RyanHoliday.net https://ryanholiday.net Meditations on strategy and life Wed, 12 Aug 2020 03:38:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 9 Short Quotes That Changed My Life and Why https://ryanholiday.net/short-quotes/ Wed, 12 Aug 2020 03:37:43 +0000 http://ryanholiday.net/?p=6008 Like a lot of people, I try to collect words to live by. Most of these words come from reading, but also from conversations, from teachers, and from everyday life. As Seneca, the philosopher and playwright, so eloquently put it: We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application—not far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech—and learn them so well that words become works. In my commonplace book, I keep these little sayings under the heading “Life.” That is, things that help me live better, more meaningfully, and with happiness and honesty. Below are 9 sayings, what they mean, and how they changed my life. Perhaps they will strike you and be of service. Hopefully the words might become works for you too. “If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” —Nassim Taleb This little epigram from Nassim Taleb has been a driving force in my life. It fuels my writing, but mostly it has fueled difficult personal decisions. A few years ago, I was in the middle of a difficult personal situation in which my financial incentives were not necessarily aligned with the right thing. Speaking out would cost me money. I actually emailed Nassim. I asked: “What does ‘saying’ entail? To the person? To the public? At what cost? And how do you know where/when ego might be the influencing factor in determining where you decide to go on that public/private spectrum?” His response was simple: If it harms the collective, you speak up until it no longer does. There’s another line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Caesar, having returned from the conquest of Gaul, is reminded to tread lightly when speaking to the senators. He replies, “Have I accomplished so much in battle, but now I’m afraid to tell some old men the truth?” That is what I think about with Nassim’s quote. What’s the point of working hard and being successful if it means biting your tongue (or declining to act) when you see something unfair or untoward? What do you care what everyone else thinks? “It can have meaning if it changes you for the better.” —Viktor Frankl Viktor Frankl, who was imprisoned and survived three separate Nazi concentration camps, lost his wife, his parents, job, his home and the manuscript that his entire life’s work had gone into. Yet, he emerged from this horrific nightmare convinced that life was not meaningless and that suffering was not without purpose. His work in psychology—now known as logotherapy—is reminiscent of the Stoics: We don’t control what happens to us, only how we respond. Nothing deprives us of this ability to respond, even if only in the slightest way, even if that response is only acceptance. In bad moments, I think of this line. It reminds me that I can change for the better because of it and find meaning in everything—even if my “suffering” pales in comparison to what others have gone through. “Thou knowest this man’s fall; but thou knowest not his wrassling.” —James Baldwin As James Baldwin reflected on the death of his father, a man who he loved and hated, he realized that he only saw the man’s outsides. Yes, he had his problems but hidden behind those external manifestations was his own unique internal struggle which no other person is ever able to fully comprehend. The same is true for everyone—your parents, your boss, the person behind you in line. We can see their flaws but not their struggles. If we can focus on this, we’ll have so much more patience and so much less anger and resentment. It reminds me of another line that means a lot to me from Pascal: “To understand is to forgive.” You don’t have to fully understand or know, but it does help to try. “This is not your responsibility but it is your problem.” —Cheryl Strayed Though I came to Cheryl Strayed late, the impact has been significant. In the letter this quote came from, she was speaking to someone who had something unfair done to them. But you see, life is unfair. Just because you should not have to deal with something doesn’t change whether you in fact need to. It reminds me of something my parents told me when I was learning to drive: It doesn’t matter that you had the right of way if you end up dying in an accident. Deal with the situation at hand, even if you don’t want to, even if someone else should have to, because you’re the one that’s being affected by it. End of story. Her quote is the best articulation I’ve found of that fact. “Dogs bark at what they cannot understand.” —Heraclitus People are going to criticize you. They are going to resist or resent what you try to do. You’re going to face obstacles and a lot of those obstacles will be other human beings. Heraclitus is explaining why. People don’t like change. They don’t like to be confused. It’s also a fact that doing new things means forcing change and confusion on other people. So, if you’re looking for an explanation for all the barking you’re hearing, there it is. Let it go, keep working, do your job. My other favorite line from Heraclitus is: “Character is fate.” Who you are and what you stand for will determine who you are and what you do. Surely character makes ignoring the barking a bit easier. “Life is short—the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.” —Marcus Aurelius Marcus wrote this line at some point during the Antonine Plague—a global pandemic spanning the entirety of his reign. He could have fled Rome. Most people of means did. No one would have faulted him if he did too. Instead, Marcus stayed and braved the deadliest plague of Rome’s 900-year history. And we know that he didn’t [...]

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Like a lot of people, I try to collect words to live by. Most of these words come from reading, but also from conversations, from teachers, and from everyday life. As Seneca, the philosopher and playwright, so eloquently put it:

We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application—not far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech—and learn them so well that words become works.

In my commonplace book, I keep these little sayings under the heading “Life.” That is, things that help me live better, more meaningfully, and with happiness and honesty. Below are 9 sayings, what they mean, and how they changed my life. Perhaps they will strike you and be of service. Hopefully the words might become works for you too.

“If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” —Nassim Taleb

This little epigram from Nassim Taleb has been a driving force in my life. It fuels my writing, but mostly it has fueled difficult personal decisions. A few years ago, I was in the middle of a difficult personal situation in which my financial incentives were not necessarily aligned with the right thing. Speaking out would cost me money. I actually emailed Nassim. I asked: “What does ‘saying’ entail? To the person? To the public? At what cost? And how do you know where/when ego might be the influencing factor in determining where you decide to go on that public/private spectrum?” His response was simple: If it harms the collective, you speak up until it no longer does. There’s another line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Caesar, having returned from the conquest of Gaul, is reminded to tread lightly when speaking to the senators. He replies, “Have I accomplished so much in battle, but now I’m afraid to tell some old men the truth?” That is what I think about with Nassim’s quote. What’s the point of working hard and being successful if it means biting your tongue (or declining to act) when you see something unfair or untoward? What do you care what everyone else thinks?

“It can have meaning if it changes you for the better.” —Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl, who was imprisoned and survived three separate Nazi concentration camps, lost his wife, his parents, job, his home and the manuscript that his entire life’s work had gone into. Yet, he emerged from this horrific nightmare convinced that life was not meaningless and that suffering was not without purpose. His work in psychology—now known as logotherapy—is reminiscent of the Stoics: We don’t control what happens to us, only how we respond. Nothing deprives us of this ability to respond, even if only in the slightest way, even if that response is only acceptance. In bad moments, I think of this line. It reminds me that I can change for the better because of it and find meaning in everything—even if my “suffering” pales in comparison to what others have gone through.

“Thou knowest this man’s fall; but thou knowest not his wrassling.” —James Baldwin

As James Baldwin reflected on the death of his father, a man who he loved and hated, he realized that he only saw the man’s outsides. Yes, he had his problems but hidden behind those external manifestations was his own unique internal struggle which no other person is ever able to fully comprehend. The same is true for everyone—your parents, your boss, the person behind you in line. We can see their flaws but not their struggles. If we can focus on this, we’ll have so much more patience and so much less anger and resentment. It reminds me of another line that means a lot to me from Pascal: “To understand is to forgive.” You don’t have to fully understand or know, but it does help to try.

“This is not your responsibility but it is your problem.” —Cheryl Strayed

Though I came to Cheryl Strayed late, the impact has been significant. In the letter this quote came from, she was speaking to someone who had something unfair done to them. But you see, life is unfair. Just because you should not have to deal with something doesn’t change whether you in fact need to. It reminds me of something my parents told me when I was learning to drive: It doesn’t matter that you had the right of way if you end up dying in an accident. Deal with the situation at hand, even if you don’t want to, even if someone else should have to, because you’re the one that’s being affected by it. End of story. Her quote is the best articulation I’ve found of that fact.

“Dogs bark at what they cannot understand.” —Heraclitus

People are going to criticize you. They are going to resist or resent what you try to do. You’re going to face obstacles and a lot of those obstacles will be other human beings. Heraclitus is explaining why. People don’t like change. They don’t like to be confused. It’s also a fact that doing new things means forcing change and confusion on other people. So, if you’re looking for an explanation for all the barking you’re hearing, there it is. Let it go, keep working, do your job. My other favorite line from Heraclitus is: “Character is fate.” Who you are and what you stand for will determine who you are and what you do. Surely character makes ignoring the barking a bit easier.

Life is short—the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.” —Marcus Aurelius

Marcus wrote this line at some point during the Antonine Plague—a global pandemic spanning the entirety of his reign. He could have fled Rome. Most people of means did. No one would have faulted him if he did too. Instead, Marcus stayed and braved the deadliest plague of Rome’s 900-year history. And we know that he didn’t even consider choosing his safety and fleeing over his responsibility and staying. He wrote repeatedly about the Stoic concept of sympatheia—the idea that all things are mutually woven together, that we were made for eachother, that we are all one. It’s one of the lesser-known Stoic concepts because it’s easier to only think and care about the people immediately around you. It’s tempting to get consumed by your own problems. It’s natural to assume you have more in common and the same interests as the people who look like you or live like you do. But that is an insidious lie—one responsible for monstrous inhumanity and needless pain. When other people suffer, we suffer. When the world suffers, we suffer. What’s bad for the hive is bad for the bee, Marcus said. When we take actions, we have to always think: What would happen if everyone did this? What are the costs of my decisions for other people? What risks am I externalizing? Is this really what a person with good character and a concern for others would do? You have to care about others. It’s sometimes the hardest thing to do, but it’s the only thing that counts. As Heraclitus (one of Marcus’ favorites) said, character is fate. It’s the fruit of this life. 

“Happiness does not come from the seeking, it is never ours by right.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was a remarkable woman. Her father killed himself. Her mother was verbally abusive. Her husband repeatedly betrayed her—even up to the moment he died. Yet she slowly but steadily became one of the most influential and important people in the world. I think you could argue that happiness and meaning came from this journey too. Her line here is reminiscent of something explained by both Aristotle and Viktor Frankl—happiness is not pursued, it ensues. It is the result of principles and the fulfillment of our potential. It is also transitory—we get glimpses of it. We don’t have it forever and we must continually re-engage with it. Whatever quote you need to understand this truth, use it. Because it will get you through bad times and to very good ones.

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” —Marcus Aurelius

If there is better advice than this, it has yet to be written. For many civilizations, the first time that their citizens realize just how vulnerable they are is when they find out they’ve been conquered, or are at the mercy of some cruel tyrant, or some uncontainable disease. It’s when somebody famous—like Tom Hanks or Marcus Aurelius—falls ill that they get serious. The result of this delayed awakening is a critical realization: We are mortal and fragile, and fate can inflict horrible things on our tiny, powerless bodies. There is no amount of fleeing or quarantining we can do to insulate ourselves from the reality of human existence: memento mori—thou art mortal. No one, no country, no planet is as safe or as special as we like to think we are. We are all at the mercy of enormous events outside our control. You can go at any moment, Marcus was constantly reminding himself with each of the events swirling around him. He made sure this fact shaped every choice and action and thought. 

“Some lack the fickleness to live as they wish and just live as they have begun.” —Seneca

After beginning with Seneca, let’s end with him. Inertia is a powerful force. The status quo—even if self-created—is comforting. So people find themselves on certain paths in life and cannot conceive of changing them, even if such a change would result in more personal happiness. We think that fickleness is a negative trait, but if it pushes you to be better and find and explore new, better things, it certainly isn’t. I’ve always been a proponent of dropping out, of quitting paths that have gotten stale. Seneca’s quote has helped me with that and I actually have it framed next to my desk so that I might look at it each day. It’s a constant reminder: Why am I still doing this? Is it for the right reasons? Or is it just because it’s been that way for a while?

The power of these quotes is that they say a lot with a little. They help guide us through the complexity of life with their unswerving directness. They make us better, keep us centered, give us something to rest on—a kind of backstop to prevent backsliding. That’s what these 9 quotes have done for me in my life. Borrow them or dig into history or religion or philosophy to find some to add to your own commonplace book. 

And then turn those words… into works.

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How to Have the Best Week Ever https://ryanholiday.net/best-week/ Wed, 05 Aug 2020 17:31:00 +0000 http://ryanholiday.net/?p=5996 Life is short, so it matters how you spend it. As Seneca points out, “We are not given a short life, but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.” A minute is long if you know how to use it. A week is plenty of time if you don’t waste it. So that’s what the Stoics thought so much about: How to break down and organize their time. What to do—and not do—in the course of a life in order to ensure we effectively live the time we have been given. We now have 2,000 years of stress testing applied to some of their insights and so based on their time-proven wisdom, I present to you how to have a great week, per the Stoics. 1: Rise and Shine “On those mornings you struggle with getting up, keep this thought in mind—I am awakening to the work of a human being. Why then am I annoyed that I am going to do what I’m made for, the very things for which I was put into this world? Or was I made for this, to snuggle under the covers and keep warm? It’s so pleasurable. Were you then made for pleasure? In short, to be coddled or to exert yourself?” —Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.1 It’s comforting to think that the emperor of Rome (who was reportedly an insomniac) had to give himself a pep talk in order to summon the willpower to throw off the blankets and get out of bed. From the time we’re first sent off to school until the day we retire, we’re faced with that same struggle. It always seems nicer to shut our eyes and hit the snooze button a few times. But we can’t—because we have a job to do. Not only do we have the calling we’re dedicated to, but we have the larger cause that the Stoics speak about: the greater good. We cannot be of service to ourselves, to other people, or to the world unless we get up and get working—the earlier the better. So c’mon. Get in the shower, have your coffee, and get going. 2: Prepare Yourself for Negativity “When you first rise in the morning tell yourself: I will encounter busybodies, ingrates, egomaniacs, liars, the jealous, and cranks. They are all stricken with these afflictions because they don’t know the difference between good and evil. Because I have understood the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, I know that these wrong-doers are still akin to me … and that none can do me harm, or implicate me in ugliness—nor can I be angry at my relatives or hate them. For we are made for cooperation.” —Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.1 Life is full of suffering, acute and benign. We come down with the flu. We are hit with a costly expense. Someone with power over us abuses their responsibility. Someone we love lies or hurts us. People die. People commit crimes. Natural disasters strike. All of this is commonplace and inevitable. It happens. Everyday. To us and to everyone else. That would be bad enough, yet we choose to make this pain worse. How? By pretending we are immune from it. By assuming we will be exempted. Or that only those who have somehow deserved it will find themselves in the crosshairs of Fortune. Then we are surprised when our number comes up, and so we add to our troubles a sense of unfairness and a stumbling lack of preparedness. Our denial deprives us even of the ability to tense up before the blow lands. “You should assume that there are many things ahead you will have to suffer,” Seneca reminds us. “Is anyone surprised at getting a chill in winter? Or getting seasick while on the sea? Or that they get bumped walking a city street? The mind is strong against things it has prepared for.” This is premeditatio malorum. What is likely to happen? What can possibly happen? What are the tortures that life inflicts on human beings? And then, more importantly, am I ready for them? 3: Clarify Your Principles “You’ve wandered all over and finally realized that you never found what you were after: how to live. Not in syllogisms, not in money, or fame, or self-indulgence. Nowhere. Then where is it to be found? In doing what human nature requires. How? Through first principles. Which should govern your intentions and your actions.” —Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.1 In the opening chapter of his book Call Sign Chaos: Learning To Lead, the retired US Marine Corps general and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis talks about the fundamental lessons he learned in his early years as a Marine. In particular, he writes: “Know what you will stand for and, more important, what you won’t stand for… State your flat-ass rules and stick to them. They shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.” Least of all, you. Marcus Aurelius called them “epithets for the self.” Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. Cooperative. Disinterested. Those were his non-negotiables. Think for a second about the position Marcus was in. He had absolute power. In his own time, his statue was displayed in homes across the empire. He could have done whatever he wanted. Isn’t that why people chase power, success, greatness? So they can be freed from trivial rules and regulations? So they can do whatever they want? But what the truly great know is that complete freedom is a nightmare. They know that no one has less serenity than the person who does not know what is right or wrong. No one is more exhausted than the person who, because they lack a moral code, must belabor every decision and consider every temptation. No one wastes more time than the person who is winging it. Life is meaningless to the person who decides their choices have no meaning. Meanwhile, the person who knows what they value? Who knows what they will [...]

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Life is short, so it matters how you spend it.

As Seneca points out, “We are not given a short life, but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.” A minute is long if you know how to use it. A week is plenty of time if you don’t waste it.

So that’s what the Stoics thought so much about: How to break down and organize their time. What to do—and not do—in the course of a life in order to ensure we effectively live the time we have been given.

We now have 2,000 years of stress testing applied to some of their insights and so based on their time-proven wisdom, I present to you how to have a great week, per the Stoics.

1: Rise and Shine

“On those mornings you struggle with getting up, keep this thought in mind—I am awakening to the work of a human being. Why then am I annoyed that I am going to do what I’m made for, the very things for which I was put into this world? Or was I made for this, to snuggle under the covers and keep warm? It’s so pleasurable. Were you then made for pleasure? In short, to be coddled or to exert yourself?” —Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.1

It’s comforting to think that the emperor of Rome (who was reportedly an insomniac) had to give himself a pep talk in order to summon the willpower to throw off the blankets and get out of bed.

From the time we’re first sent off to school until the day we retire, we’re faced with that same struggle. It always seems nicer to shut our eyes and hit the snooze button a few times.

But we can’t—because we have a job to do. Not only do we have the calling we’re dedicated to, but we have the larger cause that the Stoics speak about: the greater good. We cannot be of service to ourselves, to other people, or to the world unless we get up and get working—the earlier the better. So c’mon. Get in the shower, have your coffee, and get going.

2: Prepare Yourself for Negativity

“When you first rise in the morning tell yourself: I will encounter busybodies, ingrates, egomaniacs, liars, the jealous, and cranks. They are all stricken with these afflictions because they don’t know the difference between good and evil. Because I have understood the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, I know that these wrong-doers are still akin to me … and that none can do me harm, or implicate me in ugliness—nor can I be angry at my relatives or hate them. For we are made for cooperation.” —Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.1

Life is full of suffering, acute and benign. We come down with the flu. We are hit with a costly expense. Someone with power over us abuses their responsibility. Someone we love lies or hurts us. People die. People commit crimes. Natural disasters strike.

All of this is commonplace and inevitable. It happens. Everyday. To us and to everyone else.

That would be bad enough, yet we choose to make this pain worse. How? By pretending we are immune from it. By assuming we will be exempted. Or that only those who have somehow deserved it will find themselves in the crosshairs of Fortune. Then we are surprised when our number comes up, and so we add to our troubles a sense of unfairness and a stumbling lack of preparedness. Our denial deprives us even of the ability to tense up before the blow lands.

“You should assume that there are many things ahead you will have to suffer,” Seneca reminds us. “Is anyone surprised at getting a chill in winter? Or getting seasick while on the sea? Or that they get bumped walking a city street? The mind is strong against things it has prepared for.”

This is premeditatio malorum. What is likely to happen? What can possibly happen? What are the tortures that life inflicts on human beings? And then, more importantly, am I ready for them?

3: Clarify Your Principles

“You’ve wandered all over and finally realized that you never found what you were after: how to live. Not in syllogisms, not in money, or fame, or self-indulgence. Nowhere. Then where is it to be found? In doing what human nature requires. How? Through first principles. Which should govern your intentions and your actions.” —Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.1

In the opening chapter of his book Call Sign Chaos: Learning To Lead, the retired US Marine Corps general and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis talks about the fundamental lessons he learned in his early years as a Marine. In particular, he writes: “Know what you will stand for and, more important, what you won’t stand for… State your flat-ass rules and stick to them. They shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.” Least of all, you.

Marcus Aurelius called them “epithets for the self.” Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. Cooperative. Disinterested. Those were his non-negotiables. Think for a second about the position Marcus was in. He had absolute power. In his own time, his statue was displayed in homes across the empire. He could have done whatever he wanted.

Isn’t that why people chase power, success, greatness? So they can be freed from trivial rules and regulations? So they can do whatever they want?

But what the truly great know is that complete freedom is a nightmare. They know that no one has less serenity than the person who does not know what is right or wrong. No one is more exhausted than the person who, because they lack a moral code, must belabor every decision and consider every temptation. No one wastes more time than the person who is winging it. Life is meaningless to the person who decides their choices have no meaning. Meanwhile, the person who knows what they value? Who knows what they will and won’t stand for?Who has a strong sense of decency and principle and behaves accordingly? Who possesses easy moral self-command, who leans comfortably upon this goodness, day in and day out? This person has clarity and tranquility.

That’s what Marcus promised would happen if one followed this prescription. “If you maintain your claim to these epithets,” he wrote, “without caring if others apply them to you or not—you’ll become a new person, living a new life.”

What are your flat-ass rules? What are your principles? Your epithets? Don’t wing it. Life is chaotic and confusing enough. Give yourself some clarity and some certainty.

4: Be Ruthless to the Things That Don’t Matter

“How many have laid waste to your life when you weren’t aware of what you were losing, how much was wasted in pointless grief, foolish joy, greedy desire, and social amusements—how little of your own was left to you. You will realize you are dying before your time!” —Seneca, On the Brevity of Life, 3.3b

One of the hardest things to do in life is say “no.” To invitations, to requests, to obligations, to the stuff that everyone else is doing. Even harder is saying no to certain time-consuming emotions: anger, excitement, distraction, obsession, lust. None of these impulses feels like a big deal by itself, but run amok, they become commitments like anything else.

If you’re not careful, these are precisely the impositions that will overwhelm and consume your life. Do you ever wonder how you can get some of your time back or how you can feel less busy? Start today off by utilizing the power of “no”—as in “No, thank you,” and “No, I’m not going to get caught up in that,” and “No, I just can’t right now.”

It may hurt some feelings. It may turn people off. It may take hard work. But the more you say no to the things that don’t matter, the more you can say yes to the things that do. This will let you live and enjoy the life that you want.

For more on saying “no,” you can check out this video, Why You Should Say No, as well as this article, To Everyone Who Asks For “Just A Little” Of Your Time: Here’s What It Costs To Say Yes.

5: Turn “Have To” Into “Get To”

“The task of a philosopher: We should bring our will into harmony with whatever happens, so that nothing happens against our will and nothing that we wish for fails to happen.” —Epictetus, Discourses, 2.14.7

What does a Stoic say to adversity? To recessions? To pandemics? To setbacks and struggles and months stuck inside? To uncertainty and cramped quarters and a collapse of confidence? What do they say to the looming question that has so many people scared—“What if things get worse?”

They say what Bruce Springsteen said:

Bring on your wrecking ball
Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got
Bring on your wrecking ball

Marcus Aurelius didn’t believe that it was unfortunate that bad things happened to him. He said, “No, this is fortunate that it happened to me.” Because not everyone would have been able to handle it.

But you can. Because you trained for this. Because you know how to find the opportunity inside of difficulty, because you have harnessed the power of amor fati. Other people might be thrown back by what has happened, others still might be able to muddle through, but not you. You’re going to be improved by this. You’re going to triumph over this. You get to prove your mettle.

That’s why you say: Bring it on. That’s why you say hit me with your best shot. Because you have plans to use it. Because you’re going to step up and make something of this moment. Because you know that’s the only part of this that’s up to you.

6: Take a Walk (or a Run)

“We should take wandering outdoor walks, so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.” —Seneca, On Tranquility of Mind, 17.8

In his famous Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertes tells us that the philosopher Chrysippus trained as a long-distance runner before he discovered Stoicism. One can only imagine the influence this training had on Chrysippus, and how it put him in a position to understand a philosophy based on self-discipline, inner-control and endurance. The saying in the ancient world was, “But for Chrysippus, there had been no Porch” (the stoa in Stoicism). But if not for the many miles of running, would there have been a Chrysippus?

There are plenty more philosophers, writers, and poets who have found the same benefits not just in running but in walking. In a notoriously loud city like Rome, it was impossible to get much peace and quiet. The noise of wagons, the shouting of vendors, and the hammering of blacksmiths all filled the streets with piercing auditory violence. So philosophers went on a lot of walks—to get where they needed to go, to clear their heads, and to get fresh air. In the process they discovered an important side-effect: it helped them make better work. As Nietzsche would later say, “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” Thoreau, another avid walker, claimed “the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

Remember that if you find yourself a little stuck or frustrated today. Go for a walk. Or better yet, go for a run. And in the future, when you get stressed or overwhelmed, take a walk. When you have a tough problem to solve or a decision to make, take a walk. When you want to be creative, take a walk. When you need to get some air, take a walk. When you have a phone call to make, take a walk. When you need some exercise, take a long walk. When you have a meeting or a friend over, take a walk together.

Nourish yourself and your mind and solve problems along the way.

If you’re not yet convinced of the power of walking, I encourage you to read this piece: Take A Walk: The Work & Life Benefits of Walking.

7: Review

“I will keep constant watch over myself and—most usefully—will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil—that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past.” —Seneca, Moral Letters, 83.2

Winston Churchill was famously afraid of going to bed at the end of the day having not created, written or done anything that moved his life forward. “Every night,” he wrote, “I try myself by Court Martial to see if I have done anything effective during the day. I don’t mean just pawing the ground, anyone can go through the motions, but something really effective.”

In a letter to his older brother Novatus, Seneca describes the exercise he borrowed from another prominent philosopher. At the end of each day, he would sit down with a journal and ask himself variations of the following questions: What bad habit did I curb today? How am I better? Were my actions just? How can I improve?

At the beginning or end of each day, the Stoic sits down with his journal and reviews what he did, what he thought, and what could be improved. It’s for this reason that Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is a somewhat inscrutable book—it was for personal clarity, not public benefit. Writing down Stoic exercises was and is a form of practicing them, just as repeating a prayer or hymn might be.

Keep your own journal, whether it’s saved on a computer or on paper. Take time to consciously recall the events of the previous day.

Be unflinching in your assessments. Notice what contributed to your happiness and what detracted from it. Write down what you’d like to work on or quotes that you like. By making the effort to record such thoughts, you’re less likely to forget them. An added bonus: You’ll have a running tally to track your progress.

If there’s been a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we were reminded immediately and unceremoniously that life should never be taken for granted. Sometime during the Antonine Plague, Marcus admonished himself to not put anything off until tomorrow because today was the only thing he controlled (and to get out of bed and get moving for the same reason). The Stoics knew that fate was unpredictable and that death could come at any moment. Therefore, it was a sin (and stupidity) to take time for granted.

Today is the most valuable thing you own. It is the only thing you have. Don’t waste it. Seize it. Live it.

The post How to Have the Best Week Ever appeared first on RyanHoliday.net.

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It’s Not About Routine, but About Practice https://ryanholiday.net/practice/ Wed, 29 Jul 2020 00:24:04 +0000 http://ryanholiday.net/?p=5978 In a world where everything is uncertain. Where things are changing quickly.  Where chaos reigns.  And very little is under our control. What we need is simple.  It’s something that human beings have needed for all time—whether they were kings or artists, parents or farmers, senators or soldiers.  We need practices. What I’m not talking about are routines. Although daily routines are important, and many of us rely on them, the truth is that routines are fragile.  Hasn’t this pandemic shown that? Suddenly you aren’t taking your kids to school. And then every part of your routine that is triggered by dropping the kids off starts to shift, like tectonic plates after an earthquake. Assuming, of course, that those other parts haven’t been crushed or subducted themselves. Suddenly you’re not able to go to your favorite  gym at your favorite time. Suddenly you’re not going into the office at all… because there is no office to go to. Your job no longer exists.  Practices are different. Practices are things you do regularly—perhaps daily, perhaps not—but in no particular order. They are things you return to, time and time again, to center yourself. To reset. To reconnect. To focus.  Waking up everyday at 6 a.m. and watching the news while you have your coffee: that’s part of a routine. Prayer or meditation: that’s a practice. Eating at the same lunch place and same time everyday is a routine. Being vegan or eating kosher is a practice. Journaling is a practice. Going to the 9 a.m. CrossFit class is a routine. Exercising regularly is a practice.  The difference is in the flexibility.  One is about daily rhythm. The other is a lifelong pursuit. One can be ruined by something as simple as hitting the snooze button one too many times or getting called into work unexpectedly. The other can adapt accordingly. One is something you made up. The other is something you do.  Over the last couple years, I’ve gotten to interview some of the best artists on the planet about the behind-the-scenes of their work. “It’s a wild collage of human behavior,” as Austin Kleon has said about studying the routines of creative people, “like visiting a human zoo.” Some artists like the quiet before everyone else wakes up. Others like the quiet after everyone has gone to sleep. Some treat it like a 9-5. Others like a shift worker. Some break up the day with a nap. Others with a run. Some stop working when they run out of momentum, so they know where to pick back up tomorrow. Others when they are building momentum, so they know where to pick back up tomorrow. No two routines are the same. And yet the key practices are nearly universal… …journaling …set wake up time …quiet moments of reflection …exercise …reading …walks Think of someone like Marcus Aurelius. As we’ve talked about, he lived in a time of chaos and dysfunction, featuring brutal wars, devastating plagues, natural disasters, famines, political turmoil, and a plummeting economy. That’s to say nothing of his personal life—he buried eight children, his wife was probably unfaithful, his stepbrother and co-emperor was a ne’er-do-well, and his only son to outlive him was deranged. While his adopted father and cherished mentor, Antoninus, enjoyed a peaceful reign for over two decades, from the day Marcus put on the purple, it was one obstacle after the next. And it didn’t let up for any of the 15 years during which he ruled.  It’d be hard to sum it up better than Cassius Dio: “He didn’t have the luck which he deserved… but was confronted, throughout his reign, by a multitude of disasters.” But what centered him through all this were his daily practices. Journaling. Reading. Hunting and riding horses. A quick dip in the baths. Some friendly philosophical banter with Fronto or Sextus. Family time. If any of these were routine, he would have written somewhere in his journals or letters about when he preferred doing this or that. He didn’t have the luck or luxury to be rigid. Instead, he said, “to live life in peace” requires resilience and adaptability. Resilience is “keeping your mind calm… sizing up what’s around—and ready to make good use of whatever happens… while Adaptability adds, ‘You’re just what I was looking for.’” Same with Seneca. His daily routine was undoubtedly subject to intrusion from his health problems, his exiles, and Nero’s descent into madness. But what remained remarkably consistent and unperturbed was his practice of letter writing, his habit of “wandering walks,” his cold plunges, and his search for “one piece of wisdom” per day.  When we talk about stillness, we don’t mean the absence of activity. In fact, what we are referring to are activities that create stillness while the world is spinning out of control around us. Marcus Aurelius used the image of the rock surrounded by the raging sea. Perhaps a better image is of the Buddhist that Eugen Herrigal writes about in The Method of Zen, who calmly meditated through a terrible earthquake.  This is what daily practices give us.  Winston Churchill is a great example of how a good life should have both routine and practices. When at Chartwell, his estate, he liked to wake up at the same time each day, do the same things each day—especially when he was writing. There was the time he took his afternoon nap, the time he poured his first drink, the time he took his bath. That was part of the routine. But the bedrock practices—reading history and poetry, painting, bricklaying—these things transcended the day. They were lifelong pursuits. They were things he turned to whether a war was breaking out or whether his depression was creeping back into view.  If he had time for these practices, then certainly you do too. There is not a lot of good that can come out of a global pandemic, but one thing we can use it for is to reset and reorganize [...]

The post It’s Not About Routine, but About Practice appeared first on RyanHoliday.net.

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In a world where everything is uncertain.

Where things are changing quickly. 

Where chaos reigns. 

And very little is under our control.

What we need is simple. 

It’s something that human beings have needed for all time—whether they were kings or artists, parents or farmers, senators or soldiers. 

We need practices.

What I’m not talking about are routines. Although daily routines are important, and many of us rely on them, the truth is that routines are fragile

Hasn’t this pandemic shown that? Suddenly you aren’t taking your kids to school. And then every part of your routine that is triggered by dropping the kids off starts to shift, like tectonic plates after an earthquake. Assuming, of course, that those other parts haven’t been crushed or subducted themselves. Suddenly you’re not able to go to your favorite  gym at your favorite time. Suddenly you’re not going into the office at all… because there is no office to go to. Your job no longer exists. 

Practices are different. Practices are things you do regularly—perhaps daily, perhaps not—but in no particular order. They are things you return to, time and time again, to center yourself. To reset. To reconnect. To focus. 

Waking up everyday at 6 a.m. and watching the news while you have your coffee: that’s part of a routine. Prayer or meditation: that’s a practice. Eating at the same lunch place and same time everyday is a routine. Being vegan or eating kosher is a practice. Journaling is a practice. Going to the 9 a.m. CrossFit class is a routine. Exercising regularly is a practice. 

The difference is in the flexibility. 

One is about daily rhythm. The other is a lifelong pursuit. One can be ruined by something as simple as hitting the snooze button one too many times or getting called into work unexpectedly. The other can adapt accordingly. One is something you made up. The other is something you do

Over the last couple years, I’ve gotten to interview some of the best artists on the planet about the behind-the-scenes of their work. “It’s a wild collage of human behavior,” as Austin Kleon has said about studying the routines of creative people, “like visiting a human zoo.” Some artists like the quiet before everyone else wakes up. Others like the quiet after everyone has gone to sleep. Some treat it like a 9-5. Others like a shift worker. Some break up the day with a nap. Others with a run. Some stop working when they run out of momentum, so they know where to pick back up tomorrow. Others when they are building momentum, so they know where to pick back up tomorrow. No two routines are the same.

And yet the key practices are nearly universal…

…journaling

…set wake up time

…quiet moments of reflection

…exercise

…reading

…walks

Think of someone like Marcus Aurelius. As we’ve talked about, he lived in a time of chaos and dysfunction, featuring brutal wars, devastating plagues, natural disasters, famines, political turmoil, and a plummeting economy. That’s to say nothing of his personal life—he buried eight children, his wife was probably unfaithful, his stepbrother and co-emperor was a ne’er-do-well, and his only son to outlive him was deranged. While his adopted father and cherished mentor, Antoninus, enjoyed a peaceful reign for over two decades, from the day Marcus put on the purple, it was one obstacle after the next. And it didn’t let up for any of the 15 years during which he ruled. 

It’d be hard to sum it up better than Cassius Dio: “He didn’t have the luck which he deserved… but was confronted, throughout his reign, by a multitude of disasters.”

But what centered him through all this were his daily practices. Journaling. Reading. Hunting and riding horses. A quick dip in the baths. Some friendly philosophical banter with Fronto or Sextus. Family time. If any of these were routine, he would have written somewhere in his journals or letters about when he preferred doing this or that. He didn’t have the luck or luxury to be rigid. Instead, he said, “to live life in peace” requires resilience and adaptability. Resilience is “keeping your mind calm… sizing up what’s around—and ready to make good use of whatever happens… while Adaptability adds, ‘You’re just what I was looking for.’”

Same with Seneca. His daily routine was undoubtedly subject to intrusion from his health problems, his exiles, and Nero’s descent into madness. But what remained remarkably consistent and unperturbed was his practice of letter writing, his habit of “wandering walks,” his cold plunges, and his search for “one piece of wisdom” per day. 

When we talk about stillness, we don’t mean the absence of activity. In fact, what we are referring to are activities that create stillness while the world is spinning out of control around us. Marcus Aurelius used the image of the rock surrounded by the raging sea. Perhaps a better image is of the Buddhist that Eugen Herrigal writes about in The Method of Zen, who calmly meditated through a terrible earthquake. 

This is what daily practices give us. 

Winston Churchill is a great example of how a good life should have both routine and practices. When at Chartwell, his estate, he liked to wake up at the same time each day, do the same things each day—especially when he was writing. There was the time he took his afternoon nap, the time he poured his first drink, the time he took his bath. That was part of the routine. But the bedrock practices—reading history and poetry, painting, bricklaying—these things transcended the day. They were lifelong pursuits. They were things he turned to whether a war was breaking out or whether his depression was creeping back into view. 

If he had time for these practices, then certainly you do too.

There is not a lot of good that can come out of a global pandemic, but one thing we can use it for is to reset and reorganize the building blocks our lives and our days are set upon.We can get our act together. We can create and adjust and fine-tune our habits and practices while we have the time. Because in a world filled with despair and chaos, what we need is hope and dependability. We have the power to create ritual and the moments of peace that ripple out from them. 

Maybe right now you’re stuck at home. Maybe you’re not working. Your kids might be home with you. Certainly the normal way of doing things has been significantly altered. Almost certainly, your routines have been blown apart. 

I experienced this when I had kids. I also experience it when I travel. As much as I would like this to be simple and controllable, it isn’t. So I’ve had to work to loosen my grip on the routines (plural) I’ve built over time and focus more on practices that don’t depend on my ability to do the same thing everyday in a precise way to be “successful.” 

Maybe your work is shift-based, or it’s the feast or famine life of a freelancer. It doesn’t matter. Routine might be out of reach, but practices never are. 

Wherever I am, whatever is going on, what I know is that every single day, I am able to make time to journal, to exercise, to walk, to write. The order can change, but the activities remain the same. I have rules too—for instance, no touching the phone for one hour after I wake up, I don’t watch television news, I’m only reachable through three channels, I never put more than three things on my calendar per day if I can help it, I fast for 16 hours, I don’t buy wi-fi on planes, I always carry a book with me. And if I am unable to do these things, or if the rules are violated, my productivity and my mental health suffers. 

That’s what the Stoics meant when they said you don’t control what happens, you only control how you respond. That’s what they meant when they said the one thing people can always change is themselves. And that’s what they meant when they said we are what we repeatedly do—when or how we manage to squeeze them in is less important than our religious commitment to their continued existence. 

Start today. Focus on your practices. In a world where everything and everyone else seems to be falling apart, you can make good use of this time and say, “You’re just what I was looking for.”

The post It’s Not About Routine, but About Practice appeared first on RyanHoliday.net.

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The Best Career Advice I’ve Ever Gotten https://ryanholiday.net/career-advice/ Tue, 21 Jul 2020 23:51:11 +0000 http://ryanholiday.net/?p=5970 At the height of the financial crisis in 1975, Bill Belichick—the now six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach of the New England Patriots—was 23 years old and unemployed. Desperate for a job in football after an assistant position fell through, according to his biographer David Halberstam, he wrote some 250 letters to college and professional football coaches. Nothing came of it except a unpaid job for the Baltimore Colts.  The Colts’ head coach desperately needed someone for the one part of the job everyone else disliked: analyzing film.  Most people would have hated this job, especially back then, but it turned out to be the springboard through which the greatest coach in football was launched into his legendary career. In this lowly position, Belichick thrived on what was considered grunt work, asked for it, and strove to become the best at precisely what others thought they were too good for. “He was like a sponge, taking it all in, listening to everything,” one coach said. “You gave him an assignment and he disappeared into a room and you didn’t see him again until it was done, and then he wanted to do more,” said another. Most importantly, he made the other coaches look good. His insights gave them things they could give their players. It gave them an edge they would take credit for exploiting in the game.  It’s a strategy that all of us ought to follow, whatever stage of our careers we happen to be in. Forget credit. Do the work.  I’m lucky enough someone told me that early on, and I still try to follow it today. Don’t worry about credit, they said. Starting as an assistant in Hollywood, the best thing I could do was make my boss look good.  Forget credit so hard, they said, that you’re glad when other people get it instead of you. It ended up being pretty decent advice, but it was nowhere near the right wording. I certainly wouldn’t have moved upwards as quickly as I have if I’d just sat there and worked on the way people thought about my boss. Now that I’ve been around a bit, I think a better way to express it would be: Find canvases for other people to paint on. It’s what I now call the canvas strategy. I used it as a research assistant for bestselling authors. I used it as Head of Marketing for American Apparel. And I continue to use it with my company Brass Check, advising companies like Google and Complex, as well as multi-platinum musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. I even wrote a chapter about it in Ego Is the Enemy. One of the things I kept coming across in my research was that Belichick wasn’t unique. So many of the greats—everyone from Michelangelo to Leonardo da Vinci to Benjamin Franklin—used the same strategy to become great. The strategy? The canvas strategy. In the Roman system of art and science, there existed a concept for which we have only a partial analog. Successful businessmen, politicians and rich playboys would subsidize certain favored writers, artists, and performers. More than just being paid to produce works of art, these artists performed a number of tasks in exchange for protection, food and gifts. One of the roles was that of an anteambulo, literally meaning one who clears the path. An anteambulo proceeded in front of his patron anywhere they traveled in Rome, making way, communicating messages, and generally making the patron’s life easier. The artists who did this were rewarded with stipends and commissions that allowed them to pursue their art. That takes humility. The canvas strategy takes humility. It’s a common attitude that transcends generations and societies—the angry, underappreciated geniuses forced to do stuff she doesn’t like for people she doesn’t respect as she makes her way in the world. How dare they force me to grovel like this. The injustice, the waste. But when you enter a new field, we can usually be sure of a few things: You’re not nearly as good or as important as you think you are. You have an attitude that needs to be readjusted. Most of what you think you know, or most of what you learned in books or in school, is out of date or wrong. There’s one fabulous way to work all of that out of your system: Attach yourself to people in organizations who are already successful and subsume your identity into theirs and move both forward simultaneously. It’s certainly more glamorous to pursue your own glory, though hardly as effective. Obeisance is the way forward. That’s the other side of this attitude. It reduces your ego at a critical time in your career, letting you absorb everything you can without the obstructions that block other’s vision and progress. Imagine if for every person you met you thought of some way to help them, something you could do for them, and you looked at it in a way that entirely benefitted them and not you. The cumulative effect this would have overtime would be profound. You would learn a great deal by solving diverse problems. You’d develop a reputation for being indispensable. You’d have countless new relationships. You’d have an enormous bank of favors to call upon down the road. That’s what the canvas strategy is about—helping yourself by helping others, making a concerted effort to trade your short term gratification for a longer term payoff. Whereas everyone else wants to get credit and be respected, you could forget credit. Let others take their credit on credit while you defer and earn interest on the principle. The strategy part of it is the hardest. It’s easy to be bitter, to hate even the thought of subservience, to despise those who have more means, more experience, more status than you, to tell yourself that every second not spent doing your work or working on yourself is a waste of your gift to insist, I will [...]

The post The Best Career Advice I’ve Ever Gotten appeared first on RyanHoliday.net.

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At the height of the financial crisis in 1975, Bill Belichick—the now six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach of the New England Patriots—was 23 years old and unemployed. Desperate for a job in football after an assistant position fell through, according to his biographer David Halberstam, he wrote some 250 letters to college and professional football coaches. Nothing came of it except a unpaid job for the Baltimore Colts. 

The Colts’ head coach desperately needed someone for the one part of the job everyone else disliked: analyzing film. 

Most people would have hated this job, especially back then, but it turned out to be the springboard through which the greatest coach in football was launched into his legendary career.

In this lowly position, Belichick thrived on what was considered grunt work, asked for it, and strove to become the best at precisely what others thought they were too good for. “He was like a sponge, taking it all in, listening to everything,” one coach said. “You gave him an assignment and he disappeared into a room and you didn’t see him again until it was done, and then he wanted to do more,” said another.

Most importantly, he made the other coaches look good. His insights gave them things they could give their players. It gave them an edge they would take credit for exploiting in the game. 

It’s a strategy that all of us ought to follow, whatever stage of our careers we happen to be in. Forget credit. Do the work. 

I’m lucky enough someone told me that early on, and I still try to follow it today. Don’t worry about credit, they said. Starting as an assistant in Hollywood, the best thing I could do was make my boss look good. 

Forget credit so hard, they said, that you’re glad when other people get it instead of you.

It ended up being pretty decent advice, but it was nowhere near the right wording. I certainly wouldn’t have moved upwards as quickly as I have if I’d just sat there and worked on the way people thought about my boss.

Now that I’ve been around a bit, I think a better way to express it would be:

Find canvases for other people to paint on.

It’s what I now call the canvas strategy.

I used it as a research assistant for bestselling authors. I used it as Head of Marketing for American Apparel. And I continue to use it with my company Brass Check, advising companies like Google and Complex, as well as multi-platinum musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world.

I even wrote a chapter about it in Ego Is the Enemy.

One of the things I kept coming across in my research was that Belichick wasn’t unique. So many of the greats—everyone from Michelangelo to Leonardo da Vinci to Benjamin Franklin—used the same strategy to become great. The strategy? The canvas strategy.

In the Roman system of art and science, there existed a concept for which we have only a partial analog. Successful businessmen, politicians and rich playboys would subsidize certain favored writers, artists, and performers.

More than just being paid to produce works of art, these artists performed a number of tasks in exchange for protection, food and gifts. One of the roles was that of an anteambulo, literally meaning one who clears the path.

An anteambulo proceeded in front of his patron anywhere they traveled in Rome, making way, communicating messages, and generally making the patron’s life easier. The artists who did this were rewarded with stipends and commissions that allowed them to pursue their art.

That takes humility. The canvas strategy takes humility.

It’s a common attitude that transcends generations and societies—the angry, underappreciated geniuses forced to do stuff she doesn’t like for people she doesn’t respect as she makes her way in the world. How dare they force me to grovel like this. The injustice, the waste.

But when you enter a new field, we can usually be sure of a few things:

  1. You’re not nearly as good or as important as you think you are.
  2. You have an attitude that needs to be readjusted.
  3. Most of what you think you know, or most of what you learned in books or in school, is out of date or wrong.

There’s one fabulous way to work all of that out of your system:

Attach yourself to people in organizations who are already successful and subsume your identity into theirs and move both forward simultaneously.

It’s certainly more glamorous to pursue your own glory, though hardly as effective. Obeisance is the way forward. That’s the other side of this attitude. It reduces your ego at a critical time in your career, letting you absorb everything you can without the obstructions that block other’s vision and progress.

Imagine if for every person you met you thought of some way to help them, something you could do for them, and you looked at it in a way that entirely benefitted them and not you. The cumulative effect this would have overtime would be profound.

You would learn a great deal by solving diverse problems.

You’d develop a reputation for being indispensable.

You’d have countless new relationships.

You’d have an enormous bank of favors to call upon down the road.

That’s what the canvas strategy is about—helping yourself by helping others, making a concerted effort to trade your short term gratification for a longer term payoff.

Whereas everyone else wants to get credit and be respected, you could forget credit. Let others take their credit on credit while you defer and earn interest on the principle.

The strategy part of it is the hardest. It’s easy to be bitter, to hate even the thought of subservience, to despise those who have more means, more experience, more status than you, to tell yourself that every second not spent doing your work or working on yourself is a waste of your gift to insist, I will not be demeaned like this.

Once we fight this emotional and egotistical impulse, the canvas strategy is easy. The iterations are endless.

  • Maybe it’s coming up with ideas to hand over to your boss.
  • Find people, thinkers, up and comers to introduce them to. Cross wires to create new sparks.
  • Find what nobody else wants to do and do it.
  • Find inefficiency and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas.
  • Produce more than everyone else and give your ideas away.

In other words, discover opportunities to promote their creativity, find outlets and people for collaboration, and eliminate distractions that hinder their progress and focus. It’s a rewarding and infinitely scalable power strategy. Consider each one an investment in relationships and in your own development.

If you pick up this mantle once, you’ll see what most people’s egos prevent them from appreciating. The person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting.

The post The Best Career Advice I’ve Ever Gotten appeared first on RyanHoliday.net.

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If You’re Not Seeking Out Challenges, How Are You Going to Get Better? https://ryanholiday.net/seek-challenge/ Tue, 14 Jul 2020 22:43:50 +0000 http://ryanholiday.net/?p=5952 If it’s easy, you’re not growing.  It’s like lifting weights: if you can do it without trying, you’re not going to get any stronger. The whole point—of life, of working out, of work—is to push yourself, and to grow as a result of pushing against and through that resistance.  A couple years ago, after a book signing, someone proposed to me that I might write a book about the billionaire Peter Thiel’s conspiracy against Gawker Media and its founder, Nick Denton.  There were more reasons to say no than yes: It was outside my wheelhouse; it would be a ton of work; it would be the kind of project that would upset a lot of people. And frankly, it was personally quite risky… to be writing about a powerful gossip merchant and a right-wing billionaire who had just shut down a media outlet he didn’t like.  I was also just about to have my first kid and it seemed like it would be terribly difficult to manage a newborn and a new kind of book… particularly one that required me to read something like 20,000 pages of legal documents just to get started.  So you can imagine what I said. I said yes.  Although I knew it would be hard, and I knew that it might not work, I could also see that it might be the most interesting thing I ever did. And if it did work, it would be a book unlike almost any other I’d ever write. But mostly, I said yes because a writer betrays their craft if they do not push themselves. In fact, I think that’s true of all crafts. If you’re not seeking out challenges and getting better through them, what are you doing? And what are you doing it for? One of my favorite passages in Meditations is this one: Practice even what seems impossible. The left hand is useless at almost everything, for lack of practice. But it guides the reins better than the right. From practice. Not everything that’s hard is good of course, but almost everything good is hard. Think about all the things you’re good at. There was a time when you weren’t good at them, right? When they were hard. But you worked at it. Despite feeling deficient and frustrated, and fighting the urge to quit, you saw a glimpse of goodness, you clawed out a bit of progress, you felt a glimmer of confidence, and you chose to keep at it. To keep pushing. And you grew from the fight against the resistance.  Even more, you found something on the other side of it all—a you that you realized you didn’t entirely know and had possibly never met. You learned something incredibly valuable about yourself: you’re capable of more than you know.  That’s why we have to fight those urges to quit. That’s why we have to keep at it. That’s why we have to seek out challenges. Because would we know anything about ourselves if we never did? In my writing career, I have grown from each of the challenges I took up. I was asked to write a piece about Stoicism for Tim Ferriss’ website in 2009—one of the first times my work would be in front of a large audience. Tim is a tough editor and I grew for having that experience. The things I wrote and researched for Robert Greene were so beyond my depths that I was constantly worried I’d be exposed as a fool, but with time, I grew—because of the material and ideas I was exposed to. My first book was like flying off a cliff without a parachute and trying to build a plane on the way down… I made it but just barely.  In 2016, having reaped the benefits of those decisions, I was sitting in a nice, comfortable spot. I had two books under contract, nearly finished. I had a backlist that was selling. I had a niche applying ancient philosophy basically all to myself.  So when I got those two surprise emails, first from the billionaire Peter Thiel and later from the founder of Gawker Media, Nick Denton, the decision to write a book about them was essentially gambling all those gains. If it didn’t work, wouldn’t it set me way back in the business? Wasn’t it very likely that I would fail with this project? Isn’t narrative non-fiction a totally different genre than what I know how to do? Isn’t it insane to compete with those other pros? Perhaps, I thought, but there is also almost no chance that I won’t emerge as a better writer. That was why I jumped at the chance. Forget the business logic. I figured it would make me better at my calling and that was reason enough to do it.  I got down to work. It was even harder than I thought. It kicked my ass. It made me feel stupid. I doubted myself everyday.  But when I emerged, to paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, my left hand was now stronger. It could guide the reins… my practice had seen to that.  When the book came out, it received rave reviews. The New York Times called it “a profound masterwork,” said I was a “genius” and had written “a helluva pageturner.” (I’ll take it!) Its movie rights were optioned (I can’t say who will play Peter Thiel, but it should be very cool). That was all good. From a sales perspective, it was slower-going. The book has done very well but has struggled to find its own audience for exactly the reason some people warned me not to take the project on. It was different. It was weird. It wasn’t what people expected from me. It didn’t fit in a nice neat box.   Yet neither this success nor this struggle is why I look at that book as a massive win for me.  Defining it early on as an opportunity for growth meant that I controlled the outcome. Even [...]

The post If You’re Not Seeking Out Challenges, How Are You Going to Get Better? appeared first on RyanHoliday.net.

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If it’s easy, you’re not growing. 

It’s like lifting weights: if you can do it without trying, you’re not going to get any stronger.

The whole point—of life, of working out, of work—is to push yourself, and to grow as a result of pushing against and through that resistance. 

A couple years ago, after a book signing, someone proposed to me that I might write a book about the billionaire Peter Thiel’s conspiracy against Gawker Media and its founder, Nick Denton. 

There were more reasons to say no than yes: It was outside my wheelhouse; it would be a ton of work; it would be the kind of project that would upset a lot of people. And frankly, it was personally quite risky… to be writing about a powerful gossip merchant and a right-wing billionaire who had just shut down a media outlet he didn’t like. 

I was also just about to have my first kid and it seemed like it would be terribly difficult to manage a newborn and a new kind of book… particularly one that required me to read something like 20,000 pages of legal documents just to get started. 

So you can imagine what I said. I said yes. 

Although I knew it would be hard, and I knew that it might not work, I could also see that it might be the most interesting thing I ever did. And if it did work, it would be a book unlike almost any other I’d ever write. But mostly, I said yes because a writer betrays their craft if they do not push themselves.

In fact, I think that’s true of all crafts. If you’re not seeking out challenges and getting better through them, what are you doing? And what are you doing it for?

One of my favorite passages in Meditations is this one:

Practice even what seems impossible. The left hand is useless at almost everything, for lack of practice. But it guides the reins better than the right. From practice.

Not everything that’s hard is good of course, but almost everything good is hard. Think about all the things you’re good at. There was a time when you weren’t good at them, right? When they were hard. But you worked at it. Despite feeling deficient and frustrated, and fighting the urge to quit, you saw a glimpse of goodness, you clawed out a bit of progress, you felt a glimmer of confidence, and you chose to keep at it. To keep pushing. And you grew from the fight against the resistance. 

Even more, you found something on the other side of it all—a you that you realized you didn’t entirely know and had possibly never met. You learned something incredibly valuable about yourself: you’re capable of more than you know. 

That’s why we have to fight those urges to quit. That’s why we have to keep at it. That’s why we have to seek out challenges. Because would we know anything about ourselves if we never did?

In my writing career, I have grown from each of the challenges I took up. I was asked to write a piece about Stoicism for Tim Ferriss’ website in 2009—one of the first times my work would be in front of a large audience. Tim is a tough editor and I grew for having that experience. The things I wrote and researched for Robert Greene were so beyond my depths that I was constantly worried I’d be exposed as a fool, but with time, I grew—because of the material and ideas I was exposed to. My first book was like flying off a cliff without a parachute and trying to build a plane on the way down… I made it but just barely. 

In 2016, having reaped the benefits of those decisions, I was sitting in a nice, comfortable spot. I had two books under contract, nearly finished. I had a backlist that was selling. I had a niche applying ancient philosophy basically all to myself. 

So when I got those two surprise emails, first from the billionaire Peter Thiel and later from the founder of Gawker Media, Nick Denton, the decision to write a book about them was essentially gambling all those gains. If it didn’t work, wouldn’t it set me way back in the business? Wasn’t it very likely that I would fail with this project? Isn’t narrative non-fiction a totally different genre than what I know how to do? Isn’t it insane to compete with those other pros?

Perhaps, I thought, but there is also almost no chance that I won’t emerge as a better writer. That was why I jumped at the chance. Forget the business logic. I figured it would make me better at my calling and that was reason enough to do it. 

I got down to work.

It was even harder than I thought. It kicked my ass. It made me feel stupid. I doubted myself everyday. 

But when I emerged, to paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, my left hand was now stronger. It could guide the reins… my practice had seen to that. 

When the book came out, it received rave reviews. The New York Times called it “a profound masterwork,” said I was a “genius” and had written “a helluva pageturner.” (I’ll take it!) Its movie rights were optioned (I can’t say who will play Peter Thiel, but it should be very cool). That was all good.

From a sales perspective, it was slower-going. The book has done very well but has struggled to find its own audience for exactly the reason some people warned me not to take the project on. It was different. It was weird. It wasn’t what people expected from me. It didn’t fit in a nice neat box.  

Yet neither this success nor this struggle is why I look at that book as a massive win for me. 

Defining it early on as an opportunity for growth meant that I controlled the outcome. Even if it had sold another 100,000 copies it would not have made it more successful to me—because the success is there for me on the page. It’s in my mind. It’s in my toolkit, which I am using right now on this article. 

I got better because it was hard. Because I took a risk. Because there was so much resistance. 

This is the essence of “the obstacle is the way” philosophy of Stoicism. Each obstacle, everything that goes wrong is just an opportunity to practice a virtue—to give you a chance to work with your non-dominant hand. One obstacle gives you a chance to practice controlling your temper, another perseverance, another a chance to take a long walk through the park. There is always something you can do.

Including right now, today. 

You are going to face plenty of little crossroads—decisions about how to do things and what things to do. Should you walk the 15 minutes to your meeting or take an Uber? Should you pick up the phone and have that difficult conversation or leave it to an email? Should you apologize and take responsibility or hope it goes unnoticed? Should you swim in the outdoor pool or enjoy the warmth of the indoor one? 

As you weigh these competing options, lean towards the hard one. Let it steer you away from the drift of least resistance. Seneca talked about how a person who skates through life without being tested and challenged is actually depriving themselves of opportunities to grow and improve. 

Jump into the colder pool. Have the tougher conversation. Walk instead of drive. Take ownership where you can. Choose the more difficult option. Seek out the challenge. Lean into it. 

Iron sharpens iron, resistance builds muscle. 

You’ll be better for it—not only for the improvement that comes from the challenge itself, but for the willpower you are developing by choosing that option on purpose. When you have two choices, choose the one that challenges you the most. 

Choose the one, as Marcus would agree, that allows you to take the reins in any situation.

The post If You’re Not Seeking Out Challenges, How Are You Going to Get Better? appeared first on RyanHoliday.net.

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Every Situation Has Two Handles. Which One Will You Grab? https://ryanholiday.net/two-handles/ Tue, 07 Jul 2020 22:23:45 +0000 http://ryanholiday.net/?p=5940 The last few months have been rough for me, as they have been for most people. Most of my talks have been cancelled. Without retail stores open, physical book sales have fallen by a third. We had two new employees start work on February 15th, in new offices we just had renovated, which now sit empty.  There have been trying supply chain and inventory issues with Daily Stoic. My retirement accounts were savaged and then bounced back and then savaged like everyone else’s. We estimate our total business losses, so far, to be well into the mid-six figures, and that hurts a lot less than watching my son cry that he can’t see his friends at school. My other son had ear infections we couldn’t go to the doctor for, and the stray cat we rescued managed to get pregnant and have kittens before we could get her fixed.  So like I said, it’s been rough. That’s one way to see it, anyway. I could also choose to see it as not so bad, considering the fact that, unlike 130,000 other Americans and at least 400,000 others worldwide, none of my family members nor I have died in a pandemic. Still, it has been rough. It would be untrue to deny it, even if other people have it much, much rougher. But just because something is objectively difficult or complicated or unenjoyable, doesn’t mean that’s what you should focus on.  “Every event has two handles,” Epictetus said, “one by which it can be carried, and one by which it can’t. If your brother does you wrong, don’t grab it by his wronging, because this is the handle incapable of lifting it. Instead, use the other—that he is your brother, that you were raised together, and then you will have hold of the handle that carries.” This is a critical life question and particularly relevant right now in light of the mountain of adversity we are facing, individually and collectively. Which handle will we grab? When I look at the last three months, I don’t grab onto the things that were taken from me. I could grab on to blame or despair. I could grip the anger and frustration and impotence. I could even latch onto some pretty valid excuses to sit around and wait for all the chaos to pass, or… I could look at what I’ve been able to accomplish despite a quarantine and the obstacles it has presented:  I’ve run and biked and walked more than 1,200 miles I’ve written close to 100,000 words I’ve launched four new challenges and courses for Daily Stoic I’ve recorded over 40 hours of content for the Daily Stoic podcast and YouTube channel I’ve gotten in the pool with my kids almost every day I’ve read a few dozen books and filled over a thousand notecards We’ve had 360 meals together as a family I haven’t missed a bathtime or a bedtime We cleaned out the garage With sales from the Daily Stoic Alive Time Challenge, we raised enough money to provide 75,000 meals We donated $100,000 to Alan Graham’s Community First! Village Not a bad handle to seize hold of, right? If you’ve ever been stuck in Los Angeles traffic at night, you know it’s miserable. But if you’ve ever flown into Los Angeles at night and seen the lit-up city from above, you’ve noticed how from a different perspective this same miserable experience can suddenly seem almost beautiful and serene. We call one a traffic jam, the other a light show. The chaos of international politics can strike fear in us—wars break out, property gets destroyed, people get killed. Yet if you zoom out just slightly—across time, rather than space in this case—all those terrifying CNN updates seem to blur together into an almost coordinated dance of nations lurching towards a balance of power. We call one journalism, the other history. Same thing, different perspective. Life is like that. We can look at it one way and be scared or angry or worried. Or we can look at it another way and see an exciting challenge. We can choose to look at something as an obstacle or an opportunity. We can see chaos if we look close, we can see order if we look from afar.  We can focus on our lack of agency in what has happened or we can focus on what we do control, which is how we respond. Isaac Newton did some of his best research when Cambridge closed due to the plague. Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he hid out from the plague as well. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang while he was laid up in the hospital, expressly forbidden from working on something as tough as a novel. Malcolm X educated himself in prison and turned himself into the activist the world needed. Seneca produced some of his best writing in exile. Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations while Rome was being scourged by the twin evils of plague and war.  This is what the idea of Alive Time vs. Dead Time, which I’ve written about before, is really all about: which handle will you grab? The one that bears weight? Or the one that won’t take you anywhere? So yes, things are rough right now. That’s not your fault. But what you do during these rough times? That’s on you. How are you going to look at things? Will you choose to be miserable or awed? Will you choose to sit around and wait for things to get back to normal or make the most of every second of every day? Will you choose to focus on all the ways this has been a rough few weeks? Or will you choose to step back and look at all the things you still have and still can do? It’s up to you. It’s always up to you. Because there are always two handles.  I’ve come to see this [...]

The post Every Situation Has Two Handles. Which One Will You Grab? appeared first on RyanHoliday.net.

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The last few months have been rough for me, as they have been for most people. Most of my talks have been cancelled. Without retail stores open, physical book sales have fallen by a third. We had two new employees start work on February 15th, in new offices we just had renovated, which now sit empty. 

There have been trying supply chain and inventory issues with Daily Stoic. My retirement accounts were savaged and then bounced back and then savaged like everyone else’s. We estimate our total business losses, so far, to be well into the mid-six figures, and that hurts a lot less than watching my son cry that he can’t see his friends at school. My other son had ear infections we couldn’t go to the doctor for, and the stray cat we rescued managed to get pregnant and have kittens before we could get her fixed. 

So like I said, it’s been rough. That’s one way to see it, anyway. I could also choose to see it as not so bad, considering the fact that, unlike 130,000 other Americans and at least 400,000 others worldwide, none of my family members nor I have died in a pandemic.

Still, it has been rough. It would be untrue to deny it, even if other people have it much, much rougher. But just because something is objectively difficult or complicated or unenjoyable, doesn’t mean that’s what you should focus on. 

“Every event has two handles,” Epictetus said, “one by which it can be carried, and one by which it can’t. If your brother does you wrong, don’t grab it by his wronging, because this is the handle incapable of lifting it. Instead, use the other—that he is your brother, that you were raised together, and then you will have hold of the handle that carries.”

This is a critical life question and particularly relevant right now in light of the mountain of adversity we are facing, individually and collectively. Which handle will we grab?

When I look at the last three months, I don’t grab onto the things that were taken from me. I could grab on to blame or despair. I could grip the anger and frustration and impotence. I could even latch onto some pretty valid excuses to sit around and wait for all the chaos to pass, or…

I could look at what I’ve been able to accomplish despite a quarantine and the obstacles it has presented: 

  • I’ve run and biked and walked more than 1,200 miles
  • I’ve written close to 100,000 words
  • I’ve launched four new challenges and courses for Daily Stoic
  • I’ve recorded over 40 hours of content for the Daily Stoic podcast and YouTube channel
  • I’ve gotten in the pool with my kids almost every day
  • I’ve read a few dozen books and filled over a thousand notecards
  • We’ve had 360 meals together as a family
  • I haven’t missed a bathtime or a bedtime
  • We cleaned out the garage
  • With sales from the Daily Stoic Alive Time Challenge, we raised enough money to provide 75,000 meals
  • We donated $100,000 to Alan Graham’s Community First! Village

Not a bad handle to seize hold of, right?

If you’ve ever been stuck in Los Angeles traffic at night, you know it’s miserable. But if you’ve ever flown into Los Angeles at night and seen the lit-up city from above, you’ve noticed how from a different perspective this same miserable experience can suddenly seem almost beautiful and serene. We call one a traffic jam, the other a light show.

The chaos of international politics can strike fear in us—wars break out, property gets destroyed, people get killed. Yet if you zoom out just slightly—across time, rather than space in this case—all those terrifying CNN updates seem to blur together into an almost coordinated dance of nations lurching towards a balance of power. We call one journalism, the other history.

Same thing, different perspective.

Life is like that. We can look at it one way and be scared or angry or worried. Or we can look at it another way and see an exciting challenge. We can choose to look at something as an obstacle or an opportunity. We can see chaos if we look close, we can see order if we look from afar. 

We can focus on our lack of agency in what has happened or we can focus on what we do control, which is how we respond.

Isaac Newton did some of his best research when Cambridge closed due to the plague. Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he hid out from the plague as well. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang while he was laid up in the hospital, expressly forbidden from working on something as tough as a novel. Malcolm X educated himself in prison and turned himself into the activist the world needed. Seneca produced some of his best writing in exile. Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations while Rome was being scourged by the twin evils of plague and war. 

This is what the idea of Alive Time vs. Dead Time, which I’ve written about before, is really all about: which handle will you grab? The one that bears weight? Or the one that won’t take you anywhere?

So yes, things are rough right now. That’s not your fault. But what you do during these rough times? That’s on you. How are you going to look at things? Will you choose to be miserable or awed? Will you choose to sit around and wait for things to get back to normal or make the most of every second of every day? Will you choose to focus on all the ways this has been a rough few weeks? Or will you choose to step back and look at all the things you still have and still can do?

It’s up to you. It’s always up to you. Because there are always two handles. 

I’ve come to see this pandemic as a radical lifestyle experiment that would have been impossible under any other circumstances. What does zero travel look like? Or full remote work for the team? What if your outside income sources evaporate? What if you completely eliminated meetings? What if you politely excised subtractive people from your life? What if you stopped eating out? What if your day didn’t have to be built around anything you didn’t want to do? What if there was a lot less peer pressure? 

This has been an opportunity to try different things… things that, as it turns out, I much prefer to how things were before. Things I’ll be trying to preserve when “we go back to normal” (which of course, we won’t). 

Given the immense devastation and tragedy of this pandemic, that hardly makes up for what has happened. It would be blasé and offensive to claim that it does. Dialing in a bit better at home, becoming more productive, finding things you like better than what you’re supposed to like—these hardly compensate for the rising death tolls. 

But the Stoics would urge us still not to dismiss this progress we have made as meaningless. Because it isn’t. It’s the only handle we can grab right now. It’s the only meaning and good that can come out of this suffering and uncertainty. 

Which is why I will continue to grab what Thomas Jefferson—paraphrasing Epictetus—would call the “smooth handle.” Because what else am I going to do? What would be better?

I urge you to do the same.

The post Every Situation Has Two Handles. Which One Will You Grab? appeared first on RyanHoliday.net.

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The Definition of Success Is Autonomy https://ryanholiday.net/autonomy/ Wed, 01 Jul 2020 00:42:30 +0000 http://ryanholiday.net/?p=5934 None of us truly control our own destiny. Fate has too much power over us puny humans. Still, we often suspect that were we just a little richer, just a little more famous, if we were in charge and got the success we craved, then we’d finally have some say over the direction of our lives and of our world. How naive this is. How many false prisons this has created! Now to be sure, the poor and disenfranchised amongst us suffer greatly. Some lack access to basic resources. Some are held down by systemic forces. Some are buffeted by adversity that we cannot even imagine. And we think, if we can just be the opposite of that, then everything will be great. In many ways, that is at the root of our pursuit of fame and fortune. And yet, it’s worth noting that the people we envy, who have reached the pinnacle of success as we have defined it, are hardly as free as we think. There is a revealing scene in Miss Americana, Netflix’s Taylor Swift documentary from earlier this year, that speaks to just this point. Here is a young woman who has accomplished in her field nearly everything you could ever dream was possible. She’s rich. She’s famous. She has millions of fans and followers. She’s sold tens of millions of albums. She’s won Grammys. She has challenged and beaten Apple and Spotify, as well as a man who sexually assaulted her. And yet there she is, on film, confronting her manager, her parents, her publicist and nearly everyone who works for her, fighting—no, begging—for permission to make a standard political contribution to a candidate in a Democratic primary election in her home state. Eventually, she breaks down in tears. Why can’t you let me do this? Don’t you see that it’s important to me? You might think that all this resistance is just a quirk of her particularly risk-averse team, that it would be easy to push past it, but it isn’t. With power and success come all sorts of limitations and constraints. It’s not worse than oppression or actual slavery or incarceration, obviously, don’t be crazy. But it doesn’t change the fact that to experience the kind of suffocating restriction on display in the Taylor Swift documentary is to feel like you are living within a prison of your own making, a slave to what you have built. “Today, I’m sort of a mannequin figure that’s lost its liberty and happiness,” Napoleon once wrote to a friend. “Grandeur is all very well, but only in retrospect and in the imagination.” Ernest Renan, writing about Marcus Aurelius, observed that the “sovereign… is the least free of men.” You’d think that being a millionaire or being a celebrity or being the CEO would be empowering. If done right, perhaps it is. But the reality is that most of the time it is inherently disempowering. How is that possible, you might ask? Many years ago, Mark Bowden answered that question in a fascinating article about Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. While ostensibly a detailed day-in-the-life portrait, Bowden illustrates many of the paradoxes of power. This paragraph is worth reading in full: One might think that the most powerful man has the most choices, but in reality he has the fewest. Too much depends on his every move. The tyrant’s choices are the narrowest of all. His life—the nation!—hangs in the balance. He can no longer drift or explore, join or flee. He cannot reinvent himself, because so many others depend on him—and he, in turn, must depend on so many others. He stops learning, because he is walled in by fortresses and palaces, by generals and ministers who rarely dare to tell him what he doesn’t wish to hear. Power gradually shuts the tyrant off from the world. Everything comes to him second or third hand. He is deceived daily. He becomes ignorant of his land, his people, even his own family. He exists, finally, only to preserve his wealth and power, to build his legacy. Survival becomes his one overriding passion. So he regulates his diet, tests his food for poison, exercises behind well-patrolled walls, trusts no one, and tries to control everything. Lest you think this is an edge case in the history of power, know that it is in fact the oldest story in the world. There’s even an ancient myth about it: The Sword of Damocles. We think a king is free… in fact, terror hangs over him. The point of painting this picture is not to get you to pity the powerful; it’s to get you to ask some important questions about your own ambitions and desires. Are you sure the goals you pursue are what you truly desire? Are you sure you understand what success entails? Are you sure you have defined it properly? Are you sure it will make you happy? Over the years, I have wrestled with this. As I wrote a while back, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a highly-paid one. I wanted to have influence and a platform. But one of the very interesting things about becoming a writer—a job which is a calling and a craft—is that the more success you have at it, the less time you actually have to write. Suddenly, people want you to speak. They want you to be on social media. They want you to consult. You have all sorts of decisions to make about covers and titles and foreign publishing deals. You have gratifying emails from fans, from people who want your advice, but all of that–to read it, to respond to it—takes time. It is very possible, and very tempting, for this to consume your life. Write another book? Who has the time? Sitting down on a quiet morning with your thoughts? Ha! Quiet mornings don’t exist anymore. Think of the actor who gets typecast. Think of the billionaire whose every waking second is [...]

The post The Definition of Success Is Autonomy appeared first on RyanHoliday.net.

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None of us truly control our own destiny.

Fate has too much power over us puny humans.

Still, we often suspect that were we just a little richer, just a little more famous, if we were in charge and got the success we craved, then we’d finally have some say over the direction of our lives and of our world.

How naive this is. How many false prisons this has created!

Now to be sure, the poor and disenfranchised amongst us suffer greatly. Some lack access to basic resources. Some are held down by systemic forces. Some are buffeted by adversity that we cannot even imagine.

And we think, if we can just be the opposite of that, then everything will be great. In many ways, that is at the root of our pursuit of fame and fortune. And yet, it’s worth noting that the people we envy, who have reached the pinnacle of success as we have defined it, are hardly as free as we think.

There is a revealing scene in Miss Americana, Netflix’s Taylor Swift documentary from earlier this year, that speaks to just this point. Here is a young woman who has accomplished in her field nearly everything you could ever dream was possible. She’s rich. She’s famous. She has millions of fans and followers. She’s sold tens of millions of albums. She’s won Grammys. She has challenged and beaten Apple and Spotify, as well as a man who sexually assaulted her.

And yet there she is, on film, confronting her manager, her parents, her publicist and nearly everyone who works for her, fighting—no, begging—for permission to make a standard political contribution to a candidate in a Democratic primary election in her home state.

Eventually, she breaks down in tears. Why can’t you let me do this? Don’t you see that it’s important to me?

You might think that all this resistance is just a quirk of her particularly risk-averse team, that it would be easy to push past it, but it isn’t. With power and success come all sorts of limitations and constraints. It’s not worse than oppression or actual slavery or incarceration, obviously, don’t be crazy. But it doesn’t change the fact that to experience the kind of suffocating restriction on display in the Taylor Swift documentary is to feel like you are living within a prison of your own making, a slave to what you have built.

“Today, I’m sort of a mannequin figure that’s lost its liberty and happiness,” Napoleon once wrote to a friend. “Grandeur is all very well, but only in retrospect and in the imagination.”

Ernest Renan, writing about Marcus Aurelius, observed that the “sovereign… is the least free of men.” You’d think that being a millionaire or being a celebrity or being the CEO would be empowering. If done right, perhaps it is. But the reality is that most of the time it is inherently disempowering. How is that possible, you might ask?

Many years ago, Mark Bowden answered that question in a fascinating article about Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. While ostensibly a detailed day-in-the-life portrait, Bowden illustrates many of the paradoxes of power. This paragraph is worth reading in full:

One might think that the most powerful man has the most choices, but in reality he has the fewest. Too much depends on his every move. The tyrant’s choices are the narrowest of all. His life—the nation!—hangs in the balance. He can no longer drift or explore, join or flee. He cannot reinvent himself, because so many others depend on him—and he, in turn, must depend on so many others. He stops learning, because he is walled in by fortresses and palaces, by generals and ministers who rarely dare to tell him what he doesn’t wish to hear. Power gradually shuts the tyrant off from the world. Everything comes to him second or third hand. He is deceived daily. He becomes ignorant of his land, his people, even his own family. He exists, finally, only to preserve his wealth and power, to build his legacy. Survival becomes his one overriding passion. So he regulates his diet, tests his food for poison, exercises behind well-patrolled walls, trusts no one, and tries to control everything.

Lest you think this is an edge case in the history of power, know that it is in fact the oldest story in the world. There’s even an ancient myth about it: The Sword of Damocles. We think a king is free… in fact, terror hangs over him.

The point of painting this picture is not to get you to pity the powerful; it’s to get you to ask some important questions about your own ambitions and desires. Are you sure the goals you pursue are what you truly desire? Are you sure you understand what success entails? Are you sure you have defined it properly? Are you sure it will make you happy?

Over the years, I have wrestled with this. As I wrote a while back, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a highly-paid one. I wanted to have influence and a platform. But one of the very interesting things about becoming a writer—a job which is a calling and a craft—is that the more success you have at it, the less time you actually have to write.

Suddenly, people want you to speak. They want you to be on social media. They want you to consult. You have all sorts of decisions to make about covers and titles and foreign publishing deals. You have gratifying emails from fans, from people who want your advice, but all of that–to read it, to respond to it—takes time.

It is very possible, and very tempting, for this to consume your life. Write another book? Who has the time? Sitting down on a quiet morning with your thoughts? Ha! Quiet mornings don’t exist anymore.

Think of the actor who gets typecast. Think of the billionaire whose every waking second is consumed by managing their fortune. Think of the CEO who is at the mercy of the enormous beast that is their business. Think of the prime minister whose schedule is controlled by their staff. It might seem glamorous, but looking closer, it’s hardly so enviable.

It took me a while to realize that it was quite possible that the success I thought I wanted would prevent me from doing the thing I actually wanted to do. What kind of sense does that make?

Today, I don’t define success the way that I did when I was younger. I don’t measure it in copies sold or dollars earned. I measure it in what my days look like and the quality of my creative expression: Do I have time to write? Can I say what I think? Do I direct my schedule or does my schedule direct me? Is my life enjoyable or is it a chore?

In a word: autonomy. Do I have autonomy over what I do and think? Am I free?

Free to decide what I do most days…

Free to do what I think is right…

Free to invest in myself or projects I think worth pursuing…

Free to express what I think needs to be expressed…

Free to spend time with who I want to spend time with…

Free to read and study and learn about the things I’m interested in…

Free to leave the office to enjoy dinner with my family before tucking my kids into bed…

Free to pursue my definition of success…

This also always helps me to weigh opportunities properly. Does this give me more autonomy or less?

Screw whether it’s fancy.

Screw whether it’s what everyone else is doing, whether it gets me a few more followers or a couple extra dollars. What matters is freedom.

Because without freedom, what good is success? As Seneca said, “Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.”

Don’t just nod your head at that. Think about it for a minute. Or for the rest of the day. Was this morning your own? Or were you rushed through it, to go somewhere, to do something, for someone you don’t actually like?

Are you sure that “getting everything you want” is what you actually want? Will it mean the ability to dictate what you do today? Will it give you control of your life—insofar as that is possible as a puny human being?

Because if it doesn’t… well, what’s the point?

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You Must Live an Interesting Life https://ryanholiday.net/you-must-live-an-interesting-life/ Tue, 23 Jun 2020 21:31:13 +0000 http://ryanholiday.net/?p=5930 When I was starting out, I got a really good piece of advice. An author told me: If you want to be a great writer, go live an interesting life.  He was right. Great art is fueled by great experiences.  Or, if not “great” experiences, at least interesting or eye-opening ones. That very encounter would illustrate that for me. I would go on to work for that writer for several years, seeing up close what profound psychological issues can do to a person and watching—and experiencing—the emotional wreckage this creates. I would look back on this period with regret… were it not for all the material it opened my eyes to and the cautionary tale it remains to me.  I don’t think this advice is limited just to writers.  Why was Seneca so wise? How has his philosophy been able to reach through the centuries and still grab readers by the throat? It’s because he had a wide swath of experiences to draw on, he had lived in such a way that he understood life. Think about it: Seneca studied under a fascinating and controversial tutor named Attalus (who was later exiled). He started a legal career. Then he got tuberculosis and had to spend 10 years in Egypt, where he lived with his uncle Gaius Galerius who was prefect of Rome. Then on the journey back to Rome, a terrible shipwreck killed his uncle. Once in Rome, he entered politics, where his career was ascendant until he was exiled and nearly executed by the jealous emperor. He spent eight years on the distant island of Corsica before he was brought back to Rome to tutor Nero. Seneca served as consul. He became an investor. He had a wife. He had a son (who may have died tragically). He hosted parties. He did scientific experiments. He managed his family’s estates. He enjoyed gardening—“a hobby he found deeply sustaining,” biographer Emily Wilson writes, “and also informative as a way to think about how cultivation can be achieved.” He wrote letters and essays and speeches and poems and comedies and tragedies. He attended philosophy classes and civic center meetings and gladiatorial games and court hearings and theatrical performances. He served as consul, he tried to protect Rome from Nero’s worst impulses. He wrote plays. He wrote letters.  Of course he was wise. Look at all he experienced! Branko Milanović recently wrote about just how uninspired the resumes of the young people he sees are:  He/she graduated from a very prestigious university as the best in their class; had many offers from equally prestigious universities; became an assistant professor at X, tenured at Y; wrote a seminal paper on Z when he/she was W. Served on one or two government panels. Moved to another prestigious university. Wrote another seminal paper. Then wrote a book. And then… this went on and on. You could create a single template, and just input the name of the author, and the titles of the papers, and perhaps only slight differences in age for each of them. I was wondering: how can people who had lived such boring lives, mostly in one or two countries, with the knowledge of at most two languages, having read only the literature in one language, having travelled only from one campus to another, and perhaps from one hiking resort to another, have meaningful things to say about social sciences with all their fights, corruption, struggles, wars, betrayals and cheating. Had they been physicists or chemists, it would not matter. You do not have to lead an interesting life in order to understand how atoms move, but perhaps you do need it to understand what moves humans. If you want to be a philosopher, if you want to be a good entrepreneur or a good coach or a good leader or a good parent or a good writer, you have to understand the world. You have to cultivate experiences. You have to see adversity first-hand. You have to take risks. You have to go do stuff. Without this, not only are you boring, but you are sheltered and stupid. Marcus Aurelius said that no role is so well-suited to philosophy as the one we happen to be in. That’s true, but also we will be more well-suited to our roles if we had a wide breadth of experiences, and if we learn from all of them.  Emerson spoke of something very similar. He noted how fragile the “specialists” are: If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not “studying a profession,” for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. So go live an interesting life.  How do you do that? Well, life is always presenting you with opportunities. A road diverges in the woods, and we have a choice. The safe one and the dangerous one. The one that pays well and the one that teaches a lot. The one that people understand and the one they don’t. The one that challenges us and the one that doesn’t.  It’s the cumulative result of these choices that leads to a life worth writing about, or [...]

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When I was starting out, I got a really good piece of advice. An author told me: If you want to be a great writer, go live an interesting life. 

He was right. Great art is fueled by great experiences. 

Or, if not “great” experiences, at least interesting or eye-opening ones.

That very encounter would illustrate that for me. I would go on to work for that writer for several years, seeing up close what profound psychological issues can do to a person and watching—and experiencing—the emotional wreckage this creates. I would look back on this period with regret… were it not for all the material it opened my eyes to and the cautionary tale it remains to me. 

I don’t think this advice is limited just to writers. 

Why was Seneca so wise? How has his philosophy been able to reach through the centuries and still grab readers by the throat? It’s because he had a wide swath of experiences to draw on, he had lived in such a way that he understood life.

Think about it: Seneca studied under a fascinating and controversial tutor named Attalus (who was later exiled). He started a legal career. Then he got tuberculosis and had to spend 10 years in Egypt, where he lived with his uncle Gaius Galerius who was prefect of Rome. Then on the journey back to Rome, a terrible shipwreck killed his uncle. Once in Rome, he entered politics, where his career was ascendant until he was exiled and nearly executed by the jealous emperor. He spent eight years on the distant island of Corsica before he was brought back to Rome to tutor Nero. Seneca served as consul. He became an investor. He had a wife. He had a son (who may have died tragically). He hosted parties. He did scientific experiments. He managed his family’s estates. He enjoyed gardening—“a hobby he found deeply sustaining,” biographer Emily Wilson writes, “and also informative as a way to think about how cultivation can be achieved.” He wrote letters and essays and speeches and poems and comedies and tragedies. He attended philosophy classes and civic center meetings and gladiatorial games and court hearings and theatrical performances. He served as consul, he tried to protect Rome from Nero’s worst impulses. He wrote plays. He wrote letters. 

Of course he was wise. Look at all he experienced!

Branko Milanović recently wrote about just how uninspired the resumes of the young people he sees are: 

He/she graduated from a very prestigious university as the best in their class; had many offers from equally prestigious universities; became an assistant professor at X, tenured at Y; wrote a seminal paper on Z when he/she was W. Served on one or two government panels. Moved to another prestigious university. Wrote another seminal paper. Then wrote a book. And then… this went on and on. You could create a single template, and just input the name of the author, and the titles of the papers, and perhaps only slight differences in age for each of them.

I was wondering: how can people who had lived such boring lives, mostly in one or two countries, with the knowledge of at most two languages, having read only the literature in one language, having travelled only from one campus to another, and perhaps from one hiking resort to another, have meaningful things to say about social sciences with all their fights, corruption, struggles, wars, betrayals and cheating. Had they been physicists or chemists, it would not matter. You do not have to lead an interesting life in order to understand how atoms move, but perhaps you do need it to understand what moves humans.

If you want to be a philosopher, if you want to be a good entrepreneur or a good coach or a good leader or a good parent or a good writer, you have to understand the world. You have to cultivate experiences. You have to see adversity first-hand. You have to take risks. You have to go do stuff.

Without this, not only are you boring, but you are sheltered and stupid. Marcus Aurelius said that no role is so well-suited to philosophy as the one we happen to be in. That’s true, but also we will be more well-suited to our roles if we had a wide breadth of experiences, and if we learn from all of them. 

Emerson spoke of something very similar. He noted how fragile the “specialists” are:

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not “studying a profession,” for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.

So go live an interesting life. 

How do you do that?

Well, life is always presenting you with opportunities. A road diverges in the woods, and we have a choice. The safe one and the dangerous one. The one that pays well and the one that teaches a lot. The one that people understand and the one they don’t. The one that challenges us and the one that doesn’t. 

It’s the cumulative result of these choices that leads to a life worth writing about, or a life worth being written about. The person who chooses safety, familiarity, the same thing as everyone else? What perspectives will they gain that will allow them to be distinct, unique or wiser than others? What will the person who never risks hope to ever gain?

This will be a hard road, no question. There will be failure. There will be pain. You will kick yourself, at times, when you see people you went to high school with settling into nice houses or being recognized before you. You will envy, when you’re struggling, what seems like the easier path. You will wish you took it too sometimes. 

But you have to remember, this is all adding up. You are putting in work. You are lifting weights. You are building a biography

Nowhere is this more important than in the arts. One of the benefits of being an artist is that everything that happens to you—no matter how traumatic or frustrating—has at least one hidden benefit: It can be used in your art. A painful parting can become a powerful breakup anthem. Melancholy mixes in with your oil paints and transforms an ordinary image into something deeply moving. A mistake creates an insight that leads to an innovation, to a new angle on an old idea, to a brilliant passage in a book.

The writer Jorge Luis Borges spoke to that last benefit well:

A writer—and, I believe, generally all persons—must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.

But make no mistake, this raw material is necessary for all professions of any importance. 

In my own life, I have failed. I have traveled. I dropped out of college. I’ve started businesses and closed them. I’ve made money, lost money. Moved to different places, including a ranch. Met good people and bad people. Followed good people and bad people. Watched the rise and fall of American Apparel. Been in rooms where important things happened. Seen bureaucracy and incompetence up close, and excellence too. Been in rooms with important people (who turned out to be not very impressive). I’ve gone through pain. I’ve gone through loss. I’ve messed stuff up. I’ve had my hopes dashed. I’ve been surprised beyond my expectations. 

I remember going through something tough once and my mentor Robert Greene giving me a shorter version of Borges’ advice. 

It’s all material, he said. You’ve got to use this. 

Everything that happens in your life can be used for something useful, whether it’s your writing, your relationships, or your new startup. Everything is material. We can use it all. Whether we’re a baseball player or a hedge fund manager, a psychiatrist or a cop. The issues we had with our parents become lessons that we teach our children. An injury that lays us up in bed becomes a reason to reflect on where our life is going. A problem at work inspires us to invent a new product and strike out on our own. These obstacles become opportunities. These experiences and failures and experimentations and setbacks and discoveries converge to give you what David Epstein calls range. 

“As I write in Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World,” Epstein explained when I interviewed him for Daily Stoic, “your ability to take knowledge and skills and apply them to a problem or situation you have not seen before… is predicted by the variety of situations you’ve faced… This is true whether you’re training in soccer or math. As you get more variety… you’re forced to form these broader conceptual models, which you can then wield flexibly in new situations.” He then sums up research on how people find meaning and fulfillment, “Our insight into ourselves is constrained by our roster of previous experiences. We actually have to do stuff.”

The line from Marcus Aurelius about this was that a blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it. That’s how we want to be. We want to be the artist that turns pain and frustration and even humiliation into beauty. We want to be the entrepreneur that turns a sticking point into a money maker. We want to be the person who takes their own experiences and turns them into wisdom that can be learned from and passed on to others.

So go look for fuel. Take the more interesting road. 

Go live a life that is not boring. 

Your work—and the world—will thank you for it.

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13 Lessons Marcus Aurelius Learned From His Father https://ryanholiday.net/13-lessons/ Sun, 21 Jun 2020 01:05:55 +0000 http://ryanholiday.net/?p=5924 How did Marcus Aurelius become Marcus Aurelius? How did a boy of relatively ordinary bloodlines etch his name so impressively into history? How did a man given absolute power, not only not become corrupted by it, but manage to prove himself worthy of the responsibility? The answer is simple: The examples he was provided by his own stepfather made him into the person he became.  That’s something worth thinking about today—on Father’s Day—whether you’re a mom, a dad, a son or a daughter.  It wasn’t destiny or fate nor a fancy education that shaped Marcus. In fact, he was homeschooled by his grandparents during early childhood. Around the age of 12, a handful of tutors were selected by the emperor Hadrian, who saw something in the boy. But this was relatively common for the rich in those days. In fact, it’s an eerily similar background to Nero, who as we know, turned out rather differently.  Seneca, years earlier, instructing Nero, had spoken about the need to “choose yourself a Cato,” a model whose life can guide your own. For Marcus that man was Antoninus, a man who according to French philosopher Ernest Renan, Marcus considered “the most beautiful model of a perfect life.”  At some time near the end of his life, Marcus sat down and wrote what he learned from Antoninus. It’s an impressive list, one that we can learn from today in our own lives and more urgently, use to inspire our own children and shape a better future.  1: To Love Philosophy Antoninus “honoured those who were true philosophers, and he did not reproach those who pretended to be philosophers, nor yet was he easily led by them.” The study of philosophy is something that lasts a lifetime… and the earlier it begins the better.  2:  To Read And Study Widely  Antoninus had a “liberal attitude to education,” Marcus’ biographer Frank McLynn writes. He thought a person should seek to be useful, “not just masters of their disciplines but also well versed in politics and the problems of the state.” Yet Antoninus was hardly a bookish nerd—he was active and attentive to the world around him. When Marcus talks about throwing away his books and focusing—about being a good man and not just talking about one—it’s Antoninus he is referencing.  3: To Be Decisive Antoninus had a remarkable “unwavering adherence to decisions,” Marcus tells us. “Once he’d reach them,” there was no hesitation, only resolute action. A leader, a father, a human being must be able to decide.  4: To Be Humble On the emperor Hadrian’s deathbed, he summoned Antoninus. It was time to hand over the crown. Antoninus pushed back. With this “indifference to superficial honors” we’re told, Hadrian was certain he made the right decision in making Antoninus his heir. Marcus said he revered “His restrictions on acclamations—and all attempts to flatter him.” Imagine how powerful this was for Marcus when it came time for him to assume the throne. He saw that power didn’t have to corrupt, and he also knew that he had the power to resist it.  5: To Keep An Open Mind Marcus liked the way Antoninus “listened to anyone who could contribute to the public good.” When historians later credited Marcus for his ability to get the best out of flawed people, they were acknowledging Antoninus’s influence. When Marcus would later talk about being happy to have been proven wrong, this too was a well-formed lesson from his stepfather.  6: To Work Hard Antoninus was known to keep a strict diet, so he could spend less time exercising and more time serving the people of Rome. Marcus would later talk about rising early, working hard and doing what his nature and job required. That work ethic wasn’t inborn—it was developed. He learned it from example.  7: To Take Care of His Health We said Antoninus was known to spend less time, not no time, exercising. Marcus praised “His willingness to take adequate care of himself… He hardly ever needed medical attention, or drugs or any sort of salve or ointment.” 8: To Be A Good Friend Antoninus was “what we would nowadays call a ‘people person’,” McLynn writes. “He felt at ease with other people and could put them at their ease.” Even towards those disingenuous social climbers, Marcus admired how he never got “fed up with them.” This was particularly important for Marcus who appears to have been naturally introverted—his earnest efforts to serve the common good, to be a friend to all? That too was taught. 9: To Be Self-reliant Antoninus showed Marcus that fortune was fickle. He “carried a spartan attitude to money in his private life, taking frugal meals and reducing the pomp on state occasions to republican simplicity.” Frugality and industry was the only way to guarantee financial security. Marcus said, “Self-reliance, always”—what a lesson for a father to teach a son.  10: To Look To Experts When the plague hit Rome in 165 CE, Marcus knew what to do. He immediately assembled his team of Rome’s most brilliant minds. As McLynn explains, his “shrewd and careful personnel selection” is worthy of study by any person in any position of leadership. But “this, in particular,” Marcus said he learned from Antoninus: the “willingness to yield the floor to experts—in oratory, law, psychology, whatever—and to support them energetically, so that each of them could fulfill his potential.”   11: To Take Responsibility With No Excuses Hadrian was known for his globe trotting and a tendency to seek some peace and quiet abroad when Rome was particularly chaotic. Other emperors retreated to pleasure palaces or blamed enemies for issues during their reign. In pointed disapproval, Marcus praised Antoninus’ “willingness to take responsibility—and blame—for [the empire’s needs and the treasury].”  12: To Not Lose Your Temper Antoninus had what all truly great leaders have—he was cool under pressure: “He never exhibited rudeness, lost control of himself, or turned violent. No one ever saw him sweat. Everything was to [...]

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How did Marcus Aurelius become Marcus Aurelius? How did a boy of relatively ordinary bloodlines etch his name so impressively into history? How did a man given absolute power, not only not become corrupted by it, but manage to prove himself worthy of the responsibility?

The answer is simple: The examples he was provided by his own stepfather made him into the person he became. 

That’s something worth thinking about today—on Father’s Day—whether you’re a mom, a dad, a son or a daughter. 

It wasn’t destiny or fate nor a fancy education that shaped Marcus. In fact, he was homeschooled by his grandparents during early childhood. Around the age of 12, a handful of tutors were selected by the emperor Hadrian, who saw something in the boy. But this was relatively common for the rich in those days. In fact, it’s an eerily similar background to Nero, who as we know, turned out rather differently. 

Seneca, years earlier, instructing Nero, had spoken about the need to “choose yourself a Cato,” a model whose life can guide your own. For Marcus that man was Antoninus, a man who according to French philosopher Ernest Renan, Marcus considered “the most beautiful model of a perfect life.” 

At some time near the end of his life, Marcus sat down and wrote what he learned from Antoninus. It’s an impressive list, one that we can learn from today in our own lives and more urgently, use to inspire our own children and shape a better future. 

1: To Love Philosophy

Antoninus “honoured those who were true philosophers, and he did not reproach those who pretended to be philosophers, nor yet was he easily led by them.” The study of philosophy is something that lasts a lifetime… and the earlier it begins the better. 

2:  To Read And Study Widely 

Antoninus had a “liberal attitude to education,” Marcus’ biographer Frank McLynn writes. He thought a person should seek to be useful, “not just masters of their disciplines but also well versed in politics and the problems of the state.” Yet Antoninus was hardly a bookish nerd—he was active and attentive to the world around him. When Marcus talks about throwing away his books and focusing—about being a good man and not just talking about one—it’s Antoninus he is referencing. 

3: To Be Decisive

Antoninus had a remarkable “unwavering adherence to decisions,” Marcus tells us. “Once he’d reach them,” there was no hesitation, only resolute action. A leader, a father, a human being must be able to decide. 

4: To Be Humble

On the emperor Hadrian’s deathbed, he summoned Antoninus. It was time to hand over the crown. Antoninus pushed back. With this “indifference to superficial honors” we’re told, Hadrian was certain he made the right decision in making Antoninus his heir. Marcus said he revered “His restrictions on acclamations—and all attempts to flatter him.” Imagine how powerful this was for Marcus when it came time for him to assume the throne. He saw that power didn’t have to corrupt, and he also knew that he had the power to resist it. 

5: To Keep An Open Mind

Marcus liked the way Antoninus “listened to anyone who could contribute to the public good.” When historians later credited Marcus for his ability to get the best out of flawed people, they were acknowledging Antoninus’s influence. When Marcus would later talk about being happy to have been proven wrong, this too was a well-formed lesson from his stepfather. 

6: To Work Hard

Antoninus was known to keep a strict diet, so he could spend less time exercising and more time serving the people of Rome. Marcus would later talk about rising early, working hard and doing what his nature and job required. That work ethic wasn’t inborn—it was developed. He learned it from example. 

7: To Take Care of His Health

We said Antoninus was known to spend less time, not no time, exercising. Marcus praised “His willingness to take adequate care of himself… He hardly ever needed medical attention, or drugs or any sort of salve or ointment.”

8: To Be A Good Friend

Antoninus was “what we would nowadays call a ‘people person’,” McLynn writes. “He felt at ease with other people and could put them at their ease.” Even towards those disingenuous social climbers, Marcus admired how he never got “fed up with them.” This was particularly important for Marcus who appears to have been naturally introverted—his earnest efforts to serve the common good, to be a friend to all? That too was taught.

9: To Be Self-reliant

Antoninus showed Marcus that fortune was fickle. He “carried a spartan attitude to money in his private life, taking frugal meals and reducing the pomp on state occasions to republican simplicity.” Frugality and industry was the only way to guarantee financial security. Marcus said, “Self-reliance, always”—what a lesson for a father to teach a son. 

10: To Look To Experts

When the plague hit Rome in 165 CE, Marcus knew what to do. He immediately assembled his team of Rome’s most brilliant minds. As McLynn explains, his “shrewd and careful personnel selection” is worthy of study by any person in any position of leadership. But “this, in particular,” Marcus said he learned from Antoninus: the “willingness to yield the floor to experts—in oratory, law, psychology, whatever—and to support them energetically, so that each of them could fulfill his potential.”  

11: To Take Responsibility With No Excuses

Hadrian was known for his globe trotting and a tendency to seek some peace and quiet abroad when Rome was particularly chaotic. Other emperors retreated to pleasure palaces or blamed enemies for issues during their reign. In pointed disapproval, Marcus praised Antoninus’ “willingness to take responsibility—and blame—for [the empire’s needs and the treasury].” 

12: To Not Lose Your Temper

Antoninus had what all truly great leaders have—he was cool under pressure: “He never exhibited rudeness, lost control of himself, or turned violent. No one ever saw him sweat. Everything was to be approached logically and with due consideration, in a calm and orderly fashion but decisively, with no loose ends.” It’s what Marcus was constantly reminding himself (and what inspired our Daily Stoic Taming Your Temper course). “When you start to lose your temper,” Marcus wrote, “remember: there’s nothing manly about rage.”

13: To Be Self-Controlled

“He knew how to enjoy and abstain from things that most people find it hard to abstain from and all too easy to enjoy. Strength, perseverance, self-control in both areas: the mark of a soul in readiness—indomitable.”

These were all lessons Marcus carried with him his whole life. They guided the most powerful man on the planet through many trying times. So much so that he recounted them in his private journal late in life. And we’re still recounting them close to 2,000 years later.

The things you teach your kids will shape their future. And their children’s future. So make sure you’re setting a good example. If your children were to write down what they learned from you on their deathbed, what would they write? You have the ability to shape that everyday. So start, now.

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33 Things I Stole From People Smarter Than Me on the Way to 33 https://ryanholiday.net/33-things/ Tue, 16 Jun 2020 22:30:16 +0000 http://ryanholiday.net/?p=5913 Last year was the first year I really forgot how old I was. This year was the year that I started doing stuff over again. Not out of nostalgia, or premature memory loss, but out of the sense that enough time had elapsed that it was time to revisit some things. I re-read books that I hadn’t touched in ten or fifteen years. I went back to places I hadn’t been since I was a kid. I re-visited some painful memories that I had walled off and chosen not to think about.  So I thought this year, for my birthday piece (more than 10 years running now—here is 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32), I would revisit an article I wrote several years ago, which has remained popular since I first published it: 28 Pieces of Productivity Advice I Stole From People Smarter Than Me. I’m not so interested in productivity advice anymore, but I remain, as ever, focused on taking advice from people smarter than me. So here are some of the best pieces of advice—things I try to live by, things I tried to revisit and think about this year—about life.  Enjoy. And remember, as Seneca said, that we are dying everyday. At 33, I don’t say to myself that according to actuary tables, I have 49 years to live. I say instead that I have already died three and one-third decades. The question is whether I lived those years before they passed. That’s what matters.  –George Raveling told me that he sees reading as a moral imperative. “People died,” he said, speaking of slaves, soldiers and civil rights activists, “so I could have the ability to read.” He also pointed out that there’s a reason people have fought so hard over the centuries to keep books from certain groups of people. I’ve always thought reading was important, but I never thought about it like that. If you’re not reading, if books aren’t playing a major role in your life, you are betraying that legacy.  -Another one on reading: in his autobiography, General James Mattis points out that if you haven’t read widely, you are functionally illiterate. That’s a great term, and one I wish I’d heard earlier. As Mark Twain said, if you don’t read, you’re not any better than people who can’t read. This is true not only generally but specifically on specific topics. I am functionally illiterate about many things and that needs to be fixed.  -Sue Johnson talks about how when couples or people fight, they’re not really fighting, they’re just doing a dance, usually a dance about attachment. The dance is the problem—you go this way, I go that way, you reach out, I pull away, I reach out, you pull away—not the couple, not either one of the people. This externalization has been very helpful.  -The last year has certainly revealed some things about a lot of folks that I know or thought I did. But before I get too disappointed, I think of that beautiful line from F. Scott Fitzgerald at the beginning of The Great Gatsby (discovered on a re-read): “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” -I’ve heard this many times from many different writers over the years (Neil Strauss being one), but as time passes the truth of it becomes more and more clear, and not just in writing: When someone tells you something is wrong, they’re almost always right. When someone tells you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong.  -It was a French journalist who was writing a piece about Trust Me I’m Lying who happened to tell me something about relationships. LOVE, he said, is best spelled T-I-M-E. I don’t think I’ve heard anything truer or more important to my development as a husband or father.  -Also, Seinfeld’s concept of quality time vs. garbage time has been almost as essential to me as Robert Greene’s concept of alive time vs. dead time. I would be much worse without these two ideas.  -A few years ago I was exploring a book project with Lance Armstrong and he showed me some of the texts people had sent him when his world came crashing down. “Some people lean in when their friends take heat,” he said, “some people lean away.” I decided I wanted to be a lean-in type, even if I didn’t always agree, even if it was their fault.  -When I was in high school, I was in this English class and I shared something with the discussion group we were in. Then later, I heard people use what I had said in their essays or in presentations and get credit for it. I brought this up to the teacher later, that people were using my ideas. The teacher looked at me and said, “Ryan, that’s your job.” I’m very glad she said that and that I heard it at 16.  -Another thing about being a writer. I once read a letter where Cheryl Strayed kindly pointed out  to a young writer the distinction between writing and publishing. Her implication was that we focus too much on the latter and not enough on the former. It’s true for most things. Amateurs focus on outcomes more than process. The more professional you get, the less you care about results. It seems paradoxical but it’s true. You still get results, but that’s because you know that the systems and process are reliable. You trust them with your life.  -Speaking of which, that distinction between amateur and professional is an essential piece of advice I have gotten, first from Steven Pressfield’s writings and then by getting to know him over the years. There are professional habits and amateur ones. Which are you practicing? Is this a pro or an amateur move? Ask yourself that. Constantly.   -Peter Thiel: “Competition is for losers.” I loved this the second I heard it. When [...]

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Last year was the first year I really forgot how old I was. This year was the year that I started doing stuff over again. Not out of nostalgia, or premature memory loss, but out of the sense that enough time had elapsed that it was time to revisit some things. I re-read books that I hadn’t touched in ten or fifteen years. I went back to places I hadn’t been since I was a kid. I re-visited some painful memories that I had walled off and chosen not to think about. 

So I thought this year, for my birthday piece (more than 10 years running now—here is 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32), I would revisit an article I wrote several years ago, which has remained popular since I first published it: 28 Pieces of Productivity Advice I Stole From People Smarter Than Me.

I’m not so interested in productivity advice anymore, but I remain, as ever, focused on taking advice from people smarter than me. So here are some of the best pieces of advice—things I try to live by, things I tried to revisit and think about this year—about life. 

Enjoy. And remember, as Seneca said, that we are dying everyday. At 33, I don’t say to myself that according to actuary tables, I have 49 years to live. I say instead that I have already died three and one-third decades. The question is whether I lived those years before they passed. That’s what matters. 

George Raveling told me that he sees reading as a moral imperative. “People died,” he said, speaking of slaves, soldiers and civil rights activists, “so I could have the ability to read.” He also pointed out that there’s a reason people have fought so hard over the centuries to keep books from certain groups of people. I’ve always thought reading was important, but I never thought about it like that. If you’re not reading, if books aren’t playing a major role in your life, you are betraying that legacy. 

-Another one on reading: in his autobiography, General James Mattis points out that if you haven’t read widely, you are functionally illiterate. That’s a great term, and one I wish I’d heard earlier. As Mark Twain said, if you don’t read, you’re not any better than people who can’t read. This is true not only generally but specifically on specific topics. I am functionally illiterate about many things and that needs to be fixed. 

-Sue Johnson talks about how when couples or people fight, they’re not really fighting, they’re just doing a dance, usually a dance about attachment. The dance is the problem—you go this way, I go that way, you reach out, I pull away, I reach out, you pull away—not the couple, not either one of the people. This externalization has been very helpful. 

-The last year has certainly revealed some things about a lot of folks that I know or thought I did. But before I get too disappointed, I think of that beautiful line from F. Scott Fitzgerald at the beginning of The Great Gatsby (discovered on a re-read): “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

-I’ve heard this many times from many different writers over the years (Neil Strauss being one), but as time passes the truth of it becomes more and more clear, and not just in writing: When someone tells you something is wrong, they’re almost always right. When someone tells you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong. 

-It was a French journalist who was writing a piece about Trust Me I’m Lying who happened to tell me something about relationships. LOVE, he said, is best spelled T-I-M-E. I don’t think I’ve heard anything truer or more important to my development as a husband or father. 

-Also, Seinfeld’s concept of quality time vs. garbage time has been almost as essential to me as Robert Greene’s concept of alive time vs. dead time. I would be much worse without these two ideas. 

-A few years ago I was exploring a book project with Lance Armstrong and he showed me some of the texts people had sent him when his world came crashing down. “Some people lean in when their friends take heat,” he said, “some people lean away.” I decided I wanted to be a lean-in type, even if I didn’t always agree, even if it was their fault. 

-When I was in high school, I was in this English class and I shared something with the discussion group we were in. Then later, I heard people use what I had said in their essays or in presentations and get credit for it. I brought this up to the teacher later, that people were using my ideas. The teacher looked at me and said, “Ryan, that’s your job.” I’m very glad she said that and that I heard it at 16. 

-Another thing about being a writer. I once read a letter where Cheryl Strayed kindly pointed out  to a young writer the distinction between writing and publishing. Her implication was that we focus too much on the latter and not enough on the former. It’s true for most things. Amateurs focus on outcomes more than process. The more professional you get, the less you care about results. It seems paradoxical but it’s true. You still get results, but that’s because you know that the systems and process are reliable. You trust them with your life. 

-Speaking of which, that distinction between amateur and professional is an essential piece of advice I have gotten, first from Steven Pressfield’s writings and then by getting to know him over the years. There are professional habits and amateur ones. Which are you practicing? Is this a pro or an amateur move? Ask yourself that. Constantly.  

-Peter Thiel: “Competition is for losers.” I loved this the second I heard it. When people compete, somebody loses. So go where you’re the only one. Do what only you can do. Run a race with yourself.

-This headline from Kayla Chadwick is one of the best of the century, in my opinion. And true. And sums up our times: “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People.”

Tim Ferriss always seems to ask the best questions: What would this look like if it were easy? How will you know if you don’t experiment? What would less be like? The one that hit me the hardest, when I was maybe 25, was “What do you do with your money?” The answer was “Nothing, really.” Ok, so why try so hard to earn lots more of it?

-It was from Hemingway and Tobias Wolff and John Fante that I learned about typing up passages, about feeling great writing go through your fingers. It’s a practice I’ve followed for… 15 years now? I’ve probably copied and typed out a couple dozen books this way. It’s a form of getting your hours, modeling greatness so that it gets seeded into your subconscious. (For writing, you can substitute any activity.)

-Talked about re-watching earlier. The scene from Tombstone still stays with me (and also sums up our times): 

Wyatt Earp:

What makes a man like Ringo, Doc? What makes him do the things he does?

Doc Holliday:

A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of himself. And he can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.

Wyatt Earp:

What does he want?

Doc Holliday:

Revenge.

Wyatt Earp:

For what?

Doc Holliday:

Bein’ born.

-Steve Kamb told me that the best and most polite excuse is just to say you have a rule. “I have a rule that I don’t decide on the phone.” “I have a rule that I don’t accept gifts.” “I have a rule that I don’t speak for free anymore.” “I have a rule that I am home for bath time with the kids every night.” People respect rules, and they accept that it’s not you rejecting the [offer, request, demand, opportunity] but that the rule allows you no choice. 

-Go to what will teach you the most, not what will pay the most. I forget who this was from. Aaron Ray, maybe? It’s about the opportunities that you’ll learn the most from. That’s the rubric. That’s how you get better. People sometimes try to sweeten speaking offers by mentioning how glamorous the location is, or how much fun it will be. I’d be more impressed if they told me I was going to have a conversation that was going to blow my mind. 

-I’ve been in too many locker rooms not to notice that teams put up their values on the wall. Every hallway and doorway is decorated with a motivational quote. At first, it seemed silly. Then you realize: It’s one thing to hear something, it’s another to live up to it each day. Thus the prints we do at Daily Stoic, the challenge coins I carry in my pocket, the statues I have on my desk, that art I have on my wall. You have to put your precepts up for display. You have to make them inescapable. Or the idea will escape you when it counts. 

-Amelia Earhart: “Always think with your stick forward.” (Gotta keep moving, can’t slow down.)

-I was at Neil Strauss’s house almost ten years ago now when he had everyone break down what an hour of their time was worth. It’s simple: How much you make a year, divided by how many hours you realistically work. “Basically,” he said, “don’t do anything you can pay someone to do for you more cheaply.” This was hard for me to accept—still is—but coming to terms with it (in my own way) has made my life much, much better. It goes to Tim’s question as well: What would it look like if this were easy? Most of the time, it means getting someone to help. 

-”No man steps in the same river twice.” That’s Heraclitus. Thus the re-reading. The books are the same, but we’ve changed, the world has changed. So it goes for movies, walking your college campus or a Civil War battlefield, and so many of the things we do once and think we “got.”

-”Well begun is half-done” is the expression. It has been a long journey but slowly and steadily optimizing my morning has more impact on my life than anything else. I stole most of my strategies from people like Julia Cameron (morning pages), Shane Parrish (wake up early), the folks at SPAR! (no phone in the AM), Ferriss (make before you manage), etc. (You can see more about my morning here.)

-”Your last book won’t write your next one.” Don’t remember who said it, but it’s true for writing and for all professions. You are constantly starting at zero. Every sale is a new sale. Every season is a new season. Every fight is a new fight. If you think your past success guarantees you anything, you’re in for a rude awakening. In fact, someone has already started to beat you. 

David French: “Human beings need forgiveness like we need oxygen—a nation devoid of grace will make its people miserable.”

-Dov Charney said something to me once that I think about a lot. He said, “Run rates always start at zero.” The point there was: Don’t be discouraged at the outset. It takes time to build up from nothing. 

-I read this passage in a post from Chris Yeh, which apparently comes from a speech by Brian Dyson:

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends and spirit … and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same.”

There is no party line. That’s what Allan Ginsberg’s psychiatrist told him when he asked for the professional opinion on dropping out of college. This is good advice for life. There is no party line on what you should or shouldn’t do. And if you think there is, you’re probably missing stuff. 

James Altucher once pointed out that you don’t have to make your money grow. You can just have it. It can just sit there. You can spend it. Whatever. You don’t have to whip yourself for not investing and carefully managing every penny. The reward for success should not be that you’re constantly stressed you’re not doing enough to “capitalize” on that success. 

-At the same time, I love Charlamagne’s “Frugal Vandross.” The less expensive stuff you have, the less there is to worry about. 

-I’ve talked before how I got my notecard system from Robert Greene. Only later did I realize—to steal a concept from Tyler Cowen—that doing notecards is an effective way to “do scales.” Meaning: How do you practice whatever it is that you do? What’s your version of playing scales or running through drills? For me, it’s the notecards. That’s how I get better at my job. Do you have something like that?

Ramit Sethi talks about how you can just not reply to stuff. It felt rude at first, but then I realized it was ruder to ignore the people I care about to respond to things I didn’t ask for in the first place. Selective ignoring is the key to productivity, I’m afraid. 

-Before we had kids, I was in the pool with my wife. “Do you want to do laps?” I said. “Should we fill up the rafts?” “Here help me dump out the filter.” There was a bunch of that from me. “You know you can just be in the pool,” she said. That thought had not occurred to me. Still, it rarely does. So I have to be intentional about it. 

**

Who better to close another year, another piece than with the Stoics. “You could be good today,” the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote. “But instead you choose tomorrow.” 

That quote haunts me as much as it inspires me. And it does a lot of each. It’s worth stealing if you haven’t already. 

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