When Scott Hebert looked for a podcast exclusively dedicated to Stoicism last year he couldn’t find one so he took matters into his own hands and started the “Stoic Mettle” podcast. He committed to doing a weekly show for a year at the end of November 2016 and he is still going strong. We wanted to take a peek behind the scenes of the creation process, and especially we were curious about the fact that it was produced on Scott’s farm, which is his full time occupation. We got to chat about how the podcast started, his favorite episodes so far, how he first discovered Stoicism, how being on a farm helps him connect with nature as a whole and experience what Stoic scholar Pierre Hadot described as the “oceanic feeling,” and much more. Enjoy this interview with Scott below.
You started earlier this year the “Stoic Mettle” podcast. If we understand correctly, you started it because you couldn’t find any other podcasts around Stoicism. Can you tell us why you decided to start it, and what you want to accomplish with it?
I have time to listen to a lot of audio content while I’m working so podcasts are a way for me to learn. I searched for a podcast about Stoicism but there weren’t any shows that were still being produced. I had found so much value from the limited knowledge about Stoicism I did have that I was surprised there were no shows. I thought since I had the problem of wanting this podcast there would be other people who also wanted it.
I wanted a way to get out of the project in case I sucked at producing the show or it didn’t gain traction so I committed to doing a weekly show for one year at the end of November 2016.
I present my show as ‘Stoic training’ and I run each episode like I used to run a martial arts class: Present an idea, drill, then spar. Each week the audience shows up and I present a Stoic idea or quote, I use a story from my life to drill it into your head then send you on your way to apply it in your own life. I don’t feel that I am teacher but a fellow student, it is Stoic training as much for me as it is for my audience. My goal is as I learn more, we all learn together.
I want to create the best podcast about Stoicism, I want to show people how I am using Stoicism in my everyday life and let them be a part of my own journey trying to go full-time on my farm and running my podcast. My first episodes were rough but now I am finding my rhythm. The continual improvement of the show is a reflection of the progress I am making in my life.
I have an idea for something I’d like to create but I need to build a larger audience first. I’m on track to hit the numbers I wanted to have by the end of a year and have had positive feedback from listeners so I will commit to doing another year and reassess how it is going at the end of 2018. There is a real possibility that if growth doesn’t continue I will stop producing the show in the future. If that happens I will be happy knowing I tried my best, made an impact on some people’s lives and I will consider it a charitable project.
What has been your favorite episode so far? Why?
I’m proud of all my interview episodes, personally I’ve taken so much value from them it has already made the show worthwhile to do. My favourite solo episode has been #007: Clarity of Purpose. I used the quote from Seneca,
“If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favourable.”
I told a story about how when I started my farm I needed $20,000 but I didn’t have it. I did have a $20,000 truck though and I explain my thought process for selling it and getting a cheap car. I also talked about deciding to leave a woodworking job that was already allowing me a day off to work on my farm and leave it for another job at a golf course that paid less but I had more freedom.
These seemingly big choices I was facing were non-decisions because I had a clear purpose. My choices made themselves because I knew where I wanted to go.
I think about this quote a lot, almost every decision in life becomes easier when you have a clear purpose. By knowing what you want it allows you to operate with speed and say yes to the things that matter and to ruthlessly reject distractions.
How did you first discover Stoicism? If we remember correctly from what you said on one of the episodes, you first read The Obstacle is The Way, and then you moved to Marcus and the other Stoics. Can you tell us about that journey?
My journey discovering Stoicism was a mess. I had briefly looked into Stoicism a couple times but my knowledge was limited to only knowing about the dichotomy of control. I had read some blog posts, articles and some free translations online from Marcus and Epictetus but they didn’t click. I was a person who was never going to read a book about philosophy, I found it off-putting. I wanted real answers about things that would provide value in my life, I didn’t want to get into esoteric academic debates.
I came across The Obstacle is The Way and I thought maybe there was more to this “Stoicism” thing than I had originally perceived. I bought better translations of all the ancient Stoics. When I got the books I almost couldn’t believe it, it was nothing like what I thought reading philosophy would be. They were easy to read and provided insights into problems I was facing in my life almost 2000 years after they were first written. It all seemed so familiar and some of the choices I was making were already in line with what I was reading. I found so much value and was seeing real results in a such short time that I decided to start the podcast. I started to consume books from contemporary authors who wrote about Stoicism and everything started to click. I still feel like I’m scratching the surface but I like what I’m finding as I dive deeper.
Let’s talk about farm life. For more than a year now, you’ve been working on a small scale vegetable farm. Can you tell us about that experience, perhaps how it has been helpful from a more philosophical perspective?
I was lost in life, I was in what author Robert Greene would call ‘dead time’. I would go to work, live for the weekends, and go on vacations to escape life. I had credit card debt but nothing to show for it. I didn’t like myself and it showed in how I acted and treated other people. I was wasting my life drinking and partying, I had friends but sometimes I would hang out with them and feel overwhelmingly alone.
Was this all life had to offer? It was a terrible feeling. I wanted to feel alive, I wanted to find some kind of meaning.
I heard the call to farm and I felt a pull to the land.
I had a couple of options for executing my dream: I could go get a well paying job and hobby farm/homestead on the side or I could try to make it into a full-time business. I chose to go with the latter.
I wanted to have a business that was good for the environment, was good for my community and good for my life. Since I am trying to be a career farmer I faced all the struggles of starting my first business plus I had to deal with whatever nature was going to bring. As added challenges I also had no experience farming and destructive habits.
Anything that pushes you to your limits will show you who you are and farming will take you to your breaking point. When you get to the edge you may not like what you see. All of those bad habits you fed grew larger. Your destructive habits merge with the other struggles you’re facing and you find yourself looking at a monster.
Surrounded by chaos you enter a battle with no end. It feels like fighting a hydra, you cut off one head only to have two more grow back. You will never win a battle of attrition if when you solve one problem you then have two more problems spring from the result. You need to find a way to cut off the heads and cauterize the wounds but where are you going to find the fire to do it? You don’t have time to look for a solution because you’re too busy slashing away at the problems in front of you. Your breathing is heavy and your arms burn from carrying the weight of your weapon but you keep swinging, you have no choice. Eventually you’re struck by the monster and while you’re lying there exhausted, coughing up your own blood, you reflect on the choices that brought you there.
You use the Stoic virtue of wisdom to navigate a complex situation in the best possible way. You look at how you got here without becoming overly emotional and try to find an answer.
You use the virtue of courage to see things as they are. You realize that you’re the one who created this beast.
You use the virtue of justice to do the right thing. You start facing the things you’ve been running from and a spark is lit from deep within.
You use the virtue of self-control to stay focused and not give into self destruction. The good choices you’re making ignite a blaze. Engulfed in fire you find you held the power to destroy the hydra all along.
It is a transcendent feeling to find out you’re more capable than you ever thought possible.
I wanted to find some meaning in life but I didn’t have to start a farm, I just needed to look within myself.
What is the one thing that you feel people who spend all their times in the city miss out? What would be your one recommendation to them to do this weekend?
I believe that most people in cities don’t consider themselves to be truly a part of nature, they segregate their lives from the world outside of the city limits. They view nature as something out in the unknown, foreign and different but we are all a part of nature, not separate from it. It’s easy to forget that when food comes from a store, you can only hear cars, and you can’t see the night sky. So often we get trapped in false realities we build around ourselves and think things like:
“I need to have this car so people will think I’m well off”
“I want to have their body because mine isn’t good enough.”
“I hope this Instagram picture gets a ton of likes because that reflects how much people like me”
You need something to pull yourself out of that mindset.
There is a term called the ‘oceanic feeling’ and it is the feeling of being one with the universe. Staring over the ocean you know it doesn’t end but it is without perceptible limits. You’d think the experience would leave you feeling insignificant but it makes you realize you’re a part of something bigger. It’s hard to worry about the small things when you’re overtaken by wonder but it’s easy to say no to opportunities that give you that feeling. A farm is a place where nature and culture meet so it’s hard to not imagine myself as a part of something larger but I still seek out that sensation.
Seneca has a quote,
“We should take wandering outdoor walks, so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.”
I love putting my phone down, setting everything else aside and going for a walk to catch a fraction of this feeling. I take my dog to the river by my house everyday and go for longer hikes when I can find the time.
You don’t need to start a farm and maybe a walk isn’t your thing but go out and experience something greater than yourself.
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