Like many, I used to think that the subject of philosophy was dull and filled with abstract intellectual concepts that had little relevance or significance in my life. Staring aimlessly out the window in a high school philosophy seminar, I thought to myself, what can I possibly learn from these books that were written thousands of years ago?
The world surely has drastically changed. Are their insights at all useful to me?
More importantly, will studying philosophy get me a good paying stable job?
Looking back at my former self, I cringe at my naiveté and ignorance. I was enamored with the anxiety and pressure of a student focusing solely on outward success and external validation. In doing so however, I ignored the world within – my inner self.
It was not until I got introduced to the ideas of Stoicism that I began to see things differently. Its growing popularity from commentators such as Ryan Holiday and the Daily Stoic, made Stoicism digestible and relatable. Further, the original Stoic texts, ranging from the writings of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius to the Letters of Seneca, focused on practical issues of everyday life.
What does it mean to live a good life?
How can I deal with an overcome life’s many challenges and difficulties?
For the Stoics at least, the answer boils down to following a simple maxim- focus on what is under your control, and forget about the rest. It does one no good to worry about the outcomes of events that are outside your direct influence.
According to the scholar and philosopher Pierre Hadot, ancient philosophy was about mastering the art of living. It focused on engaging in spiritual exercises to cultivate wisdom, gain a greater perspective on life and train oneself to refrain from distractions and focus on the present moment.
Of course, there are still philosophers who remain in the proverbial ‘ivory tower’, and they have their place too for those who are interested in formal logic and reasoning.
However, the one’s who interest me are those who live by and embody their ideals. The Stoics, existentialists (Camus and Sartre), Nietzsche, Montaigne, Socrates and many others all sought different ways of living, different ways of being.
They offer us a ‘toolbox’ of ideas and ways to deal with the complexities of living.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we all hold philosophical positions and beliefs. Thus, why not try to actively work on the philosophies and maxims we live by rather than just adopting the default view of the masses.
Actively participating in this world and being an authentic human being is hard work. It requires critical thought and reflection, as well as dialogue with others who have conflicting and opposing world views. Only through constantly challenging our assumptions and stepping out of our comfort zones can we grow and realize our full potential.
So, let me learn to not only hold my philosophical convictions, but also have the courage to live by them.
My fellow readers, I invite you to do the same.
This is my first post on Pointless Overthinking. I am delighted to join an inspiring and amazing group of writers.
For more of my work you can check out my personal blog at A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life – Pondering Life’s Big Questions