“As long as you live, keep learning how to live.”
Life is an endless journey of learning. It is constant change and adversity mixed with tremendous opportunity.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman statesman and stoic philosopher, recognized that if we are to live well, we must be constant students of the greatest subject of all — life itself.
Here are some of the lessons he learned, ones that are fresh even after two-thousand years. Taken from the widely popular collection of his writings, Letters from a Stoic, they are worthy lessons indeed.
#1: Live With Purpose
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”
This is the beginning of all progress: having a goal, a dream, a desire to achieve something. You must have purpose if you are to become anything.
Have a chief goal in life. Without it, you merely drift, and there’s no drifting to the heights of success. No amount of opportunity, skill or potential are useful if you do not wield them towards a specific end.
Bottom line: Set goals for your life, choose a direction and live it with purpose.
#2: Balance Productivity and Leisure
“A delight in bustling about is not industry–it is only the restless energy of a hunted mind. And the state of mind that looks on all activity as tiresome is not true repose, but a spineless inertia.”
There comes a point when being busy becomes a hindrance rather than an advantage. Likewise there comes a point when relaxing and taking time off becomes a detriment to your success.
Look at your own life and see whether you’re living in an extreme of either of these. And if you are, see if it’s hurting other areas of your life. Be aware of what you do and how it affects everything else.
Aim for the Aristotelian “Middle Way.”
“A balanced combination of the two attitudes is what we want; the active man should be able to take things easily, while the man who is inclined towards repose should be capable of action.”
Bottom line: If you’re a workaholic learn to take time to rest, and if you’re set on a more relaxed pace, don’t get too comfortable.
#3: Cherish The Present
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.”
Most people can’t stay in the present. They worry about the future, they bemoan the past. They let fear get the best of them. Human beings are uniquely capable of thinking themselves into oblivion . . .
“Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come.”
Don’t use the past as a beating stick. Use it as a teacher. Likewise, don’t let what has not yet happened torment you. Oftentimes the things we are so terrified of happening never end up taking place.
Bottom line: Leave the irreversible past and the unsubstantiated future to their own devices. The present is all you have.
#4: One Of The Greatest Gifts You Can Give Yourself Is Your Own Love
People so desperately want to be loved. They chase after it, and in doing so overlook one of the most important loves of all: self-love.
Not narcissism. Not selfishness. There is no crime in truly loving yourself. In fact, it is of paramount importance if you want to be successful.
“Hecato said in his writings, “What progress have I made? I am beginning to be my own friend.” That is progress indeed. Such a person will never be alone, and you may be sure he is a friend of all.
It is self-love that drives people to become better. It is self-love that makes them refuse to be less than they can be. True self-love wants the best for you. Love yourself enough to become something great.
And remember above all that what you get is based on what you give.
“If you wish to be loved, love.”
Bottom line: Love yourself.
#5: Live Each Day As If It Were Your Last — And Have No Illusions About Your Mortality
“Though one may say, ‘It is not very pleasant to have death right before one’s eyes,’ death ought to be right before the eyes of a young man just as much as an old one–it does not discriminate.”
We all die. Life is short.
Though it may sound morbid, it puts things into perspective when you accept your mortality, anticipate that you will have an end, and know that it could come at any time. It helps you appreciate the true value of each breath you take.
“Every day should be regulated as if it were the one that rounds out and completes our lives, that we may be able to say in all joyfulness and cheerfulness as we retire to our beds, ‘I have lived. I have completed now the course that fortune long ago allotted me.’”
Don’t leave things undone. Live this day as if it is your last, as if it is the final weave in the tapestry of your life. So that you may go to bed knowing you gave your all, that you lived for the things you valued, that you lead a meaningful life.
When you live in such a way, you gain a sense of inner peace — because you are not resisting the inevitabilities of life, but making the most of it and being thankful.
“And if God adds the morrow we should accept it joyfully. The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all others. Whoever has said, “I have lived,” receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning.”
Bottom line: Treat every day like a miniature life in itself. Be grateful for every morning you wake up. Accept life’s realities and get to work on making the most of it.
#6: Boldly Face Life’s Struggles — And Know That They Shall Pass
“A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is. And complaining about one’s sufferings after they are over is useless. What’s the good of dragging up sufferings which are over, of being unhappy now just because you were then? Besides, there is a pleasure in having succeeded in enduring something unpleasant. Thus, in recollecting the troubles of the past as well as the fear of troubles to come, the first is no longer any concern and the second has yet to be so.”
How you perceive your suffering is oftentimes more important than the suffering itself. It rains on everyone. It’s what you do about it that matters most. You can make suffering far worse than it is, or you can cut it down to size with a better attitude.
So when you face hard times, put it into perspective — how will it look in hindsight, after you have overcome it?
“And when a man is in the grip of difficulties he should say: ‘There may be pleasure in the memory of even these events one day.’”
Culminating this concept at the end of one of his letters, Seneca puts forth a wonderful description of what it means to boldly face all of life’s trials.
“He should put his whole heart into fighting against them. Let us overcome all things, with our reward consisting of moral worth, strength of spirit, and peace that is won forever once in any contest adversity has been utterly defeated.”
Bottom line: Face life’s trials boldly, and put them into perspective. You will overcome them.
Call To Action
“Those who keep learning, will keep rising in life.” ~Charlie Munger
Life is an endless opportunity for growth. From start to finish you have the opportunity to learn and become more. Seneca was an avid student of life. All people who reach the zeniths of potential are.
Learn from others. Learn from those who have come before you. Like Seneca’s philosophies, great lessons never perish. Wisdom, passed down, becomes immortal.
Join the university of life.