Really what the Stoics were trying to do is pare down what they had to worry about. That’s why Epictetus said our first job was just to determine what was in our control and what isn’t—because that eliminates an enormous chunk of concern from our concern. Suddenly, we don’t need to think as much about the past or the future. We don’t have to care what people think about us. We don’t need to compare ourselves to anything and anyone.
When Rousseau said that man is born free but lives in chains, he knew that most of those chains are self-imposed. But if we can study this philosophy, if we can hold our impressions up to the light and look at them—Does this matter? Is this up to me? Will getting angry or scared make this any better?—we can break free from those shackles.
The payoff of this paring down of concerns is freedom. As Epictetus says, the fruit of the philosopher’s work is peace, courage, and above all, liberty. That’s why we’re doing this. So that we can reap the rewards inherent in wisdom.
Wisdom—even a tiny bit—is perspective and priorities. And with that is freedom.