Should a Stoic Take a Day Off?
In Stoicism and some other philosophies, there is a strong sense of duty. There is an obligation to contribute to the world so that we can all build something better for the present generation as well as future generations. It may seem that the implication here is that you must work day and night in order to fulfill each and every one of your obligations. But is this the Stoic way, or is there a place for a day off now and then?
The Stoic Duty
One purpose of Stoicism is to find eudaemonia, or a state of flourishing, as an individual. However, this is only the most immediate circle of concern. That state of flourishing extends to your family, your community, and eventually, the world. That is, we could say that the purpose of Stoicism is to move the world closer to a state of flourishing.
What that means in practice is actually what we call “work” today. Unfortunately, many of us have the notion that work is something that we don’t want to do. Personally, I think that this is a horrible definition. Work should be something that you find deeply meaningful, and what makes a job meaningful is a combination of what the world needs, what your fellow human beings need, and what you, as an individual, can offer. Your duty as a Stoic is to do that work to the best of your ability.
An Impossible Goal
The goal stated above — to do your best — is somewhat impossible. It’s a paradox of sorts — your ‘best’ is not actually your best because you can always do better, yet you have to be content with that. It must be understood that perfection is not real, and, even if it were, you would still only be a single person!
Where this aim for perfection manifests itself in the workplace is workaholics — people who can never get away from their work. Each and every day, they grind on their duty, throwing their life way out of balance.
The truth is that you will never — never — work enough to complete all of your work. There’s an infinite amount of injustice in the world, of good to do. Is it not crazy to even contemplate being able to finish that to-do list every day? No matter how much you do, you could, in theory, always do more.
This fact — that the work is infinite — may seem overwhelming. How should we best act in the face of this? Should we maximize our work each and every day in an attempt to fulfill this duty even though it’s an impossible task?
Yes, and no.
Yes, you should maximize your productivity and efficiency regarding your contribution to the world. At the same time, you should understand that you are merely human. You have a limit while the work list does not. Hence, the Stoic, in my mind, is one who is able to look at the long list of tasks still left to do at the end of the day and still find a way to be content with what was actually achieved.
It is easy to get consumed by the fight, never taking a rest or a brief moment to pause and reflect. However, the virtuous one can put down the sword every now and then and laugh with their fellow man. As important as it is to fulfill your duty, it is equally as important to not take life too seriously sometimes. When held in the right balance, this paradox is the virtuous life in my mind.
Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in learning more, listen to similar reflections on The Strong Stoic Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.