It’s very easy to associate our possessions and our positions with our identity. There’s even an expression to that effect: The clothes make the man. When we have a powerful job, we feel powerful. When the market is hot, we feel like we have a knack for investing. When we are number one in our space, in our industry, in sales, we’re very into checking and monitoring the rankings. When people are saying nice things about us, we revel in it, because of course it’s all true and deserved.
If everything stays well, it’s hard to see what the downside of this approach is (excepting the ego that can often creep in). It’s only when the screw turns that we realize how dangerous this has all been. Because when you associate your identity with externals when things are good, it’s impossible not to associate your identity when suddenly the same externals are showing you to be a loser or a fool or the object of other people’s contempt.
The Stoics would urge you to remember that things don’t make the man. Not now, not ever. Epictetus reminds us that just because someone has more money than you doesn’t make them superior. No, only their bank balance is superior. If someone is an eloquent speaker, that doesn’t make them better than you either. It just means they have better diction. “You yourself,” he says, “are neither property nor diction.”
Nope. You’re you. And you’re not measured or made by externals, or anything that is outside your control. What matter is who you are on the inside. What matters is what you do with the choices and situations that are inside your control. What matters is how you ride out the highs and the lows, and ideally are changed by neither of them.