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    This Is How It Will Feel

    Daily Stoic Emails

    The Stoics were ambitious, as you are ambitious. 

    Zeno dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps, into the family business. Panaetius did the same, becoming a famous diplomat, just as he was expected to. Cicero strove, as few have ever striven, to cast aside his family’s humble origins and reach the heights of power. Seneca wanted to become the greatest writer of his age. 

    How do you think it felt for these Stoics to achieve what they had worked so long and hard for? To get everything they ever wanted? What was it like for Cicero to finally make it to the top of the cursus honorum, the successive steps on the ladder of official power?

    It felt, as it feels to achieve and grasp all the things that are not actually in our control. It felt strangely anticlimactic. It did not give these men the peace and security and meaning they thought it would. Because no external accomplishment can do that, no matter how big or impressive. They found, as their philosophy had long warned them, that to chase approval and validation was an illusion. A chimera constructed by biology, by culture, by the lies of broken people. 

    This is the real question. How do you think it felt to realize that? How do you think that creeping realization came to Cicero or Seneca, in Nero’s service? What do you think that was like? As the nameless narrator in Ralph Ellison’s beautiful book Invisible Man recounts:

    And now I looked up through a pain so intense now that the air seemed to roar with the clanging of metal, hearing HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE FREE OF ILLUSION…

    And now I answered “Painful and empty.”

    You can learn this by experience or you can learn this from the experiences of others. What will it be?

    P.S. This was originally sent on August 11, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.