This site is called The Heroic Stoic, so how about some raw Stocism? Let’s start with a quote:
“For if a man engages in many affairs, he often puts himself in the power of Fortune, while his safest course is rarely to tempt her, always to be mindful of her, and never put any trust in her promises. Say, I will set sail unless something happens, and I shall become praetor unless something hinders me, and my enterprise will be successful unless something interferes.”
These are the words of Seneca (the Younger), from “On Tranquility of Mind.” Seneca the Younger will be a featured philosopher on the site, since his Stoic views are…awesome! A very short biography of Seneca includes these highlights: he was of poor health his whole life, he was a successful playwright and writer, an advisor to an emperor (Caligula included), he was banished to a desolate island for 8 years (to Corsica by Caligula), was called to return from exile by the emperor Claudius, advised the emperor Nero, and then later was sentenced to a slow death of being bled to death, which he accepted bravely (…uh, Stoically?).
Seneca has an interesting story. Go read about him if you are interested. But his words above are my task at hand.
“Unless” is a very powerful word. In the Stoic sense, it is not meant to be an excuse to give up, but rather an acknowledgment that despite our best efforts, life may have other plans for us. This does not mean that we shouldn’t set out to do great things. Quite the contrary…go for it! However, we must always acknowledge, that despite all the preparation, hard work, time and money investment, the things out of our control may leave us short of our goal. I will be the greatest pilot of all time, unless I lose my eyesight. I will be an influential blogger, unless my material is just not interesting to most people, or unless someone else conveys ideas better than I, or unless the world isn’t ready for my greatness.
McKayla Maroney, a U.S gymnast, put hours of work into the vault. She is the renowned expert in the event. Far and away, the best vaulter in the world, according to NBC’s Olympic announcer, Tim Daggett. She was the heavy favorite to win the event at the 2012 Olympics. Well, she performed her usual high difficulty vault on her first attempt, and nailed it! She was on a roll. But then, she fell on her second attempt, which was actually a less difficult jump. Apparently, she had performed this vault without serious error on her last 33 tries. What happened? It could have been many things, but here is what she said, “It’s gymnastics. You can’t always be perfect. Sometimes things don’t go as planned.” Now, that’s a Stoic! I will be a gold medalist in vault, unless it just isn’t my day. Oh, and by the way, she’s a champ, anyway. Look it up.
But what about the hundreds (maybe thousands) of gymnasts who never made the team (there were only five on the 2012 team)? So many factors affected their success. Injuries, family issues, money, just plain bad luck, or even genetics. I say, good for them! They are champs, too. Striving for excellence every day.
For me, this is what makes life so exciting. The game is invigorating. We are wired for this adventure. From a very young age we were drawn to games. Monopoly, Risk, Stratego, Halo, Mario, etc. As soon as we start the games, we realize we will not win every time…maybe even rarely if we’re playing our ruthless parents or older siblings (in the case of Monopoly), or our son (Grrrrrrr! In the case of Mario. AN ASIDE: I don’t know why my son always gives me the bad controller.).
Well, life is really no different. We’re problem solvers, achievers, and we are motivated to compete. Mostly, I think we should be competing with ourselves, trying to do better every day.
Just remember that much of the game is out of our control (for example, that bad controller or a bad dice roll. OK, seriously how about those hours of practice that our son puts in on that stupid Mario game, and the years of being ripped off that Dad uses to his advantage in Monopoly). In fact, at some point the game will be up and we will have to quit altogether.
So Stoically engage life with all you’ve got, but remember that things might not come out exactly as you pictured it in the end.