Responding To Adversity: Are You Stoic, Elon Musk, or a Buddha?
In the eye of the storm, human beings have an unfortunate weakness — we like to overcomplicate things.
That’s why we should take a step back, breathe deeply, and remember one important thought:
While adversity may come in many different forms like financial struggles, emotional problems, or even loss of loved ones, the fundamental solutions are only a few.
What’s even more astonishing is the fact that these solutions aren’t new at all. Matter of fact, this universal knowledge has been well-known throughout human history.
Although our egos like to think we are the only ones who suffer from our very own problems, thousands or even millions of people have faced the same challenge you are facing right now, be it a simple farmer, a nobleman, or an Indian shaman.
So why not relying on this well-tried knowledge when facing your own problems?
To achieve this, I have identified 3 historical figures from 3 different eras who have overcome their adversity in their very own way.
„Choose your battles wisely “ — C. JoyBell C.
This world may be a huge battlefield, but not every fight is yours.
This is quite a statement to think about.
Once you learn to pick the right battles, you can avoid a lot of adversity in your life.
This simple idea has laid the groundwork for the Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium while developing the philosophy of stoicism. Hundred years later, stoicism has been refined by Roman philosopher Seneca and applied by historical figures like Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and American president George Washington.
In a nutshell, stoicism teaches that we can’t control external events, only our reactions to them. Therefore, rather than dreaming about the perfect life, the Stoic focuses on the world as it is while working on 4 cardinal virtues: wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage.
Why You Should Ignore Everyone
If you want to apply stoicism in your own life, you need to master the method of refocusing, which consists of only 2 steps:
1. Ignore the stuff that can’t be controlled
2. Focus on the stuff you can control, meaning your attitude, your thoughts, and your day-to-day actions.
Refocusing (and especially its first step, ignoring) may sound like weak behavior, but don’t confuse it with procrastination or even ignorance. Ignorance goes hand in hand with a lack of knowledge while ignoring is a deliberate action.
It requires a lot of strength to accept our limitations as human beings. As a matter of fact, refocusing should be our primary coping strategy in a globalized and digitalized world where human tragedy is just one click away.
Therefore, you should take your ignoring-skills to the next level: Ignore the news, ignore the naysayers, and ignore your nerve-wracking colleague who is constantly talking about his cocky kids.
By applying the refocus-method, you avoid getting overwhelmed. Instead of looking at the whole mountain on the horizon, you rather concentrate on the steps in front of you — one step at a time, until you reach the mountaintop.
Here are some examples from daily life:
1. Instead of focusing on the global recession, remind yourself that the economy always runs in cycles. On a practical level, you can reduce your daily spending and find safe investment opportunities.
2. Instead of focusing on your family issues, try to work on your patience, surround yourself with positive people, and complete your daily To-Do list.
In essence, a Stoic doesn’t care too much about the world around him. He avoids negative influences as far as possible and puts his focus on his mindset and his actions.
„How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? “ — Chuck Palahniuk
Some day, adversity will knock on your door. At that moment, you will know it’s time to fight.
Not enough money? Go out, get a (better) job, and make (more) money.
Health problems? Get help, reduce stress, and improve your diet.
Relationship problems? Make compromises, create a new vision, or try couple therapy.
The noble act of fighting follows a simple pattern: you try to fix problems on the same layer they have been created. In fact, most real-world problems are based on this idea:
No money? Make more money!
Not enough love? I want more love!
Too much stress? Less stress, please!
How To Fight Properly
While you are in the midst of a fight, don’t be too hard on yourself because you can make your fight a lot easier by seeking out help. From a high-level perspective, you should focus on these 3 components:
Knowledge: How to do it?
People: Who can help me?
Technology: Which tools can help me?
An extreme example is Elon Musk. This guy is fighting against all 21st-century problems at once, be it transportation, AI takeover, energy crisis, or even human extinction. And he is using the power of knowledge, people, and technology to win his battles.
To be honest — there’s little left to say about the art of fighting. You can’t read about it, and it can’t be conceptualized. Just go out, and create your very own fighting style.
„You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star “ — Friedrich Nietzsche
If you keep fighting, the burden of war will be eventually too much to bear. In this case, you are forced to look beyond the surface, find deeper insights about yourself and the word, and ultimately reinvent yourself.
So what’s the solution?
Prince Siddhartha Gautama, born in 563 B.C., had been raised as a prince who lived a luxurious life in his large palace. However, deep down, he felt empty. He intuitively knew that something profound was missing in his life. Fueled by the desire to find the ultimate truth, he set out into the world and became a wandering monk. During his journey, he suffered from sickness, loneliness, hunger, and existential grief. Then, on a full-moon day in May, he had meditated under a Bodhi tree and ended his suffering once and for all. In a glimpse of a moment, he reached the state of enlightenment. He transcended the love for this world, became the Buddha, and ultimately founded Buddhism.
Transcendence Is Mystical
Nobody can really tell you how to follow Buddha’s footsteps and achieve transcendence.
The dictionary defines transcend simply as „going beyond the range of limits “. And as this definition implies, you need to look beyond common knowledge, and beyond the rules of the society and the culture you live in.
The objective of transcendence, however, is pretty clear. It’s about gaining deeper insights about yourself and the world, inspired by wisdom and truth.
Here are some examples:
- If you suffer from poverty, you learn that real wealth is mostly an inner state.
- In case of sickness, you accept the state of suffering to transform your whole inner being.
- In the case of loneliness, you discover that you are your best friend.
The state of transcendence doesn’t seem to happen overnight. It’s proceeded by an intense phase of trials and tribulation.
Transcendence only can take place when you start to look into yourself. Start to trust your subjective reality. Question your beliefs, look beyond your fears, and listen to your intuition.
By doing that, you don’t play the game of society anymore. On the contrary, you take the game to another level.
Think of Gandhi. He didn’t respond to the aggression of the British Empire with even more violence, but rather, he achieved victory through nonviolent resistance.
At first sight, Stoicism and transcendence can be easily confused. There is, however, one crucial difference. A Stoic blocks out the negativity of the world by using willpower and discipline. He sets clear boundaries between himself and his external environment. In contrast, transcendence welcomes adversity and uses it as a catalysator to gain new insight. This magical state happens when you find order inside of chaos.
Needless to say, transcendence is the hardest and riskiest way of overcoming adversity, it is, however, also by far the most rewarding.
How to Become Your Own Hero
It should also be noted that these 3 approaches have a common foundation. They are based on discipline and constant action, and therefore, can’t (and shouldn’t) be used exclusively. It’s no „either-or-decision” because they naturally merge into one another.
It’s your job to mix them up, according to your goals, character traits, and surroundings.
For example, you can apply the refocus-method until you are forced to fight. And eventually, you need to find a deeper meaning with the help of transcendence.
But that’s only my suggestion. Ultimately, you need to decide — do you want to follow the footsteps of Zeno of Citium, Elon Musk, or the Buddha?