“The reward of a good deed is in having done it.” — Seneca
Being stoic implies mastering the art of being humble.
It`s knowing that there is nothing less humble than seeking fame and reward for our work.
The Stoics work because it’s the right thing to do and the rewards are just extras. Others opinions don`t matter and we can`t control the fame. Both things increase our ego and that is nothing Stoic.
The ego makes us not act as we should.
The problem of fame and reward are very tempting. We all want to be famous. get out in the newspapers, sign autographs and have millions of Instagram followers.
And those rewards are what we must fight.
Why should not we look for rewards?
Rewards are just an extra.
If good fortune rewards us for our work, wonderful. But if it doesn`t happen, we should not worry either.
The rewards are beyond our control.
As Epictetus says, we must focus on those things that we can control and be indifferent to others.
As much as we try. The result we will have after doing a job is something that is beyond our control.
- Maybe as a politician, you spent hours on a project that involves the welfare of many citizens and no one thanks you.
- Maybe as an employee, you work extra hours to deliver a job that the boss does not thank you for.
- Maybe as a student, you did something that none of your classmates thanked you.
Getting used to doing things to receive sun thanks will cause us unhappiness.
There will come a point where we won`t work unless you thank us for our work or praise how good we are.
That kind of reward only alters our perception of reality. We stop working for what is right and we will start working for what is popular.
Others opinions will become our successes measure.
We act according to our Ego
Doing jobs to seek praise only feeds our EGO.
Ryan holiday author of the Ego is the Enemy defines the ego as those insane beliefs we have of ourselves. The ego alters our perception of things. Creates a distorted reality that allows us to act as it should.
Every time we act according to our ego we lose our true potential. We will lose control of our emotions and our life will consist of only feeding that ego.
Others Opinion don´t matter
It`s important that you understand this difference.
It`s one thing to ask for the opinion of others, and another is to seek social approval.
The first one helps us to improve as people. The second is only to inflate our ego.
- If you are a politician the opinion of others is very important. It will let you know where you should focus your attention. You will discover what the real problems of citizens are.
- If you are designing a product, others opinions will allow you to know where there are errors in your product.
However, that opinion of others becomes harmful when you depend on it. You start acting according to the opinion of others.
When all you do is look for rewards.
Doing things to receive some kind of reward makes us dependent on the opinion of others. It is others who will define our conception of success.
And again we will make the same mistake that Epictetus warns us so much: “do not focus on what you can not control.”
We will stop acting for ourselves. We will be like a kind of puppet that only seeks fame and popularity.
How should we proceed?
What you do well will not thank you. Still, your duty is to do things well.
The Stoics acted because they had a deep desire to contribute to society. Success and work saw it as personal fulfillment. Not as a qualifier assigned by others.
This deep desire to do good led the Stoics to take actions that earned him ridicule and insults.
Three characters that give us a good example of how to act
The famous philosopher whose way of thinking condemned him to death. He was pretty heated at the time. Even so, Socrates never failed to fulfill his duty. He never stopped philosophizing with his characteristic manner even moments before his death.
At no time did he care about fame and at no time did he abuse his abilities.
Characters like Epictetus would later say: “We must be like Socrates.”
Cato the Younger:
He was the greatest defender of the Roman Republic, history remembers him as Julius Caesar’s greatest enemy. The life of Cato is characterized by the values of rectitude and by fulfilling his duty. Everything he did was a function of the good of the Roman Republic. Every time they gave him a prize Cato rejected them. He walked barefoot and with ugly clothes through the streets of Rome to make fun of him and thus not worry about his fame.
People like Seneca would later say that Cato represents the values of the ideal Stoic.
One of the greatest military strategists and at the same time one of the least known. His exploits are compared to those of Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great. Still, nobody knows him.
Belisarius was general of the Roman army during the reign of Justinian when the Byzantine Empire. He made numerous achievements:
He had enough power to take control of Rome. Still, I did not. Belisario never sought fame and fortune even though he could do it. He preferred to remain humble and continue to do his duty.
Exercises not to seek rewards for our work
1) Do not expect anybody’s thanks
Your duty is always to do what is right. It does not matter if only a person thanks you, if nobody thanks you, or if they criticize what you do. Your duty is to act because it is correct.
In addition, we would be using negative visualization. If you never expect praise the day you do it, you will be more grateful.
2) Contemplate the immensity of the world
The best way to keep ourselves humble is by contemplating the immensity of the world.
It is a stoic exercise where you compare yourself with the whole world. It is an exercise practiced by Marcus Aurelius.
“Consider the lives led once by others, long ago, the lives to be led by others after you, the lives led even now, in foreign lands. How many people don’t even know your name. How many will soon have forgotten it. How many offer you praise now — and tomorrow, perhaps, contempt. That to be remembered is worthless. Like fame. Like everything.” — 30, Book IX of Marcus Aurelius
And Marcus Aurelius is right. We can be very successful, but in the end, we will always be one more.
We can be influencers and have 10 million followers. But the whole world is 7 billion people. That is not even 1% of the population.
We can be great writers but in many languages, they will not read us.
We can have a Gold medal in the Olympic Games but many people also have it.
3) Do not worry about your fame
And instead of exerting effort to gain fame, shouldn’t a person strive to overcome his thirst for it? — Lectures 7.2, Lectures and Fragments of Musonius Rufus
Fame search prevents us from doing all kinds of relevant work. Our work is reduced to the opinion of others.
In addition, seeking fame conditions our happiness. We will always be dependent on others.
The Stoic who ignored the fame was Marcus Aurelius. He said:
Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see. The span we live is small — small as the corner of the earth in which we live it. Small as even the greatest renown, passed from mouth to mouth by short-lived stick figures, ignorant alike of themselves and those long dead. — 10, Book 3 of Marcus Aurelius
Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. — 3, Book 4 of Marcus Aurelius
It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. — 4, Book XII of Marcus Aurelius
The emperor always concludes the same. We can not control our fame.
4) Your work is not a big deal
Understand that what you do is not a big deal. There will always be someone who does the job better than you.
If you compare your work with other important jobs you will understand that your work is not a big deal.
- Maybe you are Wiz Khalifa and you are quite popular in music. Even so, your work is not a big deal if you compare it with a Beatles classic.
- Maybe you’re a pretty good student but there will always be someone with better grades than you
- Maybe you are millionaires but there will always be someone more with more money than you.
In the end, the work we do is always reduced to nothing.
It is better to accept that reality before believing us much.
The more humble we keep better jobs we will do in the future.
I prefer to see my work as a small thing. That forces me to be more ambitious and develop more elaborate jobs.
In turn, if I consider my work worthless, I did not consider myself worthy of praise. I will continue focusing on work and not on fame.
At present, it is difficult to perform this exercise. We always read phrases like: “Your work is worth” and we always look for the highest possible remuneration for what we do.
Even so, our potential to do more and better jobs is wasted.
5) Understand that the Ego is your greatest enemy
There is nothing that more alters our perception of things than our own Ego. The Stoics struggled day after day to fight it.
The ego is too harmful. With a distorted vision of reality, the only thing we will gain is unhappiness. We will make the wrong decisions and wait for things that in reality will never happen.
The ego is present in everything we do. Whether we aspire to something, or if we fail in something or if we succeed in something, the ego will be there and is something we must learn to fight it.
And the first step to combat that ego is to understand that it exists. We must contemplate that we can always be nourished by those insane beliefs. That is only achieved with constant self-analysis.
Marcus Aurelius always wondered:
What am I doing with my soul? Interrogate yourself, to find out what inhabits your so-called mind and what kind of soul you have now. — 11 book 5 of Marcus Aurelius
With this article, I am asking the opposite of what everyone says. I am doing the opposite of what others say.
Nowadays we are always looking to take photos and publish each of the things we do. We measure our happiness and successes based on the number of people who know us and the number of likes we have.
This path can be quite good, but at the same time, it is quite harmful. We can achieve good things, but at the same time bad.
Each of the strategies I gave them is to begin to see our work as an opportunity to contribute to others and not to feed our fame.
Not to condition our success based on the opinion of others if not on our emotional overcoming.
I hope that this article will help you to remain humble and creative in your work.
Let fame be just a reward for good work and not something you are looking for.
- Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
- Discourses and Selected Writings by Epictetus
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius