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.

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8 Comments

  1. Joe Jansen on November 25, 2020 at 6:51 am

    I second the motion. Ryan is doing good work; I found him via something you wrote. Reading “The Daily Stoic” has become a part of my morning routine, as well. The “nutshell” up there is one of the best, most-concise descriptions I’ve seen.

    Another bite-sized morning ritual is a daily mailer from meditation teacher Light Watkins. A recent one:

    ***
    No limits
    “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” That was the comment written on Fred Smith’s paper in which he initially proposed the idea for FedEx while a student at Yale University. It’s not the idea that’s flawed. It’s listening to the very smart people who think you should place limits on your imagination.

    ***
    All good stuff to start the day.

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  3. Diane on December 5, 2020 at 1:09 am

    Concern yourself only with those things you can control. Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about stuff you can’t.
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