Stoic Letter 22
One of the good things about the pandemic was that we quickly got used to being on our own. It was a forced exercise in self-reliance. When you spend most of your time at home, often the result is that you look at what you want to get out of your days. It’s a good way to live because you’re focusing on what you control.
But as more and more things are getting back to normal this year, we’re starting to look outwardly again. And when we do that, we automatically start comparing ourselves to others. Have you noticed this as well? You hear about some people who already went on a vacation in March, and think, “Why am I not getting out there?” You start feeling behind. Other people are fully back to normal, and you’re still not there yet.
And then, envy creeps back in. When that happens, we start making stupid decisions. We do things that are out of character. We waste our energy looking at the lives of others. And worst, we think our lives suck compared to others.
Don’t be fooled by the outward appearances of other people. When people show off their success, possessions, luxurious holidays, and prestige, they are masking something. When you look at what someone is sharing on social media, you always have to remember that you’re seeing a curated version of what they want to share.
Epictetus said it best: “People with more prestige, power, or some other distinction are not necessarily happier because of what they have. There is no reason to be envious or jealous of anyone.”
Jealousy is one of the biggest problems in our careers as well. For example, a lot of writers compare themselves to others. They look at external factors: Someone’s followers, likes, or people they are friends with.
This is nonsense. Why should we compare ourselves with others? It’s a losing game because there is always someone “better” than you. If you have one million readers, there’s always someone with two million, and someone else with ten million.
Another reason for jealousy is when we see certain people hanging out with each other. We want to be a part of their club. But when you see people name-dropping and spending time with certain people, understand that they may be insecure. They measure themselves by the people who they spend time with.
Let me give you an example of how this works in the music industry. When young artists are coming up, they are always concerned with getting “co-signed” by established artists. They want to attach their image to someone who’s successful.
One of my favorite rappers, J. Cole, did this when he started. He signed with Jay-Z’s record label, and had a lot of other famous artists on his first album. But as he came into his own as an artist, he let all of that go. His latest three albums have zero features. It’s all him. And he’s still one of the most successful rappers in recent history.
But the problem is that most artists never establish their own identity. They always need that co-sign. They want to get close to other successful people because they feel like they are not good enough. And it seems like that’s more important than their music.
But as Epictetus says, we should only focus on our freedom: “Our concern should be our freedom, not titles and prestigious positions. The way to freedom is not to be too concerned about things we don’t control.”
Every time you feel envious, check your priorities. Take the envy as a sign to adjust your perspective. And look, it happens to all of us. I’m someone who dislikes social media, but there are times I get caught looking at fancy mansions and luxurious vacations. When that happens, I look at my own house, and it suddenly doesn’t seem good enough compared to an eight-bedroom villa with a sea view.
So I take this as a sign to practice Stoicism. I go within myself again and focus on what I control. As you can see from these letters, that’s always the answer. Whether the problem is jealousy or overthinking, we can always find the solutions within ourselves.
And before I end this letter, I want to share this. It’s a good thing to be satisfied with your life the way that it is. I know that the grass is always greener. But if you’re healthy and you’ve got a few people who care about you, life ain’t so bad. All the best.