The great Athenian statesman Pericles once explained to his people that being a great naval power was not some hobby. It was the key to their survival. “Seamanship is an art,” he said, “just like anything else, and you cannot merely practice it ‘on the side’ whenever you feel like it. To the contrary, it leaves you no room for side pursuits.”
The Stoics believed philosophy was the same. That self-improvement and the pursuit of wisdom was not this extra thing we did with our spare time when we were finished working or putting our kids down to bed. No, it was the main thing. Everything else was the hobby.
That was Seneca’s line (which we talked about in March):
“Devote yourself wholly to philosophy. You are worthy of her; she is worthy of you; greet one another with a loving embrace. Say farewell to all other interests with courage and frankness. Do not study philosophy merely during your spare time.”
And what was true in March was true in the first century AD when he wrote it, and it’s an important reminder again here today.
If someone with a great track record had a great investment opportunity for you, you’d clear your schedule and seriously research it. If you got the call you’ve been waiting for, the one that would let you pursue your dream career, you’d do anything to say yes. You’d quite everything else. But wisdom seems less urgent. Less important. Something you can get around to later, if you so choose.
No. If the end goal is happiness, strength in adversity, perspective, virtue—the kinds of traits you see in the people you truly admire—then philosophy has to be the priority, not the side hustle. It has to be the main thing. Everything else can come after, if there is even room.