6 Lessons From Stoic Philosophy That Can Make Your Life Better Today

If you can’t find your way forward, try looking back — way back to 161 AD

Ryan Holiday
Published in
7 min readSep 29, 2020


Man walking into 2D maze.
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

The reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was defined by a pandemic, civil unrest, interminable wars, cultural decadence, and income inequality.

As he would observe in Meditations, people have always been people, and life has always been life. The more things change, the more they stay the same. How true we’ve found this to be.

I’ve spent more than a decade writing about the Stoic philosophy, most recently with my book Lives of the Stoics and my research is filled with unique characters from unique backgrounds — from slaves to generals, lawyers to writers, artists to doctors. Despite all their difficulties, they found a way to be successful, happy, strong, productive, and good. The Stoics were philosophers, but more than that, they were doers. They didn’t have room for big words or big ideas, just stuff that made you better right here, right now.

Like these six simple lessons:

Find a mentor

“Choose a master whose life, conversation, and soul-expressing face have satisfied you … For we must indeed have someone according to whom we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler.” — Seneca

The story of Stoicism begins with misfortune. On a merchant voyage, Zeno was shipwrecked and lost everything he had. He washed up in Athens, where he walked into a bookstore and listened to the bookseller reading dialogues from Socrates. After the reading, Zeno asked the question that would change his life: “Where can I find a man like that?”

What he meant was: Where can I find my own Socrates? Where can I find someone to study under? In that moment, Crates, a well-known Athenian philosopher, happened to be passing by. The bookseller simply extended his hand and pointed at him.

Nearly all of the ancient Stoics had a formative mentor, living or dead. Cleanthes had Zeno. Cato had Sarpedon. Seneca had Attalus. Epictetus had Musonius Rufus. Marcus Aurelius had Rusticus, who turned him onto Epictetus. Chrysippus had Cleanthes. Thrasea had Cato…



Ryan Holiday
Writer for

Bestselling author of ‘Conspiracy,’ ‘Ego is the Enemy’ & ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ http://amzn.to/24qKRWR