Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Letters to a young man 10

Hello my friend. You tell me of your life and your achievements thus far and ask me if you are successful. You tell me of your plans, aspirations, and dreams, and ask me if by the end of it if you'd be successful if you achieved those things. I have an answer for you my young friend. The measure of your life will not be in whether you achieved this or that, or not. You will be the arbiter who decides. One thing I have learned in my life thus far,

Achieving your goals in life, and being happy with yourself, do not always go hand in hand; it's not a given.

We've all seen the keenly successful man adrift in his personal sorrows and drama. The actor who seems to have it all, yet who collides with his own feelings of desperation and failure at every turn. Does he not bear the trappings of success? Does he not have the comforts of the modern world at his disposal, including ready access to pleasures? And what do these do for him?

It's not our access to these things, nor our use of them that make a life worth living, a life of clarity and satisfaction. It's true such a life may be possible in their midst, but those who seek them out blindly should beware. For nowhere is it written in the natural laws that such things will indeed bring you happy. A man may be deemed successful if he triumphs over the world in such a way as to deliver himself to these things (for really he is in their ownership, in their possession), but has he truly triumphed over himself?

Advancing in years a man begins to find wisdom, if he applies himself and learns from all of his mistakes. For all men there will be many of those, that is one constant for all men. Reflect on your mistakes as they are the guideposts you set in the ground on your way. As you find this wisdom, you begin to see how ruling over your own fears and anxieties is a great triumph in life. You will see that controlling yourself in the face of desires which control you is a great triumph in life. Desires that are enjoyed at our will are one thing, but those which lead us around by the nose make us fish on hooks, ready to be pulled in and eaten by those who hold the reel. We must remove the hook, take hold of our own reel and triumph over our destiny.

So my young friend, I leave you to think on these matters as you ponder your life and direction. On some days the road will seem miserable, and not worth continuing. On other days you will feel that life is at your command in every way. There is one constant in all of this, and that is you. Do not expect to always command life in every way. Rather, make it your goal to be in command of yourself, and if you do so you will be one of the few, truly successful men in this world.

Farewell for now.

My book on stoicism.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Letters to a young man 9

Hello my friend. You mentioned how people say that the best things in life are free and in some respects, I suppose that is correct. The air you breathe does not cost you. You did not pay some price to be born and be alive (that we know of), and life is fair in that all will die; none have special favor from Fate on that score. Yet men walk the earth in search of so many things that they consider "free", spending their very selves in these pursuits. We fritter and waste so much time trying to acquire these "free" things, these pleasures and distractions, and as we spend ourselves, so we waste our precious time. And yet, we still look at these pursuits as "free", neglecting what we give up for them. We don't see them as things bought and paid for because we spend no money on them, and yet, how much is your time worth? How much time spent in these pursuits could you spend doing other things? How much energy, how much anxiety will these things require? We must ask ourselves these questions to know the true cost of things.

I don't deny that there are many pleasures a man may attain, and that many are worthwhile. Yet for many of those pursuits, all sustenance is drained from after a time. When compared to the sustenance of friendship, loyalty, trust, and honor, they begin to pale in the long run. The sustenance of these things are an important component of a strong man. Remember,

Weak men and women try to bend the world to match their insecurities; Strong men remain steadfast in their resolve when faced with adversity.

"What is it that makes a strong man?", you've asked me, and I will tell you something in reply. A man honors his commitments, and honors his word. If he cannot do a thing, he will not say that he can. Of course we all make mistakes and in confusion offer a stray commitment, but for a strong man these are a rare thing. Some will say, "Oh look, he can't make up his mind, whether to do the thing or not," but I tell you there are so many who will quickly commit themselves in word, with no intention of actually doing the thing. A man that doesn't answer, "yes I can do that" at every turn is a man of quality, a man that will only tell you that he can do a thing if he can in fact do it. This, of course, is easier said than done, and takes time and experience. Hence why I urge you to weigh out your decisions carefully, to speak only when you have something to say. When you look a man in the eye, he will know that what you say is your mind, and that when you make an oath, you mean it. This is part of what it means to be a strong man.

So I urge you again to look over what you spend your time on. Be careful of the easy things that appear free, for they may entangle you and rob you, dipping their fingers into the pockets for your time and effort. They'll leave you wasted, on the side of the road, with nothing to show for your trouble but more trouble, and without a steady thought to brace yourself against them. Such are the costs of so many things that distract us.

Farewell for now.

My book on stoicism.