On Becoming a Stoic

A Marcus Aurelius quote I had clipped over 25 years ago.

My journey to Stoicism began before I was born. In fact I am not sure where, when, how, or over what time period, but it began with my grandfather, Rick Leonard.

He always used to say “Learning to live is an art” and he had a copy of the serenity prayer in his bed room for as long as I can remember. If you aren’t familiar with it, it goes:

God grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr, Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer

I didn’t know it at the time, but both these sentiments are at the heart of Stoicism.

The notional that learning to live is something you need to work at and practice (some would say train) for, and as an art it isn’t black and white, and you are never done with the job of making your best self.

And for those familiar with Stoicism, the serenity prayer can be said another way:

See things for what they are.
Do what we can.
Endure and bear what we must.

Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way

That latter quote coming from one of the most read recent rearticulations of Stoicism for the modern person. Discovering and then reading it brought together a lot of threads in my life, from the teachings of my grandfather that in hindsight contained so much stoic thinking that it is hard from me to believe he hadn’t read some of its primary texts, to my time in the US Army which is deeply imbued with the stoic ethos, to even my time in the corporate world where I picked up little stoic maxims without realizing it over the decades.

While you might say I have had elements of a stoic mindset for my whole life, it was listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast that formally introduced me to approach Stoicism as a way to live. Ferriss calls it his “personal operating system” and a way to stay focused on activities that make a difference, and avoiding wasting energy and time on things that don’t. Ferriss regularly features Ryan Holiday, who along with a host of accomplishments is a leading thinking and proponent of modern Stoic thought. So I bought and read his books, which led me to the older texts, especially Marcus Aurelius‘s Meditations.

I felt like I had been give access to some secret texts that the Great People throughout history have turned to, not for solace or a promise of a better life in the hereafter, but for the strength to dig deep and keep going, to persevere, to push forward, literally one step at a time in some cases. In fact it is a simple yet powerful life view that has brought me the strength and focus to achieve many things in my life that I had absolutely no business doing. That is not to say that this path is easy, it demands that you hold yourself accountable even when no one else will.

In this day and age it has become a troupe that we are to0 soft and too weak, the younger generation has lost its way, etc. (hmm, when have I heard that before). I have a lot to say about how wrong that is, but the point here is that the fact that stoicism is gaining so attention and interest over the last several years is an encouraging sign that there are plenty of people ready to pick up the mantle of responsibility.

I am about to start a 14 Day Stoic Challenge and will document that process here. So I wanted to put down some initial thought on how I have arrived at Stoicism before that starts, and depending on how it goes, I may write more of my thoughts on relating Stoicism to life and business.