Close your eyes and think for a moment about your ideal self, the highest you could get, be it in your finances, in your Stoic practice, family life, take everything into account. Do it now.
How do you see yourself? On the top of Everest with your best buddies? Or maybe taking a son that’s on his way to a great life, that admires you and loves you, to his Sunday football match? How do you see yourself, how does it feel to be your ideal self? It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it? I’m sure it is. How awesome would that be? How amazing would it feel?
Yet, you keep saying that you are going to do it, you plan it, you do some stuff here and there, but nothing really happens, years pass and you stay the same, this is a reality for most people. But not for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be yours either, as you are the one that decides whether becoming yourself happens or not. It’s on you.
Arriving at your deathbed knowing that you did not do your best must be an ubercrappy feeling. Not something you want. Remember Memento Mori, death is just around the corner.
Ok, so, now that we know what you want, and that we know what you don’t want, how do we get towards what you do want?
“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I remember when I decided I wanted to speak german. I think everyone can picture themselves speaking 5 languages while enjoying the admiration of your girlfriend/boyfriend when you order your filet mignon on the fancy french restaurant, plus all the job opportunities and higher pay that speaking a foreign language gives you. I felt pretty pumped up about it, with all these images in my mind, but sticking to it was hard, really damn hard. I never came to a point of success, I still haven’t, sure, I can order food and talk about a movie, but I cannot read Goethe in german yet. It was, and it still is, a process. Remember the word process, for it is key, print it in your mind.
When you imagine your ideal self, it’s common to imagine a static image of a writer, mountaineer, perfect dad, perfect this perfect that. You see yourself as a timeless victory. What you don’t see, however, is that you are bound to time and to change. You are not static, you are not a medal or a title. In real life, you don’t win when you cross an imaginary line, such as in a running race.
You either win or lose at every single moment.
This is because you are a process of something that is happening through time. It’s never over, not until you are dead at least. When you think of your ideal self, you need to think of your ideal self, not as an image or a painting, but rather you need to think about the ideal self on the level of action and actual moving, changing reality.
Your definition of self is bound, more than to what your egoic mind thinks you are, to your behavior. Your behavior determines your identity. You can go ahead and say that you are going to be a writer, a mountaineer or anything, but if you don’t write, climb, or work, you are not being your ideal self. You are just imagining it.
“If you wish to be a writer, write.”
The correct striving for the ideal self
Now. When you sit yourself down to write, or to learn a new language. You have to be careful with how you see yourself as you do it.
Everything you do for the first time sucks.
“The first draft of anything is shit.” Hemingway
Becoming your ideal self is a moment-to-moment decision. You either are or you aren’t. Your first draft is shit? It doesn’t matter, what matters is that you are working on your behavior.
You’ll get yourself into trouble if you judge you’re being a writer with having or producing a great book. You might do, you might don’t, it doesn’t matter. A writer writes, focus on that and you’ll be a writer. See yourself as a process. Don’t depend on the perfect draft or the perfect anything, better depend on the journey you decide to embark on by yourself on. The achievement of your ideal self is in doing what the ideal self says it is. Victory is sitting down to write, victory is being a good parent and hugging your son, victory is sitting down to work on that business idea. Winning at anything is a plus, true winning is being able to do it and keep doing it in the face of failure or victory, not depending on either.
There will never come a point when you are done. Life just doesn’t work that way. Anything you want to be, you either are or you aren’t. If you want to be a writer, again, sit down to write if you want to do anything, do it.
Think of your identity as a conglomeration of fires that, together, form your entire identity. Each fire represents one characteristic of your identity. Your good parent identity, your stoic identity, your greedy identity, your magnanimous identity, your calmed and poised identity, your anxious identity. Every characteristic you can imagine, imagine it as a little fire in your head.
Now, as you sit in your head looking at the distance all the fires, know that you are on your realm, within yourself, inside your head, the only place you are truly free to do whatever you want. The only place in which you can decide what happens and what doesn’t. Your inner citadel.
It is in this inner realm full o fires where your identity forms and grows, this is where your ideal self happens or not. Everything you do matters, as everything you do kindles one of your inner fires. The fires grow bigger or smaller depending on which fire you feed with wood.
Don’t think in terms of: “Oh I remember that time I did something greedy” as if it were something that happened in the past and has no consequences as it was tiny, inconsequential even. The fire you feed burns bigger and brighter.
If you act stoically in the face of challenge enough times, your stoic identity will eventually burn brighter than all the other fires within your head. The only way you can turn the fire off is by not feeding it anymore, the only way you make another fire bigger is by putting more coal in it.
You are a never-ending process. Your identity is a never-ending process. Your ideal self is not a victory or defeat in time but through time. The way you become your ideal self is in doing what your ideal self is enough times until that ideal fire is the only fire burning in your head.
No matter how crappy your writing is, no matter how crappy anything you do is, be it good or bad, you are kindling a fire.
This is great and this is bad for obvious reasons. Eat enough Mcburritos and you’ll see why it is bad. Every decision you make, every attitude you choose to feed, compounds over time and affects everything else. Nothing, absolutely nothing is isolated. Be careful with the fires you choose to burn.
As a Stoic, you know what’s under your control, and you don’t need nor want anything else but that. Now, think of your ideal self once again. Done? Great, now let keep that fire burning, make it a fiery fire my friend.
Until next time,
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