The Philosophy of Resilience

“For the mind adapts and converts everything that impedes its activities into something that advances its purpose, and a hindrance to its action becomes an aid, and an obstacle on its path helps it on its way.” -Marcus Aurelius

Resilience is one of those qualities we tend to deeply admire in people. It’s the badge of honor we award to the person who was knocked down and got back up again. We could argue that human history itself is the story of resilience—correcting ourselves one failure after another, and coming back even stronger. Tragedy after tragedy, oppressive law after oppressive law, the human spirit thrives ever-still. Stories like that of the African-American female NASA mathematicians in the early 60s depicted in Hidden Figures, and that of the POW World War II survivor, Louis Zamperini, depicted in Unbroken compel us to look inside ourselves and ask what could possibly be holding us back. As impressed as we are by such people, we’re far from certain that we could exhibit the same stamina in similar circumstances. Over time we’ve convinced ourselves that some individuals just have certain qualities, and others just don’t.

While we all have distinct personalities and predispositions, here’s a bit of not-so-breaking news: Qualities can be cultivated. Crass as it may sound, characteristics can be manufactured. What this means is that contrary to the popular belief that resilience is a quality of some but not of others, it can be bred. Well of course it can be! Resilience is bred through trauma! Obvy! But does it have to be?

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The Philosophy of Fear

"In general remember that it is we who torment, we who make difficulties for ourselves—that is, our opinions do." -Epictetus

If you’ve been exposed to any semblance of motivational jargon, you’ve heard the following adage more than once: be fearless. Don’t let fear rule you! Fear is the enemy! The irony of preaching fearlessness as the answer is that achieving this clichéd state isn’t what induces action. Fear itself does that. It could be argued that without fear, we wouldn’t actually do anything. Some of our greatest accomplishments come after moments in which we were filled to the brim with fear—that project launch, that presentation, that pressing question that changed everything. It’s the very harnessing of this fear that leads us to astounding ourselves. With that in mind, it may be safe to conclude that “fearlessness" isn’t what we need; a set of right fears is.

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The Philosophy of Fulfillment

"...it is enough to make good use of what the moment brings." -Marcus Aurelius

Here we are with yet another charged word—fulfillment. It’s that delicate balance of peace and progress, of meaningfulness and mission that we so often find ourselves banging our heads against the wall to strike. It's the thing that, in theory, we intend our every decision to get us closer to. And perhaps that's where we have it wrong—treating fulfillment as a destination, versus a day-to-day state we experience through our actions.

When we think of the word "fulfillment," we tend to immediately picture the abstract, idyllic versions of ourselves and lives that we've yet to realize. Inherently present in the matter of fulfillment is a reflexive tendency to believe that we don't have it yet. What we're missing in this fulfillment-as-a-destination mindset is that fulfillment, in it's truest sense, is the active realization of our compulsions.

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The Philosophy of Perspective

"I have the power to act under reservation and turn circumstances to my own advantage." -Marcus Aurelius

It’s the start of a new year—a time when energy and ambitions are at their most palpable. It’s the time when we magically have the fuel to catalyze the reinventions we spent the second half of last year fantasizing about. Even more interesting is the mass perception of the new year as being cause for reinvention (though neither here nor there). I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you have a resolution, it’s one you should’ve made yesterday, or last week, or last month, or the second the desire was conceived. Any goal attached to the turn of a new year is as fickle as time itself. But we’re not here to minimize something as well-intentioned as goal-setting. We’re here to talk about a resolution so essential that without it, true flourishing is impossible.

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The Philosophy of Meaning

"Foolish are those who...have no aim to which they can direct every impulse and, indeed, every thought." -Marcus Aurelius

There are few words in the English language so charged as the word, "meaning.” What’s the meaning of life? What’s the meaning of [insert any confusing life event here]? The fact that we ask these questions tells us more about ourselves than the answers to them do. It reveals a desire for there to be more to it all—or perhaps even more revelatory, the need to believe that there is. This is why we find ourselves at various stages of our lives, careers and relationships thinking, what’s the point of this? Where is this going? Our minds overwhelmed with regret or frustration, we spiral into lamenting our decisions. I’d like to put forth an alternative to this lamentation and say that these moments are, instead, causes for celebration—for they serve as the breeding grounds for increased self-awareness. They remind us that in some way, in some area, we’re not quite living in sync with what's meaningful to us. Thus, the more quickly we can discover this discrepancy, the more quickly we can recalibrate.

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The Philosophy of Luck

"Love only that which falls to you and is spun as the thread of your destiny; for what could be better suited to you?" -Marcus Aurelius

How often do we love only that which falls to us? It's far more common that we love that which falls to others. Our genetic makeup, our upbringings, our strengths, and our weaknesses—these are the things that were, as Stoic philosopher and once most-powerful-man-in-the-world Marcus Aurelius put it, spun for us (read: intended for us).

But sometimes we hate what’s spun for us—so much so that we may find the very notion of certain events being meant for or uniquely assigned to us offensive. That heartbreak, that trauma, that undesired physical attribute... It’s rare that we react to such things with contented acceptance. The beauty of this, though, is that if something was meant for us, we don’t have to be broken by it. We’re not somehow less because something just is. We’re simply playing our part and can continue doing so faithfully.

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The Philosophy of Attention

“You become what you give your attention to.” -Epictetus

We’re in an age where attention is the single most sought-after commodity. If something has our attention, it, unequivocally, has us. What we watch, what we read, who we’re around… Whatever consumes our attention consumes and shapes us. It’s essential that we understand that. If you expose yourself to enough negativity, all that you see and do will be colored as such. But of course, we know this, right? It’s the age-old garbage in, garbage out.

Though it’s not just the obvious garbage we must guard ourselves against. I’m not talking about just limiting your intake of reality tv or filthy rap music. What I’m talking about is viewing attention as a finite resource that begs for our diligent allocation and reservation, as something allotted to us that we actively distribute, or don’t distribute. I’m talking about the silent killers that we persist in focusing on, and the life-giving activities that we don’t.

In essence, we have two choices: become masters over our attention, or be mastered by the forces that fight for it.

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The Philosophy of Time

"Let us cut out all distractions and work away at this alone for fear that otherwise we may be left behind and only eventually realize one day the swiftness of the passage of this fleeting phenomenon, time, which we are powerless to hold back. Every day as it comes should be welcomed and reduced forthwith into our own possession as if it were the finest day imaginable. What flies past has to be seized at." -Seneca

Imagine a world where, in each moment, you were acutely aware of the swiftness of the passage of time. There’s a human tendency to only acknowledge this swiftness in retrospect. How am I already ___ years old? I can’t believe it’s already midway through the year. Can you believe we graduated ___ years ago? And not only is the acknowledgement of time’s passage usually in retrospect, but it’s typically in an air of lamenting. We lament the fact that we’re already so old, or that we’re already out of that situation that we’re now suddenly certain was ideal. Luckily for us, the Stoics had a solution to this perpetual melancholic nostalgia: in all circumstances, remember that everything is always changing; love this fact and live accordingly.

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The Philosophy of Contentment

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

How many of us can say that we want nothing in our lives to be different? Not forward, not backward… That backward part being of particular challenge. If prompted, we could likely list countless things from our individual pasts that we wish would’ve been different. If you've ever had the thought, I wish this would’ve happened differently, or not at all, you're far from unique. Feel free to breathe a sigh of relief at that. But let’s talk about something that is unique: taking such ownership of and responsibility for your life that you truly wish nothing were different.

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The Philosophy of Happiness

"...nothing is good for man except what makes him just and temperate, brave and free, and nothing is bad except what gives rise to the opposing vices." -Marcus Aurelius

Freedom is an interesting thing. It's one of the gifts of living that we most take for granted, yet simultaneously that thing we long for most. Freedom is our most constant striving, yet everyone will tell you that what we ultimately want is "happiness.” 10 Ways to Be More Happy! 12 Hacks to Increase Your Happiness NOW!

The word happiness has become so ambiguous that all attempts to define it today just seem futile.

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The Philosophy of End Goals

"For nothing should be done without an end in view." -Marcus Aurelius

Imagine having an aim to your life so meaningful and suited to your desires and strengths that every experience feels pointed and purposeful. Imagine being so dedicated to that aim that you know instantly when something isn’t in line with it, and you exit accordingly.

The opposite isn't so hard to imagine either. You regularly find yourself exhausted and unamused; your focus rarely extends beyond that of the immediately gratifying.

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The Philosophy of Work

“When you find it hard to rise from your sleep, remind yourself that the fulfillment of your social duties accords with the requirements of your constitution and of human nature, whilst sleep is something that you share in common with animals devoid of reason.” -Marcus Aurelius

Sigmund Freud says in Civilization and Its Contents that man needs two things for happiness: “Love and work, work and love." Here’s what matters first about work: we're meant for it. Even the laziest person in the world simply can’t be lazy all of the time. If you find that hard to believe, try going on vacation for a month or two. 

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The Philosophy of Life

"Just as a well-filled day brings a blessed sleep, so a well-employed life brings a blessed death.” -Leonardo Da Vinci

What’s incredible about this quote is its simultaneous simplicity and profundity. There’s a good chance that, if you’re reading this right now, you’re alive. That very fact holds you accountable to having a philosophy for your life, and living it out as best you can. And I don’t mean that in some weak-mannered, in-the-clouds, Joel Osteen “Life Your Best Life Now” type of way. I mean literally--have you taken ownership of your life? Or would your experience be best depicted as just floating from opportunity to opportunity? 

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Why Philosophy?

Why does philosophy matter? The answer to this is as complex as it is simple, and for the purposes of kicking things off, we’ll start simple. Philosophy matters because whether consciously or subconsciously, some philosophy is guiding your life. Depending on how much control you’ve taken over your guiding philosophy, this fact should be either wonderfully empowering or completely horrifying. So, if there is indeed a philosophy guiding your life (be it one of your conscious choosing or not), why wouldn’t we want to take complete control over which one? Philosophy, in my opinion, is best defined as this- the set of thoughts and ideas that inform how we perceive our lives and the world at-large.

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