Mentor Yourself – Stoic Reflections on Life

Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too.

Marcus Aurelius, The Thoughts of the Emperor M. Aurelius Antoninus, 4.43

I tend to treat my writing in much the same way I would have an actual conversation with another person. In many ways the person who writes out my thoughts on these pages and provides me advice on how to endure and live my best life is a better version of myself. He’s an alter ego of what the perfect version of myself would say or do. I’m not that person, but I can strive to become more like him.

This alternative ego is my Mentor in the same way others use role models. He is the person I want to be. He is the man I’m struggling to become. He is someone who is unaffected by pain, heartache, setbacks, and misfortunes. He is a man who understands and accepts that life has a bit of everything in it. It’s how we react to those uncertain and often unpleasant circumstances that determines who we are.

We can endure or we can complain. I’d rather endure. So, what I’m attempting to do today is a Stoic exercise in reframing my perception and acknowledge that the only thing I control is my response to the world. I can acknowledge my setbacks and adjust my perception to allow these experiences to become building blocks rather than obstacles in my way. Let’s see how well I’ve understood the Stoic concept of altering our perception when analyzing two issues that have become personal stressors this month.

Reality Check – Sometimes Life Sucks

So, I’m at one of those times in my life that’s incredibly stressful (at least from from my very limited and self-focused perspective). I realize that my stress is inconsequential in the greater scheme of universal events and that my attempt to reframe my perspective is the seed for this post. My stress and my problems can be placed in another larger perspective, and that alternative frame of mind can make them less overwhelming. It doesn’t change the fact that I still feel pain, my heart rate jumps, a migraine begins to roll behind my eyes and even moving hurts as my previous injuries from a few years ago begin to flare up to the point that I can’t walk, sit, or lie down without feeling varying degrees of pain.

I accept the pain. At some point the pain becomes a dulled sensation and I can ignore it, more or less, but never really for long. It’s always lurking there in the background and one turn or step can send an unpleasant reminder that life isn’t always easy. The same can be said for all of us really. Problems are never really absent. They are just hiding in the fog beyond our vision. They are always there, just beyond our sight. I won’t complain. My life is amazing. I think it’s helpful to acknowledge a good life has pain and uncertainty. That’s okay. Pain can put things in perspective.

Problem 1 – Home Repairs, Selling a House and Building the Dream

As I get ready to sell our current home, I deal with the complexities of working with many people with conflicting agendas. There’s a continual headache of trying to overcome communication gaps and the general mishaps common when a dozen people are working on similar but unrelated activities. Contractors, insurance adjusters, subcontractors, real estate agents, photographers, builders —and of course your career and family—all battle for your very limited time during this short 30-60 day window. It can feel like too much at times. I have to pause and force myself to remember that it’s a blessing to have a home, and an even greater blessing to have the means to sell one and afford another. Likewise, I have a job and family. So, those headaches are well worth the suffering when the alternative is to be unemployed and alone.

That’s the framing we need to constantly challenge ourselves to create when we experience obstacles in our path. It’s not about other’s mistakes or the delays that mess up our plans. We get to choose how to respond to those setbacks and that tells us what type of person we really are. Are we really living up to our aspirations to become the best version of ourselves?

We all face setbacks, and yet time moves on. The work will eventually be done and your expectations may even need to be changed, but if you start to have the right conversations rather than arguments, you can build a future. Can you move on and fix the problem or are you creating a new problem by not letting go?

Problem 2 – The Workplace Will Always Have Issues

We all know promises don’t exist in the workplace so when I was told a new position was a “sure thing” and that “you have nothing to worry about,” I was cautiously optimistic. It felt nice to be told such things, but I kept that Stoic phrase in mind the entire time “Fate Willing.” I knew anything could happen. There are no guarantees. Sure enough, I wasn’t chosen for the position, and though I’ve been told “you have nothing to worry about,” my actual job is likely to be discontinued in the near future. Will I find a new position? Will I have to look elsewhere? I’m not upset, but let’s be honest, I’m definitely a little stressed.

I don’t have the answers for my future. I never did. However, I always knew that “anything is possible,” and “it’s better to be prepared than surprised” in life. So this scenario was always a possibility whether I acknowledged it or not. Nothing really changed in my day to day activities but my perception of the events around me were darkly misleading. I became more aware of the potential fears that were always around me but were previously ignored or overlooked. Will I lose my job? Will I go broke? Will I lose my possessions? What could I sell to pay the mortgage? Crap, what happens if I lose my health insurance? My life insurance! I was caught in a mental eddy of panic rather than action. So, I stopped myself. I simply said that’s enough. Move on.

In a nutshell, I decided I wouldn’t let this perception ruin my week. Am I disappointed I didn’t get the position? Sure. Will my disappointment change their decision? No. So why bother being upset about it? They’ve moved on and hired someone so I need to move on as well. That doesn’t mean all my fears or concerns vanished. I’m still uncertain if I’ll even have a job in 3 months, but I’m not letting that fear impact the quality of my life or the decisions I make. I’ll plan to the best of my ability, but I won’t panic. I’m going to sell my home. I’m going to finish building a new one. Panic at this point will only make things worse. If things get bad I can always sell the new home and starting building the dream again.

Always look for the facts. Stay objective. That’s where we find clarity in uncertain times.

I hope these thoughts help you get through your own rough patches this month. I recognize my stressors are uniquely my own, but I do believe if we approach all our problems with patience and distance ourselves from a self-focused perception we can endure almost anything.

Book Review – Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson

The Stoics also emphasized the notion that by anticipating possible future adversities we can learn to take away the sense of ‘surprise’ or ‘shock’ that often accompanies their occurrence, seeing them instead as something natural and in some cases inevitable in life.

Donald Robertson, p. 159

The truth is that Stoicism has a lot to offer modern readers. However, I’ve found the predominant use of ancient Greek terminology to describe key concepts for English readers has had a dampening effect on its adoption in the US. There’s nothing wrong with using Greek words to describe Greek ideas. The problem is that many modern readers are unfamiliar with these foreign words. This means readers must learn both a “new language” and new cognitive strategies in order to make Stoic philosophy an accessible way of life.

A Strange New Vocabulary

  • Eudaimonia – happiness/sense of fulfillment from living a “noble” (Reason-focused) life
  • Ataraxia – tranquility/peace of mind
  • Hupexhairesis – reserve clause/Fate Willing/I’ll do all in my power, but I accept that it may not turn out how I planned.
  • Prosechê – attention to one’s mind/mindfulness of your thoughts

I think this is where Robertson has done a remarkable job in creating a textbook for modern Stoicism to rival the historic Handbook of Epictetus in it’s usefulness to the common reader. There are so many great texts on Stoicism—both ancient and modern—that it can be difficult to know where to start your search.

Robertson has made your decision effortless and given you the best of both worlds from Seneca to Hadot. If you want a solid understanding and a real chance at practicing the Stoic way of life, grab a copy of this book and start reading today. Robertson not only provides a slew of source material, but he also gives us a helpful format that provides structure and guidance as we learn how to approach life with Stoic mindfulness.

Additionally, the novel Teach Yourself format reinforces key concepts to help you maximize your understanding as well as easily refer back to the material as you interact with it. Some of the most helpful features include “Try it Now” practice exercises, “Case Studies” and “Self Assessments.”

Give this one a chance and experience the rich history of the Stoics while getting real world perspectives and even psychological insights from CBT – Cognitive Behavior Theory. Stoicism as a philosophy of life can help you achieve your best.

The Cornerstone of Success

There really is no shortcut to success. It takes constant work and repetition to create the skills necessary to build your best life.

It is only with hard work that greatness can be achieved. Too often we look at those around us and end up envying their possessions, fortune and fame. The truth is that we can be unfair in those moments.

  • Why are we upset about another’s good fortune?
  • What are we fighting for—a home full of “stuff” or a better life?
  • Are we jealous or are we seeking opportunities that may be withheld from us?

We seem to forget that the cornerstone to success isn’t luck but effort. Success—in whatever form it takes for you—can only be achieved when you direct that effort toward your goal. You can’t wish for a better tomorrow. You have to build it one day at a time.

  • We can dream of having the fortunes of others.
  • We can wish for the winning lottery ticket.
  • We can imagine the great deeds and generous donations we would make if only we had “the money.”

When we do those things, we missed the point. We spent all of our energy dreaming but never planning. We will spend all our time imagining how we would spend uncollected fortunes, but we will never plan a way to make that fortune.

For some reason, too many of us spend our days stuck hoping that the our lucky day will come, that we’ll will win the lottery, or that a windfall will find its way to our doorstep. I find that discouraging. Why can’t we spend our days actively building that better tomorrow? What can we do today other than dream?

Desire can be a two edged sword. It can motivate you to accomplish more when you wield it as a tool to aid you in your labors. However, it can also easily hold you back if you spend your time longing for the golden blade of your neighbor.

A blade wielded is a helpful tool. A blade set aside or longed for performs no labor. It’s better to use a rusty blade to accomplish your work than to do nothing. What does it matter if your tool is old as long as it aids you in your purpose?

In modern words, use the tools you have. Don’t let your hangups, embarrassment or opinions keep you from achieving your goals.