Stoicism isn’t a Success Strategy
In the past year, more and more articles have appeared in my feed citing Marcus Aurelius as a savior to all of our problems during the pandemic. Maybe they make a good point. Meditations has had an enduring, positive effect on me, and Aurelius and Seneca changed the way I look at the world.
That said, I am concerned that the presentation of Stoicism is getting away from what it really is. Although I appreciate the writings of Ryan Holiday and other authors who are trying to spread the word of Stoicism, the philosophy is presented more as a self-help strategy than a life philosophy. Take Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday, for example. The book is marketed as self-help: “[Ego] has wrecked the careers of promising young geniuses. It’s evaporated great fortunes and run companies into the ground.” The book directly targets ego as a cause for failure. Is that why the Stoics vilified the ego? No. They vilified it because it prevented one from pursuing virtue.
That said, I don’t think it is Holiday’s books that are making Stoicism seem to be a success strategy. He doesn’t claim that the book is predicated on Stoicism. However, it is the association between writers like Holiday and Stoicism that, I believe, presents Stoicism as a solution to your problems.
The issue with all of this? Stoicism done right is incredibly uncomfortable. As humans, we desire a lot. We are stuck on the hedonic treadmill that pushes us to want more and then want more again. Moreover, we don’t simply crave material success, we also crave for everyone to think we’re great.
The point of Stoicism is to escape from those external cravings, to be indifferent to everything outside of your control. Pursuing Stoicism is uncomfortable. You have to speak your mind and face the social repercussions. You have to do what is right even when others look down on you for it. You have to overcome desire with judgment.
Stoicism aids in getting you out of your comfort zone and closer to virtue. It is not an aid that helps your business succeed. In fact, that is exactly what Stoicism isn’t for. It isn’t for external success, but for internal success.
So, I do appreciate the work to spread Stoicism, but we can’t forget what the philosophy is predicated on: the pursuit of virtue. And pursuing virtue doesn’t always lead to external success, so we shouldn’t make out Stoicism to do that.