the stoic art of dealing with uncertainty (part 2)

the stoic art of dealing with uncertainty (part 2)
Photo by alexey turenkov / Unsplash

“Anyone with any degree of mental toughness,” artist Georgia O’Keeffe wrote with regard to life and the art of setting priorities, “ought to be able to exist without the things they like most for a few months at least.” 

Seneca, the Roman philosopher, who served as Nero's adviser and enjoyed considerable wealth, must have harbored fears of job insecurity. The concern of providing for his family loomed large in his thoughts, extending to the well-being of his family's estates. The inherent unpredictability of Fortune added to his anxieties, as he was well aware that everything he possessed could be swiftly taken away by the capricious whims of fate.

Amidst these worries, Seneca discerned that beneath the layers of fears and anxieties lay a singular dread—he feared the prospect of poverty. The apprehension of what life might entail without the accustomed comforts and luxuries weighed heavily on him. Confronting this realization, Seneca decided to cease the act of imagination and, instead, actively engaged with poverty by “establishing business relations with it.”

In a letter to his friend Lucilius Junior, Seneca offered a potent strategy to stay resilient and cultivate mental constancy: “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.” 

He further added, “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.”

The antidote to fear-induced paralysis is found in the embrace of rejection and failure. When we no longer fear the sting of embarrassment or the disappointment of rejection, we free ourselves from the shackles that hold us back. Each rejection becomes a stepping stone, not a roadblock. As Winston S. Churchill remarked, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts."

Practicing the art of facing uncertainty head-on cultivates courage—the most vital virtue of all. Courage is the fuel that propels us forward, enabling us to confront difficult tasks, overcome challenges, and reach our full potential. Eleanor Roosevelt's words echo this sentiment: "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face."

Long story short, our fear of the unknown has a profound impact on our lives, steering us away from potential opportunities and stifling our growth. However, by embracing rejection, overcoming the fear of failure, and cultivating courage, we unlock the door to a world of possibilities. As Vincent van Gogh wisely observed, "What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?" It is through courage that we transcend our fears, venture into the unknown, and truly live.

I'm happy, excited, and immensely grateful to announce the release of my new book "The Virtue of Temperance: Volume I", the first book of the Handbooks for Stoics series.

"The Virtue of Temperance: Volume I" is not just a theoretical discourse; it's a practical guide to navigating the complexities of contemporary life. In this concise book, I provide actionable exercises and real-world applications that'll empower you to cultivate the Stoic virtues of self-control, discipline, and rationality in a world driven by excess and instant gratification. Through captivating narratives and poignant lessons, you'll discover how temperance is not a restraint, but a liberation—a path to embracing challenges with grace and resilience.

Get your copy here:

(Print book and audiobook coming soon!)