Who doesn’t try to avoid pain? We don’t want to cause it and we don’t want to feel it. We’d rather life be easy. This makes sense—at least in the short term.
But the Stoics knew that in the long term, this kind of an attitude made you weak, made you soft. The NASCAR driver and student of Stoicism, Brad Keselowski, recently talked about how Stoicism has taught him to take whatever is hardest or most difficult in his life and “double down and appreciate it.” Because it’s teaching you something. It’s making you stronger. Too many people run from pain, he said, but that’s the wrong way to do it. “Over time,” he said, “you start to realize that pain is your body flushing out weakness.”
In Seneca’s writing, we see that theme come up time and time again: Don’t be afraid of challenges. They are preparing you for an uncertain future. In Marcus Aurelius’s writings we see him look at physical pain—we get the sense that Marcus had some chronic injuries or illnesses—as a kind of crucible that was forging him into a stronger person. You can endure this, he would say over and over again. You can get through this. You will get through this.
Of course, we should not be glib about pain or misfortune in life, but we can take all of these ideas and apply them to what we face today. There’s no need to turn away from what is headed toward us. Instead, we can embrace it. We can double down and appreciate what we have to do—even though it’s hard. Amor Fati. We can endure. We can flush weakness out.
And we can become better and stronger for it. Whatever it is.