Self-Imposed Slavery

Show me a man who isn’t a slave; one who is a slave to sex, another to money, another to ambition; all are slaves to hope or fear. I could show you a man who has been a Consul who is a slave to his ‘little old woman’, a millionaire who is the slave of a little girl in domestic service. And there is no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed. Seneca Letters from a Stoic

I disagree with Seneca, I don’t think that self-imposed slavery is the worst thing ever. What’s worse is not knowing what you’ve submitted to – not realizing that you’re chained to transactions or other people’s egos or fashion or whatever.

I’m disappointed in my enslavement to self-doubt, resentment towards those that I dislike, at the power that the favor and approval of certain people hold over me – that I haven’t let a call go to voicemail in months. I’m proud that when I set deadlines, commitments or quotas that I am utterly compelled to fulfill them. That whole daimon thing isn’t a horrible master.

Seneca ignores the distinction between ignorance and submitting to something bigger than yourself. The honest and practical reality: Figure out what you’re beholden to and decide consciously if you’re at peace with it. If you are, then by all means continue. If you’re not, you should at least end the delusion of your own agency.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.