The Accidental Stoic Pt. 5 — Practice Misfortune
(If you have already read one of the other parts, you can skip the intro. I wanted to make sure all readers had the background no matter which lesson they were starting on. Enjoy!).
I love Tim Ferriss.
I love Ryan Holiday.
When you go through something traumatic you find yourself looking for answers, grasping for knowledge.
You hate the way you feel.
You don’t know what to do yet, but you know you never want to feel this way again.
But what can you do?
You allow yourself to be teachable.
Allow yourself the opportunity to learn from your mistakes so you don’t have to relive them again.
Two of the people that I turned to were: Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday. They practice and preach Stoicism: the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.
In these blogs I am going to break down 5 pillars of the philosophy (Time Is Brief, Overcome Adversity, Live A Life Of Character, Self-Awareness, and Practicing Misfortune), and explain how I became one without even knowing it. What a pleasant surprise! Nothing like having a goal and realizing you are already there!
I find the best way to allow yourself permission to be teachable is either acknowledging the desire and need to learn or finding yourself in stories about other people and applying it to your own life.
1. Practice Misfortune:
No comforts of home.
Become face to face with want.
Realize you can handle more than you thought.
Anxiety and fear are rooted in uncertainty. Show yourself that you can deal with the unknown.
This is the stoic practice that jumped out at me the most. Practicing misfortune is what started the whole idea of this Accidental Stoic series. I am not sure if anything addresses misfortune, at least in this sense, better than a tiny cell in a 150 year old prison (with another person).
Poverty? I had no money. I refused to have my wife put anything on “my books” other than for necessities. I wanted to feel every ounce of my punishment. I knew it would make me better and stronger on the other end. I didn’t want to try and mask the emotional turmoil I was in with Top Ramen, canned sausages, and chips like all the other idiots around me. I wanted the cement and bars in my veins. I wanted them to harden my heart so I would get out of there and be a machine. Concrete and steel. No more fucking around.
Even when I got to Soledad and got a job, I made $0.09 an hour. Just enough for toothpaste, floss, and deodorant at the commissary once a month.
They don’t serve you much food. I was hungry all the time. My first day out I went to In N Out and couldn’t even finish a hamburger. I got full too fast. This was a single burger too. No double-double or anything. That’s how much my stomach had shrunk.
Now I fast once a quarter, 5 days at a time, for physical and mental health reasons. On top of that there are a lot of advantages to not being a slave to your stomach.
Poor clothing? You mean my set of blues for chow and my basketball shorts and white t-shirt for everything else? Or my PIA issued converse-style sneakers? Yeah. Poor clothing, check!
No comforts of home? That’s easy, wasn’t home. No family. No friends. Nothing. 10 minutes phone calls at the end of the day, if the phones were working, if they decided to give us yard, that’s it.
All I wanted to do was be home. See my wife and daughter. BBQ with my parents. Go to my in-laws on Sundays. That’s it. Get home, show everyone that this will not defeat me, and that I will be better than ever. That is something I still think about every day. Show everyone that no matter how fucked you are, you can pull yourself out. I want that for my daughter more than anything. Show her that you only lose if you give up.
I never thought I would have made it through prison. Why would I? There are people that wanted me there because they didn’t think I would make it either. But I did, and I did it well. I’m not afraid of going back. I can do prison. That is not something I am proud of, but it’s something I know I can do. If I can deal with prison, and all the crazy shit that happens there, what can’t I handle out here? Exactly. Absolutely nothing.
That’s what happens to people after traumatic events. Wars, attacks, tornadoes, hurricanes. They catch a glimpse of their true strength, the types of things they can make it through, and it’s a power surge.
That’s the real reason the Greatest Generation is the greatest generation, they were tested. Mentally, physically, emotionally, everything. Basically a whole generation of men and women had to go to war, had to deal with war. If you made it back, after seeing what you saw, after doing what you did, what the hell can compare back in real life? Absolutely nothing.
Look at really great people. I mean REALLY great. They all had to make it through something. The greatest people of our generation had to deal with something traumatic that allowed them to tap in to their potential, their strength, and their greatness. None of them would be who they are without it.
This was my trauma.
This was my insight.
This is what I can compare every difficult thing to for the rest of my life.
Nothing will be as bad as San Quentin, and I was able to go through that at 34. That gives me about 50 years of ammo.
Wish I could have gotten that insight on purpose.
But accidents aren’t always bad.