In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral Letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In letter 31 Seneca discusses the need to stat focused on what’s important. And believe that you have all the ability you need to improve yourself.
I commend your efforts to date to become a virtuous person. You’ve laid a great foundation so far and you can build on this. Use this strong platform to offer some stability for your plans and goals.
Of course, the danger now is that you’ll not use this great start wisely. People will try to lead you astray. People will try to give you unwise advice, especially those who love you. They pass on their opinions about what they think is best for you. But be strong, stay focused and try stay true to your own path.
If you trust in yourself and your abilities then you’ll have a happy life. Further, if your purpose is clear then it should be clear what type of work you’d love to do. And if you love your work then each day you’ll be making progress towards your purpose in life. Work should nourish your mind and make you happy. It should be more that a way to simply earn a living. Do you want a job that pays well but you hate doing? Well, if you do then you are deceiving yourself. A career that aligns with your goals and purpose helps you to serve society. And, as humans, we ought to fulfill our obligations as social beings. This means doing our job to the fullest potential. Each person is a part of a bigger whole. Each person has a part to play.
I’ll add that a Stoic you should devote time to your career. I’m an influential politician, and adviser to the emperor. I place great importance in my role. We each have something to give, something which demands our focused efforts. We each ought to live to our fullest potential in fulfilling that role.
I’d also recommend that you cut out distractions. Why? Well whatever your are focused on determines your reality.
It’s something we don’t think about much of the time, but give it some consideration now:
- If you wake up in the morning and think about the miserable things you need to do later in the day, you’ll have a miserable day. If you wake up and focus instead on what a wonderful gift your life is, you’ll have a great day.
- If we let our attention jump from one thing to another, we will have a busy, fractured and probably unproductive day. If we focus entirely on one job, we may lose ourselves in that job, and it will not only be the most productive thing we do all day, but it’ll be very enjoyable.
- If we focus on being tired and wanting to veg out in front of the TV, we will get a lot of television watching done. If, however, we focus on being healthy and fit, we will become healthy and fit through exercise and good eating.
This may seem simplistic, but it’s completely true. This is the magical power of focus.
As you learn and grow in your work then your knowledge will expand. This helps to make you wise. You can use this to discard the unhelpful expectations of others. Only you alone can identify things which might influence your own virtue. This is why knowledge is important. Once you have it then you can appropriately handle comments from any source.
To achieve all of this is entirely within yourself. You need no supernatural or outside forces to guide or aid. Simply use what you’ve been given to reach your highest potential.
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.