In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English.
Letter 19. When Retired: Remain Sharp and Select Friends Wisely
You’ve spent your whole life working in a career where the opinions of others influenced your success. When you retire don’t exert any effort into attempting to manipulate the perception or judgement of others. It’s not important anymore. But you shouldn’t allow yourself to fall into bad habits and practices, because you don’t have to work. Remember that while you may have retired, your brain hasn’t. You still have the ability and energy to make an impact, so much so that you may find that people seek you out to ask you for your advice and opinion. Don’t try to hide away from this, your reputation is too great.
Think of all the sacrifices you’ve made for the sake of your career. Of course, acknowledgement is something we all crave but the road to higher status, is strewn with pitfalls. For one, we limit ourselves to doing the things that make other people appreciate us. We judge ourselves through the eyes of others, instead of pursuing what we want for ourselves. Once we’ve attained some status there is always another, more prestigious position above us, and there forever will be. And so we lust after the next position, and then the next. Soon we are stuck on an endless, unfulfilling hedonistic treadmill of wanting something we don’t have.
So, be content with what you’ve already got. By freeing yourself from these desires a burden will be lifted from your shoulders. You can focus on the goal of self-improvement: your beliefs, decisions and feelings. By doing this then success will depend on you alone, not on others, and so it’s immaterial what people think about you. And don’t worry about leaving behind these so-called friends. After all they are only interested in you for what you can give them.
Speaking of friends you can’t get real comradeship by giving people things, in the hope of buying their acquaintance. They’ll feel that they owe you something, and in the case of a large debt they’ll end up hating you. Now, this isn’t the same as being kind. Kindness comes from having friends who like you for who you are and not what they can get from you. These sort of people will always reciprocate what you give them, in one way or another.
Read the original text here.
I recommend you read all of the most influential Letters in this new Penguin Classic book. It is the best translation, in my opinion, because it captures Seneca’s humour and style. It is also the easiest to read. My copy is full of highlighted lines, margin notes and tabs. A treasure chest of profound, practical advice which you can apply immediately.
Warning: this is not an academic text; it describes a hands-on philosophy of life. Discover powerful, instantly helpful wisdom. The complete guide to improving your day-to-day activities, thoughts and actions.