Millennials are known for a number of things, but passion is at the top of the list. We are social entrepreneurs, who search for ways to innovate and make the world a better place. We are dancers, who practice countless hours to perfect our pirouette. We are documentarians, who spend months developing and telling stories of the voiceless. But there is a downside to all of the ambition and passion. We are often extremely hard on ourselves and feel rushed to succeed.
The philosophy of stoicism may be part of the answer to this problem. The basis of the Greek philosophy is 'Give me the strength to change the things I can, accept the things I cannot and the wisdom to know the difference.' It teaches us that when something negative (or even positive) happen in our lives, we should always face it with understanding and acceptance. The famous saying goes 'Don't cry over spilled milk'. Stoicism teaches that since the milk already spilled, there is no way to change what happened. So we should just accept it, and move on.
Followers of the stoic philosophy include Conde Nast CEO Jonathan Newhouse, former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan and reportedly, former president Bill Clinton. Newhouse has said that the stoic philosophy has been vital in helping him deal with disappointment and opposition in both his personal life and career.
Stoicism is especially important for millennials today, because competition is fiercer than ever before for jobs in the diminishing market. We're bound to experience more failures, so stoicism teaches us to let go of that feeling of disappointment when things don't go the way we planned. We face failure in internship and job rejections, breakups, grades, sports, family relationships, and the list goes on. Stoicism is liberating in this regard. While our attempts to influence the world around us are susceptible to luck, failure and letdowns, the only thing at which we can fully succeed is having control over ourselves, and choosing how we will react to situations.
Many millennials are in a rush to 'make it,' and often times we get so caught up in joining the '30 under 30' list that we forget that life goes on after 30. It's easy to judge ourselves and have our passions get clouded with thoughts like 'Am I good enough?' In my case, stoicism has helped me see how impermanent everything is and how learning to let go might be the most valuable lesson of all. We will all get to where we need to go in life, as long as we choose to pursue our passions now.
Since I first read Letters from a Stoic two years ago, I'm learning that where I am is where I'm supposed to be. I'm learning to enjoy the journey, rather than view the end goal as the only source to my happiness. When I was younger, I thought getting into college would be 'making it,' and I never learned to appreciate just living. And when I started college, this ideal turned into finding a great job after I graduate. And that's just it. Happiness always seemed to be in the future. With my adoption of the stoic philosophy today, I have also learned to be grateful for all the opportunities I've had, and translate my appreciation into action. I will always keep pursuing my dream of empowering people in disadvantaged circumstances, but I have learned not to be so hard on myself in the process. Failure is an opportunity, not a be-all end-all.
I am not yet a stoic, although it is the philosophy that I try to live by. I lose focus sometimes, reacting to things that are outside of my control, but I consistently remind myself these things don't need to be that significant after all. There is no right or wrong way to think, but there are certainly more effective methods for finding fulfillment and living a life I love. And stoicism is one of these methods.
So wipe up the spilled milk, and pour yourself a new glass. You've got plenty of time.