A Stoic is Discovered
“Before you get going in the morning say to yourself, ‘Today I’ll meet people who are meddlers, ingrates, bullies, cheaters, envious and antisocial people. All of this happens because they don’t know the difference between what’s good and what’s bad.’” – Marcus Aureliuis
“You are a Stoic,” said a friend to me a few years ago. I replied with a puzzled look. I knew the definition of “stoic” (suffering pain or difficulty without complaining), but the “a” before Stoic meant something else. He then explained, “You have an almost Zen-like calm through ups and downs. You control your emotions, do not let external events upset you, reflect a lot on what happens, are generally happy and content, and are always wondering how to become a better version of yourself. These are the key ideas behind Stoicism. You should look it up.”
That was the first time I had come across Stoicism. The fault was entirely mine: the focus on engineering early on in my career meant that the liberal arts were given short shrift. This is the one thing I would undo if I had a chance to live life again. Philosophy was a word I dreaded after doing a compulsory course during my undergrad in IIT. It took me almost three decades to forget those scars and take a fresh look at philosophy, economics and the related arts.
As I read about Stoicism, I realised that my friend was right. I had lived life on the principles of Stoicism without understanding that there was a name for it. Since then, I have read up more on Stoicism and have even advocated it to many others. What the Greeks and Romans came up with a couple thousand years ago has modern-day relevance. They also tie in with some of the ideas in Jainism around detachment. These ideas have helped me not just in personal life but also in business as an entrepreneur to live through more than 30 failed ventures and maintain equanimity through the 3 successes I have had in the past three decades.
When I spoke to others about Stoicism, I realised most were like me a few years ago – very few had heard about Stoicism. Hence this series – to summarise the key ideas, provide some stories from my life, and offer suggestions on leading a better life. We cannot control the events that happen, but can control our reactions to those events. The writings and wisdom of people like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca can help us lead a happier life and also create a continuously improving version of ourselves. It can mean better relationships with those around us – at home and work. And by doing so, we will have less stress and greater mental calm. Each of us may have our own way to reach that state – meditation, long walks, journaling, and so on. But what I like about Stoicism is that it provides a holistic approach rather than point solutions.
Philosophy is the study of ideas and beliefs about the meaning of life. I wish I had studied it more when I was younger. This series is a way to correct that mistake and offer advice to others who are younger and likely to find it useful. In today’s always-on world where it can be hard to find peace and tranquillity amidst a constant flurry of meetings and messages, Stoicism offers a guide to a more fulfilling life.