Here’s What You Can Do with Those Long Odds

To face long odds, to face what others call an “impossibility”—some people can handle this and some people can’t. 

Think of the chances that Epictetus faced, when the life expectancy for a wealthy person in Rome was only a few decades, but for a slave was abysmally lower. Think of Cato, trying to stand alone against Caesar. Think of the odds faced by Marcus to not be corrupted and destroyed by absolute power. Think of Washington as he and a ragtag militia stared down the greatest army and empire in the world. Think of Stockdale in that dank prison cell, his odds of survival next to nil, telling himself that he was going to turn this into the best thing that ever happened to him. 

Sometimes the Stoics won these battles, sometimes they didn’t. But they always fought. 

That’s what we do when we face difficult circumstances, when it looks like the curtain is closing. A Stoic rages, rages against the dying of the light. A Stoic does not go quietly into that good night. They stand, instead, like those 300 Spartans, firm and ready. They hope against hope. They do not give in. They say, “This might be a foregone conclusion, but you’re still going to have to make me.” They know that Fortune gives as suddenly as she takes, and they’re ready for that 1% chance. In fact, there is a part of the Stoic that hears there is only a 1% chance and says—not stupidly, not ironically—“Okay, so you’re saying there is a chance.” 

Whether you’re facing the long odds of getting clean or getting your kids back, whether it’s the odds of winning that election or that promotion, whether it’s starting a successful business or making the Olympic team, you have to fight. You must rage against the odds, against the dim chances. Don’t go quietly. Don’t accept it passively. 

Fight. Fight with all you have.

P.S. This was originally sent on January 8, 2021. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.