When you are distressed by an external thing, it’s not the thing itself that troubles you, but only your judgement of it. And you can wipe this out at a moment’s notice.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.47
The book’s example after this quote is about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He spent his whole life dreaming and preparing for his career in politics, but at 39 he got polio. Did he let this horrible disease, an “external thing,” end his hopes and dreams of winning the presidency? We all know the answer given that FDR is widely regarded as one of the greatest political figures in American history.
This one also hits home for me. As we’ve touched on in the past, it is easy to feel like life was unfair in the hand it dealt you and then use that as fuel to generate a myriad of reasons why you don’t have what you want. My dad became disabled when I was in fourth grade. My mother got breast cancer a couple years later, and she died when I was in eleventh grade. My maternal grandfather died that same year. The knock on effects of these events were huge. Almost everything in life changed in some way. My entire childhood was defined by these events, and they were all outside of my control.
It took me a long time to make my peace. Ultimately the feelings of worry, anger, stress, disdain, and sadness were generated from within, and they were holding me back. Changing how I thought about these things very likely saved my life, and only now am I able to look back and see how fortunate I still was in so many ways.
The book ends with the line, “Let’s not confuse acceptance with passivity.” This is an important note. The idea is not to invalidate your feelings, to ignore things, or not to care. It is not about lack of agency, or abdicating your desires and ability (and responsibility) to act. From my view, you should experience the emotions as they come to you. It is good to be sad when sad things happen. But don’t get stuck and dwell on it for too long.
Time moves on, and so should you. Accept the things you cannot change.