You can’t control it, so let it go

The upside of spending last week driving hundreds of miles around England was having plenty of time to listen to my favourite podcast, Philosophize This. And as it turns out, there’s nothing like poking around on the council estates (projects) of Hull – once voted the “crappest town” in the UK” – to get you questioning the meaning of life.

Although the philosophers of antiquity had some pretty wacky ideas, it’s astonishing how totally relevant many observations from a couple of thousand years ago still are today. Plutarch’s essay on how to tell a flatterer from a friend, for example, should form part of Facebook’s Terms of Use.

But the philosophy that got me saying “Heck yeah, ancient dudes!” more than any other is Stoicism – and in particular its view (similar to one expressed in Buddhism) that “Man is disturbed not by things, but the views he takes of them.” In other words, it’s important to train yourself not to be emotionally affected by the things you can’t control – which is almost everything – and focus instead on forming virtuous thoughts and beliefs.

Stoicism seems particularly useful for digital nomads: building a business is tough, and travel can throw a lot of unexpected surprises at you. Almost every day something will go wrong, you’ll fail at a task, and someone will let you down; the art is in remaining unaffected, continuing to do the best you can, and enjoying the experience of improving yourself as you overcome adversity.

After all, you wouldn’t catch Marcus Aurelius freaking out if his flight was delayed by an hour and he’d hit the limit of the airport’s free wifi. Which, I’m sure, Mish will thank me for pointing out to her next time it happens.