In our third except from Marcin Fabjanski’s book Street Stoicism (only published in Polish, as Stoicyzm Uliczny) we look at a Stoic response to missed opportunities…
All is lost. And it was so close. If only I had gone and talked to the boss instead of wondering whether it’s appropriate, I would be the project manager now. But no – I will keep sweating my guts out doing everybody else’s job, and someone else is going to get praised for it. I will never get to a higher position, and I am not getting younger every day. Who knows when this kind of opportunity might happen again. I will probably be so old and burnt out working on my position that they won’t trust me with the project anyway.
I lost all my life because of my lack of vigilance at one particular moment. This loss is irreparable. Now it can only get worse. If I had thought then, if I had used my rusty brain cells to judge the situation in a realistic way. Why didn’t I do anything? Did I have to sleep through this unique opportunity?
I am hopeless. It will be best if I quit. Become unemployed. Someone like me shouldn’t occupy a workplace in the times of high unemployment. I should die slowly in some homeless shelter, forgotten by everybody. I will die and nobody is going to notice it, after all I’ve been useless all my life. A permanent loser.
‘Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don’t stop it.’
Epictetus (trans. Elizabeth Carter).
Concentrate on what is appearing in front of you at the banquet called life. Reach for tidbits with a free mind – do not get emotionally attached to them. Neither to the ones that you’ve eaten nor to the ones that you didn’t manage to get hold of because the waiter had moved to the other corner of the room with his tray.
The past is a phantom that will never become flesh. Schopenhauer says: “How foolish it is to regret and deplore the fact that in the past we let slip the opportunity for some pleasure or good fortune! For what more would we have now? Just the shrivelled-up mummy of memory.”
Am I not to be angry that I’ve lost something forever? – you might say. – Surely I have the right to a little regret. Is that so? The Stoics would consider self-pity to be mental poison, especially dangerous because it makes you develop a bad mental habit and diverts your attention from the present moment – the only moment when you live. Marcus Aurelius would put it this way: „When thou art troubled about anything,(…) thou hast forgotten that every man lives the present time only, and loses only this.”
You can’t lose the past. It’s already gone.
TAMING THE SITUATION
Every now and again try and imagine that life is a banquet. Exercise this image, especially when you feel that that you’ve missed something. The banquet of life is full of constant motion. It would be absurd to demand that everybody should stop moving and talking all of a sudden, or move out of your way – in order to let you search for tidbits effectively.
Accept the necessity of constant motion, which is governed by rules that are independent of you. Take advantage of opportunities that arise close to the place where this endless circulation puts you. Do not stare hopelessly at the back of the waiter, who will disappear among the crowd in a moment.