When we think of greatness, we think of success. We think of strength. We think of influence. We think of the man or woman exerting their will over the universe, or dominating on the athletic field, or dazzling us with their creative brilliance. We think of the trappings of this greatness: ornate mansions, peak physical conditioning, confidently strolling the halls of power.
Is this really greatness, though? What if the person who has it is actually miserable? If every minute they’re awake they’re driven by demons or insecurities or the need to control and beat other people? How great is greatness if it is constantly on the edge of destroying itself through overreaching or over-doing?
Seneca said that “nothing is great unless it’s also at peace.” What he meant was that stillness and greatness—true greatness, that is—are impossible to separate. It’s stillness that allows us to be great, on the court or in the public sphere or on the page. No one is able to push the bounds of accomplishment if they are distracted or disorganized. At the same time, it’s stillness that allows us to enjoy our accomplishments. What good is becoming a billionaire if all you can think about is how much more there is left to earn? If you’re just comparing yourself to richer people?
Stillness is the key to greatness and the key to happiness (and it’s the title of Ryan Holiday’s new book!). There is little hope and little point to life without it. Stillness is what Stoicism seeks to instill in us—so that we can be better at our jobs, at our responsibilities, and in our quiet moments alone.
Without stillness, we have no greatness. We have only franticness and insatiableness.