I made significant progress toward getting into a master’s degree program today, so I didn’t have much time to write (outside the requirements of that; I spent several hours on the phone and more working on what will hopefully be some finalities), but at least it was a productive day instead of an unproductive one.
I like Taleb’s aphorisms, so I’m going to use another today, in part because it happens to be a reflection of my own life.
For the classics, philosophical insight was the product of a life of leisure; for us, a life of leisure can be the product of philosophical insight.Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes
I guess I can kind of call myself a philosopher now, since I’ve been writing about stuff and I read a lot of philosophy. I’m kind of a piddly one, and I haven’t contributed much, if anything, to the field at large, but there’s something about experiences that eventually means that you have to accept or reject a label as part of your being.
An earlier me would have raged against that as an offense to individualism, but now I see it as a path to individuation, and one needs to know who one is in terms that one can understand before they can fully become themselves.
To get to Taleb’s point, I’ve been happier in the past year than I’ve been ever before, despite being under at least as much stress in many ways. I figured out how to crack the code, and it’s pretty simple:
It turns out the philosophers might know what they’re talking about.
I’m a fan of the Stoics, and I’ve learned a lot from some of their very simple doctrines:
- Mentally walk through the worst scenario, then steel yourself for that loss.
- Remember that having virtue is better than having a single success; virtue sets you up for all future successes.
- Don’t sweat adiaphora and other little decisions.
- Avoid the expedient unless it is actually the correct path (and don’t be taken in by it).
- Accept the things which are outside your control.
These things go quite a way to making life better.
Another thing I’ve learned is to know myself as a person, but always strive to improve.
This is a tight-rope act, but I think I’ve finally hit a point in my life where I will consider myself successful if I break even, and even if circumstances outside my control cause me harm I would be happy with less than I have now.
Part of this is that I’ve learned to exert influence over myself. It’s not perfect, and I still have a lot of things to work on, but I’ve changed more and in better ways than I have in almost any other year of my life. I’m exercising regularly, back on a diet, writing more, and doing some freelance writing.
What I’ve found is that even when I work now, it rarely feels like work, and I think that’s Taleb’s point. When you align yourself with your goals, and you truly and honestly aim for them, you find great satisfaction and value in that. I’m about half-way through Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (Amazon affiliate link), and it’s basically déjà vu for me to hear him echo thoughts that are similar to my own.
It occurs to me that almost every experience I considered odiously strenuous in my life has been met by a reward at the end that would have been commensurate with the actual effort, had I not made the task ahead worse than it had to be.
Do not make things worse, either in perception or substance, than they already are.
The heroic struggle usually bears fruit worth the cost.
If in doubt, ask whether something is virtuous or expedient. Choose the virtuous option.