“It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. To know you want to quit but to plant your feet and keep inching closer until you take the impenetrable fortress you’ve decided to lay siege to in your own life—that’s persistence.” — Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is The Way
Life is a balanced tale of positive and negative, good and bad, happiness and sadness. Certainly, we do not need to do much to navigate the happy side of life. We just bask in the flow. However, when life rotates to its sad side, we become confused, discouraged, and exhausted. We lack the emotional grit to move forward in these times because we have accustomed ourselves to seeing only the bright side of life. Like Robert Greene said, “Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life.”
But this should not be the case. The beauty of life is in its vicissitudes; its ups and downs. Therefore, it is important to find ways to go through life not only in the good times but also in times of adversity. A way to do this is by applying the principles of stoicism.
Stoic philosophy focuses on freeing oneself from passion and maintaining indifference in times of joy and grief. It teaches one to develop positive emotions and, at the same time, decrease negative ones independent of good or bad events.
I consider stoicism one of the perfect recipes for the good life because, unlike other philosophies that were mainly founded on the thoughts of their proponents, stoic principles were founded on the experiences and personal stories of ancient stoics. These stoic philosophers used these principles to sail through life’s stormy waters. And because of their success, many politicians, businessmen, and thought leaders throughout history have followed the philosophy of stoicism.
So my post today will be a tad different. I will not just furnish you with the best quotes drawn from inspirational quotes, motivational quotes, philosophy quotes or life quotes; I will tell you the stories of these men. It is my expectation that from these stories, you would draw out useful lessons to withstand challenges in your life and business.
Four Stories, Four Lessons
The story of Zeno of Citium
“I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck.” — Zeno
He is known as the founder of stoicism. Zeno was not always a philosopher; he was a merchant. Around 304 BC, he was on a trading voyage and got shipwrecked. Having lost almost everything, he went to Athens. In Athens, philosophers Crates and Stilpo introduced him to philosophy. This was a defining moment in Zeno’s life. Little wonder he made the funny but profound statement: “I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck.” In a painted porch, Zeno would later teach people, his disciples, what is now known as Stoicism. These principles would be propagated throughout time and settle firmly in the hearts of three men: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus.
Lesson 1:Always see the positive in any situation. Events would not always go as you planned them, but there are always lessons to extract from them.
“It is in virtue that happiness consists, for virtue is the state of mind which tends to make the whole of life harmonious.” — Zeno
You may not have the needed funds to start your business, but do not see it as an entirely bad situation. Why not choose to see the delay as a learning process? Why not see your current job as a training ground?
You made a bad investment and lost your money. It is a painful experience, but the truth is, it toughens you as an investor and teaches you the mistakes to avoid.
The positives in a situation may be minute, but they are there. Find them and cling to them.
The story of Marcus Aurelius
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.“
— Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was one of the best leaders the world has ever known. Young Marcus caught the eye of Hadrian, the emperor of Rome, through his academic accomplishments. When Marcus turned 17, the emperor began planning to make Marcus emperor.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Hadrian first adopted 51-year-old Antoninus Pius to succeed him as emperor on the condition that the latter would adopt Marcus. Antoninus ruled for 23 years before passing on. Then, Marcus became the Roman emperor.
Unlike Antoninus’s peaceful and prosperous reign, Marcus’s was riddled with difficulties, especially wars and diseases. He was at war with the Parthian empire for control over lands in the East. Although Rome won the battle, returning troops brought a disease that would later be known as the Antonine Plague. The pandemic lasted for years (165–180 AD) and wiped out a large portion of the Roman population. Amid the pandemic, Marcus still had to battle the German tribes that invaded and attacked a city in Rome.
As if that was not enough, a general in his army, Avidius Cassius tried to usurp Marcus. Cassius had heard a rumor that Marcus was critically ill, so he declared himself emperor. Marcus had to travel to the East to regain control. Thankfully, he did not have to fight because Cassius was killed by his own soldiers. Relieved, Marcus traveled around the eastern provinces with his wife to re-establish his authority. But his joy was cut short: his wife died during this tour.
Marcus leaned on the principles of stoicism to deal with his challenges. He used his journal, Meditations, to guide himself into building a character of virtue, justice, wisdom, and immunity to temptations.
Lesson 2: Understand that the challenges of life are never-ending, therefore, you must develop a character of fortitude and wisdom to help you overcome them. Learn to be calm in the midst of trials. Constantly remind yourself of your strength, your virtue, and your goals.
“To be calm is the highest achievement of the self.” — Zen Proverb
Do not think that you can never own your business because of the challenges you face. Do not give up. Do not run away.
Also, one bad investment does not make you a bad investor. Because you do not control the market, you cannot expect to win every time. But losses shouldn’t deflate your strength.
The story of Seneca
“The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” — Seneca
Seneca’s story was one with a happy beginning and a not-so-happy ending. But he was able to trudge through the murky waters because he was exposed to stoic principles early in life.
He was the son of a wealthy writer known as Seneca the Elder. Seneca the Elder hired Attalus the Stoic to tutor Seneca the Younger. Attalus taught young Seneca to commit to self-improvement every day. However, Seneca’s father did not pay Attalus to teach his son philosophy, rather he wanted him to groom Seneca into a promising lawyer and an active politician. Indeed, Seneca grew to be one but it was at this point in his life that he encountered his first challenge.
He developed a serious lung condition (probably tuberculosis) in his early 20s and had to travel to Egypt for therapy. He spent nearly ten years in Egypt reading, writing, and getting better. He returned to Rome when he was 35. Ten years after his return, his life took another drastic turn. He was accused of adultery and sentenced to death. But Emperor Claudius changed the sentence to an exile, which took Seneca to the island of Corisca. It was during this exile that he wrote his three treatises, Consolationes. These treatises were personal letters of consolation that also presented facts about the world and the human condition.
After eight years of exile, he was called back to Rome to become the tutor and adviser of the future emperor, Nero. As emperor, Nero followed Seneca’s counsels for a while before toeing a part of highhandedness and even sentencing his mother to death. There was nothing much Seneca could do. As a stoic, politics was a duty for him.
Lesson 3: See adversities as opportunities for bringing something wonderful into the world. Use adversities as raw materials for creating wonder. According to Daily Stoic, Seneca usually said he pitied people who have not known misfortune. In his words, “I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.” In exile, Seneca wrote three books that outlived him.
You could document the lessons you’ve picked on your way to becoming a business owner. You could teach others the mistakes to avoid as investors, or you could also create an investment platform that provides better investment options for others. There is always beauty to create from pain.
Also, bear in mind that you owe yourself the duty to always show up for yourself even when events are not in your favor. You are your first cheerleader. Do not disappoint yourself.
The story of Epictetus
“Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will.” — Epictetus
Unlike Marcus Aurelius and Seneca that knew hardship later in life, Epictetus was born into hardship. He was born a slave. It is one thing to be born a slave, it is another to be the slave of a wicked master. One who, out of having an angry, violent and depraved mind, would twist the leg of a young boy till it snapped. Such was Epictetus’s fate. He walked with a limp.
One could say that Epictetus was a born stoic because it is said that he never made any sound or cried as his master, Epaphroditus twisted his leg. Although he walked with a broken leg, his resolve towards life remained unbroken. He saw his impediment as him being a crippled character in life’s play.
“We have no power over external things, and the good that ought to be the object of our earnest pursuit, is to be found only within ourselves.” — Epictetus
After obtaining his freedom, he dedicated himself to philosophy and taught on the subject for almost 25 years before emperor Domitian exiled all philosophers in Rome. Epictetus fled to Greece and founded a philosophy school where he taught till his death.
Lesson 4: Having the right mindset is the key to a happy life. It is the currency of success. You cannot choose what life throws at you, but you can choose how you react or respond to them. After all, Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” Epictetus also wrote in Enchiridion, “Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.”
The Four Cardinal Virtues of Stoicism
“Perfect wisdom has four parts: Wisdom, the principle of doing things aright. Justice, the principle of doing things equally in public and private. Fortitude, the principle of not fleeing danger, but meeting it. Temperance, the principle of subduing desires and living moderately.” — Plato
Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines a Stoic as someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking. The philosophy of stoicism is founded on four cardinal virtues: Courage, Temperance, and Justice, and Wisdom.
Stoics believe that these virtues hold the happiness of your life. And happiness here means something deeper. It is what Aristotle called Eudaimonia. The highest human good; one desired as an end in itself rather than a means to some end.
For the stoic, courage is boldness manifested in different forms. It is the boldness to face misfortune, to face death, to give up power and privileges for the sake of the other person.
“It is hard to fight against impulsive desire. Whatever it wants it will buy at the cost of the soul.”
It is the boldness to maintain your principles even in a world where principles mean nothing to many. It means speaking your mind, speaking the truth to power. It is bravery.
“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” — Socrates
Stoics believe that abundance is in having the essential. Their principles align with also believe the words of Epicurus: “Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.”
Temperance is self-control. It is striking the balance. It is maintaining self-control, harmony, and discipline at all times; good or bad, success or failure. Neither pain nor pleasure should destroy temperance or self-control.
“He needs little who desires but little.” — Cleanthes
Like in self-control, the stoic also believes in doing the right thing at all times. Daily Stoic pointed out that “a Stoic sees the world clearly…but also sees clearly what the world can be.”
This is the most vital of all virtues because without it we cannot know when to be courageous, or show self-control, or know what is right. Wisdom is learning, knowing, and gaining experience for living.
These virtues coupled with lessons from the lives of major Stoics in history have given you a clear direction on how to navigate your world. Never lose courage in the face of adversity. Always remember that sometimes the disappointment you get is because you lack self-control; so be temperate in all things. Treat everyone fairly. And never stop learning. In maintaining these virtues, mindfulness is key.
“Whatever happens to you has been waiting to happen since the beginning of time. The twining strands of fate wove both of them together.” — Marcus Aurelius