I have always been interested in stoicism and resilience. They go hand in hand. They are the operating system of every entrepreneur. When you work with the like of Tibor Olgers and Erwin van Beek on our business retreats, you see what it means in practice are well. Read this (it is in Dutch, but you will get the gist). I also wrote a book about books about resilience. You can order it here.
Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life
Hence “Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life” by Eric Greitens. Ex-governor of Missouri, but more interesting, he is an ex-navy SEAL. I think we can learn a lot from special forces. The book is a set of letters to one of his former navy SEAL colleagues. 23 letters in total. If you are into stoicism, it is a must-read.
Letter 1 Your frontline
The first letter is titled “your frontline”. The place where you would meet the enemy. Everybody has frontlines in their life. We all have battles to fight. When we are fighting those battles, that we are most alive. The letter jumps from there to resilience. Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength.
The lindy effect (Nassim Taleb)
People have known this for thousands of years. But today a lot of this ancient wisdom goes unheeded. Current science has confirmed centuries-old insights into resilience. What worked for the SEAL teams, what works for Olympic athletes, what worked for the Greeks two thousand five hundred years ago, much of it is the same stuff, directed at the same human questions.
- How do you focus your mind, control your stress, and excel under pressure?
- How do you work through fear and build courage?
- How do you overcome defeat and rise above obstacles?
- How do you adapt to adversity?
We can all do it
To be resilient, to build a full and meaningful life of strength, wisdom, and joy, is not easy. But it’s not complicated. We can all do it. To get there, it’s not enough to want to be resilient or to think about being resilient. We have to choose to live a resilient life. When we’re struggling, we don’t need a book in our hands. We need the right words in our minds. When things are tough, a mantra does more good than a manifesto.
We need resilience
Of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge. We all need resilience to live a fulfilling life.
Letter 2 Why resilience
Resilience is the fortresses of the spirit. Internal culture. “Culture” was originally a word for the tilling and tending of the land. Later, people made an analogy and suggested that you could cultivate yourself. When Aristotle gave his great talks on the nature of the good life, he began by making one thing clear: there is no simple equation for the good life. The language of Eelco Smit.
A masterful warrior carries everything she needs and no more, just as a masterful painter uses all of the paint that she needs and no more, and a master chef uses all of the ingredients that she needs and no more. In the same way, a masterful philosopher will use all of the words that she needs and no more. One of the things that you learn from professional climbers is the discipline of packing well.
What is your philosophy?
If a piece of wisdom has survived for generations—if it has helped make sense of lives separated by vast distances of time and space—that’s a sign that it works. You need to focus on what works. What is your philosophy? Do you have one? The test of a philosophy is simple: does it lead people to live better lives? If not, the philosophy fails. Thoreau said that the best philosophies “solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”
You need purpose
In the long run, though, deprivation of purpose is as destructive as deprivation of sleep. Without purpose, we can survive—but we cannot flourish. You need to be needed. Everyone does. You need a worthy struggle in your life. The aim in life is not to avoid struggles, but to have the right ones.
Letter 3 What Is resilience?
The author starts to quote Sophocles and the warriors code. Obligation to serve and no one gets left behind. The motto for a good life.The realisation that there is only one road to true human greatness: the road through suffering. Most of life just isn’t as black and white as Newtonian physics. Don’t expect a time in your life when you’ll be free from change, free from struggle, free from worry. Resilience it the ability to be strong at the broken places (Hemingway). You are the place you need to start if you want to become stronger in the face of adversity.
Resilience is a virtue
The desire to avoid responsibility can be overwhelming. Resilience is a virtue. What is virtue? It stems fro Arête. Arête Virtue is a character trait that a man or women need to live life well. When we think of a virtue as an excellence, it changes the way we look at the world and ourselves. Aristotle taught that we aren’t born with virtue; we’re born with the ability to practice virtue. Practice builds habits. Our habits are our character. Resilience is an excellence we build.
If you do that
- You will gain a great sense of power.
- You will become more forgiving of others.
- You begin to see the power, fun, majesty, and beauty in virtue. Virtue is not about what you deny yourself, but what you make of yourself.
Put most simply, to be virtuous meant that you were brilliant at being human.
The Stockdale Paradox
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” In the face of hardship, you have to maintain a clear focus on your harsh reality. But some people would rather face spears than face facts. Confronting your current reality requires discipline and courage.
Letter 4 Beginning
Beginning brings fear. Every time we make a choice to confront our fear, our character evolves, and we become more courageous. But the longer you hesitate, the hairier and scarier the fear becomes. The longer you hesitate, the more likely you are to turn around and crawl back under the covers. Screw that. It’s time to begin. The chance of defeat is real. Defeat is also temporary.
Not knowing is OK
Start with the humility to recognize how little you know. Not knowing everything cannot be an excuse for not doing anything. Solomon Ibn Gabirol wrote that wisdom and peace lay in “being reconciled to the uncontrollable.” So let’s accept what must be accepted, without letting our acceptance justify inaction.
Great changes come when we make small adjustments with great conviction. Point yourself in a new direction and start walking. You’ve heard it said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. As long as we have enough wonder and humility to start the journey and to correct ourselves when we go wrong, our motives don’t have to be pure.
It hurts to realize how much time we have wasted. It hurts to realize how foolish we were when we began. And yet, the only thing that hurts more is not beginning at all. If you wait to begin until you’ve mastered your intentions, you’ll never begin. Selfish, silly, vain desires can create real growth when you subject them to discipline.
Ignore the critics
Everyone likes to say that they are offering constructive criticism. But you know what’s really constructive? Work. There are simple standards for measuring the worth of people’s critiques. Do they actually care about you? Do they just talk at you, or are they willing to sweat with you? Have they put any effort into what they are saying to you? Someone who cares about you, sweats with you, and corrects you when you need to be corrected is one of the most precious things in life: a true friend.
Move, and the way will open. Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!
Letter 5 Happiness
Flourishing is a fact, not a feeling. We flourish when we grow and thrive. We flourish when we exercise our powers. We flourish when we become what we are capable of becoming. You work along lines of excellence. You don’t just do things. You do them well. Remember what comes first. A focus on happiness will not lead to excellence. A focus on excellence will, over time, lead to happiness.
Levels of happiness
Think about all the different ways that you’re happy.
- The happiness of pleasure is easy to understand and easy to experience.
- The happiness of grace. Think of the sense of joy and peace that comes over us when we pause, even for a moment, and genuinely say “thank you.”
- The happiness of growth, This is the happiness that goes hand in hand with excellence, with pursuing worthy goals, with growing in mastery. The most common mistake people make in thinking about the happiness of excellence is to focus on moments of achievement. Instead of the ongoing pursuit of excellence and mastery, stretching and straining our minds, bodies, and spirits,
- The happiness of pursuit. I’m not talking about this pursuit because it’s good for you. I’m talking about it because it’s joyful for you. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
- There is happiness in struggle. We are meant to have worthy work to do. If we aren’t allowed to struggle for something worthwhile, we’ll never grow in resilience, and we’ll never experience complete happiness.
- And there is love, how crucial love is to happiness.
Letter 5 Models
Find a model. Do as they do. Any fool can learn from his mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others. Stupid hurts. Be smart.
Set a picture
If I sat down in your living room and placed a giant bag of jigsaw puzzle pieces on a table in front of you and asked you to put all of the pieces together, what’s the first thing you’d ask for? I’m guessing you’d ask for a picture. You’d want to know how all of the pieces come together. You’d want to know what you’re trying to make. Here’s the thing: life only hands you pieces. You have to figure out how to put them together.
Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy, you will find yourself.”Rather than ask, “How can I achieve what they achieved?” try asking, “How can I create myself as they created themselves?”
Read a book
Literature and history are among our greatest resources in this regard. By immersing ourselves in stories, we learn to exercise the moral imagination. The word “liberal” has, at its root, liber—the same root, of course, as the word “liberty.” The idea of learning literature and history is that they free you to see how you might live. They free you from living inside the narrow confines of your own story.
Letter 7 Identity
If you want to feel differently, act differently. We can always shape who we are. We can’t promise achievement. But we can become the kind of people who are worthy of achievement. This goes hand in hand with the belief that your emotions can be harnessed and your feelings can be trained.
We control our emotions as much as our emotions control us. You are not your emotions. There is a difference between feeling jealous, angry, gluttonous, greedy, or slothful and actually being jealous, angry, gluttonous, greedy, or slothful. If you feel jealous, you’re human. If you are jealous, then you’re losing control of your life; your horses are running wild.
Act as if until
Actions don’t just express emotional states, they create emotional states. Your actions shape your state. Smiling and breathing. These are simple things. Exercising and serving. These are simple things. Being grateful and gracious. These are simple things. Acting with humility. Acting with courage. These are simple things. Wear the mask of the virtue you want until it’s no longer a mask. One day, it will no longer be you putting on the mask of resilience. It will be you, resilient.
Everything is a choice
You don’t have a choice about being an alcoholic. But you do get to choose what kind of alcoholic you’re going to be: the kind who lets his addiction define his life, or the kind whose life is too rich and purposeful to be defined by addiction.
You are who you are
In the year 524, the philosopher Boethius was imprisoned for treason against the king of Italy. As he waited to be executed, he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy, a record of his struggle to find meaning in his fall from power and security. Miguel de Cervantes was in Spanish debtor prison. That is where he started writing Don Quixote. Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment in a prison camp in Siberia. They produced masterworks, because what was most important about them could not be separated from them as long as they lived: their character, their experience, their hard-earned wisdom.
So envision yourself as strong. Remind yourself that you are strong. Become strong.