There’s a Time to Make and a Time to Manage

There are lots of things you can pay people to do for you. You can pay them to mow your lawn or do your taxes. You can pay them to drive you from one place to another and you can pay them to sell things for you. But the one thing you cannot pay people to do for you is think. 

No one can “reflect” on your behalf. No one can think about the big picture for you. 

Paul Graham has a great essay on the difference between “making” and “managing.” This is another good distinction. You can pay people to manage. You can’t pay them to “make” whatever it is that you make. You can’t pay them to have your ideas for you. Only you can do that. 

The Stoics said over and over again that we don’t control what happens, that we only control how we respond. They said that we had to use our obstacles as fuel, and make good out of every situation we find ourselves in. 

So how do you make good out of an indefinite quarantine? Well one easy way is to use this time to think. Take Seneca in his exiles as your inspiration. Or Musonius and Epictetus in theirs. How did they spend it? Writing. Reading. They were thinking and planning. They came out wiser, with a clearer sense of what was important in their lives.  

Your employees are not going to come up with your business’ five year plan for you—only you can do that. Your publisher is not going to write your book for you. Your sales assistant isn’t going to come up with your next great sales strategy. They’re not going to invest in relationships for you. They’re not going to help you find inspiration to keep going.

You have to do that. And today is a great day to do that. Now is a time to make. To think. To reflect. To do what only you can do. To cultivate that stillness—because stillness is the key to insights and creativity and all the things you’re going to need to dig yourself out of this hole. 

None of this is ideal, you wouldn’t have chosen this. But you can choose for this to be the best thing that ever happened to you. You can choose for this to be the most productive period of your life.

P.S. This was originally sent on October 28, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.