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036 - On Defining Your Own Success - Moral Letters for Modern Times

To follow your own mind, especially when it directs a course that goes against all others, is the greatest achievement.
Mountain meadows with steep mountains in background - Moral Letters to Lucilius
Photo by James Bellerjeau

If you would be a true friend to your friend, then advise him to stand firm on his decision to stand down from his position. The title, the prestige, the pay, these are but little compared to his peace of mind. The many who challenge him and call him crazy for quitting in his prime do not know him. If you consider how hard we must work to know ourselves, what chance is there that another knows us better?

No, the critics flail about not because they know his heart, but for another reason: to go along with the crowd is comforting, because it requires no thought. When one pushes off confidently in another direction, they must be crazy, for otherwise what does it say about the crowd? People will happily convict a person who challenges their unspoken convictions so as to avoid challenging themselves to think.

“He is lazy,” claims this one. “He is afraid of failure,” says the next. When people accuse others, they often are giving you a window into themselves. Because our imagination is weak, we see in others the things we feel in ourselves. And I do not need to tell you that there is another kind of friend, the one who wishes secretly to see you fail. Your value to such a friend is that they feel superior to you. This one does not rejoice in your joy, but feels only envy when seeing your success.

Upon seeing one who, knowing his own mind and dealing honestly with the results of his thoughts, makes a hard decision, do we give courage or cast doubt? You are no false friend. As such, congratulate your friend that he has finally come to know himself. To do what everyone does requires no thought and little effort. To follow your own mind, especially when it directs a course that goes against all others, is the greatest achievement. Compared to this, no amount of riches or power amounts to anything. And without self-possession, no amount of possessions will satisfy.

If you wish to capture success, the greatest weapon you can arm yourself with is not a physical thing. It is not bargained for with money, or even bought with bonds of loyalty. Though you surround yourself with things to serve as legions of defenders on every front, still the enemy slinks undetected into your tent and into your thoughts. To protect yourself from harm, you do not need to add to your army, but rather to subtract from it: lose the fear of loss and give up wants. If you yourself can take these things away, no one can take anything from you. Then you will have cleared the field and made the way for satisfaction and joy to win the day.

Be well.

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