Ryan Holiday’s “Lives of the Stoics”
I’m going to recommend another book today. You may think, eyeballing the title, that it could have no place within our “writer’s bookshelf.” But it should sit, believe me, front and center.
First let me introduce you to Ryan Holiday, if you don’t know him already.
Ryan’s first book, which I absolutely loved, was Trust Me, I’m Lying. It was about Ryan’s nefarious career as a guerrilla-marketing scammer for American Apparel, the fashion company that was constantly in the news for ethical lapses, marketing overreach, etc. But Ryan took his netherworld experiences to a whole other level. He laid bare the structure of fake news (I mean REAL fake … deliberately fake) and how crazy stuff starts at the bottom of the social media food chain and rises, slimy inch by sleazy foot, to the mainstream media-verse, where it acquires credibility and goes on to contaminate and infect us all.
Then Ryan got into the ancient world, specifically the Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Zeno, Arrian, etc. He began writing books about this. He started a blog, The Daily Stoic. (This is the second blog I read every morning, right after Seth Godin’s.)
What is Stoic philosophy? (“Stoic” comes from the Greek word stoa, meaning a covered public portico, i.e. the shaded precincts in ancient Athens where the original “stoics” met each morning to teach and to debate.) In a nutshell, it’s this:
Memento mori. Remember always that you are mortal and that fortune cannot be controlled. Prepare yourself mentally for the worst that might happen. Then, if it does, you will not be destroyed by it.
Concern yourself only with those things you can control. Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about stuff you can’t.
Amor fati. Embrace everything, good or bad, that comes your way. What matters is not what happens to you, but how you respond to it.
The Daily Stoic has influenced tens of thousands, including me. It’s not hard to see why. Stoicism is a philosophy made for chaotic times.
It’s also a powerful way of thinking for you and me as writers and artists.
Our working lives are by definition unstable, insecure, governed by forces often far beyond our control. How do we respond to this? One of Ryan’s titles is The Obstacle is the Way, a sentiment Marcus Aurelius or Seneca would embrace in a moment. In other words, that horrendous story problem/publishing setback/pandemic/economic meltdown that has just hammered you senseless is NOT a catastrophe. It is an opportunity for growth. The bad stuff leads to the good if we think of it rightly and act upon it with imagination and rectitude.
Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday. Five stars for the book and five stars for the man.