We must aspire to envy no person’s lifestyle, only their freedom to live more fearlessly than us.
Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman in the Daily Stoic elude to an essay by Seneca on tranquility in which they refer to the Greek word euthymia, which means “believing in yourself and trusting you are on the right path, and not being in doubt by following the myriad of footpaths of those wandering in every direction.”
There is a misconception about what it means to be mentally strong and it has severe costs to society.
We are often reminded that mentally strong people always keep on keeping on, they push through the pain, bite the bullet, take the hit, weather the storm, and wear the scars with dignity.
In the face of adversity, our ability to endure will be called upon. There is no escaping this, and if on the other side of this adversity lies what we value, we will be better for making it through. However, there is no value in enduring just for the sake of it or to fit in.
In corporate culture, the message to “push through” has been received loud and clear. So much so, that we often experience the existence of two opposing voices in our heads, both fighting for control.
One voice says, “I need a break, it’s time for a vacation, I need to slow down.”
The other voice responds, “Have you lost your fucking mind? I can’t right now, I am too busy,” and the famous nutcracker, “Everyone else is in the same boat.”
Since no one wants to be the first one out of the race, everyone continues to push through.
According to the American Psychological Association, 75% percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Expenditure on prescription drugs, short term disability leave, substance abuse, and overall mental health issues continue to rise. This puts a tremendous strain on individuals, families, healthcare systems, and government spending.
Perhaps part of this outward manifestation of dis-ease is our human response to an overwhelming amount of stress and the social pressure to push through.
When I was in Columbia, I met Luke and Cally, a couple from Australia who had been backpacking through South America for eight months. Together we embarked on a six-hour adventure through the hills of Jardin. At the top of a hill we found a waterfall that led to a natural pool in a farmer’s backyard. In true Columbian fashion, the farmer’s wife said, “If you want to jump in, it’s going to cost you twenty pesos.”
Luke and Cally had met each other while working as park rangers at a wildlife reserve. They are now back in Australia where they bought a “Tiny Mobile Home” that allows them to move their home as often as they like.
Luke and Cally are two highly intelligent people, who are in great physical shape and have an immense sensitivity to nature and empathy for others. There was no indication that they would not excel if they chose a more “traditional” life path.
Surely their lives are not all rainbows and sunshine, and just like other mentally strong people, they wrestle to keep external pressures at bay. It is not necessary to envy their lifestyle, but it is worth envying their fearlessness to live on their own terms.
What if “pushing through,” in the way that we have come to accept it, just means following the pack?
To become mentally strong, we must first decipher which one of the two voices in our heads belongs to us and which one is persisting to measure itself in relation to others.
Being mentally strong is refusing to compromise on our values, regardless of external pressures, criticism, or judgement. This is the adversity that mentally strong people are willing to endure and are able to push through.