Stoicism For Beginners

I recently picked up a book entitled The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, by Ryan Holiday. I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far, and will probably write¬†more once I’ve formed more opinions on it.

But, I just wanted to jot down this thought, more to have it personally available for quick reference than anything else. Holiday is speaking about our attitude when we encounter obstacles in our chosen path:

“It’s not just: How can I think this is not so bad? No, it is how to will yourself to see that this must be good — an opportunity to gain a new foothold, move forward, or go in a better direction. Not “be positive” but learn to be ceaselessly creative and opportunistic.

Not: This is not so bad.

But: I can make this good.

Maintaining Focus Throughout Your Life

Found this the other day and have spent a good deal of time reflecting on what I read since then. For those who don’t want to read it, or who want a tl;dr version, check out why the author hopes to die at 75:

“It removes the fuzziness of trying to live as long as possible. Its specificity forces us to think about the end of our lives and engage with the deepest existential questions and ponder what we want to leave our children and grandchildren, our community, our fellow Americans, the world. The deadline also forces each of us to ask whether our consumption is worth our contribution. As most of us learned in college during late-night bull sessions, these questions foster deep anxiety and discomfort. The specificity of 75 means we can no longer just continue to ignore them and maintain our easy, socially acceptable agnosticism. For me, 18 more years with which to wade through these questions is preferable to years of trying to hang on to every additional day and forget the psychic pain they bring up, while enduring the physical pain of an elongated dying process.”
The author states that, once he reaches the age of 75, he won’t actively attempt to end his life. He’s against euthanasia and suicide. He’ll simply switch the focus of his medical care from curative to palliative. No more routine check ups, no more antibiotics, no more worrying about what’s going to happen. He’ll just let it happen.
So, the focus of his life at that point shifts to enjoying the time he has left and making it worthwhile. But the important thing, and the thing I didn’t really consider until I read the section I quoted above, is that the focus of his life shifts much earlier than that.
It shifted the day he made the decision that he would only focus on staying alive for 75 years. It gave an end point, a finish line in the distance so that he could focus on making his contributions to his family, his community and the world at large as that day drew ever closer.
Of course, we can live like that all the time, right? We all know we’re going to die at some point. It’s just a matter of how and when. But that knowledge, especially to those of us who are young(er), seems so very remote and unreal. It’s often hard to keep in mind that we’re supposed to value every day, that we’re supposed to work hard on our legacy every day, because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Is setting a literal deadline what’s necessary to motivate us?
Maybe for some it is. I know I haven’t set a expiration date on my life, and don’t know if I will ever pick a hard and fast age after which I’ll allow my demise. All I know is that I want every day to count, and there are embarrassingly many days in my past that blur together in a haze of “busyness” in which I accomplish little to nothing. I’d like that to be different going forward.
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