Philosophy of Life

There is undeniable proof that the written word is the most powerful force in history (Note, there isn’t enough data on viral YouTube videos yet but given time it might take the title. Crazy cats equals awesome). Take Plato. Do you know who was emperor when he penned the Republic? Or Crito? Do you know who ruled when Socrates was at the height of his powers? Or Seneca? Or Cato? Perhaps, power matters. It probably did for Cato, the emperor pushed him to his ultimate death. A man with unmoving principles. But, in the spiderweb that makes up the timeline of our world ideas are everlasting. I never was a big fan of the movie V for Vendetta (the unmoving mask became old hat after 20 minutes), but what a great line:

“Beneath this mask, there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.”

Hugo Weaving (the guy wearing the anonymous mask)

This movie is filled with quotes you can’t quite credit to anyone. Power tries to stifle the idea, but no matter how high you build the wall people climb higher. They always do.

Recently, I came across the book, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Life, by William Irvine. The thoughts and ideas that troubled society then still linger now. Thousands of years ago, we asked the eternal question, Why are we here? It’s an impossible question. Debate away. In the grand scheme of a thousand lifetimes, can any one person make a dent in the universe? Perhaps, that is why the works of the original philosophers stand the test of time. The question of why will remain. We all think about it differently. Look inward for motivation, outward for impact. Having a Philosophy of Life matters. Before I get too preachy, thought I’d share what stuck with me in the book. I took notes as I went and kept going back to them. I thought I’d put them in an easy place to find. So, here we go:

The Trichotomy of Control, Basically this is a worry bucket. Truly only focus on, or worry about, (1) the things we have complete control over. You can control what you think about. You can control where to spend your time. Time with family and friends. Work on the next great novel. Build a dollhouse. Take up photography. What you do in your spare time? Does it fit with your life philosophy?

Yet, (2) never focus on what we have no control over (Don’t worry about your favorite character on The Walking Dead, what you’re neighbors do behind closed doors, or if the St. Louis Cardinals will take home the title this year, etc.,).

Do (3) focus your time/energy on what you have some control over, but do it a different way. Internalize the definition of success (In a basketball pick-up game, think about playing hard on each and every point. You can’t always control the ultimate outcome of the game. There are better players, poor officiating, and the occasional injury that play a role too. But you can claim victory for practicing your free throws, running wind sprints before the game, and having a solid plan before the ball is tossed high into the air).

Change the Past/Cherish the Moment, We can change how we view the past. Think positive on life’s past moments. And if those moments didn’t pan out so well. Change them. Only you can control what is inside your head.

“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.” 

Marcus Aurelius

Societal cravings, We are wired to always want more. Once we have the black Mercedes, electronic gizmo of the year, beach house, etc., we only want the next big thing. There is a reason why that billionaire show on cable TV is so ridiculous. Island purchases. Lawsuits over views. The quest for the biggest yaht. Want, want, and want is a never-ending cycle that cannot be broken. This was a challenge thousands of years ago. It is now. Instead, love refusing food, not buying the next great invention Verge Magazine is touting, and driving your beat-up clunker. Maintain joy in the act of refusing the want. Enjoy what you already have. Yes, this is hard. Some cars wonderfully hug the road on tight corners.

Negative Visualization, Stoics practiced enjoying the moment. Often, they wrote about what happens if they can never see their loved ones again or wonder if today is indeed their last day. Sports reporters banter on and on. Is this Peyton’s last game (I’m glad he went out on top, what a way to end)? Or Favre? Or the 362 final baseball games of Derek Jeter’s career. Yes, we advertised all of them. Ty Cobb always played like it would be his last game. That’s why he ran like a beast on the base paths (See Branch Rickey).

Avoid anger, and don’t let people disturb your tranquility. Yeah, that’s awfully hard to do too. I really hate my dogs in the morning. They do whatever they can to drive me crazy: staying outside in the cold too long, not eating their food promptly, fighting over each other’s food, and staring at me for no good reason. Sigh. Deep breathes. Don’t get angry. They’re dogs. And they love you.

“Anger so clouds the mind, that it cannot perceive the truth.” 


End of day reflection, write down what worked. And what didn’t. This can be a long list. Keep a journal.

“There is no great genius without some touch of madness.” And yes, we’re all a little mad now. Aren’t we? Your philosophy might be too. That’s a thought to ponder.


  • Note, I probably rewrote this post ten times. My WordPress count says 21. Then, I found that Derek Sivers did a nice job of summarizing the book. He did it better than I did so check out his notes.
  • The picture is of the Roman Forum, still standing after thousands of years.