“It is unreasonable to think we can earn rewards without being willing to pay their true price.” -Epictetus
These were words of a Greek philosopher, Epictetus, a man who devoted his life to his search for happiness and freedom of the mind. Epictetus was born a slave but was able to study Stoic philosophy as a young man, and when he was eventually freed, he spent the rest of his life teaching ‘the practical art of living’.
I have spent many years studying ‘eastern philosophies’, particularly the yogic and buddhist ways of thinking about the purpose of life, the pursuit of happiness and the nature of the self. So it was an interesting change this month for me to read some of the Stoic philosophers…and to find so much overlap in these schools of thought.
The most obvious take away from the Stoics is this – There are some things that we can control, namely the content of our inner thoughts and our own actions. However most of what we encounter in our life is actually NOT under our control, and letting go our of misguided attempt to control these things is the key to personal freedom.
However, what actually really stood out for me was was the idea that ‘Everything has a cost’. Or rather,
“All advantages have their price.”
The idea that “It is unreasonable to think we can earn rewards without being willing to pay their true price.”
My brother met Tiger Woods last week. As a lifelong golfer and massive fan, he was obviously totally stoked. But it made me reflect that Tiger Woods cannot go anywhere by himself. The cost of his success and wealth has been that he can never just walk down the street in peace, can never just go into a coffee shop or restaurant and eat in peace. He is always watched, always approached, always forced to put on a smile and shake the hand of the latest fan. For a slight introvert like me, this is an inconceivable price to pay.
Maybe this is an obvious example.
But the reason these wise words stood out to me is not because they are obvious, but precisely because they are almost never obvious to us. We all have people we look at – through the screen of our computers or on covers of magazines, in our daily lives or in the realm of our imagination – and we think,“they’ve got it GOOD”…“they’ve got it EASIER”…“wouldn’t it be so much better to have/be like THAT”.
“All advantages have their price.”
It’s so difficult to remember that, for better or worse, circumstances come as packages. Wealth can come with stress, financial complications, jealousy, or fear of losing what has been gained. Success can often come with less leisure time, more stress, the feeling of imposter syndrome or deeper feelings of inadequacy…or the opposite, unfounded visions of infallibility.
Moving into a bigger house also means there are more rooms to keep clean.
So on the one hand, it has made me reflect on all the areas of my life and thoughts in my mind where I long for things to be different than they are…And I have asked myself, “if I had that thing, what are all the other changes and experiences that come with it? Do I want ALL of those? Or at least, is that thing what I REALLY want?”
In the age of social media where we are given close-up exposure to so many different ways of life, so many different kinds of success and achievement, it’s easy to think we can “cherry pick” certain aspects of a life without acknowledging the package that comes with it.
So in a way, it’s given me a new perspective on gratitude. Being satisfied with what my life looks like just as it is.
And it’s also been a great motivation. “All advantages have their price…” so if I want something, I better stop whining to myself and just get on with paying that price. I can’t expect to feel more physically fit unless I actually get out and run. I can’t expect to be a successful writer unless I make the time to WRITE, which means saying no to some things I want to do and working hard.
I enjoyed reading Stoic philosophy so much I convinced my podcasting co-host Clay (who is also a big Stoic fan) to spend two episodes discussing these ideas in more depth. You can have a listen in to episodes 25and 26of the Havana Sessions Podcast.
What do you want? Are you willing to pay the price? Are you willing to accept all the things that come with it? If so, get on with it already. If not, stop pining after that other life.
This is the ‘tough love talk’ from Epictetus to me on a raining autumnal day.