Usually at this time of the year, it’s time to overdose on something during a celebratory break to recuperate, whether it’s chocolate, champagne, or simply the exhausting company of a family who wants to belong to someone else’s clan. But this year, I found myself suffering from a strange condition of philosophical indigestion. Call it end-of-the-year anxiety or resistance to New Year’s resolutions, but I mainline with nonsensical mental one-liners.
Anyone who uses social media will find a constant supply of tech bro sayings from Greco-Roman-inspired philosophies designed to motivate and inspire. Thanks to the magic of Instagram (search for posts tagged with #stoicism), the great words of Epictetus and Aristotle are repurposed into shareable memes and his 60-second reels.
This phenomenon started behind closed conference room doors as a Silicon Valley epidemic a few years ago and has now permeated the rest of us. Reimagined for the obsessive generation, arbitrarily reborn on YouTube and bestseller lists. “Epictetus says, ‘How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?’ To breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
The king of this world (or a Greek god?) is Ryan Holiday, author of the Stoic Virtue series, discipline is destiny, Obstacles are roads When The ego is the enemy. Holiday’s fate was sealed several years ago by serial tech investor, podcaster and blogger Tim Ferriss. 4 hour work week, bought the audiobook rights. Around the same time, stoicism was becoming a topic of interest to tech insiders such as Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and his former GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving. Emphasizing self-discipline, routine, and healthy living, stoicism offers a repackaging of self-help as emotionally intelligent rugged masculinity. Oprah meets Plato on a climbing wall.
However, much like a January gym subscription, stoicism is a way of life that motivates many of us only for a (very) short period of time, the seconds it takes to read an Instagram post. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Obviously there is nothing wrong with any advice. And this is part of the problem. These philosophers, and their modern digital age translators, all tell us to do what we already know we should do. Make beautiful choices, says Epictetus. Worried about mastering your morning? Get up early like Marcus Aurelius. Hoping for less obsessive thoughts? We are greatly influenced by the companies we maintain, so surround yourself with people and ideas that enrich your mind.
They focus on edicts (what to do) and are strangely silent on execution (how to actually get these things done). Yes, we know we need to wake up every morning and be deeply grateful! But how do we actually do that? Still, the words of Marcus Aurelius ring in my drunken ears.
The Stoic life instructions are easy to preach, and by Jupiter there are a huge number of them. Seneca said: But it’s not easy to remember this truth when you’re receiving 57 “Reply All” messages at the end of a pointless 2-hour hybrid Teams meeting. I don’t think these lily flower ancients lasted more than five minutes, being challenged by a slide deck with no discerning beginning or end.
But before I go cold turkey, I’ll go hard one last time. Start his 21-day calendar challenge for The Daily Stoic’s “New Year, New You.” I’m ready to break through my goals — enduring whatever hardships come my way.
Missing Pirita Clark