There’s no question that much of what we talk about in this philosophy is hard. Specifically, it’s hard on the person practicing it. Stoicism asks you to challenge yourself. It doesn’t tolerate sloppy thinking or half measures. It wants you to undergo deprivation, it asks you to look in the mirror and examine your flaws.
But it’s important that we don’t mistake all this with self-flagellation and a lack of self-esteem. The early Stoic Cleanthes once overheard a philosopher speaking unkindly to himself when he thought no one was listening. Cleanthes stopped him and reminded him: “You aren’t talking to a bad man.” One of the most beautiful passages in Seneca’s letters is the one where he talks to Lucilius about how he was learning to be his own friend. He wrote that as a very old man. He was still working, even then, on being kinder to himself. The same man who was so hard on himself—practicing poverty and diving into freezing rivers—wanted to make sure that he was also loving himself like a good friend.
Are you doing the same? Do you know that you’re a good person? Are you your own friend? There is a line in a great song by The Head and The Heart,
Until you learn to love yourself
The door is locked to someone else
It’s true. It’s also locked to wisdom. The point of this philosophy we are writing and talking about is not self-punishment, it’s self-improvement. Nobody improves for a teacher that loathes them. No one trusts someone that is out to hurt them.
Forget cutting yourself a break today. Instead, just be kind. Be your own friend. Catalog some of your strengths. Smile at all the progress you’ve made. Tell yourself, “good job.” And then promise that you’re going to keep going and keep working because you know you’re worth it.