Stoic Letters
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Stoic Letters

Why self-improvement benefits more than you — letter 35

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning — Benjamin Franklin

In this publication I attempt to translate the Moral Letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In letter 35 Seneca discusses why self-improvement benefits more than you.

When I ask you to spend time studying, I’m actually being rather selfish. This is because I don’t want to be friends with someone who is not interested in self-improvement. Or with a person who isn’t bothered to learn how to be a better version of themselves. Do you think this is a strange way to think about friendship? Well let me tell you a few things about what friendship really means.

You might think that because we enjoy each others company this makes us friends. Not so. You’re making the mistake of confusing what friendship with love. A friend loves you, of course; but a person who loves you is not always your friend. And by constantly improving, then you’ll learn to love yourself.

We all long for genuine human connections, and even in a busy life with lots of people around us, these genuine connections can be hard to find. We socialize online, but that’s not very genuine. We work with people, but often that’s task-oriented and not human connection-oriented. We might have family and friends in our lives, but when we are busy or distracted by the online world, those connections might fade.

But I’ve been lucky enough to make a handful of good friends, who wake up every day with gratitude and energy. I’m lucky to have them, and it makes me reflect on what I’ve done right, and what they do all the time when making connections with people. Because you’re trying to improve yourself for my benefit you’ll become one of these people. Plus I predict that you improving will help me to improve too. I’ll see how much progress you’ve made, and want to try to keep up!

Getting back to my previous point, about friendship and love. Of course, we feel happy when we are with those we love. Even thinking about them when we’re not with them gives us a brief moment of joy. And if you learn to love yourself as I suggest, then you’ll always have a reason to feel happy. I’d advise you to be consistent in making progress with your learning. Be like a sailboat on the sea. The boat will be affected by the changing directions of the wind. But if you have a destination, and a course to follow then you’ll not go far wrong.

A good way of measuring how far you’ve come is to think about what you want. Is it the same as yesterday? If not, then this shows that hopefully you’ve changed for the better. And by reflecting back on this you’ll become motivated to keep doing making positive changes, no matter what. You’ll encounter obstacles, and falter and fall. Just get up and keep going. You’ll face temptations and give in. That’s OK. Just keep going. You’ll make mistakes and get discouraged. No matter … just keep going. Learn from your mistakes, and … keep going. No matter what happens, keep going. If you’re taking baby steps, you’re holding yourself accountable, and you’re actually doing something, you’ll get there.

Take care.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash



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Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson

Big ideas and important articles. Writing to help you make sense of the world. And cope with being human.