What are you supposed to do when Nature made you one way and the world wants you to be another? The guy who said, “Follow your bliss,” Joseph Campbell, had a cushy career as a professor at a private university, lots of fame and fortune from his lectures and books, and a beautiful and accomplished wife. But what do you do when you follow your bliss and get nothing?
So, what are you supposed to do when the world begs for accountants, computer whiz-kids, engineers, nurses and doctors, and you have no talent for any of these jobs? What are you supposed to do when your natural abilities lead you to exactly those things the world doesn’t want and you’re revolted by those occupations that it does?
Are you supposed to keep trying time and time again to fit your round peg into the world’s square hole—like some certifiably insane person? Are you supposed to accept your fate, bitter though it may be, and live a life of mediocrity with “Loser” tattooed across your forehead?
Epictetus said that if I tried to do any work for which I had no talent, then I would do a lousy job of it and not have any time left over to do what I could do well. Oh goody—another follow-your-bliss endorsement. That’s great if fate showers you with good fortune, but what if it doesn’t?
Maybe it would be better to be a mediocre accountant, living a life of quiet desperation, as Thoreau said, than to be an excellent Tiddly-winks player always unemployed and a burden to society and your family, because you can’t make a living, so you turn to alcohol or even stronger drugs just to feel good about yourself for a few minutes before returning to a life of poverty and shame? What are you supposed to do?
What can you do when you’re caught between a rock and a hard place? Really, there’s only one good solution: be a Stoic. The world always needs Stoics. Why? Because anyone who is able to shoulder his or her responsibilities and maintain a noble character regardless of their station in life is a joy and a credit to the human race.
Be a Stoic. Ignis aurum probat. The refining fire of adversity will only make the gold of your character shine all the brighter. Ignis aurum probat. If you are doing the best that you can to take care of your corner of the world, no matter how large or small, you will acquire another kind of greatness.
Marcus Aurelius, Caesar, Roman Emperor of the world, didn’t like his job either. It wearied and depressed him. He didn’t like treacherous back-stabbers and sycophants, and he didn’t like the cruelty of warfare, and yet he lived in the midst of palace intrigue and on foreign battlefields for years on end, most of his life. He wanted to be a Stoic philosopher, not an emperor, but he could only fit in the consolations of philosophy for a moment here and a moment there. He used these moments used to write his Meditations.
Marcus didn’t like being emperor, and there were no doubt times when he didn’t think he was very good at it, but in fact he was. His Stoicism guided his actions and his naturally kind heart made him one of the five great Roman emperors of history. To us Stoics, he was the greatest of them all.
Be a Stoic. A noble character will make it possible for you to excel in life regardless of the position fate has for you. Even if your talents are mediocre, even if you never know fame or fortune, even if some days it takes everything you’ve got just to put one foot in front of the other, when you’re a Stoic you are the best that you can be, and there is no higher calling. More than anything else in the world today we need Stoics. The day you become a Stoic you stop being a loser. I guarantee it.
This extract is an excerpt, reproduced by kind permission of the author, from Battle of Mount Whitney and Other Essays: Stoic Philosophy in Practice.
About the author: Erik Wiegardt was born in Walla Walla, Washington, USA, and lived most of his life on the Pacific Rim. Education in his formative years was in Protestant parochial schools in rural towns in Oregon and California. He is a graduate of Portland State University where he received a Bachelor’s Degree with two majors in General Studies emphasizing Psychology and Literature; the Oregon Military Academy, where he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Army Infantry; and the University of Oregon, where he received a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Sculpture with a thesis in Sound Sculpture.
Erik has worked in a number of occupations, including laboratory analyst at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and at North American Aviation in Los Angeles where he performed quality control studies on the escape rocket module of the Apollo Moon Rockets. He is a Vietnam Era War veteran and received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for participation in Operation White Coat, a biological warfare unit.
Other employment includes mortician’s assistant, insurance executive, baker, restaurant waiter, Graduate Teaching Fellow at the University of Oregon, English teacher in Japan, display designer for Macy’s and Nordstrom, advertising copy writer, and Senior Probation Officer for the County of San Diego, California.
Erik has been a Stoic for more than 50 years, and works full time for the Stoic community. He is the founder of the cybercity New Stoa, the eMagazine “Registry Report,” the College of Stoic Philosophers, the eJournal “The Stoic Philosopher,” and the Marcus Aurelius School. He lives in San Diego, California, with his wife, a practitioner of oriental medicine.