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Opportunity cost.


Suddenly, you wake up in the back of a car. You don’t know why you are there and you feel a bit disoriented, the driver drives calmly. You are wearing a dark suit. If this is a kidnap, it’s certainly a really weird one. Five minutes later the car stops at a mausoleum.

The driver opens your door and you ask him where the hell are you, he just smiles at you and points inside the mausoleum. There are trees, green grass and people dressed in black talking and walking inside. Now you are curious about what this is all about. You get down the car, feel the breeze on your cheeks, a bit of cold, and the tightness of your black tie, you loosen it up a bit and start walking inside. This is definitely a funeral, you can hear a young girl weeping silently beside you. Inside, members of your family and friends surround you but nobody notices you are there, you yell and everyone seems oblivious to your screams, what the hell is happening, you hurry to get to the coffin to see whose funeral this is and as you push the people around the coffin, you realize to your dismay, that the person inside the coffin is you.

You are already dead and nobody seems to notice that you are standing there, watching your cold and motionless body. It seems, that the gods granted you the gift of watching your last appearance on earth.

GraveyardThe procession begins and you sit there, watching your family, your friends and the people who knew you.

The time for the speeches come and a member of your family goes up.



What does he say? What are his memories with you? Are they happy? Is he glad he was your kin?

Now, your best buddy.

Now a co-worker.

What do they say? How do you feel? Are you happy? Are you proud?

What did you leave behind?

Ah, the magic of Memento Mori. To put things in perspective, to sweep away what isn’t important and to give place to what really matters, what really matters in the end at least. Death is always near, always walking, sleeping, always at our side but we keep forgetting.

“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire” 
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca, On the Shortness of Life 

Opportunity cost

You are always choosing. Even when you think you aren’t choosing, you are choosing not to choose.

Many times, most of the time, you don’t even choose for yourself but you are letting something or someone choose for you. Ignorant, ignorant of your power, you let yourself be guided by other people’s agendas, blind to the opportunities and the possibilities presented for you. Every time you neglect a good opportunity, you incur in a cost, opportunity cost.


By letting the things that are not under your control choose for you.

For example, Facebook or Instagram. Imagine you’ve arrived at your house after a long and arduous day of work, you don’t even think about having dinner, you feed the dog, put pajamas on and get straight down to bed. There are two things on your bedside table, a book you’ve been reading for a month that will make you fall asleep in 10 minutes top, and your phone. You grab your phone and open Instagram, just for a while (you say to yourself), 1 hour later you are still awake scrolling down the endless flow of pictures and memes. The next day you are tired and cranky and find yourself cursing damn Instagram as you open it again.

That right there is slavishness. The decision was made not by what is best for you but by the instant gratification you got out of your phone. That decision has a big opportunity cost as well, the opportunity cost was your proper rest, happiness and productivity for the next day. All that in the simple and non-threatening choice of scrolling down on Instagram, just for a while before sleeping.

1210979-7“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca 

When you choose to do something, you have to be aware that you are spending your most valuable asset, time. We don’t think of time as an asset and that is wrong, very very wrong.

Your life is composed of moments, millions of them. Each and every moment you have control over how you are going to respond to what you are doing, to what happens to you and your dispositions towards it.

The better the choices you make at each moment, the higher the probabilities that you will find yourself smiling at the end, at your funeral.

Making choices, the right ones.

It’s easier to make bad choices than right choices.

At the moment it’s easier to “go with the flow” and let tiredness or laziness or feeling, in general, decide whether you finish your job or not, whether you grasp opportunity, whether you open facebook or a book, whether you go out with your friends and socialize or stay watching Game of Thrones for the 5th time.

It’s easier to fall into slavish choices because they seem to be more palpable in comparison to the better choices which seem far away in the future. Nevertheless, you have to become aware of the opportunity cost at the moment, the opportunities are presented alongside the slavish choices every time, but conscious effort is needed, otherwise, you’ll become blind to them.

Your awareness of the opportunities determines how much of your life is really under your control. A true stoic is aware of the costs of his choices and so makes his decisions accordingly.

Therefore, learning to ask yourself about the opportunity cost of your decisions becomes paramountly important.

Once the decision to make informed choices is made, a universe of possibilities will open. A universe you were blind to before. Open your eyes and see.

The present moment

“But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.” 
― Seneca

additional_f105d867a9d07dffb5271c52e342d908e7950e26-8All we have is the present moment.

There is no other place or time where you can make choices or anything else. Just right here, right now. The power to figure out the best course of action is under your full control right now. Not in the past, not in the future, but right now.

It might seem that the little choices in life don’t matter much compared with the years you are going to live. But in reality, they do, first, because you don’t know when you are going to die, it could be tomorrow or in an hour. Second, because every single choice you make determines everything in your life, it’s all connected.

The sad thing would be to be at your funeral and know that you had the power, in your hands, and you chose not to take it, letting slavishness take control and choose to be dead long before your funeral.

Don’t let that happen. Think about how much time is wasted in pettiness, all that time could be used investing in a great life and gratitude instead.

Choose the path of greatness. Choose to see opportunity, open yourself up towards possibility. There is where true control is, in your choices.

“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.” 
― Seneca

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I want to start this writing with The Duquesa de Alba. The Duquesa de Alba is a painting la duquesa bienfrom Francisco de Goya, famous painter of the 18th century, you might know him for his horrifying and black painting: Saturn devouring his son. The painting on the left depicts the Duchess in her mourning dress one year after her husband’s death. She is pointing to the floor at the words “Solo Goya”. Also, her rings have the words “Alba” and “Goya”.  The painting remained with Goya til the day of his death. At the time, the Duchess was incredibly important and powerful in Spain, she was also said to be the most beautiful woman in the entire empire, it was said that “even a single hair of her inspired desire”. As you can imagine by now, the legends behind this painting are varied and extensive, but leaving that aside, the painting clearly shows that Goya was no ordinary painter nor person, he was a profoundly great artist. 

The painting today is invaluable, you can visit the Duchess yourself in the Hispanic Society Museum in New York City. I have to say that admiring the painting in person is a profound experience, to say the least when I had the opportunity to see her I was dumbfounded, speechless. Not only for its incredible beauty but for all that it signified, at least to me. The painting showed the great mastery and artistry of Goya, the beauty of the Duchess and you can also infer why Goya ascended to be considered one of the greatest painters of Spain. Three centuries after he painted it, he still embellishes with immense beauty the museums and inspires masses of people.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Seneca and his letter to Lucilious, On noble aspirations:

For this is the most excellent quality that the noble soul has within itself, that it can be roused to honorable things.

No man of exalted gifts is pleased with that which is low and mean, the vision of great achievment summons him and uplifts him.


There are no better words to describe what it feels to find yourself before an act of greatness, be it a great book, a great painting or a new scientific discovery. Indeed, it rouses and inspires us to reach beyond our capacities, it makes us actually think of our potential.

The soul, according to Seneca, is like fire. It doesn’t stand still, it is always in motion and when roused by the wind, it grows and snarls even harder. We are ambitious creatures by nature. But this fire, this natural ambition, can be stirred and become a force of good or more often than not, of folly, it depends on how it is directed.


If ambition is directed towards the better things in life, then it will be a force of good:

He will place himself beyond the jurisdiction of chance; he will wisely control prosperity; he will lessen adversity, and will despise what others hold in admiration. It is the quality of a great soul to scorn great things and to prefer that which is ordinary rather than that which is too great. Seneca 

So, what are these “better things in life”?  

In one word, virtue, the excellence of living. If your ambition would be placed in virtue you would go beyond the jurisdiction of chance because you would not leave circumstances to fortune, but to cause and effect, you would wisely control prosperity because you would rule over possessions and pleasures and not them over you.

But what happens when you don’t rule over your pleasures?

 It is the quality of a great soul to scorn great things and to prefer that which is ordinary rather than that which is too great. For the one condition is useful and life-giving; but the other does harm just because it is excessive. 

What enemy was ever so insolent to any opponent as are their pleasures to certain men?

Living for pleasure alone, that is slavery disguised as ambition.

The capacity to say no becomes then of extreme importance. This capacity to know when it is enough will allow us to set focus on the better ambitions and not on the illusory.

This is the point where ambition can diverse into its positive or its negative side. Ambition for pleasures and lust (vice) have no end, they ask for infinite satisfaction when the human soul has its boundaries.

The wretched man will give way to this infinite need of satisfying his desires and will use his ambition to feed vice, always having a little more and thinking that with just a little more he will be satisfied, but he will not. He will not even enjoy his pleasures, because at this point they will have become his masters and him a slave to his pleasures. Only by saying no and ruling over oneself can one truly enjoy the pleasures in life, and have the greatest pleasure of all, becoming his own master.

A political victory, a rise of rents,

the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other
favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for
you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Ralph Waldo Emerson

la duquesa bienWhat do you see when you look at greatness? Fame and fortune? Or a calling to your capacities to rise for it?

These are some good questions to ask yourself, for the answer indicates whether you are a slave or a master.





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Stoic answers is committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious stoic contemporary thinking. No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the great ancient Stoics and contemporary knowledge, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.