When Simon Drew couldn’t find a Stoicism podcast to help him apply Stoic practices and principles into his everyday life, he decided to start his own. Following Seneca’s precept that “men learn as they teach,” Simon has been going strong for over 50 episodes so far. He is a a musician, podcast host, blogger, coach, photographer, “student of life”, and soon-to-be personal trainer, and he currently lives in Australia.
We reached out to learn how and why he decided to start the podcast, how Stoicism helps in creative pursuits and building skills, what is his favorite Stoic exercise that he returns to daily and much more. You can learn more about Simon at his website, subscribe to the “Practical Stoic” podcast here, and of course, read our interview with him below. Enjoy!
You are behind the Practical Stoic Podcast. Why did you originally start it? What has been your favorite episode so far and why? Which has been the most popular one with your audience and why do you think that’s the case?
There were many reasons why I first wanted to start this podcast. Firstly, I went searching for a podcast that would teach me how to apply Stoic practices and principles into everyday life and I couldn’t find one that really resonated with me, so, as I have often done in my life, I decided that I should go out and make the thing that I wanted to find.
The second reason why I started the podcast is because I wanted to learn. Seneca said that “men learn as they teach”, and this is a philosophy that I fully try to live by in my life. I really wanted to become more educated about Stoicism and about how I could more fully align my life with it’s teachings, and so I decided that I could (and should) bring a whole bunch of people with me along the way.
Now I have to spend many hours every week studying the classic works of Stoicism, interpreting how those teachings can apply to modern life, and writing essays about specific topics. This has been not only transformative for me, but it’s also been incredible to see how many people are learning and growing along with me as a result of my deciding to become a “teacher”.
From my first episode I told people that I do not consider myself to be an expert on Stoicism, but also that I do have a deep desire to learn, and I do really want people to feel the incredible benefits that this amazing philosophy can have on their lives.
My favourite episode so far would have to be a tie between episode #5 (The Criticism That Comes With Life Change) and episode #6 (Choose Who You Will Be). In episode #5 I share some amazing passages from Epictetus where he says that there will always be people who will want to hold you back and keep you from growing and changing. He says, “Those who pursue the higher life of wisdom, who seek to live by spiritual principles, must be prepared to be laughed at and condemned.” Sometimes the hardest part about choosing the higher life is dealing with the negative and spiteful people who you’ve surrounded yourself with until that point. Your job is not to convince them to follow you, but instead Epictetus says that we should expect this kind of response from people and stay strong on our course. I think this is an incredibly important thing for people to hear.
And in episode #6 I again share some wisdom from Epictetus (I really like Epictetus), except this time he’s encouraging his students to become extremely clear on exactly who they want to be. He says “If you wish to be an extraordinary person, if you wish to be wise, then you should explicitly identify the kind of person you aspire to become…” The reason why I love this message so much is because I believe that not enough people are being intentional about whom they want to be. The simple act of writing down on a piece of paper an exact template for who you want to be and how you want to live can be completely life-changing, and I can’t believe more people don’t do it. In the episode I make the point that you wouldn’t start building a home without a floor plan, so why on earth would you go through life without a plan for who you want to be?
In terms of my most popular episode, I’m not really sure. But I have been getting really great feedback about my first interview guest on the podcast (the one and only Ryan Holiday in episode #51), so I’m excited to do many more interviews in the future.
Are there any particular themes on the podcast that you are interested in exploring that you feel have not been discussed sufficiently in more modern Stoic discussions? Or what are you most excited about exploring on the podcast?
This podcast is based around a theme of growing and becoming a better person by using ancient Stoic practices and principles. In my life I’m always looking for ways to improve and grow, and on my path I’ve read works by Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Stephen R. Covey, Napoleon Hill, Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, and everyone in between. In my mind there is no difference between the terms “personal-development” and “philosophy”, because back when people like Epictetus were teaching Stoicism they saw philosophy in the same way that we see personal-development today. The purpose of studying philosophy in ancient Rome or Greece was to become a better, stronger, and more effective person. And what do we call that today? Personal-development. I think that if we (in the Stoic community) could all put away our pride and understand that the true purpose of Stoicism, and philosophy in general, is to help people to become more effective human beings then we could finally bring Stoicism to a much larger stage. So much of what is said by personal-development leaders today has already been said about 2000 years ago by the Stoics, and so I’m really excited to be introducing more and more people to this incredible philosophy in a way that helps them to change their lives for the better.
What originally attracted you to Stoicism?
Tim Ferriss mentioned in an interview that “Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca the Younger was his favourite book. Being the avid Tim Ferriss follower that I am, this book was a natural next purchase. Once I started reading Seneca’s letters I was hooked, and I immediately bought the classic works by Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.
Going back to my previous answer, I’m always up for a great personal-development book, and so what really attracted me to Stoicism was the idea that everything that I had been learning from modern books had already been said by Seneca and the other Stoics thousands of years earlier. In my mind I saw Epictetus, for example, as the original Tony Robbins, or the original Dale Carnegie. Epictetus, among many other philosophers, spent the majority of his life spreading good ideas about how to live a more effective, fulfilling, and joyful life. I really enjoyed changing my paradigms about philosophy, because before I found the Stoics, I (like most other people in today’s society) believed that philosophy was something that was only discussed in universities and by professors, but now I realise that it has much more practical roots.
You describe yourself as a musician, podcast host, blogger, coach, photographer, “student of life”, and soon-to-be personal trainer. How have you found Stoicism to help you in these endeavours? Particularly in the more creative ones?
For someone who teaches that you need to know exactly who you want to be in life, it certainly doesn’t look as though I know who I want to be! I think that at the end of my life I’ll have at least 50 professions on my business card, and that’s exactly how I want to live my life. I’m really excited to develop as many skills as I can in life (thus, “student of life”), because there’s not enough time and there are too many exciting things to learn. And in a way, I think that’s something that that Stoicism has contributed to my direction. Stoics teach that we should constantly have death on the mind as a reminder that we should be using our time wisely. We should love more, learn more, see more and do more, because the fact is that you may not be alive in the morning. For myself, this has been a powerful way to look at life, and whenever I think about a new skill that I want to develop I am reminded that I should learn that skill before I die, which could be any time.
In terms of how Stoicism has helped me specifically with cultivating my creative endeavors, there are a few ways that I think about this.
Firstly, I don’t think that creating my podcast, or being a personal trainer (soon) are less creative endeavors than, say, playing music. To me being creative is more about putting your own stamp onto everything that you do. You can be a creative accountant, for example, if you’re willing to do your accounting in a unique and creative way (not advocating white collar crimes). And on the opposite side, there are many musicians who aren’t creative at all because they play only what’s on the paper, and only when the conductor tells them to. So to me, creativity is something that can and should be applied to every endeavor in life. But I digress.
Stoicism has been helpful in my endeavors simply because it has made me a better and more effective person. If a person lives by sound philosophies, then they can develop almost any skill because the foundation is there. Although I fall short in many areas, I feel like Stoicism has offered me many of those sound philosophies, and I’ve been able to build a firm foundation.
Stoicism has also taught me to love the journey, not the result. The creative process for me is much more enjoyable than the final product, whether that’s with my podcast, my jazz albums, or anything else I’m making. This has been a life-changing revelation to me, because now I know that in my life it doesn’t matter how much money I make, how many people know my name, or how many homes I own. As long as I can get busy creating something or learning a new skill I’ll be happy, because the journey truly is everything.
On this note, the Stoics taught that wisdom is one of the noblest things a person can pursue. We should always be learning and growing, and I’ve found this to be a very empowering mindset whenever I’m honing my skills. Whatever you do in life, do it well. Whatever you’re learning, learn it well. Whatever you’re creating, create it well. As soon as you stop learning and growing, you start dying.
What is a Stoic mantra or exercise that you return to daily or at least weekly?
I often find myself coming back to the Stoic practice of looking at what I can control and what I can’t. If I had to name one exercise that could change more lives than any other, this would be it. Once you understand how to spend your efforts only in areas where you have power, and how to not spend any effort thinking or worrying about things that you can’t control, that’s when you become a truly effective human being. I find that on a daily basis when I’m faced with decisions or obstacles that I need to move past, it is my default mindset to think about where I can most effectively place my power. This will be a game-changer for anyone who starts to think like this.
How have you found Stoicism has most beneficially impacted your life? Looking back at recent events in your life, do you think you would have reacted differently if you haven’t studied Stoic philosophy?
There are so many ways that Stoicism has impacted my life. I’m happier, I fully enjoy whatever I’m doing, I am more dedicated to becoming the person who I want to be, and I am more authentic about the person who I am. I also find that I’m taking more risks with the things that I do in life because I really feel like this gift that we have is not guaranteed to last, which leads me to share this story:
About a year ago my wife and I were traveling along the coast of Australia on a business trip, and at that time I was traveling with my kayak on top of the car so that I could take advantage of any opportunities to experience nature on our trip.
Jen and I were staying in a small beach town, and in the morning I woke up early and decided to head out to the ocean for an early adventure. When I dragged my kayak out to the sea, I could notice something in the distance going in and out of the water. There were also a few people on stand-up paddleboards out there watching these things, and I realized that what they were watching was pods of humpback whales migrating down the coast.
Realizing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I ran back to the car to grab my iPhone (because, you know, I need proof) and then I jumped on my kayak and paddled out about half a mile to where I had seen the whales. Within a few minutes I was experiencing one of the most incredible things that has ever happened to me. I was floating on the water while what seemed like a family of massive humpback whales was playing around me. Only meters away a whale would surface and then swim right under me while letting out an intense groan. I can honestly say that it was the most horrifying and also the most amazing experience that I’ve ever had. I’ve never felt closer to the earth and nature than when I was literally face to face with those huge creatures. I was vulnerable, and highly intrigued.
But when I got back to the car I realized that while taking pictures I had allowed water to damage my phone, and within minutes it was dead. Now, ordinarily I believe I would have felt very angry or stressed at the fact that I had just broken an expensive iPhone, especially since I relied on it for work and would have to immediately replace it. But the thing that interested me was that my focus was not at all on the iPhone, but instead it was on the gratitude that I felt for the experience that I had just had. And it’s not like I was stopping myself from being angry, but there was simply no anger. It didn’t exist. How could I be angry when I was doing what a human is supposed to be doing? How could I be angry when I could not control the fact that my phone was now broken, but I could control where I placed my focus? This, I realized, was what life was supposed to be like. If gratitude is the first thing that we experience, and if we understand what is truly important, and if we can decipher between what we can and cannot control, then negative emotions often don’t surface. It was then that I fully understood how much practicing Stoicism had rubbed off on me. And to those who are reading this, remember that Stoicism IS a practice. It takes time, and it takes effort. But once you start seeing results in your life you’ll be thankful to yourself for putting in the work. It’s just like lifting weights or training for a marathon. You won’t see results on your first day, but after enough time and enough repetitions you’ll get the results that you deserve.
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