Assemble Your Life, Action by Action
I have begun this year to try and focus on a specific theme to help me progress in my Stoic journey. The one for 2022 came easily as our family has begun the process of moving from New Orleans where we have lived for nearly eight years to start a new chapter back home in Alabama.
Change is never easy but always necessary. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman philosopher-emperor who wrote the Meditations, asks himself “Frightened of change? But what can exist without it?” He writes “Think of how many changes you’ve already seen. The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”
Life is nothing but change. There are things that we have absolutely no control over such as life threatening epidemics and the ignorant refusal of our fellow citizens to take the simplest measures to care for themselves and others. There are a host of personal and professional circumstances just waiting to blindside us when we least need or expect it.
We do, however, control what matters. Our judgment about what happens. Our reasoned response. What we do with what we are given. Do we uselessly spit into the wind or is there a better way?
Once again Marcus gives us something to consider:
You have to assemble your life yourself — action by action. And be satisfied if each one achieves its goal, as far as it can. No one can keep that from happening. — “But there are external obstacles.…” Not to behaving with justice, self-control, and good sense. — “Well, but perhaps to some more concrete action.” But if you accept the obstacle and work with what you’re given, an alternative will present itself — another piece of what you’re trying to assemble. Action by action.
What we do with what we are given is entirely up to us. The brick thrown through our window is a piece to lay a new foundation. Every day we can seek to do at least one thing to make progress. We can lean into resistance, to use whatever happens as a way to grow stronger and more resilient.
No one will do this for us. We have to take responsibility for our own lives. We get to assemble our life with every action we take. While we do not control what happens, we do control how what happens affects us. That is the action that matters.
Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations (Modern Library) (p. 65). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations (Modern Library) (p. 102). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations (Modern Library) (p. 118). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.