Ancient way to success: Stoicism

What you are getting into: 659 words, 4mins read

Under the mega branch of philosophy, there’s a little known branch named Stoicism1. I am an avid fan of it. Despite what the internet says, it’s not all about having no emotions like a robot. Instead it’s about taking control of your emotions and not letting external events or people influence it. It is also not an idea or mental model which you can reference from time to time like a library book whenever you need it. Remaining stoic requires constant practice in the harsh world we live in.

Anyone who decides to venture a little bit more into Stoicism will come across 3 major Stoic teachers: Epictetus, Seneca the younger, and last of the five good emperor — Marcus Aurelius.

The ancient books published are hard to digest, in my opinion. But I have found a great modern book on stoicism written by Ryan Holiday — The Obstacle is the Way2. The thesis of the book can be summarised with this: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage. By adopting some of the Stoic concepts, one can reframe adversities into a learning opportunity, in turn transforms adversities into an advantage.

The concept is simple, when dealt with a bad hand, do we whine and complain about it? Or do we accept the reality and play the game with the goal of making the best out of it?

Take this simple example in the book:

Lose money?

Remember, you could have lost a friend.

Lost that job?

What if you’d lost a limb?

Lost your house?

You could have lost everything.

By reframing our perceptions, we are able to turn our attention into things we can be grateful for. Usually things we can be grateful for are things we take for granted. Take for example, you reading this article means that you have access to either a computer or mobile phone, internet connection, access to funds or resources to acquire the last two things, your eyesight, education of the English language, cognitive ability to understand this passage. Imagine there are people out there in the world who don’t have these things.

Another good concept that is highly applicable is building your inner citadel. In the army, soldiers are usually expected to carry heavy load as much as half their weight while being able to run, crawl, shoot, and staying present enough to listen or give instructions. They go through rigorous training to be able to withstand all the pain. Same goes to lifting heavy weights. If you are able to carry your wife (or partner) to the hospital (like the movies), most likely you had some form of physical training which enables you to do it. In stoicism, by building your inner citadel, you are welcoming adversity. The amount of adversity you can handle depends on how much training you have gone through. Someone who crumbles at the slightest pressure have not undergone adequate training, yet. Thus, ability to tolerate catastrophes can be trained, so take heart.

So train up, build your own inner citadel, once the fortress built around your emotions is high and strong, what used to be a catastrophe is now a trivial matter.

”You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius

Here are some online resources to read up on if you are interested in understanding deeper, they are ranked by the amount of time needed:

  1. Excellent comic by Zenpencils on Marcus Aurelius, I recommend you start here
  2. Youtube, School of Life on Stoics
  3. Reddit, a summary of Stoicism
  4. 99u, 9 Principles to Help You Keep Calm in Chaos
  5. Lifehacker, How the Principles of Stoicism Can Help Your Personal and Financial Life
  6. Artofmanliness, 5 tools for thriving in uncertainty
  7. Reddit, a FAQ on Stoicism

Photo via Unsplash


  1. Wikipedia on Stoicism (link)
  2. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, Amazon (link)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *