I am a practicing Stoic, and have been one since my mid-twenties. I encountered Stoicism in my teenage years, via Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, but it was not until Nassim Taleb that I became a practicing Stoic.
Stoicism is often thought of as a dour philosophy. A stoic is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition) as
one who practises repression of emotion, indifference to pleasure or pain, and patient endurance.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Stoicism, as practiced by the Romans, is a practical philosophy for serenity.
On this day, my last day of classes at Wharton, it seems appropriate to draw on Stoicism for inspiration.
There is only now
Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see. The span we live is small—small as the corner of the earth in which we live it.1
We chase after the future, and linger in the past, not realizing that the future does not exist, and the past is unchangeable. There is only now. Don’t lose sight of that fact, no matter how tempting it is to look back at past with regret or nostalgia, or at the future with fear or anticipation.
Omnia mutantur nihil interit
Some things are rushing into existence, others out of it. Some of what now exists is already gone. Change and flux constantly remake the world, just as the incessant progression of time remakes eternity.2
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pythagoras says,
Omnia mutantur, nihil interit. Loosely translated, it means, “Everything changes, nothing is lost”. As we face a world that is always changing around us, we should remember this. Change is a constant. It is neither good nor evil. It simply is. We can fight change, but it will happen nonetheless. Better, by far, to accept change, and adapt.
What Other People Think Does Not Matter
The tranquillity that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.3
The reality is, you have no control over what others think, say, or do. You have control only over what you think, say, or do. You can worry about it, or you can let go of it. Do the latter.
On Giving Gifts
The bookkeeping for benefits is quite simple. A certain amount is disbursed; if there is any repayment at all, then it is a profit. If there is no repayment, it is not a loss. I gave it only in order to give. No one records benefits in an account book and then, like a greedy collection agent, demands payment at a set day and time. A good man never thinks about his gifts unless he is reminded by someone wishing to repay them.4
Perhaps the most immediately practical advice of the four thoughts from Stoicism that I am sharing, this one is one that I find myself turning to, often. A gift or a favor is something to be made freely, without expectation of recompense. One does so because one wishes to, without expecting anything in return.