I suspect I am not the only self-employed person who finds focus and discipline significant challenges at times. This summer, I turned for assistance to “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living,” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. If “stoic” only makes you think of unemotional endurance, read this. It’s actually a complete philosophy that has tremendous relevance for us right now.
Divided into three disciplines—perception, action, and will—the book offers a daily quotation from a stoic philosopher such as Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus, then gives a paragraph or so exploring how the text relates to our lives and our work.
I’m using these short daily readings to ground myself and start the day well. I’m flagging the meditations that I really like, but I’m happy to know that I’ll come back around to all of them next year.
Here are portions from some selections that resonated strongly with me.
Love the Humble Art
“Love the humble art you have learned, and take rest in it. Pass through the remainder of your days as one who whole-heartedly entrusts all possessions to the gods, making yourself neither a tyrant nor a slave to any person.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.31
Are you making time to practice what’s really important to you? Love the craft; be a craftsman.
Take Charge and End Your Troubles
“You’ve endured countless troubles—all from not letting your ruling reason do the work it was made for—enough already!” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.26
How often does what we fear actually come to pass? How often have we let jealousy, frustration, or greed lead us down the wrong path? Let reason rule—it will save so much trouble. Your brain can separate what is important from what is senseless.
Corralling the Unnecessary
“Do what you must and as required of a rational being created for public life. This brings not only the peace of mind of doing few things, but the greater peace of doing them well. … We shouldn’t forget at each moment to ask, is this one of the unnecessary things?” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.24
Ruthlessly expunge the non-essential from your life—what vanity, greed, poor discipline, or lack of courage add to our lists. All of this we must cut.
Preparing on the Sunny Day
“Take part of a week in which you have only the most meager and cheap food, dress scantily in shabbly clothes, and ask yourself is this is really the worst that you feared. It is when times are good that you should gird yourself for tougher times ahead.” Seneca, Moral Letters, 18.5-6
Practice potential misfortunes—a broken hot water heater, a stolen wallet, not having a car. Don’t just think about them, live them, and do it now, while things are good. This will teach us that these things are not as scary as we imagine.