Not stoic as in “Stiff Upper Lip”, but Stoic as in…I’m Working On it.

[This is my submission for the Carnival of Aces for December 2018 hosted this month by Sennkestra on Next Step: Cake under the topic “Burn out”]

The topic of “Burn Out” is very appropriate because I’m in the middle of a burn out right now actually. I’m trying to finish school, but I ended up failing a class I needed twice so it’s obviously time to take a break. Every day while at work I’m constantly thinking, “I should not be this tired. This is not normal.” and when I talk about it to other people they’re like, “Tired and stressed? Welcome to adulthood,” or they break out into a story about how their grandmother survived as a single mother of five kids in 1934 during the Great Depression; Inspiring, yes. Helpful, no, but I’ll totally see the movie when it comes out.

I’ve burned out worse before several years ago to the point of more serious physical symptoms and thankfully I’m not to that point yet…I’m just tired. Very, very tired.

To deal with this I’ve been studying Stoicism through some free classes and by supporting the patreon accounts of my favorite Stoics. I’m currently doing a four week course called SMRT (Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training) where each week you’re putting a Stoic practice to use using the niffty audio recordings provided. I’ve been pairing that with the parteon articles and some youtube videos from the Stoi-con last October (and yes, there’s a Stoic Convention and someday I will attend). 

Oh! For folks who don’t know Stoicism is an ancient Hellenistic Philosophy that originated in Greece, but gained some major traction in Rome. Our three main sources of Stoic teachings come from “The Manual” and discourses from Epictetus who was a slave and later a teacher; Letters and essays by Lucius Seneca (usually as just called “Seneca” or “Seneca the younger”) who was a Roman Senator and adviser to Emperor Nero; and lastly Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s person diary which is today known as the “Meditations”. Each of these sources has their own flavor, but my personal favorite right now is Epictetus because it was actually his student who wrote everything down. A lot of ancient Philosophers were apparently allergic to writing because Socrates and Confucius also didn’t. write. that. shit. down. and it was their students who were like “….we should probably be taking notes.” seriously.

Epictetus is easier for me to understand because it’s geared more towards beginners. The modern Stoic guy I support on patreon is a college professor and he says he doesn’t always like or agree with what Epictetus is saying, but he sympathizes the frustration of keeping young minds engaged in less-than-exciting material. Seneca’s stuff is very formal, very knowledgeable, and obviously proof read (unlike this post) while Marcus Aurelius’s lack of punctuation makes me want to bang my head against the wall. To be fair the Meditations is his personal diary that he specifically asked TO BE BURNED after his death and now it’s never been out of print. So, if you want something done right…

Anywho, so how is adopting Stoicism helping my sanity? Well, for the first week of the resilience training we’re supposed to track our negative emotional episodes because as it turns out people don’t usually feel things willy-nilly, something usually triggers it. Like last week at work we’re busy as hell, I’m behind so I ask my coworker to do literally ONE THING for me, so we can catch up. He flat out refused and said, “That’s not my job.” Which, first of all, uh, yeah it is your job and secondly it would have taken five minutes that you would have spent goofing off anyway. Naturally I was pissed off so I wrote that down as a negative emotion incident. The goal is to become more aware of early warning signs, i.e. I’ll eventually be able (hopefully) to predict that “hey, it’s really busy today and that tends to stress me out so I should mentally prepare for that and plan for a timout if I need it.” The goal is to approach difficult situations as rationally as possible and anger doesn’t help rationality.

This week we’re supposed to be tracking how long we dwell on negative incidents. Normally, I’m not one to hold a grudge, but Oh. My. Gods. this lady yesterday. We’re in the middle of a lunch rush and my coworker (different one from above) is stuck on a big order and is quartering six whole grilled chickens which is taking up the whole cutting board. I’m dancing around him trying to get the single plate orders out of the way. This lady orders a half-chicken plate and easy-breezy I just reach in the display case with my metal tongs and with a simple twist snap a grilled chicken in half and toss it on the plate as is because my coworker still has six chickens on the cutting board. But then the lady says, “Oh, no, no, I wanted the fresh chicken.” I’m staring at her stupefied like, what the fuck lady??? I look over at the grills because I think that’s where she’s pointing and the chickens on the grill are obviously still raw. Then she points to where my coworker is cutting up the chickens for the big order and she says, “Like what he has.” ????? My coworker seeing that I’m having problems reaches into the display-case with his tongs and picks up THE OTHER HALF OF THE SAME GODDAMNED CHICKEN and says, “Will this one work?” and she says “Yes, that one.” The way my coworker tells it he’s cackling on the inside like a Disney-villain-reject because he knows it’s the same chicken meanwhile I’m off to the side having a miniature aneurysm. I was off-and-on dwelling on this incident for 29 hours minus the awesome 8 hour sleep I got after my two hours of self-care. I bought special soap and everything.

Alright, let’s break it down Stoically:

  1. Idiots exists. Therefore if I am adequately mentally prepared, encountering one during lunch rush or be scheduled to work with one should not surprise me.
  2. Whether or my customer or coworker is an idiot should not impact my ability to serve people lunch to the best of my knowledge and ability. 
  3. I can’t control whether someone is an idiot or not, but I can take the time to educate myself and take responsibility for my own pool of knowledge because if circumstances had been different, that idiot could easily have been me

This model of thinking also applies to trying to educate people about asexuality. Seriously, giving asexuality 101 is one of my least favorite things, but I have to understand that the majority people grew up being told every single day of their lives that there are only two genders, that boy meets girl and they live happily ever after. If circumstances were different, if I had been born into a different family or my biology had presented differently, I totally have could turned out to be that same ignorant asshole that makes me want to beat my head against the wall. I know for a fact that someday I will walk into a fast-food place that I’ve never been to before and drive some poor food service person crazy because I misinterpreted reality.  Some days you’re the woke asexual advocate on a mission to save humanity from itself, some days you’re the idiot that can’t order fast-food correctly, that’s life.

At its core Stoicism is a very empathetic philosophy. Wisdom is the ultimate virtue, ignorance is the ultimate vice, but we are born ignorant and must be taught to be wise. Nobody wakes up one morning and knows everything about the universe, or asexuality, or grilled chickens, so we have to either be taught or learn by experience. When you are trying to convince somebody that a core belief that they have is wrong you have to understand that you cannot convince them using logic, arguments or data; they have to be the ones to convince themselves. Nobody actually believes in something they do not think is true. Even when somebody is intentionally lying about it, they still believe the truth. The example Epictetus gives is he tells his students to try and convince themselves that day is night. Not gonna happen. Nobody wants to be flat out wrong and they will spend a lot of time and energy defending their beliefs. Check out this segment of the Q&A where the speaker’s talking about his friend from Tennessee. It’s totally worth fighting the good fight against ignorance, but jeepers it’s exhausting

Right now I’m laying down in my bed thinking to myself, “I should not be this tired,” but I am. I’m sitting on a dozen story ideas for novels I want to write before I’m sixty. I have two other blog posts sitting in my draft box from months back that I still haven’t finished. My finals are this week and I haven’t studied. Plus there’s a million other little projects I want to do, but it’s not going to happen. “The spirit is willing…” and all that. The hardest thing I’m going to have to do the next couple of months is give myself a break, cut myself some slack, and just keep learning lots. A fun fact a day, an educational youtube video on my lunch, a quick audio book chapter on my drive to class, little things that keep me growing as a person.

I don’t really have the energy to make the word a better place right now, but I can definitely the time to make myself a better, wiser, person and Stoicism is helping me do that. Here’s a fun fact; there are no sages in Stoicism. We all just strive to do our best with the ability we have with as much wisdom as possible. I’m going to finish off the post with an excerpt from the SMRT morning meditation exercise:

As Epictetus tells his Stoic students, imagine that you’re entering a festival each day, and preparing yourself to endure the rough and tumble, and appreciate the spectacle, while accepting that soon it must all come to an end, and that you must take nothing for granted…
Take time to plan your day ahead, calmly and with reason and wisdom. Think of the day ahead, the tasks you face, and what you would prefer to achieve, fate permitting…Prepare yourself to meet adversity with as much practical wisdom as you can muster, with justice or fairness to others, and with self-discipline when it comes to any unruly emotions and desires… Epictetus says you should ask yourself what inner resources nature has armed you with to deal with external events… How can you excel in your character, and make the best use of whatever befalls you?

Rest well, everyone!

One thought on “Not stoic as in “Stiff Upper Lip”, but Stoic as in…I’m Working On it.

  1. Pingback: Carnival of Aces December 2018 Wrap-up: “Burnout” | Next Step: Cake

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