other people have it.
We shall feel it if we have, or think we have, equals; and by ‘equals’ I mean equals in birth, relationship, age, disposition, distinction, or wealth. We feel envy also if we fall but a little short of having everything; which is why people in high place and prosperity feel it-they think every one else is taking what belongs to themselves.
Also if we are exceptionally distinguished for some particular thing, and especially if that thing is wisdom or good fortune. Ambitious men are more envious than those who are not. So also those who profess wisdom; they are ambitious to be thought wise. Indeed, generally, those who aim at a reputation for anything are envious on this particular point. And small-minded men are envious, for everything seems great to them.
The good things which excite envy have already been mentioned. The deeds or possessions which arouse the love of reputation and honor and the desire for fame, and the various gifts of fortune, are almost all subject to envy; and particularly if we desire the thing ourselves, or think we are entitled to it, or if having it puts us a little above others, or not having it a little below them. It is clear also what kind of people we envy; that was included in what has been said already: we envy those who are near us in time, place, age, or reputation.
Hence the line: “Ay, kin can even be jealous of their kin. “
Aristotle in Rhetoric goes to great lengths talking about envy, it’s ill effects as well as how envy can take seed in someone’s thoughts to nurture into a fully grown cactus that can harm the people around it if not handled carefully.
(Fun Fact: Aristotle was Alexander the Great’s Teacher from the age of 14, and it is because of Aristotle that Alexander didn’t really force Greece’s culture over the kingdoms he later conquered in his life.)
Aristotle explains envy very simply. Envy being an emotion that we can feel when others get something in their lives that we may not have. It can be success, better job, better spouse, more money.
People can also feel envious in general if they fall short of having everything they dream about. Now this can even be a good thing as for a lot of successful people this type of envy has acted as a catalyst to work hard towards what they want to achieve.
This type of envy is relatively easier to control and use for our benefit. The other however, is extremely poisonous.
I know the hatred and envy of your hearts. Ye are not great enough not to know of hatred and envy. Then be great enough not to be ashamed of them!
For a person to confess that they have envy against someone is almost impossible. Confronting someone about them harboring envy can turn into an ugly situation as these people act enraged, and it is not a surprise that there have been many a criminal cases of violence committed by such people when confronted.
This non acceptance is because envy has been allotted the prestigious position within the 7 deadliest sins of mankind by many religions.
As Nietzsche points out, just accepting the hatred and envy we might feel for someone is a great deed in itself.
In order to overcome the negative effects of envy, we must accept it. Accepting that we can be envious of our friends or family at times is the first step of being able to use it to our advantage.
Once we know that someone else’s progress makes us envious, we can use it as fuel to push ourselves to do better. This turns the feeling of envy into a healthy competition against the people we feel envious about.
We must learn to be okay with these emotions and we need to realize that they are a part of human nature. This puts us in the right frame of mind to digest and being empathetic with someone’s progress or problems.
According to Gen 4:1-16, Cain murders his brother Abel, which is also called as the first murder and then lies to God when asked “Where is your brother?”
This first murder has it’s roots deeply dug into envy. Cain envied that God had regard for Abel’s offering of his firstlings or first flock and that God didn’t have any regard for Cain’s offerings of the fruit of the ground.
A classic example of how we can lose everything comes from Genesis 4:1-16, where Cain murders his brother Abel and lies to God about his brother’s whereabouts.
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.
A simple emotion of envy dooms Cain as he is left to wander the earth. All because of the bout of insanity that came over him because of envy against his brother.
We too if don’t control our envy, can result in losing ourselves only to realize it too late that our lives are ruined by the emotion we failed to accept and work upon.
Robert Greene warns us of the poisonous envy that some people might harbor against us. An envious person is quite dangerous and we should always be aware of such people.
On hearing of the interesting events which have happened in the course of a man’s experience, many people will wish that similar things had happened in their lives too, completely forgetting that they should be envious rather of the mental aptitude which lent those events the significance they possess when he describes them ; to a man of genius they were interesting adventures; but to the dull perceptions of an ordinary individual they would have been stale, everyday occurrences.
This is, in the highest degree, the case with many of Goethe’s and Byron’s poems, which are obviously founded upon actual facts; where it is open to a foolish reader to envy the poet because so many delightful things happened to him, instead of envying that mighty power of fantasy which was capable of turning a fairly common experience into something so great and beautiful.
According to Arthur Schopenhauer being washed with envy is an emotion for the lesser minds, for the dull, for people who do not understand themselves and human emotion.
For the geniuses, listening to someone else’s interesting experience feels like an adventure in itself.
Schopenhauer also talks about recognizing the envious people around us by telling these suspected people good news or bad news about you on purpose.
The people who harbor toxic envy are adept at disguising it. They have done it so often in their life that they can control their feelings and body language when given the positive or the negative news.
Human beings can become masters at controlling our major bodily response to such bouts of envy publicly, however as nature intended our species to survive even without the use of language, micro-expressions are one thing that are almost impossible to hide.
When you tell them a piece of good news about yourself, for a microsecond you might see a slight disgust or a negative reaction in their lips and their eyes before they put on the happy mask once again and vice versa.
Noticing the eyes is important.
One way to keep others from envying you is by downplaying your own success and pushing the role that luck or chance played in you getting where you are now. We see this with a lot of successful people in their interviews.
Although there is always some luck or serendipity involved but an interesting fact about people who work hard and learn a lot is that they tend to be luckier than the rest and fall upon great opportunities quite a bit more often than others.
When Napoleon Hill went to interview Andre Carnegie in 1908, Carnegie mentioned the following when asked about luck and success.
A man may, and sometimes men do, fall into opportunities through mere chance, or luck; but they have a queer way of falling out of these opportunities the first time opposition overtakes them.
Carnegie then goes ahead and downplays the role of luck a bit and highlights that along with luck there are 10 more things that define “power” according to Carnegie.
Carnegie means, a person is not always going to be lucky, and if they are lucky and unprepared, they are overtaken easily.
Human history has thousands if not hundreds of thousands of examples where someone got power or success by mere luck only to lose it all the next second to an uprising as they were not prepared for what comes with the power.
One of the most recent examples is that over 70% of lottery winners go broke within months of receiving their winnings.
We only excite envy in a child by telling him to compare his own worth with the worth of others. He ought rather to compare himself with a concept of reason…’See how such and such a child behaves himself!’
An exclamation of this kind produces only a very ignoble mode of thinking; for if a man estimates his own worth by the worth of others , he either tries to elevate himself above others, or to detract from another’s worth. But this last is envy.
We then only seek to impute faults to others, in order that we may compare favorably with them. Thus the spirit of emulation, wrongly applied only arouses envy.
Working on such deep rooted basic laws of human nature, we must work upon ourselves and start noticing these things for us and people dependent upon us. As parents we must take into account what culture are we building for our children.
It is by our mistakes the children and their future can be ruined.
It follows from this that we are attached to our fellows less by the sentiment of their pleasures than by the sentiment of their pains, for we see for better in the later, the identity of our natures with theirs and the guarantees of their attachment to us.
If our common needs unite us by interest, our common miseries unite us by affection. The sight of a happy man inspires in others less love than envy. They would gladly accuse him of usurping a right he can not have in giving himself an exclusive happiness; and amour-propre suffers, too in making us feel that this man has no need of us.
But who does not pity the unhappy man whom he sees suffering? Who would not want to deliver him from his ills if it only cost a wish for that? Imagination puts us in the place of the miserable man rather than in that of the happy man.
We feel that one of these conditions touches us more closely than the other. Pity is sweet because in putting ourselves in the place of one who suffers, we nevertheless feel the pleasure of not suffering as he does. Envy is bitter because the sight a happy man, far from putting the envious man in his place, makes the envious man regret not being there. It seems that the one exempts us from the ills he suffers, and the other takes from us the good he enjoys.
Do you wish, then, to excite and nourish in the heart of a young man the first movements of nascent sensibility and turn his character towards beneficence and goodness? Do not put the seeds of pride vanity, and envy in him by the deceptive image of the happiness of men.
This sentence was used by Neil in a different context, but it highlights the very real fact that we must weigh our worth through our work and the difference we make in the world and this is the quality we must ingrain in our children right from infancy.
Perhaps a more uncomfortable emotion is at the source—such as envy or paranoia. You need to look at this square in the eye. Dig below any trigger points to see where they started. For these purposes, it might be wise to use a journal in which you record your Self-assessments with ruthless objectivity. Your greatest danger here is your ego and how it makes you unconsciously maintain illusions about yourself. These may be comforting in the moment, but in the long run they make you defensive and unable to learn or progress.
Robert Greene suggests we can get started with overcoming our envious nature by using self assessments, journals and noticing small things in our nature and the people around us.
We can use this even for our kids. Get them to self assess their work, rate it and develop a habit of thinking about themselves under the light of the work they do, things they make and problems they solve.
Robert explores 17 other laws in his book, The Laws Of Human Nature
Luckily we are not living in the times where being distracted can get us eaten by a lion.
With that being said, stupid mistakes can cost us a lot, even in 21st century.
The aim should always be to idiot proof our lives. We are but human beings, and no matter how hard we try we are going to make mistakes.
Small mistakes because we were distracted can cause huge side effects. The solution is to clear out your brain periodically so you can work on what needs to be worked upon with a clear mind.
Am I right?
We must strive to create an environment around us that allows us to make mistakes without deadly/living on the street kind of repercussions.
I have a ton of stuff swarming my brain throughout the day. It becomes imperative for me to put it at one place to be referenced later so that I can focus on the work at hand.
That allows me to work better and provide better results for my clients.
With me? Let’s carry on.
Here are a few ideas to idiot proof your life:
Quick 2 Minute Morning Journal
Maintain a quick 2 minute morning journal: You write down everything that is eating at you right after you wake up. This helps you sort your mind and get to what needs to be worked upon that day.
Organize Information Digitally
2. Get used to putting ideas and references down into a software like Evernote, Google Keep, Notion etc. for later: This will help you focus on task at hand instead of going down the rabbit hole of content consumption.
Review Your Brain’s Library Weekly
3. Weekly Review: Setup a weekly review where you go through both of the above libraries of content and sort them like a second brain.
These things might seem simple, but are highly effective in organizing your thoughts, especially when real pen is put to paper!