Philosophy – the term conjures up a number of images in people’s minds. Maybe you think of deep, dense, abstract ancient texts, or maybe you imagine wandering by the philosophy building on your college campus where students argue using terms you’ve never heard, while you simply want to get to the gym for an afternoon workout. Whatever the case may be, when we think of philosophy, we each think of something.
But what if philosophy was less of an abstract concept or term, and more of a tool that could aid you in your daily life and the challenges that we each face in the modern world? What if I told you it is exactly that, and that that’s what philosophy is intended for, especially for those of us who are idealistic, dreamers, and have big visions for our future lives and work? We may need philosophy the most, but a certain prescription of a philosophy.
The Ancient Stoics
Stoic Philosophers came from Ancient Rome and Greece during the 3rd century AD. They had some of the same conclusions that you and I might have regarding abstract philosophy. They didn’t agree with the pious and pompous philosophers who were merely academics and looked down on those who did not want to discuss the abstract for hours. Rather, they viewed philosophy as a practical tool to solve the needs in our daily lives.
Their philosophy—known as Stoicism—works as a way to control our emotions, understand our circumstances, know what is or is not in our control, and look at our lives objectively. This provides a sense of freedom, but must the philosophy must be accompanied with rigorous practice, application, and discipline. Philosophy can’t merely be something you think about occasionally, but something that you practice every single day.
You’re cut off on traffic? You control your response. Don’t chase down or flip off the perpetrator. Keep driving.
You’re working on a large project and it flops? Don’t freak out and fall into a depression. See what went wrong, objectively analyze the faults, swallow your ego that is hurt, and continue marching forward with your work.
And for the idealistic person? You have big dreams, visions, and goals—which are all good— but they don’t pan out? Don’t assume that you’ve failed at life and start to quit or be flustered into bad decisions or assume a victim’s role that things simply don’t ever work out for you. Rather, keep chugging away and slowly working towards those goals, seeing minimal progress and celebrating that you are moving forward with discipline and practice.
Philosophy Won’t Take Away Dreams, but Relieve the Pressures
We’re all slightly idealistic, though some of us more so than others.
We’re constantly inundated with reminders of how life should be, how we can be better, and how we need this or that product to buy happiness. With the massive influx of self-help literature, we now have an entire source of media devoted toward improvement.
This isn’t inherently bad. Goals, dreams, and even entertainment and possessions we care about are good to have in life. They make us human. Just as buying, selling, and marketing are human.
But when we lose our ability to be objective is when we run into problems. When we forget that life is a series of objective events, that will or won’t go in our favor, we are flustered when things don’t according to plan. Oftentimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t control the outcome of events. And in all likelihood, life will not look the way we mapped out on paper.
This isn’t cynical or depressing.
This is freeing.
Life will still look beautiful, because it is.
Without the pressure of needing everything to look a certain way, you can move on with your results, your progress, and your life without the timetable of needing results to happen now, or feeling like a failure if an outcome doesn’t occur. You won’t feel the need to escape for the next rush, experience, or project when things don’t go your way, because you’re grateful for the opportunity to pursue your goals and understanding the objectivity and discipline that they require.
This, and many other lessons you can learn from Stoic philosophy. The tool is a constant reality check of the mind. This is what philosophy should be. This is the philosophy we all need.