Practical Paths to Flourishing: Stoicon-x Women is coming up soon, and I know there are questions out there about what this event will be like. This is a historic conference—nothing like it has ever taken place in the 2,300-year history of Stoicism! But that also means no one knows what to expect. My co-organizer, Kathryn Koromilas, and I just wanted to give you some background and let you know a little about the purpose and program of Stoicon-x Women. We invite everyone (that’s right, everyone!) to join us for a day devoted to thinking, talking, and learning about flourishing.
Motivation for the Conference
Why did we see a need for a conference devoted to women and Stoicism? Most readers are probably aware that Stoicism, in both ancient and modern times, skews heavily masculine. Philosophy has historically been very male-oriented and male-dominated, and that trend continues into the 21st century.
All of the leading ancient Stoics were men, and very few women were allowed to study philosophy in ancient Greece and Rome (although there were notable exceptions). As a result, only a male perspective is represented in the ancient texts, like Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations or Epictetus’s Discourses. At times there are even outright misogynistic statements in these ancient texts, which make us cringe today but which were completely characteristic of the time. So it can be hard for women who pick up a book on Stoicism to break through the masculine vibe and connect Stoic principles to their own lives. It may seem irrelevant or even unappealing to women.
All of this adds up to having women under-represented in the Stoic community, even today. That’s really unfortunate because we know how incredibly valuable Stoicism is for all humans, including women! One major reason we are holding this conference is to present Stoicism in a way that’s accessible and relevant for women.
That’s not to say that women can’t relate to Stoic texts in the traditional sense or can’t participate equally in the Stoic community at large. We completely reject any suggestion that this conference represents a less serious version of Stoicism. Stoicism is Stoicism. It has the same underlying principles for everyone. Everyone has their own challenges as they try to live a good life. What we want this conference to do is simply spotlight the ways women see Stoicism meeting the challenges of their own lives. We want to amplify voices that have not traditionally been heard and highlight a different perspective on a universal philosophy.
At the same time that we’re celebrating women’s voices in the Stoic community, we have no wish to exclude the voices of anyone else. We don’t see philosophy as a zero-sum game, where some people must lose if others win. Instead, we think that when women win, everyone else wins too. Women hold society together, and strong, flourishing women equals a strong, flourishing world. Our conference aims to welcome and include everyone who wants to live a happy life. We want to help everyone win. We hope that each of you will take this conference as a personal invitation to reach deeper into your Stoic practice and continue your own journey toward flourishing.
Finding Your Path
So what exactly will we be talking about at the conference? The name says it all: practical paths to flourishing. Kathryn and I were very intentional in choosing the name of this conference because we truly want it to be a source of practical wisdom and inspiration for you. We will be touching on some Stoic theory, but for the most part it’s all about practical ways for you to incorporate Stoicism into your life.
We also wanted to evoke the idea of a journey: each of us is on our own lifelong path toward happiness, and each path is both completely unique but also, in some ways, universal. We are all working with the same basic equipment – human nature and the experience of a human life – but we have slightly different circumstances and we all have different personal gifts.
This conference is even for those of you who don’t consider yourselves completely Stoic! You will hear from some speakers who don’t call themselves Stoics but who draw inspiration and wisdom from the Stoic tradition. Some prefer to use Stoicism alongside other wisdom traditions, and some even question a few points of orthodox Stoicism. This is the beauty of thinking for yourself. Stoicism asks us not to blindly follow someone else’s ideas, or to take anything on faith. You need to understand in your own mind why you believe the things you believe. What’s important here today is not that you become a card-carrying Stoic, but that you find a philosophy of life that makes sense to you and that you can apply every day in your own life.
Which leads us to the main component of our conference theme: flourishing. This is how we translate the ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia, which means ultimate happiness in the deep sense of living a good and meaningful life. When people in the 21st century talk about happiness, they usually mean a temporary emotion that results from something external, like eating an ice cream cone or buying a new car. But that’s not what Stoics mean by happiness.
Stoics say: if your happiness depends on external things, then it can easily be taken away from you. If you want to really be happy, you need to base your happiness on something much more stable, something that is completely within your control. So true happiness is not an emotion but rather a state of mind. It’s how you respond to the world, which is completely based on the internal condition of your mind.
It’s like the old saying, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. You choose your responses to the world, so you can still make good lemonade even if life hands you lemons. If you practice enough and train with Stoic mental techniques, you can develop your character and your mindset so you respond well to any challenge that life throws at you. Flourishing does not depend on what’s going on around you; you could be living through very difficult circumstances but still flourish because of your internal response to those difficult circumstances. This idea of flourishing is really fundamental to finding a mindset and a life philosophy that works for you.
So part of what we’re doing at this conference is looking at your journey, your path toward fulfillment and long-lasting happiness, and thinking deeply about how Stoicism can help you get where you’re going. All of our talks are going to give you fuel for this journey. Our speakers will share parts of their own stories and how they apply Stoicism and other life philosophies in their own lives. We want our speakers to be very honest with you, to share both the ups and downs of their personal paths to flourishing. No one is claiming to be a sage. We are all working toward flourishing just like you are. What we hope to do with this conference is start a conversation with women from all walks of life to explore how Stoicism can help us flourish in our individual ways.
Learn More About the Conference
If you’d like to learn more, check out our conference website, pathstoflourishing.org, which is really our hub for all things Paths to Flourishing! You’ll find our conference program and detailed information about our speakers and the amazing work they are doing. You’ll see that our speakers include philosophers, creatives, entrepreneurs, teachers, and Stoic practitioners from many other walks of life. We have both familiar faces and new voices, but all our speakers share a passion for helping others flourish.
Pathstoflourishing.org also features beautiful stories from many of our speakers and conference attendees. We asked anyone whose life has been influenced by Stoicism to share their #pathstoflourishing story, and the results are truly inspiring. And there is room for plenty more! If you’d like to share your own journey with others, you can fill out the form on the website and we’ll be happy to include yours alongside everyone else’s. You’ll notice also that this is not just for women–we would love to hear from men too! You can read #pathstoflourishing stories from Donald Robertson, Sharon Lebell, and many others.
We also want this conference to be a place where you connect with other Stoics and Stoic-curious people. It’s not just about sitting and listening to the speakers! We’re providing designated spaces for you to connect and chat with other Stoics. We really hope you’ll be able to get to know some of the other attendees who, just like you, are here to learn more about how Stoicism can help them flourish.
Please Join Us!
We are very excited and proud that the first ever event on Stoicism and women is taking place through Modern Stoicism! Tickets are available at pathstoflourishing.org for a donation amount (choose your own amount), and all sessions will be recorded for viewing after the conference. We hope everyone will be able to join us for this special, one-of-a-kind event in the history Stoicism!
Brittany Polat writes about Stoic psychology, development, and motivation at Living in Agreement. She is also co-organizer and co-host of the upcoming Stoicon-x Women conference. You can also find and follow her on Twitter.