Paying the Piper

“There is no evil that does not offer inducements. Avarice promises money; luxury, a varied assortment of pleasures; ambition, a purple robe and applause, and the influence which results from applause, and all that influence can do. Vices tempt you by the rewards which they offer; but in the life of which I speak, you must live without being paid. Scarcely will a whole life-time suffice to bring our vices into subjection and to make them accept the yoke, swollen as they are by long-continued indulgence; and still less, if we cut into our brief span by any interruptions.” – Seneca. Epistulae Morales AD Lucilium

As the final act of this season’s performance of the endless play draws near, I am reminded that it does no good to be angry, jealous or envious of the .1% who accumulate ever more wealth and power to themselves. In the end, the result will be the same as it always has been, with the playing field leveled, the debris swept away and the start of the new season of “Who gets to be King of the Mountain?”.

How then should I live my life in the interim, chasing the carrots dangled by the puppet masters, railing against the injustice, or giving into despair? I will do none of these, but will instead recognize the cycle that I am a part of, and will attempt to live my life according to the values and virtues I have chosen, while ignoring the temptations and distractions of the circus.

The true rewards of living a virtuous life are internal – If I am doing so simply to receive the praise and admiration of others I am as guilt as the fallen. As Seneca says, “I must live without getting paid”. However it is the lack of that pay, and all the obligations that come with it, that frees me to truly be happy and unencumbered by expectations to meet the demands of others.

Likewise, I will not be angry with the fallen or those who brought (or bought) them to that state, but rather pity them all, because a lifetime will truly not be enough to remove the chains they have shackled themselves with.

The Upside to Quitting

Holes

“A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins”, Vince Lombardi

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”, Will Rogers

“You need to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em…”, The Gambler, Kenny Rogers

“No problem is so formidable that you can’t walk away from it.”, Charles Schulz (Peanuts)

I recently made the decision to quit an executive level role that I felt was not the right fit for me (or for the company I was working for), and as luck would have it, it was also the day while driving into work that Overcast replayed the Freakenomics podcast, “The Upside of Quitting”. Whether due to serendipity or confirmation bias, I do sometimes feel that life is not as random as physics would suggest.

As a practicing Stoic, making (or attempting to make) rational decisions is how I strive to live my daily life, and this episode and event highlighted a few truisms that align perfectly to that (and to my own experience):

  • Live my own life, not someone else’s vision of what I should be or do
  • Passion for a pursuit does not guarantee my success
  • Fail fast (the hardest lesson for me as it contradicts my inherent bias to both not recognize when something is not working and to not give up)
  • Life exists in the now – whatever has been invested in a losing proposition is done and gone. As Stevie Nicks sang, ‘Pick up the pieces and go home’ (or move on I would say)
  • My most precious commodity is time – at every moment I need to examine what I am doing and ask myself, am I making the best use (as aligned with my concept of a virtuous life) of what time I have left?
  • Striving for constant happiness in my job, relationships and life is a recipe for unhappiness – I have to take the good with the bad (or the desirable with the undesirable) in order to make progress in life

Reactions > Thoughts > Actions

I walk through life facing backwards, buffeted by events that I can and cannot anticipate. My belief, in thinking I can control the future, is an illusion – fate dictates my destiny regardless of my intentions.

My actions are the equivalent of throwing seeds over my shoulder, hoping that they will grow as I want. In the end, my efforts to bring balance to my life are best spent on managing my reaction to life’s anticipated and unanticipated buffets, and only then on ordering my thoughts and actions.

I am constantly being influenced by the external environment. It is those inputs, mediated by my instinctual/emotional response that unconsciously drives my thoughts and eventual actions. In order to truly gain control of my life, I need to manage my reactions, recognizing the emotional triggers that influence my thoughts and eventual actions.

The external environment is constantly peppering me with inputs, that my monkey mind perceives as threats or immediately desirable events. Recognizing and separating actual physical threats, immediate or deferred, from threats to my self image is the key to controlling my eventual thoughts and actions. In this regard, the Cynics were on to something, though I would not agree with their disregard of the need to fit into society.

In other words, focusing on properly recognizing and reacting to life’s inputs, is more important and productive than trying to manage the outputs. I will work to recognize and not let the seeds of undesirable thoughts and actions gain root in my mind, so I will have less weeding to do in the future.