As a young man, it was the opening passage of Book V in Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations that struck me most—he one chastising his reluctance to get out of bed and get moving in the morning. As you can see, I wrote “FUCK” with a highlighter on my copy opposite that passage. Later, I would print out this passage and put it next to my desk and bed. I think it was that as a college student I needed that extra motivation. I was a little lazy and entitled. I needed to seize life and take advantage of it—and Marcus served me well in that regard for a long time.
Ten years later, I think less about a passage designed to motivate someone to do more and be more active. Because I have the opposite problem now—I am too busy, I often value trivial work projects more than other obligations. If I was to put a different one on my desk, I’d choose from Book Ten, “If you seek tranquility, do less.”
The point is we need different mantras at different times in our lives. One person might need a kick in the pants, while the other needs a reassuring hand on the shoulder. Each time you pick up the Stoics, there is something else for you there. You just have to be receptive to it—and willing to change.