My inner stoicism takes the form of not caring about the results that I get. Sure, I commit myself enthusiastically to new projects, roles, and relationships. I do all the right things, and try hard… on the surface. But, at the end of the day, I sometimes deliberately don’t really care if I succeed or not. I make sure that I have a great back-up plan, and then if my original plan fails, I don’t really care because I have the next adventure waiting. And, it probably will be a better adventure than the original one, anyway.
I recently came face-to-face with this “I don’t care” stoic side of me when I tried my hand at organized drag racing. Yes, the sport where you drive as fast as you can down a track, and see who crosses the finish line first. There is a lot of pressure in this sport: you are pitted against an opponent who is trying to intimidate you, you have to make split-second reactions, and the whole thing is over in under 20 seconds. And yet, as I approached the start line, for my first race ever, I was calm. Why? Because in my mind, I had already decided that I didn’t care if I won or not. “This is just a silly sport,” I told myself. “What does it matter if I can drive faster than someone else or not? Soon, this will all be over and I can go out and have a yummy dinner with my man.”
That, my friends, is my inner stoic. It is a brilliant trait to cultivate if you never want to feel disappointment. If I can convince myself that I don’t really care about an outcome, then I don’t feel upset if I lose. Of course, I don’t feel terribly happy if I win, either, but it seems a reasonable trade-off to make.
The problem with having an inner stoic is that there is a huge cost to keeping it around: so long as I convince myself that I don’t really care about something, then I never fully commit to it and make it succeed. I don’t have the fire lit under my butt to make it work, or “die trying.”
Legend has it that when Cortes invaded Mexico, he knew that his men didn’t fully care if they conquered Mexico or not. So what did he do? He sunk his ships so that his men couldn’t ever return from Mexico. They were forced to care because, all of a sudden, they had no back-up plan. And so conquer Mexico they did.
In my current relationship, I have taken on my inner stoic in the same way. It used to be that when my partner and I would have a fight about something, like how we wanted to design our weekend, I would roll my eyes and tell myself that I didn’t really care about our relationship very much, anyways. I reasoned that there probably was someone better out there for me, and so if we didn’t work out, oh well. So long as I had that attitude, I never did the work with my partner to resolve our differences and design something that worked well for both of us.
I am now letting go of the inner stoic in my relationship, and admitting that I do really care about him. It has changed everything. I now have no choice but to deal with upsets in a way that resolve them beautifully, because I care so much about him and us, and I want us to work out. This care has grown and matured our relationship to new levels of intimacy and beauty. I am by no means a master yet, but am on my way.
Where in your life are you being the “I don’t care” stoic? What is the truth about how much you care? What do you need to be committing yourself to? Write me a note and share.
If you want to reform your inner stoicism and start to live a more caring and engaged life, sign up for a Design Your Life Weekends this Fall in New York, Los Angeles, London, Boston, and Toronto.