Join 300,000+ other Stoics and get our daily email meditation.

Subscribe to get our free Daily Stoic email. Designed to help you cultivate strength, insight, and wisdom to live your best life.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

Compete With Yourself And Root For Everybody Else

Daily Stoic Emails

The Stoics said that you should focus on your own improvement, that the only race to run is against yourself. At the same time, they also remind us that we’re all tied up in this thing together, that we’re all bees of the same hive. 

Aren’t those two things at odds with each other? When you focus on your own race, don’t you necessarily want to win at the expense of others? Or at the very least, have to disregard them and their interests?

Well no. We’ve talked about this: what one person does ripples through the collective. Marcus said when one bee is injured, the whole hive suffers. It goes the other way too—when one bee succeeds, the whole hive thrives.

You can see this in bicycle road racing: the peloton always moves faster than the solo breakaway rider.

You can see this in art with the Impressionists, exchanging ideas at the Cafe Guerbois in Paris in the late 19th century—none of those men would have been as great had they spent their time in solitude holed up in their studios.

A tweet from Candice Millard squares this tension perfectly:

My advice (for what it’s worth) for success and happiness: Compete with yourself and root for everybody else.

In his letters to Lucilius, Seneca was explicit in his writing aspirations. He wanted to be one of the greats. But unlike some writers, he didn’t view other writers as competition. If he read great work, he didn’t see it as a threat. In fact, in his forty-sixth letter, Seneca says he received his copy of the book Lucilius wrote. He opened it with the intention of just quickly skimming it. “The sunlight called to me, hunger warned, and clouds were lowering,” he explains, “but I absorbed the book from beginning to end. I was not merely pleased; I rejoiced. So full of wit and spirit it was!”

He was happy for his friend. He was rooting for him. And we can imagine, inspired to better himself and to get better at his own craft as well.