Letters To Seneca – Letter 7

Dear Seneca,

I want you to envision a pendulum that’s swinging back and forth. When it swings in one direction you gain more of one attribute and less of the other. This sits at the core of a question I’ve pondered today. Let’s explore…

One side with have ambition and the other we have contentment, which in my head are contradictory states of being, hence our pendulum example. If I’m more content, I’m like to be less ambitious. Throughout my short time reading about philosophy, I’ve heard multiple times, that happiness is not the goal, but being at peace or content is.

I’m concerned. I fear that if I go down this path of gathering the strength to be content, I’ll lose my ambition, which could, in turn, stop my “socially accepted” progress.

After wrestling with this thought further I’m starting to realize this “concern” could be nothing… Or better said, should be nothing.

Let’s assume the people that are more content achieve less observable progress (money, status, power, etc.). I’ve realized that we’re using the wrong measuring stick. The definition of progress for someone that’s content vs. an ambitious person is completely different. And the content person’s perspective in the long run could be more personally valued.

If we randomly picked a few hundred content people and did the same for ambitious people, tracking their health and lifespans, the content people will live longer and more fulfilled lives.

My concern isn’t that I’ll lose my ambition, it’s that I’ll lose my current identity. If I no longer see life as something to conquer always progressing forward, but instead see it as something to be enjoyed, my internal identity will change. This is the fear…

The tradeoff is clear. Pursue a life of ambition continuing to progress based on what others label as “success”, eventually arriving at my end goals. But like everyone else, I’ll realize this isn’t enough and there’s more to be done. Endlessly running on the hedonic treadmill. Sure, I might eventually realize that I’m running someone else’s race, but at what cost?

Instead of delaying this internal work for later in life and trying to make up for lost time, I should start now. Face the music, dissociate from one identity to attach to another, with the hope of gaining freedom.

The ultimate freedom, freedom from the mind.