“There are more things likely to frighten us then there are to crush us. We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” Seneca
I want to start here with this quote because just writing this is actually me acting on those imaginary fears. It’s amazing that writing or the desire to write or even the desire to publish something scares the crap out of me. So much so that I can become paralyzed and don’t even write. Out of all the letters that Seneca wrote (and to be honest I have not read them all yet), this is the most important one to me because it focuses on groundless fears. Every artist, every writer, every creative creator deals with these groundless fears. And that’s why his quote is so great because we suffered more in the imagination in the reality. I’m using creative work as my example, but I want you to think about things in your life that you are so fearful of that you won’t even do it. I’m sure that something just popped into your head as I bring it up. That’s the way the mind works and I’m sure just thinking about that is causing anxiety. But think about what that fear is…is it a real fear or are you imagining how bad this situation could be? I bet you it’s the latter. That’s how it is for me.
The fear of getting ridiculed and made fun of for my creative work far outweighs the actual criticism that I get when I publish something. That’s why I always say that the hardest part for me is just hitting publish. The hardest part for me isn’t actually writing. For example, I’ve been sitting on this post for five days now and used every excuse in the book to not post this because I’m worried about what others will think. It’s my imagination of what others could say that I’m worried about, not what they will actually say. I’ve learned that once I publish my creative work, whether it be a video or writing, most people only give me positive feedback. When I complete my creative work and I get these positive reviews you would think that it would make it easier. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make it easier but this goes to show you how impactful groundless fears can be on our own psyche. It makes you realize how paralyzing groundless fears can be for us.
Let’s take a step back for a second and look at what and where stoicism came from because I’m sure you’re asking yourself what is stoicism. Up until I started listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast all I knew about philosophy was what I learned about Aristotle’s writings and the things that I read in ethics class back in undergrad. I have a feeling that stoicism is as unknown to you as it was to me. So let’s take a little history lesson through where stoicism started.
Stoicism is seen as a philosophy of grim endurance, of carrying on rather than getting over, of tolerating rather than transcending life’s agonies and adversities.- Lary Wallace
It ignores gratitude, too. This is part of the tranquility because it’s what makes the tranquility possible. Stoicism is, as much as anything, a philosophy of gratitude – and a gratitude, moreover, rugged enough to endure anything.- Lary Wallace
I grab these two quotes from the Lary Wallace article about how most people view stoicism is actually incorrect. Most people think stoicism is more like the first quote and I see stoicism more like the second quote (Lary Wallace has a great piece on this here). Because of that, let’s dig into where stoicism came from. Wikipedia says stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early third century BC (Wikipedia, 2016). Let that sink in for a minute. This philosophy, like most philosophy, was created over 2300 years ago. Why does that matter? It matters to me because the same philosophies that are over 2000 years old can be applied to today. These same philosophies, that were written and professed while people were running around in tunics can shape how we act and react today. Let it sink in. Crazy to think about. The more I read about stoicism the more I saw how it could affect my mindset.
That’s where my history lesson stops. I just wanted to paint the picture that all humans have dealt with the same psychological road blocks throughout time. Most of what I like from stoicism comes from the later Roman stoics who had the same focus that I try to do, which is promoting a life in harmony within the universe, over which one has no direct control. (Wikipedia, 2016). Two of those stoics are Seneca and I guy I know most of you have heard of Marcus Aurelius. Yes, that Marcus Aurelius. There’s another mind blowing idea about stoicism, at least for me, a roman emperor who was also a philosopher. How can these writings from Seneca help you today? That’s where the fun begins. I want you to think about something in your life that has you really worried. What came to mind? Are you worried about the economy? Are you worried about your children making it through school?
Try not to be unhappy before the crisis comes since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you will never come upon you. They certainly have not yet come. – Seneca
How much of your worrying is groundless? Think about it for a moment. Most of our worries or paranoia is about things that may never happen. We spend so much time thinking about the “what if” this happens or “what if” that happens. That’s why I love the quote above. Why be unhappy or scared of things that may never happen? Think back to that thing you’re worried about. Do you think it will happen? More than likely your answer was “no it won’t happen but it could happen”. That fear could come to fruition. That’s not the part that matters. Not if but when. If you really do not think it will happen then it’s not worth worrying about. Like I said before, for me the writing is easy but the publishing is the hard part. I’m fearful that people will tell me it’s terrible. I fear that people will tell me to quit while I’m ahead. I’m fearful of… Oh nevermind, see even I can catch myself or at least try to before it spirals out of control.
Some thing’s torment us more than they ought. Some things torment us before they ought. And some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. – Seneca
If you’re reading this then I haven’t lost you, but for some people the language of that quote can sound foreign and hard to understand. The way I see it is this: For me, people’s opinions of my work might be ugly enough for me to quit writing. People’s opinions should not matter or affect what I do. People’s opinion should not matter before I publish my work. That’s the what if part. Don’t let the possible negative opinions stop me from writing. Finally, do not let those fears paralyze me or more importantly do not let those opinions affect me.
Now, let’s think about your fears and worries. Think about how you can change your mind around those fears. Think about it another way. This isn’t a glass-half-full attitude. This is more about realizing those fears are most likely tormenting us more than they should, they may be tormenting us before they should and most importantly those worries shouldn’t define us or what we do. Focus on that idea and see how much your day to day thinking changes. Again, this isn’t a glass half full thought process but more of letting things go that shouldn’t affect us at all. I hope forgetting about your groundless fears will help you find a better you. The best you.
More Quotes from Seneca’s Letter #13 that reinforce this idea:
We’re in the habit of exaggerating or imagining or anticipating sorrow.
Trifling in those fears is the most serious.
Well, figure out if these evils derive their strength from their own power or from our own weakness.
Am I tormented without sufficient reason? Do I convert something that is not an evil into something that is evil?
We are tormented by things present. Or by things to come. Or by both.
The fool with all his other faults has this also he is always getting ready to live.