He will place himself beyond the jurisdiction of chance; he will wisely control prosperity; he will lessen adversity and will despise what others hold in admiration. It is the quality of a great soul to scorn great things and to prefer that which is ordinary rather than that which is too great. – Seneca
The name of this letter got me thinking. Well, that’s a lie because if you know me, I’m always thinking. I call them thought experiments, but I digress. Noble aspirations is a great name for a letter from Seneca. We all have aspirations and I’m willing to bet they are all very different. I like to shoot for the stars with my aspirations. If you’re going to dream, why not dream big? Now think about the noble part. It’s great to dream big but what are you willing to give up to reach those aspirations? That’s the key. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be wealthy or famous. There’s nothing wrong inherently with those aspirations. I’d always ask why you want those things but that’s only on the surface. When people want to be famous, because most famous people are also wealthy. I say most because there’s famous and not wealthy. That does exist. Just look at the new or maybe not so new infatuation with reality television. Don’t get me wrong, I indulge. However, I can’t stop wondering what these people gave up to have their lives on television. The obvious answer is they gave up their privacy but we knew that already. The question is, is it worth it? Is it worth being famous but zero privacy? I think we can all agree that is not a noble aspiration. Now if you set out to be great and change the world and fame follows that that is a totally different situation.
This is the case with the soul also; for it is ruined by uncontrolled prosperity, which is used not only to the detriment of others but also to the detriment of itself. – Seneca
What about the aspiration to be wealthy? Let’s define wealthy for now as chasing a monthly or yearly number. Have you ever heard of keeping up with the Jones’? Maybe you’ve heard of this by another name but it does not matter. What matters is the idea behind that saying or cliche. There are people out there that try to keep up with their neighbor or their friends from college. They are in this endless race to the top of something. Who knows what they are after, but we seem to chase them. Another cliche phrase is “the grass is greener on the other side”. I’m sure you’ve heard of that one before. While the grass might be greener on the other side we do not know what problems follow that kind of wealth. That’s the other side of the coin that the chasers never sit back and think about. At this point, I know you’re now thinking about what all these people have given up. That’s the point of noble aspirations. You never want to become prosperous by walking over others.
Think about that for a second. We all have thought about great aspirations. That’s what goals are for. When we were young we all wanted to throw the winning touchdown or score the winning goal. I’m sure some of us have great regrets because we never had those moments. What we need to realize is why we have those great aspirations in the first place. What we never think about is what comes with reaching those great aspirations. I’ve never thought about what it must be like to be recognized everywhere I went because I was famous. Thinking about it for a moment makes me just shiver with the lack of privacy they have to deal with. So, I’m sure you’re asking yourself then what’s the point of having any aspirations? Well, come on now! That’s the whole point of this post. We need to make sure these aspirations are noble.
Pick up the list of the philosophers; that very act will compel you to wake up when you see how many men have been working for your benefit. – Seneca
There is a way for our aspirations to be noble and great all at the same time. Let’s look at wealth again but from a different angle. Let’s wake up. What if you chase security and not a number? What if you chase security for you and your loved ones instead of zeros in your bank account. Yes, they may seem similar but I think we’d all agree that chasing security for your loved ones is pretty darn noble. See what I just did there? All of our aspirations can be noble if we change our mentality and why we’re reaching for those goals. If we change how we’re reaching for our goals then they will be just as noble. Now I believe we are all good and noble at heart. We all want the best for each other. To me, it’s inherent in us…some of us we need to find that deep noble motivation again.
Just as the flame springs straight into the air and cannot be cabined or kept down any more than it can repose in quiet, so our soul is always in motion, and the more ardent it is, the greater its motion and activity. – Seneca
Let’s wrap this up with the idea that no matter what our big goals are, no matter how great they are, as long as they start from a place of virtue and passion then we will know we are going the right direction. There’s always stories of people reaching the pinnacle of their given fields and realizing they may have achieved their goals unethically. We don’t want to be one of those stories. With that said we don’t want to stop dreaming either. We should always be reaching for the stars. The key is not reaching those goals without resetting along the way. Resetting to make sure we are not burning our soul to reach those goals at all costs. Thinking about my own aspirations. The aspirations of security for my family instead of just chasing some lofty number has changed my mentality. It feels better. It feels more virtuous. Think back on your big aspirations. I’m sure you’ve thought about how you could look at them differently. Well at least at this point I hope you’ve looked at them differently. That’s my goal. Be true to your soul. Be excited about where that passion can take you. Dare greatly.
Here are some other quotes from letter #39:
They are the slaves of their pleasures instead of enjoying them; they even love their own ills – and that is the worst ill of all!
Then it is that the height of unhappiness is reached when men are not only attracted, but even pleased, by shameful things, and when there is no longer any room for a cure, now that those things which once were vices have become habits.
You will desire eagerly to be one of them yourself, for this is the most excellent quality that the noble soul has within itself, that it can be roused to honorable things.
It is for this reason that men sink themselves in pleasures, and they cannot do without them when once they have become accustomed to them, and for this reason, they are most wretched because they have reached such a pass that what was once superfluous to them has become indispensable.