“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5
Life is difficult. Not only because of the world-changing humanity-impacting events that happen globally but also because of the little things that happen to us as individuals every day. The boss yells at us for a mediocre job and fires us, we turn in the assignment a bit late and hence lose a few points on it, your favorite bagel shop runs out of whole wheat everything bagel on a Sunday morning. These are all things that happen to people all the time and are discouraging. These are the times we start to lose faith in ourselves and in the world. I think it’s not what happened that makes us feel like utter shit, but instead its more about the feeling that maybe we could’ve changed the outcome somehow if only we had been at the right place at the right time and said or did the right thing. But what we forget is that most things are simply out of our control. It has never been more evident than in this pandemic-stricken world. I believe about 99.9% of the things that happen are completely out of our control and hence we should not think too much about them. What we should focus our attention on is the 0.1%. That is where we should direct our undivided attention and must strategize to solve them. Because whether we like it or not, we really cannot do anything about what we can’t control. Every day, we have to make an active choice about what we can control and simply work on that. That is one of the fundamental tenets of stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius, one of the greatest Roman emperors would tell us the same. To let go of most things and just work on the few things we can control. I know that it is much easier said than done, but so is finding happiness in life.
This article is a part of my Stoic Musings challenge, inspired by the book “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, where I take a quote from the book and reflect on it, every day.