Since I write in the men’s personal development space, I get a decent stream of young men suggesting new trends for me to look into or cover. Some examples include Jordan Peterson, intermittent fasting, the book Can’t Hurt Me, the book Extreme Ownership, ice baths, and Wim Hof.
Frankly, I’ve usually taken the perspective that it’s never some new flashy trend that’s going to change your life, but timeless principles that work to break bad habits and build better ones. Do you really think learning to survive while it’s cold for longer or run an ultramarathon is going to get you that salary raise or date? There’s more efficient ways of going about it.
However, I do acknowledge that these people and principles sometimes create some new perspective and excitement in people and get them motivated to change. I’ve eventually gotten around to looking into many of these things and even did intermittent fasting for the better part of a year. The fads often don’t have a massive impact, but they do provide something that gets people going. And some of them, particularly, the books and people, have lots of ideas and principles that can have a perceived or tangible impact on their lives.
Anyhow, the latest is stoicism. Ryan Holiday is one part of a larger movement who has helped propel its awareness. He hosts a YouTube channel with a half million subscribers about stoicism. And this one is likely going to stick around, and probably should. Rather than a diet hack, it’s an entire life philosophy, which is something that has lasting appeal.
That’s not to say he singlehandedly pushed this movement. There has to be demand and interest that’s generating this attention. There are others mentioning it, including Sam Harris in his meditation app, and Charlie Munger, one of the richest people in the world, who has credited stoicism in his thinking and life success for decades.
The question is, what is stoicism?
I’m not going to give you a long definition or all its principles. You can find that out yourself online easily. The main principle seems to be that we can’t always control how the world responds, but we can always control how we react to it. Additionally, it places a lot of emphasis on doing the virtuous thing despite the costs.
Man’s Search for Meaning, a book written about a Jew’s experience during the Holocaust, actually emphasizes arriving at this same principle. When the author was stripped of everything physically and put into torturous situations, he found that the one thing they couldn’t take away from him was how he chose to react to things, with a smile or with resentment.
I’ve found that I’ve come across this idea on my own as well as I’ve experienced life because things don’t always go as planned. I remember a few occasions when I drove 30 to 60 minutes to an event because it was the only cool thing going on in my area as a young professional. Surprises, such as traffic accidents, delays, the event being canceled, or almost no one showing up, happen. Rather than throwing a fit, I’ve learned to roll with the punches, keep a smile on my face, and find a nearby attraction or restaurant to explore (which occasionally leads to a better time anyways).
I was in Nashville recently, and I joined a Stoic Meetup out of curiosity. There was a good amount of young and middle-aged people discussing the philosophy. The host had prompts and a discussion theme prepared. There’s a lot more ideas and principles to stoicism that I won’t go into detail here, but it’s more than just the main principle.
I did find that some of the points they made were ideas that you may have encountered on social media by just motivational speakers, entrepreneurs, or Instagram quote cards before, such as “You’re going to die one day. Make the most of your life by being virtuous.” or “You may die today. How would that change your behavior?”
I had a good debate about how to balance that with the possibility that you don’t die soon. We ended with a resolution that the stoics meant it more in the sense of being virtuous rather than living hedonistically right now. And that it may be good to balance long-term goals, like saving for retirement, with enjoying the moment today, because there’s no guarantee you’ll make it to old age to enjoy your savings.
Ultimately, people want to live a life with less suffering, more happiness, and purpose or legacy. That brings us to life philosophy, stoicism, and religion. I found that there are a lot of people who have outward metrics of success. They have a lot of money, a big mansion, a highly trafficked website, a nice car, or millions of followers on social media. Yet many of them often come up and reveal how unhappy or unfulfilled they are. They place all their happiness or behavior on the wrong things, like other people’s opinions and moods.
Just because someone has some milestone of external achievement doesn’t mean all their advice is gold because:
- They can negatively affect your business and career. Consider someone who is immoral and doesn’t mind going behind someone’s back. They can negatively affect your brand and reputation.
- Their bad values can rub off on you. Someone could be rich, but they could be atrocious in other areas of life. Nobody loves them. They treat people poorly. They are highly unhealthy. They don’t mind stabbing people in the back or cheating in a relationship.
- Their short-sighted views might pull you in the wrong direction. Consider someone who has become a millionaire out of luck but thinks he or she knows all the answers. If their values focus on showing off, exploiting others, and spending on luxury brands, the way they view the world will rub off on you. This superficial existence could be highly unhealthy in the long run.
Catch yourself and see what else they’re about. Are they rich inside?
There are many poor people who live rich, happy lives because they are rich on the inside.
In fact, Warren Buffett said that he has met many rich men that were unsuccessful in his eyes. Everyone that person wanted to love that him didn’t love him.
I have a lot more to learn about stoicism. It just caught my radar recently. I do believe that life will inevitably bring some degree of suffering … emotional pain, physical pain, financial pain, anxiety, stress, anger, indignation, jealousy … and we want to find the best way of getting through it. It’s definitely not the only school of thought that offers solutions. Perhaps, you can see what works for you here and borrow what works from somewhere else. I’ve had anxieties about whether I’ll ever get the life I want. The Dalai Lama’s thoughts on being more selfless helped and the Stoics thoughts on processing your emotions rather than suppressing them both helped.
To close, here’s a little video I made about Charlie Munger and stoicism. Stoicism says you shouldn’t go through long periods of life holding onto seething resentments and vengeance that you can’t satisfy. You’re only hurting yourself. Let it go. Forgive yourself.