I’m not sure when the exact moment hit me, to be honest with you. The great epiphanies in life, while radical and perspective changing, can often sneak up on you over a period of time before you suddenly have it all up in your face with complete and utter clarity. But this happened to me… when I realized Taylor Swift is a Stoic.
Oh sure, even as I sit in front of my computer and type these words out in a blog post that is only at its outset, I can sense your total skepticism in the future and across the Interwebz. But that’s my magical superpower…umm, pre-guessing skepticism. Yeah, I got it… it’s not adamantium claws or super strength or anything wicked cool like that, but we seldom get to choose such things, OK? I make the best use of the gifts bestowed upon me.
See, I’ve been rather enamored with the lessons set forth by Marcus Aurelius in his timeless Meditations (my favorite translations thus far being this one) and recently began reading “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday, a more modern take on applying the wisdom of the Stoics to the modern day notion of using your trials, failures and obstacles as the means to personal success. Nothing quite like using ideas developed more than 2,000 years ago to tackle things in our hyper-connected world of today, right?
If you were to boil down Stoicism to its most basic elements, it’s the view that while you have no control over the events of the world or the actions of others towards you, you always have a choice on how you react to those events/actions and the decisions you make in living your life. No one can take your free will from you for anything – your freedom is always your own and you hold responsibility for that at all times. In doing so, reason and knowledge make up your inner fortress where you move beyond being shackled to the whims of pain and pleasure. It’s all on you… which is a profoundly liberating way of thinking of things.
So, at some point in the combination of reading Holiday’s book and popping through one of my Spotify playlists that some T-Swizzle hit my earpieces and it struck me… Ms. Swift is actually a Stoic.
I feel like it should have been clear all along, really. The parallels are there if you are willing to open your eyes to them.
For example, Epictetus wrote:
Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hit you knock you off your feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.
Contrast this to Ms. Swift in “The New Romantics”:
We are too busy dancing
To get knocked off our feet
Baby, we’re the new romantics
The best people in life are free
She’s living her life, dancing away as she so chooses and because of that, has no time to be knocked off her feet. I’m sure Epictetus could turn quite a jig back in his day as well (OK, this is utterly wild conjecture) and would appreciate that (a) she’s not getting knocked off her feet; and (b) she recognizes that those who live freely are the best kind of people. And what is Stoicism if not these two things?
Oh you need more? Then I submit for your consideration the following:
Yup – T-Swift has no time for your tomfoolery and jibber-jabber and unto all of that she will drop the universal sign language for “Suck it” on you, endlessly in the magic loop of this GIF. (As an aside, if you pronounce as JIF like the peanut butter, you are an awful person who takes themselves with a level of seriousness that I cannot abide). For her, it matters not the slings and arrows of the world nor the endless hollow praise heaped upon her for she finds only respite within reason and clear thinking. And telling punks to suck it.
I can sense it… I can sense you beginning to see the parallels between Swifty and Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca. Now it’s time to bring this all home rapidly… quickly…dare I say…swiftly. I present to you the capstone of my argument and the magnum opus of Ms. Swift’s artistic canon… “Shake It Off”:
I mean, where to even begin with such a rich trove of philosophical nuggets?
First off, regardless of the negativity brought her way from those who speak ill of her intelligence or dating life, she’s going to (a) keep cruising; (b) can’t stop and will not, in fact, stop moving; and (c) has this music within her affirming all of this.
Sure, the players may continue to play, the haters continue to hate, the heartbreakers continue to break and yes, the fakers continue to fake as they are wont to do…but Tay-Tay? Oh, my friends, she will only shake it off, shake it off. That’s the benefit of never missing a beat and being lightning on your feet, in the end. It’s an entire song devoted to taking the negatives that come your way in life, those things over which you have zero control and letting them slide right past because you are the only one who can choose how to observe those events and place them into their proper context. Seriously.
In the end, Stoicism can seem like the drab, humorless philosophy of a bunch of Romans from a few thousand years ago and confined to musty tomes or Intro to Philosophy courses in your first year of college. But in reality, it’s not at all – you can still have moments of sadness or elation, but you act not to be ruled by such things entirely, especially when they come at the whims and interests of others. Stoicism is a remarkable way of creating resiliency within yourself and while it’s not easy (mild understatement), it is effective.
And sometimes you just need to widen your perspective a bit and realize while probably was always in your heart all along, even as you fought against admitting it…that T-Swizzle is not just the philosopher you wanted, she’s also the one you need.
James Altucher is an interesting guy. That’s a pretty understated way to describe someone who is a serial entrepreneur, author of a number of books, creator of many podcasts and who now lives a nomadic existence with no home of his own and all of his possessions carried with him 24/7.
He had a post recently where he talked about the people Walt Disney surrounded himself with that enabled him to be successful. While Altucher does not fully buy into the “five people you surround yourself with notion” (something I wrote about recently with my “Those Five People” post), he did provide what I found to be a very solid infographic about this topic. While the people in your life do have an effect on who you are quite a bit, they aren’t the sole influence in your life. As I wrote previously, you don’t always have complete or immediate control over those 5 people you spend all of that time with, save for very radical life changes. However, the things he points out in his 5×5 rule is to clearly highlight the other areas you do have control over and their key impact on you:
I like this tweak since it’s a more accurate reflection that accounts for things well beyond people… and while the people piece is hugely important, it’s good to keep front of mind all the other factors which we each have the free will to effect upon ourselves each day.
And if you are reading this and chose to make this a small slice of your content for the day? Well, then I appreciate the heck out of you and hope I earn that every time these posts come out. I think all of you total more than five, but I can assure you that you’re a big piece of my positive influence every day and I’m hugely grateful for that.
There’s a technique of framing arguments (which is really a bit of a cop-out) by dividing THE WORLD into 2 camps. You’ve probably seen it before and used it as well – Lord knows I have.
There are two kinds of people in the world, man. People who totally understand why pineapple on pizza is amazing and then there’s barbaric heathens, destroying the foundations of Western civilization with their disdain of this culinary delight.
It’s dramatic and eye-grabbing. I mention it because of how tempting it was to use here for this because here is something I do wonder about whether there are two camps:
People who seek to learn for life and those who mail it in once formal schooling ends.
There’s definitely shades of interest and intent between these two positions, but sometimes it doesn’t seem it.
Now, as I title this post “The Forever Student”, I don’t mean this as that one guy you knew from college who seemed to be trying to figure out a way to never graduate, much to the chagrin of his parents or eventually his credit rating as he amassed a student loan debt that would rival the gross domestic product of many first world nations. (Side note – Why is there always talk about first world and third world countries, yet no one even mentions second world? These things bother me… and yes, bother me way more than they should).
All of this swirled in my head a little bit yesterday as I attended a strength training seminar at my gym. Two exceptional coaches/lifters in Swede Burns and Greg Panora came through for a 7+ hour seminar covering any topic you wanted to throw at them, as well as hands on coaching on the “big 3” lifts of the squat, bench press and deadlift. It was the second time I’ve been to a seminar they put on and it was exceptional – they could not have been more generous with their time, knowledge and teaching. I’m a better lifter today for having been part of this. Without question.
The reason this idea of the forever student jumped out at me was noticing the people who weren’t there versus those who were. Why, you undoubtedly ask? Simple – there are plenty of lifters in that very gym who could have gotten a ton out of this somewhat rare opportunity to pick the brains of two of the best around while having them give direct feedback on the finer points of their lifts. But they weren’t there… and that baffles me. Because they absolutely needed to be… which isn’t an insult to any of them (unless they are one of those people who actively thinks they are better than the coaches who came… and they absolutely are NOT). It’s just stating a fact – none of them hold all-time world records and the funniest thing is that those who do will admit to all of the top-notch coaching that allowed them to get there.
I just don’t understand the mentality of “No thanks…I’m good as-is and have it all figured out.” You know the types. The ones who cannot accept any advice, no matter how learned or proficient the person providing it because…hey, I cannot imagine fixing anything.
Now, before I get accused of virtue signaling (a term that gets trotted out… and incorrectly… way too often), it’s quite the opposite. This isn’t me giving myself a self high five – I just cannot imagine anything but being a student because I know that there’s mountains of things I don’t have figured out in any way, shape or form. Why wouldn’t I want to listen to pros and hope to get even incrementally better than yesterday? I will be the first to admit I need work in any of a number of areas.
I think at a fundamental level that a big reason for my position on this is I refuse to think of myself as a static person where everything is sit, never to change… which also means to never improve.
Hence, I hope genuinely hope I kick my silly ego out of the way as often as possible and embrace the fun of not knowing how much more there is to learn… but giving the effort to try and find out.
As the sun shines and the wind blows on this chilly Sunday in Connecticut, I stand at the cusp of Day 5 of Lent and my social media diet. This diet is comprised of no Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for the 40 days of Lent…and I will confess that list clearly does not include Snapchat since I find it silly, fun and not nearly the level of distraction that those other apps prove to be. It’s my social media diet, damn it and I will do it how I wanna.
This isn’t my first ever foray into doing this kind of social media clear out for Lent since I also did this with just Facebook several years back. Not surprisingly, the first few days are the most interesting and the most telling.
It’s funny to begin to truly notice how often when a moment of delay, boredom or small time gap in my days occurs, I reach for my phone for instant distraction before even realizing I’m doing it. It’s only as the phone effortlessly slides into my hand from my pocket and I get read to click the Facebook app do I then realize… ohhhhh, right. I deleted that sucker on Fat Tuesday.
Or the moments where I have a thought that pops into my head, whether an observation about the day or something utterly silly to share for a mild guffaw…and I remember that I won’t be doing that.
And even more importantly than the idea of I won’t be doing that, I begin to think “Huh…why do I feel the need to always do that?”
By virtue of writing this blog post for others to read, I clearly am not against the sharing of thoughts and ideas to the world at large. Heck, that’s something I enjoy doing quite a bit…but the reasons behind all of this do matter. Am I doing it because I have something to say, regardless of whether there is a defined response? Or is there a desire to have someone validate my ideas? Like most things, it’s probably a combination thereof.
The time away from these social media platforms is spurring me to reconnect, live and in-person, with my family and friends to a great extent. If for no other reason, this alone makes it worth it. Sure, I could have done this while keeping up my steady stream of inane babble on Facebook about Lord only knows what, but there is something impactful about combining the time away from one with the concerted effort to be more connected with the people I care about. This has been lunches, dinners, phone calls and any a number of ways of being with important people and truly present in those moments without a temptation to check what else is going on out there.
And as the photo suggest, I’ve also found a lot more time to read and catch up on news straight from sources and without the argumentative precursors that have become the norm in my Facebook feed the last year.
I encourage anyone else thinking about this to try it (and this article from the always excellent Eric Barker at Barking Up The Wrong Tree has research-backed ideas). The hardest pull is a combination of fear-of-missing-out (the weird acronym of FOMO that prompts an eyeroll from me every time) or thinking you will lose touch with people. You won’t – you just adapt to a different way of connecting. (But the irony of the fact that when I post this blog it will automatically post to my Facebook page is not lost on me.)
And perhaps the greatest thing I am noticing in this period of time? That maybe… just maybe…when Lent comes to a close for 2017…that I will stop, look around and realize the fear-of-missing-out was just a fear…and I should have been far more concerned of missing out on the important things right in front of me…not on my phone screen.