Both Seneca and Marcus Aurelius had day jobs. Marcus was the emperor. Seneca was the consigliere to an emperor. Either occupation would have been enough to consume an ordinary person’s entire day—even, possibly, their entire life. After all, millions of lives depended on how well they performed at work and whether they managed their responsibilities properly.
So it’s interesting that both Marcus and Seneca took pains to remind themselves that, as important as their jobs were, philosophy needed to be the priority. “Devote yourself wholly to philosophy,” Seneca wrote. “You are worthy of her; she is worthy of you; greet one another with a loving embrace. Say farewell to all other interests with courage and frankness. Do not study philosophy merely during your spare time.”
Marcus used a slightly different metaphor. He said that philosophy was your mother and work was your stepmother. It was important to love them both, but one of them was extra special. You always needed to return to your real mother—especially in a crisis—no matter how much you liked your stepmom.
We would do well to follow their example. Yes, we’re busy. Yes, we (hopefully) love our jobs, and we need what those jobs provide, both in terms of financial security and fulfillment. But it would be a grave mistake to leave philosophy only our scraps, only the leftover time we have when the workday is through. Philosophy is not a frivolous hobby—it’s the key to everything we’re trying to do. It’s a compass, a guiding light, it’s what we owe our ultimate devotion.
Don’t get distracted today. Get your priorities straight.