In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English.
Letter 21. Don’t be your own barrier to success
Don’t be your own barrier to success. And the main barrier to success is not having a purpose in life. If this is unclear then you won’t know what choices to make or direction to follow. Ask what are your real priorities? How do you spend your day? By comparing your activities against how you want to be remembered then you may find that you are not using your time well. First, you have to intrinsically know what your motivations are in relation to where you want to end up. If you do this then barriers will be clear, and you’ll enjoy the challenge of overcoming them. If you have a vague notion of your purpose then once a roadblock presents itself, you’ll not have enough motivation to overcome it.
Of course, have a clear purpose is one thing; it takes courage to make the right decisions, to always be true to your values.
Don’t worry about leaving behind your current life. Embrace the uncertainty of an unknown future, as long as you end up being true to yourself. People will look up to you and respect you for this. When they do you will live on in the hearts and minds of those you know you. They will think of you as a good person. This is more important that someone who seeks a position of authority or power by any means. Who will want to remember that person?
Ambition, reputation and influence; persuit of these will never lead to satisfaction. Once you reach one level then you’ll grasp for more, and more. There will be no end – take a step back and consider the bigger picture. You’ll find that unless you do this then when you’re doing well, you’ll be popular. People will want to know you, and be with you. When you’re not doing so well you’ll find that most people won’t be interested in you at all. So, be the sort of person who people want to be with regardless of your successes or otherwise. If you become this person, then your memory will live on, long after you’ve gone.
Finally, make a conscious choice to be content with not much at all. It is a case of less is more lading to a happy life. The trick is knowing what non-essential items to cut out. There are something things that you just have to do, for example eating or drinking, you can deal with this type of demand easily. Question everything else.
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.