Here you are, stuck indoors, stuck somewhere you don’t want to be. Maybe also you’re stuck because you’re 17 going on 30. Maybe also you’re stuck because you’ve got another two years left on your enlistment or because you’re waiting for a position to open up at a new company. Or you’re stuck because there is a global pandemic and, like a good Stoic, you’re listening to the authorities, and staying home, and helping to flatten the curve.
You can’t help that, the Stoics would say. But you can help what you do with this time. As we talked about recently, just because you’re stuck is not an excuse for killing time. More than two thousand years ago, Cato the Elder advised that in rainy weather, farmers must “try to find something to do indoors. Clean up, rather than be idle. Remember that even though work stops, expenses run on nonetheless.” Robert Greene says we always have a choice between alive time and dead time. What will it be? The answer determines the course of our life, whether what we face is an obstacle or an opportunity.
Issac Newton did some of his best research when Cambridge closed due to the plague. Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he hid out from the plague as well. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, while he was laid up in the hospital, expressly forbidden from working on something as tough as a novel. Malcolm X educated himself in prison and turned himself into the activist the world needed.
So we get it, you’re stuck. That’s not your fault. But what you do while you’re stuck? That’s on you. That’s what the Stoics meant when they said you don’t control what has happened, but you control how you respond. That’s what Marcus was talking about when he said we can turn everything that happens into fuel, and that the impediment to action can actually advance action
So that’s where we are right now. Faced with a choice. A choice to use this or not. Make something of it or not. It’s the only potential silver lining…and it’s totally up to you.
For anyone who’s seeking “alive time” during this time of shelter-in-place, social distancing and self-isolation, check out Daily Stoic’s Alive Time Challenge. It’s a great way to take advantage of the next two weeks and use them constructively.
P.S. This was originally sent on March 27, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.