When we first started seeing Edward Latimore regularly mentioned to us on Twitter it piqued our curiosity. Why were people this excited to tell us about him? It turns out that not only his background is unique (from professional boxing to physics to the United States Army National Guard) but Ed is also an avid student of the Stoics. It was not a surprise to see the creator of Dilbert and bestselling author Scott Adams say that Ed is one of his favorite people to follow. Ed is also the author of Not Caring What Other People Think Is A Superpower, a book title in true Stoic fashion.
We reached out to Ed to learn more about his background and his wide-ranging interests, his study of Seneca, favorite Stoic exercises and quotes, self-control and self-restraint (particularly in regards to alcohol), and much much more. Enjoy our interview with Ed below!
We absolutely have to start with your background which is fascinating. Can you tell us more about your path?
I’ve been told it’s quite an odd mix and I have to believe it. I don’t think I’ve met another boxer who studies physics. The best way to tell the story of how I got interested in these two disparate disciplines is to walk you through things chronologically.
When I was 22, I had just left a 4 year relationship. During that relationship I did everything I could to make sure I could see the girl every day. This meant working useless retail jobs and never developing any of my own interests, talents, and hobbies. I had already dropped out of my first go at college and spent my days working at Starbucks and living off my girlfriend’s parents.
This was already problematic enough, as I was effectively being a loser, but I was also on a heavy anti-higher education rant. I wasn’t shy when it came to voicing my opinion about the worthlessness of college, even to my girlfriend’s mother who was a university professor.
Well one day, before she threw me out of her house following one of our disagreements about college, she said to me, “Ok, so what have you done for the past 4 years besides eat my food? Even if you’d lived in a monastery for 4 years, you’d have something to show for it!”
This conversation made me think. Hard. She was right and it burned. I’d wasted a lot of time. So I went and decided to start putting sweat equity into something so I could have something to show for myself. I’d always been interested in boxing, so I started going to a local boxing gym and I’ve since stayed with it.
As far how I got into physics, that part of the story is intertwined with my service in the military. When I was 27, after I’d been boxing for 5 years, I still really didn’t have much to show for my life. In fact, in most aspects I was worse off. I’d done well in in boxing, but I was broke. I was also an alcoholic. I was living from paycheck to paycheck, working at T-Mobile making just enough money to drink every day and barely pay rent.
Then one day I imagine my future. I projected myself 5 years into the future. If I continued on the path that I was on now, I wouldn’t be anything. I might make a lot of money boxing but almost NO ONE makes money boxing. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. Once when I was living in L.A., I’d almost got hit by a car. That would have taken me out of boxing and I’d have nothing left.I’d simply have my booze and a sad existence.
Even writing this, imagining that path, I get sad thinking about the version of me who lives in the alternate reality where I didn’t fix my life. I needed a way to fix things. I was also tired of only being qualified to work retail jobs and having no skills. So I decided to go back to school for engineering, but I’d need money to pay for tuition. To get that money, and add skills to my resume, I decided to enlist in the army and serve in the national guard.
I eventually discovered that I liked physics quite a bit, so I pursued that as a line of study rather than engineering. But the common thread between boxing and physics in my life is that I was drawn to them because I saw in them my salvation. I got into boxing because I was worthless at age 22. I got into physics because I was worthless at age 28.
Each time, I had been living an easy life and I was paying for it dearly in terms of actual and opportunity costs. I wanted to have skills. I wanted to be worthwhile. While I love boxing and physics a great deal, I found them both because I was nothing and living life on easy mode. These disciplines forced me to live a structured, disciplined life and be more than a loser and a drunk.
You’ve mentioned that Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic is one of the most influential books in your life. Why is that? How did he impact you?
What I enjoy most about Seneca’s writings—not only Letters from a Stoic but Dialogues—is that Seneca is able to perfectly distill what makes life worth living. I was first exposed to Seneca’s works in one of 3 philosophies classes I’ve had to take as a part of my major. Seneca and the Stoic philosophy resonated with me deeply—especially the ideas on the passage of time and the value of suffering.
Though I was not exposed to Seneca until I was 30 years old, those two principles guided the decisions I made about going back to school. “It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” When I read that in Seneca’s essay On The Shortness of Life, it immediately resonated with me and reminded me of something I always tell people.
When I’m asked about my decision to return to school so late, I tell people that the time is going to pass anyway. Assuming I don’t die, I’m going to turn 33 regardless. The question is whether I will have the ability to earn more money and have greater opportunities, or whether I’ll be the same person I was at 27?
This is the mentality I took to starting boxing at the very late age of 22. I figured that even though I was starting late, the time was going to pass anyway. I can’t control that. All I can control is how I use it. I decided that I wanted to use it to learn boxing. I realized I was wasting my time.
Another idea that I am fond of—and I realize this may just be the fighter in me talking–is that suffering is required for growth. There is an essay in Letters From A Stoic titled “On Being”. There is the very powerful line, “We cannot make fine distinctions without encountering difficulties”.
Seneca covers this idea—the idea of suffering leading to growth—in many essays, but that always stuck with me. You don’t really learn about the life, in the academic sense. Rather, you experience reality and you develop a visceral understanding but only after you survive the hard knocks it has to offer.
For example, I grew up poor in a very dangerous public housing project in my city. This was my initial education about worst parts of humanity. As I grew older,I also learned more about the worst parts of myself via mistakes I made and people I hurt. Likewise, I learned more about people and harshness of reality via the times I was let down and hurt.
Harsh experience in life can make you bitter or make you better. It all depends on how you decide to see them. I am a happy and grateful individual because I’ve seen the good and the bad of life, and I like that it’s all necessary. You don’t develop true gratitude until you experience the worse this world has to offer. This makes you happy if for no other reason that you’re able to contrast how it is now, to how bad it’s been. And if it’s really bad now, you’ve seen the lives of people who have it worse.
Exposure to suffering and the proper usage of time are the two most powerful ways the stoic philosophy has resonated with me and further developed my thinking.
What is your favorite exercise or quote from Seneca that you think of the most, and when specifically is the most helpful? What other daily habits do you practice that you’d recommend to our readers?
I once wrote a small poem—a rhyming line really—that I committed to heart.
“Even if only by a marginal stroke, may you go to sleep better than how you awoke.”
Seneca expresses this same idea in his essay on anger. He challenges you to look back at the end of the day and ask yourself “What bad habit have you put right today? Which fault did you take a stand against? In what respect are you better?” People severely underestimate what they can accomplish if they make small deliberate improvements each day.
If we severely overestimate what we’re capable of in long term, then we greatly underestimate what we can do with small actions. Everyone wants to drop 20 lbs as their New Year’s Resolution. Few people focus on losing 1 lb by the end of the week. Why? Because that seems so simple. It’s a small goal, but if you lost 1 lb per week, you’d eventually hit your ambitious goal.
This seems outrageous because it’s so simple, but in it’s simplicity lies its effectiveness. The same idea is applied to character flaws and habits. Almost no one becomes an addict on the first hit. It’s the usage over time that does them in. On the flip side, all alcoholics are told to focus on dealing with drinking problem one day at a time.
We don’t run the race with our on the finish line. Rather, we focus on taking the next step perfectly. This is all that you can do anyway. Aim to improve everyday and reflect on it, as Seneca suggests. To that, I add the exercise of mindfulness. To focus on doing the next thing well, with almost no regard to the future. This does not mean you abandon planning and goal setting. It means that you break your task down to the small manageable step, focus on completing the small step that your own, and do this with tremendous confidence and engagement.
Mindfulness, reflection, and incremental improvement can go a long way in improving the quality of your life.
The Stoics write often on self-restraint and discipline. In 2013 you decided to stop drinking after you realized it has been holding you back. Can you share some lessons from those last several years and what you learned about yourself? And maybe some recommendations for people who worry about alcohol having too much influence in their lives and wanting to cut back?
When I realized that my relationship with alcohol was playing a significant role in my ability to make progress in my life, I immediately decide that I was no longer going to drink. This decision was not easy because I had so much of my identity invested in being a drinker. What many people don’t realize about some alcoholics is that we truly come to believe that self-destructive behavior is part of our personality.
I’ve talked to many recovering alcoholics–and people currently drinking–and they can’t see their lives without alcohol. This is not due to a chemical dependence, but rather a psychological one. They simply don’t know who they’d be, what they’d do, or the friends they’d have if they got sober.
This is the single most powerful lesson I took from my sobriety. If you want to make a drastic lifestyle change, you will have to change your lifestyle. You simply can’t do the same things you did as a drinker with the same people because even though you may have self-control, you’re going to experience a void.
I used to love singing karaoke. I eventually stopped because it felt so boring singing in a bar, then waiting, hanging out with other drinkers, I actually reminded me of one of the reasons I drink–to alleviate boredom! So I changed my lifestyle.
This may seem like a drastic suggestion, but I think people underestimate how powerful their surroundings are. If you never drank, hanging out with other drinkers probably won’t sway you. If you are trying to quit, you probably haven’t developed the strength of character to stand up to your old habits and surroundings. This is likely the reason many alcoholics can’t go in bars.
Another thing that I did–which I strongly recommend to anyone who is serious about drinking–is to have a strong “why” combined with pain points. The “why” are the things you stand to gain from sobriety. The pain points are the things you will want to get away from.
My “why” was that my boxing career was getting serious, I was getting back into school, I was now at the mercy of the Uniform Code Of Military Justice as well as civilian law, and I was starting a serious relationship I didn’t want to ruin.
The pain points were the pain of hangovers, the shame of sending drunk text messages, the anxiety of wonderful whether I’d finally get arrested for driving under the influence, and the regret of ruining romantic and platonic relationships.
All too often, people only focus on the good that can be gained or the bad they’re trying to escape from. I made sure I did both. I enlisted all the help I could because I saw this is a very important thing for me. That brings me to the last thing I would suggest for anyone who wants to kick the booze–whether permanently or short term.
You have to take the process seriously. If you don’t really want to be sober, it’s not going to happen. There are simply too many influences. Alcohol consumption, even a heavy amount, is encouraged and normalized by society. Unless you kill someone in DUI, you won’t face blowback from society for your drinking. You have to want to be sober and do the things to make it so.
It’s not easy, especially for the younger generation of people who might be in the university where drinking is rampant, but it’s very possible to build a rewarding life without alcohol. When in doubt, just remember what Seneca said about drunks:
“No man in the bonds of drunkenness has power over his soul.”
You’re the author of Not Caring What Other People Think Is A Superpower. You write that people suffocate themselves by worrying too much what other people think. What are your specific suggestions that one can cultivate more indifference to the opinion of others which is a big part of Stoic philosophy?
Commit to your own values. The world tries to make you think, believe, and act a certain way. Very few people adhere to a set of values that run counter the mainstream narrative. As a result, most people feel tremendous pressure to conform. This “pressure” is caring what other people think.
If you want to inoculate yourself against the insidious effects of society groupthink, you must have your own values, morals, and gals. These must be the standards by which you life your life. It’s difficult to care what other people think if you don’t live by their value system.
Focus on the process. The process is yours alone. The outcome is never guaranteed. It can be taken from you in any number of ways. You can work hard and be robbed, fall in love and be cheated on, or do well without recognition. When you do things for the outcome, you care about something that, by definition, depends on external factors.
It’s in the name. Outcome, as in outside of you. People’s approval is outside of you. The process is within. The process is immune to other people’s opinion. Yes, they can critique what you’re doing, but the process is more than that. The process is your own style of learning, development, and exploration. Focusing on enriching this portion of life keeps you from caring what people think.
Always add value. There is always this talk of reputation maintenance, or caring what your family thinks of you. What if you develop a code of values which turns you into heinous person, or you focus on destructive processes? This would be harmful to you family and yourself. To guard against this possibility and to further free you the power of caring what others think, focus on always adding value.
When you make it a point to add value to any organization or individual you encounter, you ensure that you’re always going contribute something meaningful. If you do this within the motivation of your core values, and focus on the process of adding value, you will always improve a situation the best way you can. The feeling you get from contributing in a personally unique, process focused manner, will make you immune to destructive criticism and petty critique.