What is Philosophy or Stoicism?
Enter Wikipedia On Philosophy
Philosophy (from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally “love of wisdom“) is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust (if one can get away with it)?Do humans have free will?
Historically, “philosophy” encompassed any body of knowledge. From the time of Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle to the 19th century, “natural philosophy” encompassed astronomy, medicine, and physics. For example, Newton‘s 1687 Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy later became classified as a book of physics. In the 19th century, the growth of modern research universitiesled academic philosophy and other disciplines to professionalize and specialize. In the modern era, some investigations that were traditionally part of philosophy became separate academic disciplines, including psychology, sociology, linguistics, and economics.
Enter Wikipedia On Stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. It was heavily influenced by certain teachings of Socrates, while stoic physics are largely drawn from the teachings of the philosopher Heraclitus. Stoicism is predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.
The Stoics are especially known for teaching that “virtue is the only good” for human beings, and that external things—such as health, wealth, and pleasure—are not good or bad in themselves, but have value as “material for virtue to act upon”. Alongside Aristotelian ethics, the Stoic tradition forms one of the major founding approaches to Western virtue ethics. The Stoics also held that certain destructive emotions resulted from errors of judgment, and they believed people should aim to maintain a will (called prohairesis) that is “in accord with nature”. Because of this, the Stoics presented their philosophy as the Word of God (lex divina), and they thought the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said, but how a person behaved. To live a good life, one had to understand the rules of the natural order since they taught everything was rooted in nature.
Enter Cj Lewis
I first heard about stoicism and philosophy from Tim Ferriss (thank you Tim). I loved all his recommendations and thought I would give his book he put together a try (Tao of Seneca). This book had one of the greatest influences on my life, especially the audio version of Tao of Seneca that makes you feel as if you are in that time period. Anyways, this look at life as it is has made being happy way more easy to attain because I have learned that it is all about point of view and nothing can take that away even the worst of circumstances.
I’m not a religious person but this gives the right structure for those who aren’t. It teaches that nature is the ultimate teacher and to listen and apply wisdom. This ancient philosophy has stood the test of time and will continue to through the ages. I love it because it is real and gives you people to look up to and guide your life towards.
I gravitate towards Marcus Aurelius the most because he is extreme. I find we learn the most from those who are extreme and push the boundaries then we can dial it back and find the balance.
Enter Wikipedia on Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius (/ɔːˈriːliəs/; Latin: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus;[notes 1] 26 April 121 – 17 March 180 AD) was Roman emperor from 161 to 180, ruling jointly with his adoptive brother, Lucius Verus, until Verus’ death in 169, and jointly with his son, Commodus, from 177 till Aurelius’ own death. He was the last of the so-called Five Good Emperors.
He was a practitioner of Stoicism, and his untitled writing, commonly known as Meditations, is a significant source of the modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy. It is considered by many commentators to be one of the greatest works of philosophy.
During his reign, the Roman Empire defeated a revitalized Parthian Empire in the East: Aurelius’ general Avidius Cassius sacked the capital Ctesiphon in 164. In central Europe, Aurelius fought the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatians with success during the Marcomannic Wars, although the threat of the Germanic peoples began to represent a troubling reality for the Empire. A revolt in the East led by Avidius Cassius failed to gain momentum and was suppressed immediately. Persecution of Christians increased during his reign.
His death in 180 is considered the end of the Pax Romana and the increasing instability in the west that followed has traditionally been seen as the beginning of the eventual fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Death and succession 180
Marcus Aurelius died on 17 March 180 due to natural causes in the city of Vindobona (modern Vienna). He was immediately deified and his ashes were returned to Rome, and rested in Hadrian‘s mausoleum (modern Castel Sant’Angelo) until the Visigoth sack of the city in 410. His campaigns against Germans and Sarmatians were also commemorated by a column and a temple built in Rome.
He was succeeded by his son Commodus, whom he had named Caesar in 166 and with whom he had jointly ruled since 177. It was only the second time that a “non-adoptive” son was chosen as heir to the throne. The only other having been a century earlier when Vespasian was succeeded by his son Titus. Historians have criticized the decision, citing Commodus’ erratic behavior and lack of political and military acumen. At the end of his history of Marcus’ reign, Cassius Dio wrote an encomium to the emperor, and described the transition to Commodus in his own lifetime with sorrow:
…[Marcus] did not meet with the good fortune that he deserved, for he was not strong in body and was involved in a multitude of troubles throughout practically his entire reign. But for my part, I admire him all the more for this very reason, that amid unusual and extraordinary difficulties he both survived himself and preserved the empire. Just one thing prevented him from being completely happy, namely, that after rearing and educating his son in the best possible way he was vastly disappointed in him. This matter must be our next topic; for our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust, as affairs did for the Romans of that day.
- –Cassius Dio 71.36.3–4
Michael Grant, in The Climax of Rome (1968), writes of Commodus:
The youth turned out to be very erratic, or at least so anti-traditional that disaster was inevitable. But whether or not Marcus ought to have known this to be so, the rejections of his son’s claims in favour of someone else would almost certainly have involved one of the civil wars which were to proliferate so disastrously around future successions.
Legacy and reputation
Marcus Aurelius acquired the reputation of a philosopher king within his lifetime, and the title would remain his after death; both Dio and the biographer call him “the philosopher”. Christians such as Justin Martyr, Athenagoras and Melito gave him the title, too. The last named went so far as to call Marcus Aurelius “more philanthropic and philosophic” than Antoninus Pius and Hadrian, and set him against the persecuting emperors Domitian and Nero to make the contrast bolder.“Alone of the emperors,” wrote the historian Herodian, “he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life.”
Iain King concludes Marcus Aurelius’ legacy is tragic, because the emperor’s “Stoic philosophy—which is about self-restraint, duty, and respect for others—was so abjectly abandoned by the imperial line he anointed on his death”.
In the 1964 movie The Fall of the Roman Empire he was portrayed by Alec Guinness and in the 2000 movie Gladiator by Richard Harris. Both movie plots posited that Marcus Aurelius was assassinated because he intended to pass down power to his adopted son, a Roman general, instead of his biological son, Commodus.
Enter Back Cj
I am giving away Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius (Meditations) for free in hopes to help show the way and change mindsets as it has mine. Apply, practice, listen, and I know it will change you as Tim Ferriss’s Tao of Seneca has changed me.
Enter Wikipedia on Meditations
Meditations (Medieval Greek: Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν, translit. Ta eis heauton, literally “things to one’s self”) is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.
Marcus Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the Meditations in Koine Greek as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. It is possible that large portions of the work were written at Sirmium, where he spent much time planning military campaigns from 170 to 180. Some of it was written while he was positioned at Aquincum on campaign in Pannonia, because internal notes tell us that the first book was written when he was campaigning against the Quadi on the river Granova (modern-day Hron) and the second book was written at Carnuntum.
It is unlikely that Marcus Aurelius ever intended the writings to be published and the work has no official title, so “Meditations” is one of several titles commonly assigned to the collection. These writings take the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence to long paragraphs.
Enter Tim Ferriss on Tao of Seneca
Few of us consider ourselves philosophers. “Philosophy” usually conjures images of dense textbooks and academic quibbling with no application to real life. It’s fun for professors, perhaps, but a waste of time for the rest of us.
I felt this way for decades. Then, in 2004, I found the work of Lucius Annaeus Seneca, better known as Seneca the Younger or simply “Seneca.” Born circa 4 BC in present day Spain and raised in Rome, Seneca was simultaneously an esteemed playwright, one of the wealthiest people in Rome, a famous statesman, and an advisor to the emperor. He had to negotiate, persuade, and strategize his way through life. Far from spouting philosophy from the safety of an ivory tower, he had to constantly deal with uncooperative, powerful human beings and faced disaster, exile, and death head on.
Seneca took risks and did big things. His primary philosophy, Stoicism, was founded around 300 BC in Athens and can be thought of as an operating system for thriving in high-stress environments. At its core, it teaches you how to separate what you can control from what you cannot, and it trains you to focus exclusively on the former.
Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius—a distillation of his lessons learned—changed my life and continues to do so today. You now hold a version of those letters in your hands, complete with original illustrations, original calligraphy from compatible traditions like Zen, links to free audio, and more.
I’m giving away The Tao of Seneca in the hopes that it changes your life, and I promise you that it can.
Stoicism was designed for doers, and you’ll be in fine company as a student.
Thomas Jefferson had Seneca on his bedside table. Michel de Montaigne had a quote from Epictetus—a handicapped slave turned famous Stoic teacher—carved into the ceiling of his house so he would see it constantly. Every year, Bill Clinton reads Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, who was at once a Stoic, emperor, and the most powerful man in the world. Other proponents include John Stuart Mill, bestselling author Tom Wolfe, and Navy vice admiral and Medal of Honor recipient James Stockdale, who credited his survival as a prisoner of war (7.5 years, much of it in a windowless 3′ x 9′ cement cell) to Stoicism.
But far from limited to overcoming the negative, Stoicism can also be used to maximize the positive.
For this reason, Stoicism has spread like wildfire throughout Silicon Valley and the NFL in the last five years, becoming a mental toughness training system for CEOs, founders, coaches, and players alike. Super Bowl champions like the Patriots and Seahawks have embraced Stoicism to make them better competitors.
In my own life, the results have been incredible.
Whether early-stage investments (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Alibaba, and 50+ others), books translated into 40+ languages (e.g., Tools of Titans), or anything else in the last 20+ years of my life, I credit nearly all of the biggest successes—and biggest disasters averted—to my study of Stoicism and, specifically, the writing of Seneca.
But keep in mind: reading alone does very little. The ideas in this book are meant to be applied and this requires practice. Why do I fast for at least one three-day stretch each month? Why do I often schedule “suffer camps” of various types, where I might endure cold or eat exclusively rice and beans for 3–10 days? Why might I wear the same type of black t-shirt for a week straight, along with one pair of jeans, all the while remaining unshaven and asking myself, “Is this the condition that I feared?” All of the above examples are how I use just one letter— Letter 18, On Festivals and Fasting (pg 90). Here’s the gist in a few excerpts:
Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace the soldier performs maneuvers, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil. If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes
. . . .
Let the pallet be a real one, and the coarse cloak; let the bread be hard and grimy. Endure all this for three or four days at a time, sometimes for more, so that it may be a test of yourself instead of a mere hobby. Then, I assure you, my dear Lucilius, you will leap for joy when filled with a pennyworth of food, and you will understand that a man’s peace of mind does not depend upon Fortune; for, even when angry she grants enough for our needs
. . . .
For though water, barley-meal, and crusts of barley-bread, are not a cheerful diet, yet it is the highest kind of pleasure to be able to derive pleasure from this sort of food, and to have reduced one’s needs to that modicum which no unfairness of Fortune can snatch away.
These types of practices make you less emotionally reactive, more aware in the present tense, and more resilient. Perhaps counterintuitively, given the English connotations of “stoic,” this dramatically increases your ability to feel joy over the small things.
As you navigate life, this type of mental toughness training also makes tough decisions easier, whether quitting a job, starting a company, asking someone out, ending a relationship, or anything else.
So, where to start?
There are many great minds in the Stoic pantheon, including Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Cato. For me, though, Seneca stands out as easy to read, memorable, and surprisingly practical. He covers specifics ranging from handling slander and backstabbing, to fasting, exercise, wealth, and death. His letters read like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book for handling the obstacles life deals you.
I suggest you approach this book is the way I approached it: make Seneca part of your daily routine.
Set aside 10–15 minutes a day and read one letter. Whether over coffee in the morning, right before bed, or somewhere in between, digest one letter. Do this for two weeks and it will change you.
Feel free to bounce around and skip liberally. This is your book, meant to be customized. Three of my favorites might help you get started: Letter 13 On Groundless Fears (pg 66), Letter 18 On Festivals and Fasting (pg 90), and Letter 20 On Practicing What You Preach (pg 100), which is also hilarious.
If you have never been exposed to Seneca before, I’m excited for you . . . and envious of you. What a journey you have ahead. As he might say, “Vale.” Seneca used this to close many of letters, and it is often translated as “Farewell” for simplicity. It’s perhaps better translated several other ways, and my favorite is two words:
May this book serve you as a friend, teacher, and companion on the path. I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I have,
San Francisco, California
I am deeply indebted to DailyStoic.com, who generously provided most of the contemporary interviews in this book. Additional modern essays are credited to their respective authors. My sincere thanks to all who were kind enough to contribute to this project.
Setting up a good life
Jordan Peterson’s Life Advice Will Change Your Future (MUST WATCH)
An Animated Intro to Truth, Order and Chaos
Run through of philosophy and stoicism
The philosophy of Stoicism – Massimo Pigliucci
PHILOSOPHY – The Stoics
HOW STOICISM CAN HELP SOLVE PROBLEMS – Ryan Holiday on London Real
Tim Ferriss on how to apply stoic philosophy to your life | Tim Ferriss
Important Exercise!!! Fear-Setting
Why you should define your fears instead of your goals | Tim Ferriss
I do an exercise called “fear-setting” at least once a quarter, often once a month. It is the most powerful exercise I do.
Fear-setting has produced my biggest business and personal successes, as well as repeatedly helped me to avoid catastrophic mistakes.
The above TED talk (brand-new!) gives you an overview, and the below text provides more detail, step-by-step instructions, and real-world examples. For the three exercise slides from the TED presentation, click here.
“Many a false step was made by standing still.”
— Fortune Cookie
“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Twenty feet and closing.
“Run! Ruuuuuuuuuun!” Hans didn’t speak Portuguese, but the meaning was clear enough—haul ass. His sneakers gripped firmly on the jagged rock, and he drove his chest forward toward 3,000 feet of nothing.
He held his breath on the final step, and the panic drove him to near unconsciousness. His vision blurred at the edges, closing to a single pinpoint of light, and then . . . he floated. The all-consuming celestial blue of the horizon hit his visual field an instant after he realized that the thermal updraft had caught him and the wings of the paraglider. Fear was behind him on the mountaintop, and thousands of feet above the resplendent green rain forest and pristine white beaches of Copacabana, Hans Keeling had seen the light.
That was Sunday.
On Monday, Hans returned to his law office in Century City, Los Angeles’s posh corporate haven, and promptly handed in his three-week notice. For nearly five years, he had faced his alarm clock with the same dread: I have to do this for another 40–45 years?
He had once slept under his desk at the office after a punishing half-done project, only to wake up and continue on it the next morning.
That same morning, he had made himself a promise: two more times and I’m out of here. Strike number three came the day before he left for his Brazilian vacation.
We all make these promises to ourselves, and Hans had done it before as well, but things were now somehow different. He was different.
He had realized something while arcing in slow circles toward the earth—risks weren’t that scary once you took them. His colleagues told him what he expected to hear: He was throwing it all away. He was an attorney on his way to the top—what the hell did he want?
Hans didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but he had tasted it.
On the other hand, he did know what bored him to tears, and he was done with it. No more passing days as the living dead, no more dinners where his colleagues compared cars, riding on the sugar high of a new BMW purchase until someone bought a more expensive Mercedes. It was over.
Immediately, a strange shift began—Hans felt, for the first time in a long time, at peace with himself and what he was doing. He had always been terrified of plane turbulence as if he might die with the best inside of him, but now he could fly through a violent storm sleeping like a baby. Strange indeed.
More than a year later, he was still getting unsolicited job offers from law firms, but by then had started Nexus Surf,5 a premier surf adventure company based in the tropical paradise of Florianopolis, Brazil. He had met his dream girl, a Carioca with caramel-colored skin named Tatiana, and spent most of his time relaxing under palm trees or treating clients to the best times of their lives.
Is this what he had been so afraid of?
These days, he often sees his former self in the underjoyed and overworked professionals he takes out on the waves. Waiting for the swell, the true emotions come out: “God, I wish I could do what you do.” His reply is always the same: “You can.”
The setting sun reflects off the surface of the water, providing a Zen-like setting for a message he knows is true: It’s not giving up to put your current path on indefinite pause. He could pick up his law career exactly where he left off if he wanted to, but that is the furthest thing from his mind.
As they paddle back to shore after an awesome session, his clients get ahold of themselves and regain their composure. They set foot on shore, and reality sinks its fangs in: “I would, but I can’t really throw it all away.”
He has to laugh.
The Power of Pessimism: Defining the Nightmare
“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.”
— Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister
To do or not to do? To try or not to try? Most people will vote no, whether they consider themselves brave or not. Uncertainty and the prospect of failure can be very scary noises in the shadows. Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.
For years, I set goals, made resolutions to change direction, and nothing came of either. I was just as insecure and scared as the rest of the world.
The simple solution came to me accidentally four years ago. At that time, I had more money than I knew what to do with—I was making $70K or so per month—and I was completely miserable, worse than ever. I had no time and was working myself to death.
I had started my own company, only to realize it would be nearly impossible to sell. This turned out to be yet another self-imposed limitation and false construct. (BrainQUICKEN was acquired by a private equity firm in 2009.)
Oops. I felt trapped and stupid at the same time.
I should be able to figure this out, I thought. Why am I such an idiot?
Why can’t I make this work?! Buckle up and stop being such a (insert expletive)! What’s wrong with me? The truth was, nothing was wrong with me. I hadn’t reached my limit; I’d reached the limit of my business model at the time. It wasn’t the driver, it was the vehicle.
Critical mistakes in its infancy would never let me sell it. I could hire magic elves and connect my brain to a supercomputer—it didn’t matter. My little baby had some serious birth defects. The question then became, How do I free myself from this Frankenstein while making it self-sustaining? How do I pry myself from the tentacles of workaholism and the fear that it would fall to pieces without my 15-hour days? How do I escape this self-made prison? A trip, I decided.
A sabbatical year around the world.
So I took the trip, right? Well, I’ll get to that. First, I felt it prudent to dance around with my shame, embarrassment, and anger for six months, all the while playing an endless loop of reasons why my cop-out fantasy trip could never work. One of my more productive periods, for sure.
Then, one day, in my bliss of envisioning how bad my future suffering would be, I hit upon a gem of an idea. It was surely a highlight of my “don’t happy, be worry” phase: Why don’t I decide exactly what my nightmare would be—the worst thing that could possibly happen as a result of my trip?
Well, my business could fail while I’m overseas, for sure. Probably would. A legal warning letter would accidentally not get forwarded and I would get sued. My business would be shut down, and inventory would spoil on the shelves while I’m picking my toes in solitary misery on some cold shore in Ireland. Crying in the rain, I imagine. My bank account would crater by 80% and certainly my car and motorcycle in storage would be stolen. I suppose someone would probably spit on my head from a high-rise balcony while I’m feeding food scraps to a stray dog, which would then spook and bite me squarely on the face. God, life is a cruel, hard bitch.
Conquering Fear = Defining Fear
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”
Then a funny thing happened. In my undying quest to make myself miserable, I accidentally began to backpedal. As soon as I cut through the vague unease and ambiguous anxiety by defining my nightmare, the worst-case scenario, I wasn’t as worried about taking a trip. Suddenly, I started thinking of simple steps I could take to salvage my remaining resources and get back on track if all hell struck at once. I could always take a temporary bartending job to pay the rent if I had to. I could sell some furniture and cut back on eating out. I could steal lunch money from the kindergarteners who passed by my apartment every morning. The options were many. I realized it wouldn’t be that hard to get back to where I was, let alone survive. None of these things would be fatal—not even close. Mere panty pinches on the journey of life.
I realized that on a scale of 1–10, 1 being nothing and 10 being permanently life-changing, my so-called worst-case scenario might have a temporary impact of 3 or 4. I believe this is true of most people and most would-be “holy sh*t, my life is over” disasters.
Keep in mind that this is the one-in-a-million disaster nightmare.
On the other hand, if I realized my best-case scenario, or even a probable-case scenario, it would easily have a permanent 9 or 10 positive life-changing effect.
In other words, I was risking an unlikely and temporary 3 or 4 for a probable and permanent 9 or 10, and I could easily recover my baseline workaholic prison with a bit of extra work if I wanted to.
This all equated to a significant realization: There was practically no risk, only huge life-changing upside potential, and I could resume my previous course without any more effort than I was already putting forth.
That is when I made the decision to take the trip and bought a one-way ticket to Europe. I started planning my adventures and eliminating my physical and psychological baggage. None of my disasters came to pass, and my life has been a near fairy tale since. The business did better than ever, and I practically forgot about it as it financed my travels around the world in style for 15 months.
Uncovering Fear Disguised as Optimism
“There’s no difference between a pessimist who says, ‘Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything,’ and an optimist who says, ‘Don’t bother doing anything, it’s going to turn out fine any way.’ Either way, nothing happens.”
— Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia
Fear comes in many forms, and we usually don’t call it by its four-letter name. Fear itself is quite fear-inducing. Most intelligent people in the world dress it up as something else: optimistic denial.
Most who avoid quitting their jobs entertain the thought that their course will improve with time or increases in income. This seems valid and is a tempting hallucination when a job is boring or uninspiring instead of pure hell. Pure hell forces action, but anything less can be endured with enough clever rationalization.
Do you really think it will improve or is it wishful thinking and an excuse for inaction? If you were confident in improvement, would you really be questioning things so? Generally not. This is fear of the unknown disguised as optimism.
Are you better off than you were one year ago, one month ago, or one week ago?
If not, things will not improve by themselves. If you are kidding yourself, it is time to stop and plan for a jump. Barring any James Dean ending, your life is going to be LONG. Nine to five for your working lifetime of 40–50 years is a long-ass time if the rescue doesn’t come. About 500 months of solid work.
How many do you have to go? It’s probably time to cut your losses.
Someone Call the Maître D’
“You have comfort. You don’t have luxury. And don’t tell me that money plays a part. The luxury I advocate has nothing to do with money. It cannot be bought. It is the reward of those who have no fear of discomfort.”
—JEAN COCTEAU, French poet, novelist, boxing manager, and filmmaker, whose collaborations were the inspiration for the term “surrealism ”
Sometimes timing is perfect. There are hundreds of cars circling a parking lot, and someone pulls out of a spot 10 feet from the entrance just as you reach his or her bumper. Another Christmas miracle!
Other times, the timing could be better. The phone rings during sex and seems to ring for a half hour. The UPS guy shows up 10 minutes later. Bad timing can spoil the fun.
Jean-Marc Hachey landed in West Africa as a volunteer, with high hopes of lending a helping hand. In that sense, his timing was great.
He arrived in Ghana in the early 1980s, in the middle of a coup d’état, at the peak of hyperinflation, and just in time for the worst drought in a decade. For these same reasons, some people would consider his timing quite poor from a more selfish survival standpoint.
He had also missed the memo. The national menu had changed, and they were out of luxuries like bread and clean water. He would be surviving for four months on a slush-like concoction of corn meal and spinach. Not what most of us would order at the movie theater.
“WOW, ‘I’ CAN ‘SURVIVE.”
Jean-Marc had passed the point of no return, but it didn’t matter.
After two weeks of adjusting to the breakfast, lunch, and dinner (Mush à la Ghana), he had no desire to escape. The most basic of foods and good friends proved to be the only real necessities, and what would seem like a disaster from the outside was the most life – affirming epiphany he ’d ever experienced: The worst really wasn’t that bad. To enjoy life, you don’t need fancy nonsense, but you do need to control your time and realize that most things just aren’t as serious as you make them out to be.
Now 48, Jean – Marc lives in a nice home in Ontario, but could live without it. He has cash, but could fall into poverty tomorrow and it wouldn’t matter. Some of his fondest memories still include nothing but friends and gruel. He is dedicated to creating special moments for himself and his family and is utterly unconcerned with retirement. He’s already lived 20 years of partial retirement in perfect health.
Don’t save it all for the end. There is every reason not to.
Q&A: QUESTIONS AND ACTIONS
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
If you are nervous about making the jump or simply putting it off out of fear of the unknown, here is your antidote. Write down your answers, and keep in mind that thinking a lot will not prove as fruitfulor as prolific as simply brain vomiting on the page. Write and do not edit—aim for volume. Spend a few minutes on each answer.
- Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering. What doubt, fears, and “what-ifs” pop up as you consider the big changes you can—or need—to make? Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1–10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?
- What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily? Chances are, it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things back under control?
- What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios? Now that you’ve defined the nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal (confidence, self-esteem, etc.) or external? What would the impact of these more likely outcomes be on a scale of 1–10? How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have less intelligent people done this before and pulled it off?
- If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control? Imagine this scenario and run through questions 1–3 above. If you quit your job to test other options, how could you later get back on the same career track if you absolutely had to?
- What are you putting off out of fear? Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be—it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do. Define the worst case, accept it, and do it. I’ll repeat something you might consider tattooing on your forehead: What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. As I have heard said, a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear. I got into this habit by attempting to contact celebrities and famous business people for advice.
- What is it costing you—financially, emotionally, and physically—to postpone action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action. It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in one year, five years, and ten years? How will you feel having allowed circumstance to impose itself upon you and having allowed ten more years of your finite life to pass doing what you know will not fulfill you? If you telescope out 10 years and know with 100% certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as “the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome,” inaction is the greatest risk of all.
- What are you waiting for? If you cannot answer this without resorting to the previously rejected concept of good timing, the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world. Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.
- Tao of Seneca: Letters from a Stoic Master — Free PDFs of three volumes of Stoic writing and modern profiles.
- Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide
- The Tao of Seneca — On Groundless Fears
More on fear-setting
Tim Ferriss | Consider Risky Moves by ‘Fear-Setting’
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