Most of us internalize the wrong lesson. We think success = busy. We think that being busy is a sign of a good leader, an important person.
Of course this is not true. A full calendar is the sign of someone who agrees to a lot of things, no more, no less. Which is why the philosopher in us needs to always remember that the goal of life is not to do as much as possible, but to do what matters. Marcus Aurelius struggled with this, as you struggle. He had to constantly review his commitments and his impulses and ask, “Is this essential?” “Is _________ really what I am trading my life for?” “Am I afraid of death because I don’t want to not be able to do _________ anymore?”
Seneca and Marcus both talk about the need for carving out space and time in our lives for reflection, for the study of philosophy. They need that we needed white space in our calendar—we need stillness—if we are going to think and be at our best. Without this stillness, we become reactive. We get overwhelmed. Our compass becomes uncalibrated. We lose track of the voice inside.
Being busy is not success. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. Autonomy. White space. The ability to be deliberate, to choose your shots—that’s success. Stillness, that’s where happiness and insight and truth comes from. So make room for it. Prioritize it. Fight for it.
P.S. This was originally sent on October 16, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.