Stoicism has changed my life for the better. I’ve only been practicing it for the past 6 months, but I can already see tremendous changes in my mental health. Let me tell you a little bit about who I was before.
I unfortunately suffered from what many other people suffer with too. A crippling need to please people and to be liked. I got a fortune cookie almost 10 years ago that I carried around in my wallet for too long. When I opened the cookie I couldn’t believe what it said.
“To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
It’s like it knew me personally. I felt like a ‘nothing’ because I basically was. I never shared my thoughts or opinions for fear that I would rub somebody the wrong way and they wouldn’t like me. I didn’t want to offend. That is until I found stoicism.
I happened to stumble upon a YouTube video about stoicism during one of my rabbit-hole adventures. We’ve all been there. You watch one video and then click a suggested title and before you know it you’re in a whole other solar system compared to your original search. This trip lead me to this video.
I was hooked. After that, I specifically searched for “Stoicism” on YouTube and Google and found many videos and articles that gave me numerous hours of reading. That, combined with my natural love for philosophy and being in deep thought, and everything just clicked. I found the thing I had been looking for all my life. Not quite a religion, but a belief system that I could worship, and I put it into practice immediately.
After a few days, I already developed a habit of asking myself, “Can I control this?” whenever something wasn’t going the way I had hoped or planned.
After a few weeks, I was able to care less and less about external sources of joy. I was on a path towards inner peace. With that, the wonderful side effect was that I wasn’t crippled anymore by the opinions of others. I finally felt free to be me. Now, I spend my days wondering how I can be the best me that I can, and each night I reflect on my day and ask myself, “Did I do my best today?” If the answer is yes, I can rest peacefully knowing that whether or not things went well, I did my best.
If I didn’t do my best, I acknowledge that, take responsibility for it, then figure out how I can be better tomorrow. Then, I rest peacefully knowing that tomorrow I will be better. Progress over perfection. There is so much more to stoicism and if any of this sounds intriguing, I highly encourage you to look into it. All I can say is that it has completely transformed me and I have never been happier.
You know the guy. Every time you see him, he works how awesome he was at football in high school into the conversation. Don’t get me wrong, if you were awesome at football in high school, by all means talk about it from time to time, but I’m talking about the guys who are defined by it. They want to relive their glory days because back then, they were somebody, and now, they feel just like everyone else. Working a menial job, paying bills, and wondering if this is really it.
I was that guy. I didn’t play football, but I lived with a different identity. I was the “back flip” kid. I was essentially a ghost otherwise. Barely anyone knew my name but if you said, “The kid who does backflips off the wall,” then they’d know.
I won’t lie, I enjoyed the attention. I loved hearing, “Yo, do a backflip! Everyone watch, this kid can do a backflip!” It meant, for those few seconds, they saw me. I was somebody. Backflip kid.
However, after high school, you run into people you went to school with and literally every single one of them would ask, “Do you still do backflips?” It’s completely understandable, but at the time, being young and aspiring to become a rapper, I got annoyed and made people feel dumb for even asking. I was reinventing myself as the pot smoking, wannabe-thug rapping bad ass.
I received even more attention for my music than I did for the flips. I loved it. It lasted a few years, and then it all ended. If you’ve read my book or had a conversation with me, you know that I developed a problem and hit rock bottom before I put the mic down and joined the military.
was my new peak. Being a rapper. I let it define me, and I felt like such a
failure. I didn’t get the same type of recognition in the military, so all I
talked about was my “glory” days of being a rapper and people giving me drugs
and partying with me. I talked about the places I’ve been to and the shit that
I’ve witnessed that always got a reaction from people. That was my “cool”
didn’t dawn on me until after the military, during college, I took American
Sign Language. My teacher, a wonderful woman, was born deaf and didn’t allow us
to have a translator during class. We had to communicate by basic signing and
body language. It was a transformative experience and on a side note, I highly
encourage everyone to learn some sign language (at the very least, the
part that made me realize that I was living in the past was during the first or
second week of class. We were sitting in a circle and we each had to introduce
ourselves and tell the class something we enjoy doing. I was all ready to spell
my name and try to communicate that I am a rapper/poet. However, somebody that
went before me said they were into poetry. Our teacher said that she doesn’t
like poetry because she doesn’t get it. There is a rhythm to poetry that we
“hear” even when we read it that she isn’t privy to. The same goes for rap
music, and most music. She likes very loud, bass-y music that she can feel, but
lyrics don’t mean a thing.
was stunned. I didn’t want to say that I was a rapper anymore, and it was
almost my turn to sign. In that moment I thought, “Who am I without music?”
it got to me, I just said I like hiking, which is true, but it was just the
first thing that popped in my head.
weeks, maybe months after, I was having an existential crisis. I kept asking
myself, “Who am I?” I realized that I hadn’t been doing music for a while at
that point, but I still defined myself as a musician. I wasn’t in the military
any longer, so I couldn’t identify as that either. I guess I was a college kid?
I didn’t like that identity. I began a long, arduous journey of self-reflection
and I came to the conclusion that I defined myself by what happened to me, not
by who I wanted to be.
happened to be poor growing up. I identified as that, even though I was no
longer poor. I got noticed for my backflips, so I wore that mask, and I allowed
other people to dictate when I did them, just for a small cheer. My friends got
into hip hop, and we wrote dumb little rhymes in our notebooks, then I got
noticed for mine, so I went down that path full force, just for some praise.
joined the military for me. I wanted to better my life, and I recognized that I
was deep down the wrong path. I did it for me, and yet, I never identified with
it. It’s like, I could only identify with what the world put on me, but when I
made a choice for me, it was just “something I did.”
I had to change the way I thought about things. I needed to learn to like me for me. To provide my own source of happiness from within. To be proud of myself for doing what I WANTED TO DO, especially when it ended up being a good choice. I completely deconstructed my belief system and tore it to rubble. Then, brick by brick, I built (am still building) the identity that I want to be defined as. I choose. Now, I am a writer and a motivator. I am a gamer. I am health conscious. I am a man. I am honest. I have integrity. I am responsible, and I am self-aware, with the ability to change my life as I see fit. These are some of the qualities that I am right now, and I will always be changing and growing. I refuse to be the guy who peaked in high school.
1: You have no control over where, when, or to whom you were born.
2: You don’t have the mental capacity to take control of your life as a child.
3: Some things are just NOT YOUR FAULT.
Now, what does that mean?
If you have no control over your past, and if you aren’t to blame for your upbringing, then what is in your control?
That’s right, NOW. Right now. Your life, your choices, and everything you do despite your circumstances is all in your control.
You have to look at two truths. The first being, what should be, and then the other truth is the harsh reality of what is.
For example. You should be allowed to dress however you want. You should be judged by your character and not by your appearance. You should be treated as an equal member of society regardless of apparel. Sure, I agree with that. However, the harsh reality is that you can’t in most cases. If you want to work in a corporate setting, you have to dress the part. If you want to dress like a street kid (which is how I was, 90’s baggy-to-the-ankles jeans), then you are going to be followed in the convenient store. You’re going to be profiled by the police. You are going to be assumed a lower member of society.
YOU HAVE A CHOICE. You can stick your middle finger to the man and keep it real, wear whatever you want, and for some of you, that will work. For most, probably not. The other choice is that you can dress for success and remove one obstacle from your journey, because let’s face it, you’ll have plenty of those on the way as it is.
You can blame your circumstances on your past, on your poverty, on your race, on your gender, etc. You can point the finger in so many directions, and EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, you are relinquishing control of your own life. Why would you want to do that? Do you want society to dictate your short comings? Do you want society to tell you that you are disadvantaged? Do you want pity, or do you want glory?
The two truths apply here. It isn’t fair that you are disadvantaged because of your living situation, or your race, or your gender, or whatever, and I AGREE! It shouldn’t be that way. But, what is the harsh reality? You are judged. You are disadvantaged. You were born into a shitty situation. That’s just what it is, and no amount of Facebook statuses or supportive profile pictures are going to help you out.
What can you do?
Well, the first step is to OWN IT! Take full responsibility. That’s right. Take the “blame” for things that aren’t your fault. Why on earth would you do that? Because, it puts you in the driver seat. It gives you the power!
Owning your life is the first step to changing it. I was born to a single mother who had no guidance and made terrible financial decisions, which meant we lived poor and moved around a lot. I didn’t have many friends, I had zero confidence, and I grew to repeat the cycle of barely getting by because that’s what I saw. You know what I did once I was on my own? I blamed my mother for everything she did that disadvantaged me. I blamed her for her bad decisions, which I wasn’t wrong about, but I used that as an excuse to not make my own life better. I basically convinced myself that my mother was broken, and therefore I was broken.
My friends were the same way. They had broken households, and they had no idea how to get out of it and blamed the world for their situations.
I let this be my narrative for too long.
Finally, I realized that my upbringing doesn’t have to define my future. I took ownership of my past. I admitted to myself that it wasn’t my fault for how I was raised, but it is 100% my fault how I chose to live. Living in housing projects wasn’t my choice, but the friends I associated with was. Even though I was too young to make good life decisions, that only allows me to forgive myself for my choices, not deflect responsibility.
I chose to break the law. I chose to skip school. I chose not to pay attention and learn. I chose to smoke. I chose to drink. I chose to have sex. I chose to rebel. I chose to refuse to live by my father’s rules when I moved in with him at 17, and then I chose to live on the street instead of giving in. I chose to pursue a rap career, and I chose not to invest back in the business. I chose to party instead. I chose to go out to California with no plan. I chose not to work hard when I got there. I chose to take pills that led to my overdose. I chose to make a change in my life right then and there. Then I chose to call my dad, come home, and join the Navy. I made all of those decisions, but I only took credit for the last few that were good decisions.
Nothing is going to get better until you accept FULL responsibility for your actions, past and present. You must forgive yourself for the past decisions you’ve made that were during the times you didn’t have control over your life. You must forgive yourself, but you CAN NOT EXCUSE yourself. You just do your best from now on. You get in the driver’s seat, you grab the wheel, and you steer yourself to the life that YOU choose. It isn’t easy, and the road may be long and windy, but would you rather sit back seat to someone else’s adventure?