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There Is Nothing Beneath the Philosopher

Daily Stoic Emails

We get it. You’ve worked hard. You’re a good person. You respect yourself. That’s why you’re frustrated to be in this job beneath your talents. It’s why you don’t like that your ideas aren’t getting their due. It’s why you hate wasting your time on all this low-level crap. 

Noted. Nobody wants to be sweeping floors. Nobody likes untangling other people’s messes. Nobody should be laughed at or dismissed or underappreciated.

But the fact of the matter is that this is a part of life—fair or unfair.

There is a story about Musonius Rufus, who was sent into exile by Nero, and supposedly subjected to degrading manual labor. A friend came across him far from home, swinging a pickaxe on a chain gang. Seeing that his friend was appalled, Musonius reassured him. “Does it pain you,” he said, “if I dig the Isthmus for the sake of Greece? What would you have felt if you had seen me playing the lyre like Nero?”

Musonius was like Ulysses S. Grant, who responded to a similarly disappointed friend, who couldn’t understand why this West Point grad was selling firewood. “I am solving the problem of poverty,” Grant replied. Meaning: A Stoic does what they have to do. They play the hand they were dealt, even if it’s beneath them or exhausting. In fact, the Stoic doesn’t believe that any job—any profession or action—is beneath them if it is what life is demanding of them. To the Stoic, a dollar earned honestly is a good one. To a Stoic, a job done well is a good one.

Even if they’d choose otherwise if given the opportunity. Even if their education entitles them to something else. Even if it gets them dirty or wears them out.

We do what we have to do. Nothing is below us. Because we do everything we do right.

P.S. This was originally sent on February 8, 2021. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.