Purpose

How the Stoics Mastered the Art of Influence

Desire for influence is human nature. Many people allow this to dictate the course of their lives, often unaware. But the Stoic philosophers developed a deeper sense of awareness and took the opposite approach.

Influence wasn’t their end goal. They approached it with indifference and chalked it up to fortune–nice to have but nonessential. Instead, they offered a more effective strategy–seek meaning over influence.

If you focus on work that matters to you and discover significance in yourself, you put yourself in a position to build something that strikes a deeper chord with others.

Find significance within yourself. Within your own sphere of power–that is where you have the greatest consequence.
— Epictetus

But if influence acts as your guiding principle, you dull your sense of authenticity and depth. You might get lucky and hit the target a few times. But you’ll always be guessing. And it’s difficult to sustain when you’re creating from outside of yourself and dependent on things beyond your control.

It’s a dangerous game to tie your sense of meaning and self-worth to external conditions. You introduce dependencies that can drop you into a state of anxiety, envy or despair, without warning.

Sooner or later your voice begins to waiver. By allowing influence to dictate your decisions, you compromise the quality of your work and your character. And how much good can you do if you sacrifice your integrity and a sense of meaning in your work along the way?

What you’re building must first resonate with you before you can expect it to resonate with anyone else.

But if you lose your honor in striving for greater (perceived) significance, you become useless.
— Epictetus

People gravitate towards those who have discovered a deeper sense of meaning in their work. That’s why the Stoics remain relevant to this day. They created from a place of meaning and valued their internal compass over recognition.

When you seek meaning over influence, you add an unusual depth to your voice that draws people in.

Epictetus, Marcus, and Seneca knew this well. They channeled their own sense of authenticity into their work and they way they lived their lives.

As their influence grew, they leveraged it to contribute something worthwhile. But they weren’t dependent on it. Despite the obstacles faced and privileges afforded, they remained focused on what was within their realm of control–living a meaningful life to the best of their ability.

Meaning starts with something that’s all your own. By prioritizing meaning over influence, you build the courage to speak from a place that resonates with you.

You would be foolish to ignore your audience entirely. But that’s a secondary consideration because there’s no guarantee. You’re the one who has to live with the work you put out into the world and the way you live your life.

Influence is far more likely to follow if you build something you believe in.

Keep your principles in order. When influence tilts your way, you’ll be prepared to lead with a steady hand like a Stoic. You’ll position yourself as the antithesis of the paranoid, corrupt leaders scattered throughout history.

But if you fail to assign things their proper value, you’ll risk losing yourself to an obsession with influence and power.

Focus instead on the things that are your own and create from there. There’s more fulfillment in this work and it often leads to better outcomes.

When you focus on your own authenticity, there’s a far greater chance it will resonate and make a measurable difference in someone else’s life. And even if it doesn’t, it remains valuable because it meant something to you. There’s a fundamental beauty in that.

Beautiful things of any kind are beautiful in themselves and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous...Are any of those improved by being praised? Or damaged by contempt?
— Marcus Aurelius

It’s a rare thing in this world to first seek significance in yourself and build the courage to create something that resonates with you. Trust yourself. The world is drawn to authenticity.

When you value meaning over influence you’ll achieve a state of relaxed concentration to do the work that matters. The work you find meaning in. And it’s through this work that you build character and a sense of authenticity.

Seek meaning first, authenticity and influence will follow.
Seek influence first and you’ll risk losing yourself along the way.

*My original post appeared on Daily Stoic – a great resource for all things Stoicism. Check out their daily email for thought-provoking morning meditations.

Authenticity Is Your Now

Authenticity is not a fixed point on a map. It’s fluid, much like your identity, and shifts over the course of your life.

It’s easier to trick yourself into believing the feel-good advice that your voice comes from a sudden revelation. You just have to wait for that moment. And once you’ve found it, the entire picture comes into focus and remains that way for life.

But authenticity is found through fragments. It evolves over time. It’s a moving target that falls out of focus and can be lost to the chaos of life.

Authenticity is less about identifying a singular purpose and voice that should define your entire life. It’s about finding and trusting your voice today. In other words, embracing the impermanence of your identity, knowing that it can and will change.

How you live your life–your interests, principles, and priorities–will evolve over time. As you grow, you’ll add depth to your voice. If you remain the same for too long, that’s when you know you’ve stopped learning or are clinging to an expired version of yourself.

It’s easy to get caught up in the expectations you hold for yourself or that others project upon you– who you should be, where you have been. If you fuel these doubts, you can opt out of the unknown and find comfort in your plateau. But you won’t grow through the familiar, and you won’t find alignment.

Your sense of authenticity–your now–is something that’s all your own. It’s discovered, developed, and deepened, by the obstacles you face, the uncertainties you navigate, and the inspiration you find along the way.

If you want to create something that matters–to both yourself and others–you have to create from where you currently are in your life. That’s how you build momentum and depth. Trust yourself.

It’s the difference between artists and entrepreneurs who get lucky once and those who sustain success over decades. If you cling to what got you there in the first place, you’ll fail to evolve and render yourself irrelevant.

Artists who reinvent themselves fight for projects that allow them to grow, stretch their abilities, and discover new things. In doing so, they create from a place that resonates with them at a single point in time.

Over the course of years, a series of single brush strokes reveals an evolving sense of authenticity.

Bob Dylan, one of history’s great songwriters, has reinvented himself time and time again throughout his career. He’s altered his voice and bridged various genres, beginning in folk, shifting towards rock, and experimenting with country and Christian albums along the way.

Five decades later we can step back and admire his trajectory–how he’s pushed himself to grow, defy expectations, and channel that into his art. Time makes this seem inevitable, as if all he had to do was fall in line with destiny. But that fails to take into account the years of criticism, outrage, and uncertainty Dylan faced.

Authenticity–creating from who you are today, despite expectations tearing you in different directions–is not for the faint of heart.

Dylan threw the folk community into a fit of rage when he “went electric.” He could have stuck with what was working and fallen in line with their expectations, but validation was never his primary motivation. He sought meaning over influence at each step of his career. As a result, he achieved exactly that–lifelong influence.

Dylan resonates with people because his songwriting tracks his own development as a human being. His songs reflect who he was–his observations, experiences, and imagination–and who he refused to be at each point in time. Dylan’s career is a master class in embracing the impermanence of identity and authenticity. The fragments of himself that he brought to life shows he understands this in a deep way.

There were a lot of better singers and better musicians around these places but there wasn’t anybody close in nature to what I was doing. Folk songs were the way I explored the universe...
— Bob Dylan

There’s no single template for finding your voice as it exists today. It’s different for each person. Legendary director, Steven Spielberg, was quite different from Dylan. Dylan had unusual depth which he developed at an early age. Spielberg developed his own sense of depth over decades.

Spielberg’s progression from Jaws (1975) to Schindler’s List (1993) demonstrates this. In those eighteen years, he grew by finding projects that spoke to him at a specific point in time. What felt authentic to him in 1965 was entirely different than 1993. That doesn’t negate his early work, he was just creating from a different place.

Spielberg’s voice evolved through his films, just as Dylan’s did through his albums. That’s why they’ve remained relevant for so many years. They’ve changed, adapted, and grown. But most importantly, both have had the courage to speak from where they were in each present moment.

Both faced criticism along the way for unpopular decisions, but that’s the irony of the whole thing. People are enraged by change, but if you stay the same you guarantee failure. You lose touch with yourself, a sense of fulfillment in your work, and a deeper connection to your audience.

Before you release your work into the wild, fight like hell to make sure it first resonates with you.

No one gets it right each time. There will be times you lose your sense of authenticity. Not even Dylan and Spielberg are immune to the chaos of life. But when the intention and awareness are there, it’s easier to rebuild and rediscover a sense of momentum.

Life is motion. Authenticity is about finding harmony in that motion.

It’s not always easy, but it’s meaningful. Allow yourself to evolve through uncertainty. When you find the courage to speak from this place, you add unusual depth and clarity to your voice. That’s what draws people in.

Start by reflecting on what resonates with you at this point in your life–experiences, interests, observations, values. Authenticity is your now. No matter where you are, trust yourself to create from who you are today.

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