Homework and the Hero Quest, Using Stoicism to Level Up

IMG_1076.JPGWhile Meditations is a book I consider lighter than Seneca’s Letters, I don’t readily think about it. Reading it again reminded me of listening to a TED Talk, nodding my head along the way, but coming away from it wondering “now what?”

In Meditations there exists the idea of nature, and that which occurs is natural. This isn’t in the same sense of the word as in trees and shrubs and wildlife, but a more general idea. Thanksgiving includes being thankful, but also food, family, football, and whatever else you associate with the holiday. Similarly, nature means everything that happens and Marcus says that whatever happens is good.

And this is the locked door in the stoic stronghold. How can the things that are clearly bad; death, disease, and assault, be good? I don’t know, but to apply stoicism I don’t have to figure that out. For me, I only need to apply what happened (what is natural) to my own challenges. Like homework.

One day after school my first grader came home with an empty belly and full bookbag. After a small snack, I started making dinner while she worked on her homework.  I was quickly cooking taco meat so we could eat, finish our homework, and start our evening checklist before swimming practice. As the meat began to brown, my daughter began to cry because she had to do homework rather than eat.

Other times I would forcefully reason with her, explaining that we always did things this way and she couldn’t be that hungry. Or I might have sent her to her room to “calm down” but probably works better for me than her. In this instance though I felt a swell of stoicism and decided to view the moment as a chance to level up in life. If I could calmly sit down and work with her, then I would be building my skills as a human being. Like a video game character that needs to overcome a challenge to become a better version of herself, I could too, we both could. If she could bring herself back from the edge of tears and sobs, then that would build her resilience and grit. This after school storm of an incomplete dinner, unfinished homework, and unhappy kids was an opportunity.

Of course I’m sharing this story because it worked out, but while going through, I didn’t know if it would. I didn’t know that taking this stoic perspective would help at all. My daughter could have stood up from the table, thrown her pencil at me, told me to go to hell, and marched off to her room. But then that would have been an opportunity to grow too.

A few days later, while writing at McDonald’s, I saw our neighbors and we chatted for a few minutes. They asked me what I was working on, and I shared that I was trying to become a writer. They asked if I had sold anything, and I told them a few dozen books on Amazon. I felt a twinge of anxiety. “A few dozen books” sounds pathetic, until I realized everyone has to sell three dozen before selling four. The greats do it faster, but they do it in the same order.

Stoicism, writing, faith, empathy, fitness, wealth. They all get built incrementally. You must go to A then B. Stoicism can be harder though because none of the lessons are announced. With writing I can find books that are literally titled Writing Tools, but there is nothing like that for stoicism. No proof reading, no editing.  Just moments that span like bubbles.

Last week I wrote about the practice of stoicism, and how important the regular reading and thinking about it is for the application. It’s no coincidence that this moment happened after I began rereading Meditations. Hopefully, if you’re reading these posts it’s working for you too.  If you have any questions or comments let me know below, on Twitter @MikeDariano or via text, (559) 464-5393.

Photo is of Saginaw Bay in Michigan. 

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