Here’s a transcript from Tim Ferriss’s interview with Marcus Aurelius:
Tim: Thanks for joining me, Marcus. Or should I use your title: Caesar?
Marcus: You may call me Marcus. I do not stand on ceremony.
Tim: Fair enough. So, I want to start at the beginning. What is Stoicism?
Marcus: Stoicism is a philosophy of life. It is a way of looking at the world. It is about seeing clearly what is in front of us and feeling what is in our hearts. It is about doing what is right, no matter what the cost. It is about living according to nature and treating others with kindness and respect.
Tim: I like that. So, what is the goal of Stoicism?
Marcus: The goal of Stoicism is to live a good life, a life in accordance with nature.
Tim: What does that mean?
Marcus: It means doing what we ought to do, not doing what we want to do. It means acting rationally, not emotionally.
Tim: Ok, so how do we do that?
Marcus: By paying attention to what is in our power and not worrying about the rest.
Tim: That’s a great answer, but what does it mean?
Marcus: It means we have control over our actions, our judgments, and our feelings. It means we can choose how we respond to events outside of our control. It means we can choose what to think.
Tim: I like that. So, how do you apply Stoicism to life?
Marcus: By facing the world with a smile and acting with justice, kindness, and honesty.
Tim: I like that too. So, can you give me an example?
Marcus: Sure. When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: These are obstructions.
Tim: That’s a great passage. So, how do we deal with adversity?
Marcus: By recognizing that it is nothing more than what it is: a thing that can be endured.
Tim: That’s hard.
Marcus: It is, but it is also liberating.
Tim: How do you mean?
Marcus: The things that cause us suffering are those that are out of our control. Death, illness, poverty, dishonor, slander, and all such things. If you accept that they are fated to happen, they will lose their power over you.
Tim: That’s a powerful idea. So, how do we deal with pain?
Marcus: The first step is recognizing that pain is an opinion, not a fact. The second is accepting that it can’t be changed. The third is being thankful that it isn’t worse.
Tim: That’s a great way of putting it. So, what’s the best way to deal with other people?
Marcus: Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Tim: What about those who are unkind?
Marcus: They are like children, who are unkind not by choice but because they don’t know better.
Tim: How do we deal with external events that we can’t control?
Marcus: We accept that we have no control over them.
Tim: I like that. I have a question. I’ve heard it said that Stoicism is a cold and emotionless philosophy.
Marcus: That’s not true. Stoics feel all the emotions—they just don’t allow those emotions to determine their behavior.
Tim: So, you’re saying that Stoics don’t repress their emotions?
Marcus: No. The Stoic does not indulge her emotions, but she feels them fully and completely.
Tim: What about death?
Marcus: Death is nothing to us. When we exist, death is not yet present. And when death is present, then we no longer exist. It doesn’t concern us at all.
Tim: That’s a great answer. So, can you sum up Stoicism for me?
Marcus: Sure. I can tell you that it is the art of living. It is about seeing clearly, doing good, and facing adversity. It is about accepting what cannot be changed and freeing yourself from the things that cause you suffering. It is about being strong and kind. It is about seeing the world as it is, not as you want it to be.
Tim: I like that. For a small change of topic, there are a few questions I like to ask. As you may know I’m a huge fan of books and read dozens of them every year. What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
Marcus: I’m a big fan of biographies, especially those of the great philosophers and statesmen. I like to read about how others have dealt with adversity and challenges. I also love history books, especially those of the Roman Empire.
Tim: I like that. What about books you’ve read recently that you would recommend?
Marcus: I’ve been reading The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. It’s about how to turn obstacles into advantages.
Tim: That sounds good. I’ll check it out. What about books that have greatly influenced your life?
Marcus: The Enchiridion by Epictetus.
Tim: I guess you like Roman philosophers. What about favorite quotes?
Marcus: I have many favorites.
Tim: Give me some.
Marcus: “It is difficult to fight against one’s natural impulses.”
“Accept life as it comes.”
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
“How much time he saves who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks.”
Tim: I like those. What about favorite movies or TV shows?
Marcus: I’m a big fan of many of the HBO series, such as Rome, The Sopranos, and Game of Thrones.
Tim: What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.
Marcus: I’m a big fan of the Moleskine notebooks. I just ordered the new “junior” version.
Tim: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
Marcus: I failed at many things early in my life. I failed as a student, as an athlete, and as a politician. I failed as a husband and a father. But each failure taught me something about myself and the world. I learned from these failures and became a better man for it.
Tim: If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph.
Marcus: “You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Tim: What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
Marcus: Travel. I’ve visited many countries and have learned much from others.
Tim:What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
Marcus: I love to swim. I’ve done it every day for years.
Tim: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Marcus: I have no talent for drinking. I must therefore leave it alone.
Tim: I like that. So, what’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Marcus: I write in a journal every single day
Tim: In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Marcus: I’ve adopted a no-complaining policy. I used to complain all the time about everything. This doesn’t mean I don’t have complaints—it means I keep them to myself.
Tim: What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
Marcus: Educate yourself. Read as much as you can. Surround yourself with people who are better than you. Don’t waste time on jealousy or resentment. Don’t let your emotions control you. Find a cause that is bigger than yourself and devote yourself to it.
Tim: What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Marcus: “Your gut doesn’t matter.” You must learn to trust your gut and use it to navigate the world.
“It’s too late for this.”
“You’re too old for that.”
“You’ll never be able to do that.”
Tim: In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?
Marcus: I’ve learned that it’s better to give a small amount of time to many people than a lot of time to a few people.
Tim: When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)
Marcus: I take a break and do some exercise. Then, I get back to work.
Tim: If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Marcus: I would have studied philosophy much earlier in life. It has changed everything for me.
Tim: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? (There’s no right answer. I’m just curious.)
Marcus: I would like to be able to read other people’s minds. I’m pretty good at understanding what others are thinking, but I’d like to be able to read their thoughts directly.
Tim: One last question: What does success mean to you?
Marcus: Finding a purpose larger than yourself and devoting your life to it.
Tim: Thank you, Marcus, I really enjoyed this.
Marcus: It was a pleasure.
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