I’ve been studying philosophy for close to two decades now. And I say that not to impress but confess that studying philosophy has been one of the most challenging intellectual pursuits. The texts are hard to read and warrant re-reading at least half a dozen times if you would like to grasp the essence of a particular book. Even then, you probably won’t be able to go beyond what’s obvious.
And for those reasons, I’m not always reading or studying philosophy, as I often do with psychology, leadership, and business. Since 2015, however, things have been slightly better, thanks much to a beautiful book titled “Obstacle Is The Way” by Ryan Holiday. He exposed me to Stoicism’s ancient philosophy and rekindled that love of wisdom that I so much needed at that point in my life.
Of course, I didn’t stop there. I’ve reviewed and studied almost everything Ryan has published since. One of my daily sources of inspiration is his newsletter, The Daily Stoic. It is one of the few newsletters I read every single day. Sometimes, multiples times a day.
All that said, I don’t consider myself to be a stoic, far from it. Becoming a Stoic is a journey that requires one to have the courage, wisdom, and discipline over the long haul. It’s like nirvana, only practical. Sure, reading books on the philosophy can help you understand what it’s about and provide you with a roadmap. But even that isn’t of any use if you refuse to follow the map.
The stoics insisted on studying the philosopher and not their philosophy because what counts is what they do, which includes, as Ryan puts it, “the choices they made, the causes they served, the principles they adhered to in the face of adversity.”
You can read or study Stoicism or philosophy for years, but that level of dedication isn’t going to make you any better or wiser. Obsessing over those texts is nearly missing the point. A philosopher doesn’t just love wisdom but knows how to apply it in the real world purposefully.
Epictetus nailed it in the head when he said, “don’t talk about your philosophy, embody it.” Just like I like to say, “talk is cheap.”