Stoic Non-acceptance

Pursuing excellence while loving fate

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

🏛️ Theory

Stoics want everything to be its best but are content with how things end up.

What does that mean?

When it comes to work, whether in art, craft, or career, Stoics have high standards for themselves and others. This expresses itself as a lack of acceptance:

For example, many dedicated artists are simply disagreeable. They are constantly thinking of ways their art must be improved and frequently express their dissatisfaction to themselves and others. But what drives them, and what sets them apart from ordinary complainers, is a focus on excellence. In the presence of such people, one may be taken by surprise at the amount of criticism they voice – and then become reassured when they take action on every thought. Such a person is dissatisfied because they want to make beautiful art and be excellent.

What this looks like in practice differs. Not all elite performers are disagreeable. Some are relaxed and joyful, while others are intense and serious. The pursuit of excellence looks different for each individual. Our personalities shape who we are and must be.

Nonetheless, Stoicism isn’t passive acceptance of the way things are. It’s not settling or sitting on the sidelines because “it is out of your control.”

At the same time, the Stoic loves fate. Even though they constantly struggle to improve, they are calm and accept that this is the way things are. They wouldn’t wish things to be any other way.

This mix of acceptance and non-acceptance may sound like a contradiction. We can make sense of it by making a distinction between levels. Athletes struggle to perform well in each match. But they don’t resist the struggle or resent the rules; instead, they love the game.

The Stoic embraces this world; a world where the only way out is through. Amor fati.

🎯 Action

Do your best today.

✖️ This framing came to mind after reading Harry Oliver’s post above. You can read the full thread here:

Do check out his writing at The Common Reader: Essays for interesting people about talent, literature, and biography.

🎧️ Listen to Michael and I discuss the Stoic breakdown of moderation:

🏛️ We’re rolling out a new home screen in the Stoa app. Try it out and let us know what you think.

📊 Here’s the results from last letter’s poll.

What is the most important part of Stoic psychology for you right now?


🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Impression (9)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 Reflection (24)

🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Assent (10)

🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Impulse (10)

53 Votes

Echoing a number of other comments, Mike says:

I go between impression and reflection. I'm trying to be more aware of my personal biases. These affect my impression. Reflection helps me identify these biases.

Austin said:

Reflection gives me an opportunity to think of through the conundrum I am presented with. I am currently reading “Thinking: Fast and Slow”. It is a revelation, and uncomfortable one… The pull of impulsivity is a strong (human) characteristic. Our lazy mind prefers the easy way, the easy answer. We think intuition is a true and reliable source of knowledge. It is not. We always have to do a fact check, a reality check. But alas, we are often too lazy. It’s disturbing how I’ve squandered my time and life with unforced errors and self inflicted wounds. But there is still time to do better and be better.

A good connection and reflection. Michael and I had a conversation on Thinking, Fast and Slow last year.

What did you think about today's letter?

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