Stoic Letter 21
I recently caught up with Mike, a former co-worker I used to be very close with. We hadn’t talked for three years, but it felt like only yesterday since the last time we met up in London. After our call, I got in a bit of a reflective mood.
Mike and I started our jobs seven years ago on the same day. That’s how we became friends; two hungry guys who were trying to climb the corporate ladder. A year and some change later, I left the job to pursue a writing career. But he kept at it. Sometimes you look back at things and think, “Time goes by so fast, it’s not funny anymore.” It reminded me about Seneca’s thoughts on the shortness of life.
He argued that life is not about how long you live, it’s about how you use the time that you have. As you know, these Stoic Letters are inspired by Seneca, who said: “Teach me that the good of life does not depend on its length, but its employment, and that it is possible, in fact very often so, that a man who has lived a long time has not lived enough.”
Sometimes, we try to get ahead of ourselves by looking at what’s in front of us. We look at better times that are ahead. Especially right now, with the world trying to get back to normal after COVID.
I’m naturally a person who does that a lot. As a kid, I always dreamed of what my life would look like in the future. And I still think about the future a lot. It gives me the energy and motivation to keep doing my best every single day. But I also need to remind myself that life is not only about tomorrow. Because if you’re too focused on the future, you’ll become a person who never has lived enough. That’s what Seneca was talking about.
When you always feel like your life is not complete, and something in the future will make you whole, you’re never content. It’s one of the toughest paradoxes in life. On the one hand, we need to plan, invest in ourselves, and save money, so we have a better future. But if we put too much weight on our future plans, we risk becoming dependent on them. That’s the last thing most of us want.
We want to live a good life — NOW. When death comes knocking, we can’t say something like, “Hold on, just give me a few more months, I’m in the middle of starting a new business.” That’s how most of us go through life — in the middle of something: Getting a degree, buying a house, aiming for a promotion, writing a book, you name it. But we all know we’re not going to live forever.
So, what to do? Forget about the future and only live for today? Or plan for the future and forget about today. That’s the paradox. And there’s not an easy answer to this because life happens in seasons. Sometimes we’re more focused on the future, especially when we’re going to college, switching careers, coming back from an emotionally draining break up, you name it.
But the majority of our time should be spent on enjoying today. Not because life is short. No, that all depends on your perspective. What matters is that you live well. And funnily enough, we all have an answer to what that exactly means to us. We just need to live according to our definition of it every day. That’s a well-lived life. All the best.