In this publication I translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In Letter 21, he discusses success: why you may want it, the barriers and how you can overcome them.
Is success what you want?
- We get what we want
- We’re in discomfort, pain, illness
- We have bodies we like
- Other people are treating us nicely or fairly
- People think highly of us or not
- Things are difficult, stressful, overwhelming
- Things go the way we like, things are orderly, things are pleasurable
- And so forth. We want what we want, we want others to be nice to us and think highly of us, we want to be happy and good looking, etc.
But this is a narrow world. It’s small; focused only on us and what we want or don’t want.
Having a bigger purpose, focused on helping others, broadens that world. It expands our view so that we’re thinking of others and ourselves, and how we are all interconnected.
It’s a much more fulfilling way to live.
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 must 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 if you end up being true to yourself. People will look up to you and respect you for this and your success. 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, success and influence; pursuit 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 must do, for example eating or drinking, you can deal with this type of demand easily. Question everything else.