You Were Born Good – The Daily Stoic – Part 4 of 366

The human being is born with an inclination toward virtue.

Musonius Rufus, Lectures, 2.7.1-2

I remember the very moment I moved from the religious segment of the population to the non-religious segment of the population. My family is Catholic on my mothers side, and I spent a decent amount of my childhood doing all of the traditional things: Sunday school, religious readings, countless church ceremonies, and painfully long services during the holidays. In general it seemed fine; it was even fun sometimes. And then one day it came time for First Confession, and I just did not understand the concept.

Why does everyone assume they are bad? Sure, maybe we have done some stuff we regret and we may want to talk about it, but why is the assumption that I need to confess that I did something wrong? I mostly felt like I was just being a pretty normal kid that did normal kid stuff. What was wrong with that? And then I started thinking more about original sin, and it pushed me away even further. Everyone is a sinner because someone screwed up thousands of years ago? That doesn’t even make sense.

But what Musonius Rufus says above does make sense. We are born with an inclination toward virtue. Evolution favors those who are willing to work together and be kind to each other. Our default mode of operation when we are born is to not be an asshole; that is something a few people learn along the way. That means there is hope in this too. You were born good. If you are no longer good, or perhaps just not as good as you would like to be, you have simply deviated from your baseline. It is not your destiny. It is a matter of seeking out better ideas and behaviors, and then spending the time and energy to focus on returning to the original you.

Who Get’s The Lion’s Share? – The Daily Stoic – Part 3 of 366

Aren’t you ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnants of your life and to dedicate to wisdom only that time can’t be directed to business?

— Seneca, On The Brevity Of Life, 3.5b

“I’m so busy! But it is better to be busy than bored!”

Hang around me long enough and you’ll eventually hear me say this. It is like a catch phrase. And, to a certain extent, I think there is some truth to it: I would rather have too much interesting stuff to do than not enough. I honestly don’t remember the last time I was actually bored.

However, I started to introspect this earlier this year. Sure, I’m busy. Everyone is busy. It is a chronic problem in America. Can I stop being busy? Am I busy with the right things? Also, if people are so busy, how do we find so much time for Netflix, Youtube, Facebook, and so on? Most people delegate their reading activities to be occasional, or a few minutes before bed when their brains are already tired, but this is backwards. We should make time for the important things, and that includes time to “dedicate to wisdom.”

Stop being busy, and stop making excuses. Take a look at where you spend your time, and be intentional about dropping things that do not add value and maximizing time on the things that do. In particular, make time for thinking about the biggest questions in life so that you are always working towards some answers.

Nourishment of your mind and soul are not second to anything else. Focusing on them will pay dividends into everything you do.

Some parting thoughts on this concept:

  • Reserve for yourself the lion’s share. Tend your own garden, and then give the rest of your time graciously to those people and things deserving of it. The remnants are for things that don’t matter, not the other way around.
  • Everyone has time to study philosophy. Maybe its a podcast while you are in the shower, a Youtube video on the toilet, a book before bed time, or an hour every weekend. The time is there, you just need to make use of it.

Character Is Fate – The Daily Stoic – Part 2 of 366

Each person acquires their own character, but their official roles are designated by chance. You should invite some to your table because they are deserving, others because they may come to deserve it.

— Seneca, Moral Letters, 47.15b

Let’s say you are an engineering manager in charge of hiring a junior engineer, and you are considering two applicants. One is a student that went to a state college but didn’t finish. However, their Github account is quite compelling and it seems as if they have been writing code for many years. The other applicant graduated from Stanford with good but not amazing grades. Their resume shows one internship during their senior year, and there was no code provided with his application. Which do you choose?

Most people’s gut instinct is probably the latter. They graduated college from a top school and did an internship. However, they didn’t provide any context regarding their actual ability. All that code they wrote in their internship is proprietary; you wont get to see it. You have less risk in that they are credentialed and perhaps previously vetted by where they did their internship, but those are not necessarily indicators of ability.

On the other hand, the first student gave you information to de-risk their application: they gave you lots of code to look at. Browsing through it you can clearly determine they are not an idiot. However, they couldn’t seem to stick with a college program long enough to graduate and perhaps have no professional experience, so while their ability may be high you still have plenty of risk related to professionalism.

The real answer to the question is that you don’t have enough information. This is why we do tech screens, phone calls, interviews, and the like. We are trying to suss out each applicant’s character in addition to their ability. And they should be doing the same for the company.

Interestingly, most of the worst engineers I’ve worked with were senior and set in their ways. They all looked great on paper, but it turns out that you can do something wrong for ten years and still claim you have ten years of experience. You can also be a jerk who wields a masters degree like it makes you better than everyone else, but in reality it just means you have fewer years writing actual code that made it to production.

My point in all of this is to say that it is the character of these people that matters the most. Do not waste your time and energy on people who don’t deserve it. That said, give most folks a chance. Everyone has a different background and set of experiences, and that means they plenty to offer you.

Some parting thoughts on this concept:

  • Unfortunately, luck does play a big role in life. You could be the hardest working person in existence and still be dealt a thunderous blow that destroys your health, wealth, family, or career. And, on the other side of the coin, you may reap tremendous rewards without truly working to obtain them. On the whole, a person’s character is their most valuable asset over the long-term.
  • Remember that student above who dropped out of college but loved writing code? That was me. Always give young people a chance; find the ones who are worthy and let them earn their seat at your table.
  • Don’t be afraid to dump, fire, or otherwise remove people with poor character from your life.

We Were Made For Each Other – The Daily Stoic – Part 1 of 366

You’ll more quickly find an earthly thing kept from the earth than you will a person cut off from other human beings.

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.9.3

As the book notes, Marcus Aurelius and his fellow philosophers did not yet know about Newtonian physics, but it is still an apt analogy: the human need to be with other humans is more powerful than the law of gravity.

We are social creatures, for better or worse. As an introvert it took me many years to come to grips with this fact. Oh how tempting it is to cut out all others and just live a life of the mind! All day focused on solving your problems, reading, writing, and so on. And yet, as someone who has done this, I can say it does eventually wear on you and cause problems. You simply cannot overcome millions of years of evolution and your very own biology. I myself realized after many years that I’m not nearly as introverted as I thought, and I became much happier when I found a better balance between “me” time and “we” time.

Some parting thoughts on this concept:

  • The greatest things ever built were made by teams of people, not individuals. If you want to achieve great things, you must strive to work and learn from great people.
  • Invite that weird guy or girl you work with to lunch. It will be good for both of you.
  • It is not easy to care for someone else, but it is also not easy to be cared for.
  • As a general rule, be pro-people and pro-inclusion. Our society seems to have lost this concept along the way, but it is the only way we will survive.

The Daily Stoic – Part 0 of 366

My life has been crazy. Like, really crazy. I would go into further details, but it is a long story (well, many long stories) that can wait until another day. The important takeaway is simply this: life is hard, stressful, unfair, and unpredictable. This isn’t unique to me, or to anyone else, so eventually I started to wonder: how the hell did people deal with the chaos of life over the past two thousand years?

I feel like it took me a long while to arrive at this thought considering people have been dealing with the stress of every day life since… well, literally as long as we have existed. While we have new modern problems, it turns out that many of the problems in our lives are not that different from those who lived thousands of years ago. Love, grief, wealth, happiness, success; a lot of time and energy has been spent thinking about these things over the course of human existence.

Now I know what you are thinking: didn’t you take philosophy in school? The answer is yes, and I enjoyed it. However, it never felt useful or practical. My goal when asking the question above was to find a framework that can help me deal with some of the bullshit life throws my way, and to help me de-stress my life. Researching how great people in history dealt with their problems led me back to something that was always on my “learn about this eventually” list: stoicism.

I’m not going to dive into the virtues of stoicism here, but I would highly recommend The Obstacle is the Way as a crash course that will get your feet wet and point you in the direction of what to read next. The main thing I will note here is simply this: stoicism is a timeless, battle tested, and, most importantly, practical mental framework about living a good life.

My goal with this long series of posts is to think about and practice these concepts regularly so they do not become stale, fuzzy, or worse, forgotten. Thankfully this is precisely what The Daily Stoic prescribes: read one specific stoic proverb or thought every day, and then articulate my thoughts and reactions. There is one for each and every day, so this will be a year long journey and thus very long series of posts.

Let’s get started.

(Also, as a brief aside, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, considered a god by his people and the most powerful man on the planet during his lifetime, took the time to write in a journal about virtue and how he could become a better person. This writing survives to this day, and you would be crazy not to read it.)

Hello World!

Here we go again.

This is the fourth or fifth time I have rebooted this blog since beginning it way back in 2004 as an 8th grader messing around with WordPress and running multi-player text based games on the Internet.

A lot has changed since I last actively wrote. I suppose we will both see what I have to say this time around.