Tag Archives: stoicism

A Stoic’s Take on How to Be Functional in a Chaotic World

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I started reading seriously about stoicism around 2013, and began applying it to my life. Last year, it really gelled.

Stoicism has made me a much more functional person, able to complete tasks and take pleasure in my day-to-day life. Some people refer to this as “adulting.” I mostly successfully navigate all my different functions: wife, mother, business owner, friend and family member.

Here are the key tenets I use every day, taken from my reading of stoicism, to be as functional as possible:

  • I think about how to be the best me I can be, rather than compare myself to others
  • I control what I can control, and I let the rest go
  •  I think about worst case scenarios–loved ones being gone, losing our home–when the day-to-day seems overwhelming. This helps put into perspective how great my life IS at this particular moment.

Our World is Chaotic and Life Can Be Hard

There are obviously real issues in our time like global warming, student debt and income inequality.  These are complex institutional issues largely out of one individual’s control, that need to change via legislation. We can and should make our voices heard through action–calling our legislators, donating money to campaigns if we can and volunteering. That is the only clear path to real institutional change.

So, yes. These major issues cause stress. But that doesn’t mean burnout or unhappiness are the end result. There are things we can do as individuals to adapt to our environment.

Stoicism was invented by ancient Greek philosophers, who lived during a pretty terrible time. Disease was prevalent and mortality rates weren’t great. Political instability was a given. The only real belief system was a fatalistic religion that consisted of gods and goddesses treating humans like play things.

Stoicism was developed to help people in ancient Greece and later Rome deal with their hectic, chaotic world. Former slave Epictetus famously taught his followers that it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

How does this apply today? Well, we can use stoic concepts to help us control what we CAN control, and let go of what we can’t control.

Here are my stoic tips for a functional life:

  • Strive to be your best self. Use goals to keep yourself accountable.
  • Don’t waste time worrying about things you can’t control.
  • Work with others to produce action, and try to make needed change.
  •  Don’t compare yourself to others. Not your parents, not your friends and certainly not celebrities.
  • Create good habits to help you be your best self. The best technique I’ve seen is to know your tendency and use it.

What are your tips for being functional? How do you “adult”? 

 

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On Not Trudging Through the Holiday Season

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This December has been absolutely bananas. My tendency–when life is this busy–has been to trudge through everything I need to do, feeling exhausted and martyr-y. This year, I have made a strong and sustained effort to NOT slog my way through ANYthing. This month has definitely tested that effort.

See, it’s one thing to spout off about stoicism when life is going at a normal pace but quite another task altogether to manage a season of intensity using perspective. But I am trying, with varying degrees of success. Here’s what is on my plate:

Work

In a normal month, my growing business takes up large amounts of my time and energy. I love being an entrepreneur, the business partnership is going really well and I am very proud of the work we’ve done. We hit our stretch revenue goal this month, and considering we’ve bootstrapped our company with our own freelancing and taken no outside funding, I am pretty proud about that. There is tremendous control and flexibility that comes with working from home and deciding what projects to take. The downside of being a business owner is that I am pretty much always on, and there are no days off. But I love what I do, so that seems like a good tradeoff.

We had two huge projects that we pushed live in the first week of December. I worked 60 hours that week (which I haven’t done since starting the business). We also have had multiple client events and parties to attend this month. This coincided with…

The Nutcracker

My daughter is performing in a big city Nutcracker ballet production. It’s a whole other level of extracurricular activity. We had to sign entertainment licenses with the state, and arrange for her to be transported back and forth 30 miles for multiple performances at VERY specific times–and you CANNOT be late. She is in a total of 16 performances this month, including matinees and evenings. She’s missing some school, and she’s only ever missed a few days of school in her elementary school life. We’ve had to hire babysitters to help us drive her back and forth because we both work full time. Complicating matters is the fact that we couldn’t find out what performances she would be in until the week before they began. When I saw the list, I literally burst into tears (not my proudest moment) as I could not fathom HOW we could make all that driving happen. My husband created a spreadsheet but there were many moments when we feel like this:

Math lady

My Son’s Karate

My son had a huge belt test, and is now in advanced karate — it’s intense and involves more practice. At least the dojo is close to our house, but between this, school, holiday events and the Nutcracker, it’s A LOT. Speaking of events…

Holiday Fun Stuff

We have almost two dozen events scheduled this month. From company cocktail parties to my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary dinner (which was almost as elaborate as a wedding) to a holiday dinner party we hosted and cooked for last week, every event has been so wonderful. Yet, I’ve had to struggle to get into the spirit sometimes, especially after a long day of work.

Using Mindfulness

What has worked? This month, I’ve been relying on that boring old chestnut–mindfulness. Being in the moment.

Seeing my daughter join world class ballet dancers on stage was a huge life highlight. I always enjoy the parties, once I get there. I savored the success of the projects we launched, rather than just plowing on to the next big thing.

And, for the first time, I have actually contemplated the thought that sometimes, it’s OK to make life complicated. (Gretchen Rubin discussed this in a thought provoking podcast episode.)

It’s a concept I am considering, as I enter the New Year and think about my goals and planning.

What about you? Do you prefer simplicity during busy times? Or is a more complicated schedule the way to go? 

 

 

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Collection of 8 Good Things

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  • Inspirational quotes aren’t my favorite, and I’m not alone. So I really liked this post, because in addition to pointing out the limits of inspirational phrases, there is some real wisdom in here about the value of frustration. I’ve done so much reading about productivity lately, yet have read little about how sometimes you have to grit your teeth, want to throw things and scream before you can create great work. And it can be difficult to “schedule” the time that it takes to work through that frustration. This need for frustration may be one of my biggest problems with the prevailing theories out there about how to be more productive with your time, like the four hour work week (great in theory!) or even time-tracking which I do find useful. Yet, frustration is so often, as Jess points out, critical to accomplishment.
  • I find her hilarious on The Good Place, but this free-wheeling interview with Jameela Jamil was an eye opener. Turns out she’s a brilliant commentator about the toxicity of Instagram / its insidious effect on the latest beauty standards, “the double agents of the patriarchy,” Me Too/Time’s Up, and much more. She has her own Instagram account called @i_weigh that helps to counter that IG toxicity by picturing real women talking about much more than how much they weigh. Jameela also has a distinctively stoic attitude (the REAL stoicism, not the Cliff Notes version) that comes from early experiences with misfortune. My favorite quote came from her takedown of Hollywood’s role in promoting ridiculous body standards: “They will have to run me out of this business, which I’m sure will happen, but I would rather go down in flames than stick around and be part of this.” She’s hoping for an Amy Poehler-type career for herself, and now I am too.
  • Speaking of Amy Poehler, I wish we saw more of her but I’m making do with ridiculous amounts of reruns of “Parks and Recreation” on Netflix. (I also wish Leslie Knope was the real Indiana governor, especially with midterm elections coming up.) On the latest re-watch, I’ve been noticing how hilarious Rob Lowe was as Chris Traeger. In one episode, after getting dumped by his girlfriend he DJs a community Valentine’s Day dance, playing such bangers as Sigur Ros, Sigur 4 and worst of all, a creepy chanting/screaming number.
    • Chris: “Happy Valentine’s Day Pawnee. For me, it is not happy. But don’t let my sadness diminish your night. (Ominous music plays) Anyway, life is fleeing.”

      Worst Setlist Ever. But I mean, who hasn’t felt this way at least once in their life on Valentine’s Day?

  • Thanks for Maggie and Nicole for answering my question about whether to invest in cyber currency. Their answer, and this link, runs counter to the hype we’re surrounded by here in Silicon Valley.
  • The ultimate Blind Item
  • My brother writes about a cool music project
  • I am enjoying Sharp Objects on HBO. We still have four episodes to go, but holy potatoes. Wind Gap is a uniquely macabre, messed-up town (the anti-Pawnee), and Adora Crellin is the absolute WORST.
  • I would love any podcast recommendations. I’ve recently enjoyed “By the Book,”a hilarious, yet often moving show where two comedians follow a self-help book’s advice and report back, and “What Should I Read Next.” Every episode of WSIRN feels like a therapy session for one reader, and there are lots of solid book recommendations. I also find it compelling to hear which books people love and hate–even if the book they hate is a book I love. Did you know many readers out there hate Charles Dickens?

What do you think about frustration, the possibility of a four hour work week, Chris Traeger, Charles Dickens and Sharp Objects? Also, podcast recommendations welcome. 

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Day 42: Pregnancy Goes Viral, Philosophy Goes Sour

I’d noticed something strange during the drop-offs and pick-ups at pre-school lately. The moms are usually dressed in their finest Lulumon gear. They are on their way, presumably, to the gym or to yoga class. With a few exceptions, all of the moms are fit and trim and spend a lot of time maintaining their figures. (I assume, because of the gym clothes). But lately a few women seemed to be relaxing a bit, wearing baggy clothes, not looking that slender. Cool, I thought. Maybe people are loosening up a bit and not being so focused on staying thin.

Nope.

Turns out FOUR moms in our class (of twelve) are pregnant. All of them are pregnant with their third or fourth child. I learned this today and it hit me like a physical blow to the diaphragm.

I think at this point that we are done pursuing ART, which is the only way I could get pregnant again (and even then, absolutely NO guarantees, and most likely much more heartbreak). But letting go of the dream is rough.

I’ve been trying to stay positive, focus on what we have, use philosophy to try to get me to a more joyful place. Lut C. said something in the comments section a few days ago which made me laugh, but also made me think:

I decided years ago that philosophy was invented by men with too few household chores.

I don’t want to give up on philosophy yet, but I think I do need to say adieu to the Stoics. This particular way of thinking seems to be dishonest, a way to lie to yourself to make you feel better. Unfortunately, my mind sees the way the world IS, which is not necessarily a good thing, but it is unable to fib to me, to see things through rose colored glasses, as it were. I also don’t believe in my heart that bad things happen to those who aren’t thinking positively, don’t want something enough and thus DESERVE misfortune. No. Just, no.

What’s next? I don’t know. Do you have any favorite philosophers who help you? I’m open to suggestions!

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Day 40: The Stoics Can Stuff It

Right now, I’m not feeling the stoics. I’m wondering if there’s maybe something in the male DNA that responds more to a philosophy which espouses this:

“Our lack of confidence doesn’t come from difficulty; the difficulty comes from our lack of confidence.”

Seneca

Um, REALLY? This sounds a lot like a crappy book which got a lot of play a few years ago. I am NOT going to give it any credit other than to say that it was spotlighted on a popular TV show, and I believe that it has caused immeasurable damage. I don’t think that unhappiness befalls people because they are not confident and don’t want happiness enough.

Instead, I believe that honesty might be the key to releasing unhappiness. What’s up with the bravest writers being Australian? First Lori at RRSAHM, and now The Miss Ruby. She’s one of my favorite bloggers, because she reveals tremendous honesty and truth in each post. She is unblinking and tough and strong, because she is so vulnerable. That sounds like a paradox, but I think that those who reveal their greatest fears about themselves are the people who understand life the most. They know their souls, they are self-aware, and they humble me.

The Miss Ruby could use a little love right now, so please feel free to go over and give her some virtual hugs.

So, in sum, shove it, stoics.

Xoxo

Jjiraffe

I AM feeling this song right now, BTW. LOVE!!

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Day 35: Sick, Tired and Dragging :(

The stoics are not really helping me out this week. I think it’s because when I feel sick, I want the world to stop and it doesn’t, then I get frustrated and down.

The house is a mess, the kids have watched way too much TV (it’s official: I HATE Caillou), and I haven’t cooked in days. I feel so guilty.

Ma Ingalls would NOT approve.

I did watch “I Love You, Man”, and it made me laugh. So, there’s that!

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Day 34: On Being “Stout”

I started reading The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So pioneers valued different strengths and attributes than we do today, that much is clear. The word “stout” in particular was used as an adjective of the highest praise, whether applied to a person or a house or a horse. Being thin was a matter for concern, and also lessened a woman’s beauty. I remember reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a few years ago, and she also stressed that for those working the land, a body’s functionality is all important, not the way it looked. It was a strange, new outlook: I had never heard this viewpoint before in my life. Always, from everyone, the message is “be thin, exercise, eat healthy (whatever THAT means)” with no real mention of your body living up to its true purpose: being able to do physical labor.

How strange that we live in a time when our bodies are considered mostly ornamental. The way they look is so important to our status in society, yet we don’t use them for what they are built for.

I have always wanted to be stout, in the figurative sense of the word. As a SAHM, I do a lot of physical labor. Laundry, housecleaning, cooking, diapers, vacuuming, carrying children, changing diapers. I have no “help”, I do it all myself, and my husband isn’t around most of the time. I get physically tired, a lot. In addition, none of this activity keeps me “thin” the way society approves of. The Hollywood moms elevated as idols do none of the physical labor most SAHMs do, I can guarantee you. Instead, they spend their time running, lifting weights and starving themselves while others do the physical work of raising their children. I shouldn’t look at a Gwyneth Paltrow and think I should look like her.

I guess I should emulate the pioneer model more. If my body functions properly, I should be happy.

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