Moving Forward: A Stoic Approach to Well-Being – How to Cope with the Unexpected

If you regard that…which is not your own as being your own, you’ll have cause to lament, you’ll have a troubled mind, and you’ll find fault with both gods and human beings…(Enchiridion 1)

Have you ever heard the old cliché ‘I wish life came with an instruction manual?’ There is, available today, a plethora of self-help books, guides, videos, seminars and social media pages that anyone can access that could potentially fulfil a person’s want or desire for a quick answer on how to resolve their issues. The cliché is, there are no quick fixes.

February 21st 2019. We are scarcely out of the winter months and into the year proper when I find myself unemployed for the fifth time in as many years. If we take a Stoic approach and use the Dichotomy of Control to understand ourselves a little better then we could say that all but one of those instances of job loss – two redundancies, two dismissals and one resignation – were ultimately, not in my control.

How you may ask, are two dismissals not in my power to control? Surely my actions are of my own doing and therefore responsibility should be taken. And you would be correct. My actions are of my own doing however the reaction of others toward me is not something I can take responsibility for.

Epictetus would claim that,

Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things… When we are impeded or disturbed or grieved, let us never blame others, but ourselves, that is, our opinions. It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition, it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself, and of one whose instruction has been completed, neither to blame another, nor himself.”

The true essence of wisdom here and the lesson that I have come to learn (over many hours of internal dispute and resolution), is that as long as you are true to yourself, congruent in your thoughts and your actions then its not about what you take responsibility for, it is how you react to a situation once you understand the sequence of events that brought you to a particular impasse. If you can take responsibility for this, then any consequence that befalls you is not yours to be held accountable for.

We can only position ourselves in the world in the best way we know how. Act in ways that allow for the best possible set of consequences to manifest, whether they do or not is simply not up to us.

And so it was with this mind-set, one of understanding and acceptance that when called to a meeting with my manager I was fully prepared for whatever outcome may occur. I had not been happy in my role for some time and as much as I smiled to placate the dread within, it was the dread that ultimately found its way to the surface and presented itself in my very being. When the outcome that I thought would be the worst transpired, not only was I prepared for it, I understood completely why it was happening and this made it simpler (not easier) to accept.

There has been this growing fear in me, a paralyzing conundrum within, that I cannot fathom, that possibly could be summarily described best anecdotally. In January of this year I moved house and in doing so came across the dissertation I wrote for my Psych degree in 2009. “Never did I write such a thing” I whispered to myself in disbelief.

10,000 words on A Qualitative Approach to Learning Styles within a Student Support Network using Discourse Analysis. Who am I? I asked as I probe my inner self. It is a question I have deliberated over many times these last few years.

I rarely engage in idle chit chat instead preferring to debate the idiosyncrasies of human behaviour or how we can apply Chaos theory to help navigate the complexity of everyday life. I follow people on Twitter who allow me to participate in more cerebral pursuits of discourse.

Coincidently, it was at this time I read a thread posted by Bret Weinstein on overcoming imposter syndrome. His assertion was that each of us is the world’s expert on at least a few things (our pet, our partner, something we did now adopted by others). To implement a practical approach to understanding this assertion we must start by locating within ourselves a few of these areas of expertise to get comfortable.

Now we can ask ourselves the following question: What’s the MOST important thing in which you are likely a world expert?

I cannot share with you my answer to this question right now but Bret Continues; the worlds responsibilities are more distributed that we could usually imagine. Often the hardest thing is just to notice that we often reach the top of multiple summits without even noticing we made it. You don’t have to share your answers either, but one could hypothesise that often we can’t believe the result.

I will be using this approach to discover new paths that lay ahead of me. I have not had the courage or the resolve to take matters in to my own hands of late and complacency has meant that some decisions have been made for me. In this sense I must embrace the present to move forward.

Epictetus would employ reason and would have us proposition ourselves in such a manner as to say,

On the occasion of every event that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and enquire what power you have for turning it into use. If you see a fair man or a fair woman, you will find that the power to resist is temperance. If labour be presented to you, you will find that it is endurance

In the face of unemployment, for me it was courage. The courage to use the time productively, to write this for your delectation. To explore a pursuit I have never previously made the time for. Always keeping at the forefront of my mind;

Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” (Enchiridion 1)

One Comment

  1. This is phenomenal. I thank you, for you posted a reply to a pinned tweet, and here I am discovering ‘exactly’ what I needed to read, embrace, and moreover, ‘practice’. I stand in awe as you don’t rip off the band aid that is so often used as to immerse the reader, rather you gently dismantle the notions we have all erected or attempted in life. I could see this being a beacon of self help, but one that is based in raw authenticity, whereby the author is not divided from the reader, but where they are both experiencing this journey of life. Both relying on the other to not return to those days we all know feeling as an imposter to the very breaths we take. BRILLANT WRITE!

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