Lesson 1: Only hold values you control.
Mark is a very Stoic guy and it shines through his writing and advice. A common idea in Stoicism is to focus only on the things you can control. This is easy enough to understand and implement when it comes to your actions, but it can be applied to more intangible aspects of your life as well.
Take your values, for example. I know it’s hard to put them into words, but if you try to describe yourself in, say, three adjectives, you already have a good idea of which values most dictate your life. Let’s say you chose the words honest, punctual and popular. Here’s where Mark makes an interesting remark: Only choose to have values you can control.
Most of us give up some of our ideals as we grow up, try to have a career and make money. While that’s just part of real life, it’s important you don’t hand off the steering wheel altogether. Values you don’t control are bad, because they’ll be a constant source of unnecessary suffering in your life.
When we look at the three we just mentioned, honesty is 100% in your control. Only you know how honest you are, but no one else needs to. Punctuality is partially in your control. If you always leave with plenty of buffer time, you can compensate for most potential obstacles. Popularity, however, is totally out of your grasp. Sure, you can be nice and friendly to everyone, but you can’t control other peoples’ opinions. Some will always hate you, no matter what you do.
Therefore, popularity isn’t the best value to focus on and you could try replacing it with one more controllable, such as kindness.
Lesson 2: Certainty hampers growth.
What a great principle distilled into just three words: certainty hampers growth. Imagine you could choose between two modes of moving through the world: one in which you think everything you know is 100% true and one in which you think nothing you know is 100% true. Both are stressful, but which one do you think would help you make better decisions?
The latter, of course. While there’s some middle ground to be found here, rejecting the idea that you know anything for sure is a great base to start learning from. This is true for discovering factual knowledge, such as using the scientific method to build business hypotheses helps arrive at better conclusions, but it is also true for gaining conceptual knowledge.
The second kind is more implicit knowledge about the relationships between various entities. Let’s take your place in the social hierarchy at school, for example. If you’re convinced you’re ugly, you’ll be sad a lot. But if you notice that you get lots of compliments at school, people call you charming and some have a crush on you, that’s evidence your brain is playing you with false certainty.
If you allow yourself to have a little doubt, you can then disprove this limiting belief you hold about yourself.
Lesson 3: Don’t obsess about leaving a legacy.
Here’s an uncomfortable, but important reminder: You’re going to die one day. We all are. Whether we admit it or not, when the time comes closer, we’re all scared. That’s why many of us want to leave a legacy, myself included. However, Mark says that might ruin our short amount of precious time here on earth.
The more we’re driven to build a great body of work, the more start chasing fame, working too much and focusing on the future. What if instead, we just tried to be useful in the present? We could still help a ton of people, enjoy our days and fully be here, while we’re here.
Mark’s stance is clear: Find ways to bring yourself, your loved ones and the people you meet joy in the now and let the legacy part take care of itself.