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Be Severe Only With Yourself

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One of the things that separates us from other people—indeed that has been responsible for our success—is our ability to be strict and self-disciplined. Where other people are fine making excuses or taking shortcuts, we are not. Where other people wing it or do what’s easiest, taking the path of least resistance, we don’t. That’s really the essence of Stoicism and why those of us who have committed to doing the hard work have been able to get so much out of it.

But it can be a problem when people like us come into positions of leadership or become fathers and mothers. Suddenly it’s not just our own behavior we’re regulating, we’re now responsible for other people as well. It’s tempting to try to hold them to the very same standards we hold ourselves to, but this is not only unfair (they didn’t sign up for that), it’s often counterproductive. It burns people out, and it sets you up for disappointment. Or worse, disillusionment.

This observation from Marcus Aurelius’s most thoughtful biography, by Ernest Renan, explains the right way to do it.

“The consequence of austere philosophy might have produced stiffness and severity. But here it was that the rare goodness of the nature of Marcus Aurelius shone out in all its brilliancy. His severity was confined only to himself.”

That’s exactly the key. Your standards are for you. This philosophy is about your self-improvement. It’s about being strict with yourself and forgiving of other people. That’s not only the kind way to be, it’s the only effective way to be. It’s the only defense to being constantly upset and let down.

P.S. This was originally sent on October 24th, 2018. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism. 

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