Successful, talented people are often frustrated for a simple reason: The world is constantly disappointing them. They expect everyone to be like them, to work as hard as them, to care as much as them, to hold themselves to the same standards as they do. And if not that, at the very least, we expect people to show up and do their jobs.
It’s the difference between these expectations and reality that makes us angry. Angry at the man behind the counter who can’t even apologize that the flight is delayed because the airline couldn’t manage to get a pilot onto the plane. Angry at the delivery person who bent and smashed your mail into the box. Angry at the employee who disregarded instructions and made a costly mistake. Angry at this, angry at that, day after day.
It’s understandable… but that doesn’t make it okay. Because not only is this a miserable way to live, but worse, it makes other people miserable, too. And that’s what is particularly inexcusable for a Stoic. You’re not allowed to externalize your crap onto other people. You can’t make the world worse because of your own inflexibility.
We’ve found it a tad ironic, for instance, to see some of the customer service emails that have come in from people who have signed up for our Taming Your Temper course (which helps people with their anger problems). The things people are comfortable saying to some faceless person behind a computer! The things people are ready to blame on everyone but themselves (I know I signed up with the wrong email, I know I only emailed 20 minutes ago, but why isn’t my problem solved right now?!). The things we think we can get away with because we are stressed, because we think no one is looking, because no one has called us out on it!
It’s not manly to get angry, Marcus Aurelius wrote. It’s not natural either. It’s better to be calm and controlled, he said. It’s better to treat people with kindness. Don’t go expecting Plato’s Republic, he said. If there are brambles in the path, he said, go around. Why get angry? As if the world will care or notice.
It’s wonderful that you have high standards. It’s wonderful that you are demanding of yourself. It’s wonderful that you do your job. But you have to be willing to be flexible and tolerant with other people. You have to be patient. You have to keep your frustrations in check. That’s what Stoicism is about. That’s what the point of all this is.
Don’t let yourself get away with anything less.