The world is a cruel and random place. Our plans are dashed. Our systems are broken. People we love die. We lose what we have built and what we have so carefully saved and invested.
We try to be Stoic, we try to be strong, but sometimes we falter. Is this weakness? No, this is a good thing. As Hemingway writes in one of the most beautiful passages in A Farewell to Arms, the world eventually breaks all of us. “Afterward,” he says, “many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.”
Let’s be clear about what Stoicism is. In simple terms, it is a philosophy designed to make you stronger, so that you don’t break easily. It is not, however, a philosophy to make you unbreakable—at least not in the most easily understandable sense of that word—because only the proud and the stupid think that is even possible. Instead, Stoicism is there to help you recover when the world breaks you and, in the recovery, to make you stronger at a much, much deeper level as a result.
So much of what happens is out of our control: Pandemics. The markets. Supply chains. World leaders. What our neighbors do. We are drafted to fight in wars, to bear huge tax or familial burdens. We are forced to admit defeat about the thing we wanted to win so badly.
This hurts. There’s no denying that.
A Stoic heals by focusing on what they can control: Their response. The repairing. The learning of the lessons. Preparing for the future. It is in this that we become, as Nassim Taleb has said in his wonderful book by the same name, antifragile. We become better because of what we went through, better than if we had resisted and never been broken in the first place.
In this, we have true strength. Because those that cannot break, cannot learn and cannot be improved by what happened.