As a young businessman, John D. Rockefeller was all sorts of contradictions. First, he was pious and religious…yet also incredibly ambitious. He lusted for money and power…yet he also practiced intense self-discipline and self-control. He knew how smart and talented he was…yet he worked to be humble and not let his success go to his head.
Rockefeller was also a practitioner of the Stoic exercise of premeditatio malorum—essentially, negative visualization. He would say to himself (and Rockefeller was fond of inner dialog as many Stoics are): “You’ve got a fair fortune. You have good property—now. But suppose the oil fields gave out!”
He was aware of how fickle an industry like his was. He had seen many other high flying success stories boom and then go bust. So he would practice this reminder, often before bed, not because he wanted to end up like them—but because he didn’t want to end up like them. Being aware that the oil fields could give out at any moment was what drove Rockefeller to be conservative with his spending, to save, to diversify, and even to tithe his money to his church. Who knew how long this would last? Might as well be a good person while he could, might as well be prepared for any contingency.
The same goes for us. Suppose _______ happened or suppose ______ gave out? Would you be OK? Are you prepared for that? Or have you taken the good times for granted?
P.S. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.
Explore Our Daily Stoic Store