Assume everyone hates you. They hate you and they don’t want you to succeed or to ever be happy. They laugh at you behind your back, and sometimes right to your face.
In Greek myth, Sisyphus was condemned in the afterlife to push a boulder to the top of the hill, but every time he made it to the top, he would slip and the boulder would roll down to the bottom. There was another myth about a man named Tantalus who stood forever in a pool a water. Within arm’s reach was the branch of a fruit tree, but whenever he reached for it, it would move away, and whenever he crouched down to drink the water, it would recede. He was condemned to eternal hunger, thirst, and frustration.
I like these stories because the tell of a type of suffering that is so different from the Christian hell– fire and brimstone and all that stuff. These stories are less direct. They’re not about intense physical pain, but rather they’re stories of deep psychological suffering. I think they’re worse. Maybe it’s because I know the frustration of a task that’s never quite finished, or the discomfort of hunger or thirst. A long day with no time for lunch or dinner, or a tragically unsaved Word document when the computer freezes– these things are far more real and more painful to me that the thought of being skinned alive and branded by a bunch of little mustachioed red men with pitchforks.
What if your own version of hell was this: You are living life much like you are now. You have the same friends, job, home, and belongings, but everyone speaks a language that you don’t know and can never learn. And they all dislike you and you don’t know why. There seems to be nothing you can do about it. What do you do you? Do you give up and hit the bar every morning until your time on earth is used up? Do you steal some drugs and have sex with hookers for the rest of your life? Pursue an existence of pure pleasure? Or do you keep pushing ahead in spite of the impossible odds and say “fuck ’em” of allt he people who hate you, just like Sysuphus did to that boulder ever single time?
OK, now back to reality. Not everyone hates you. But sometimes it’s helpful to pretend they do, just so you can practice saying “Fuck ’em.”You didn’t need them anyway.
The Stoics had an excercise where they would imagine they already lost.
“Imangine your life is over,” Marcus said. “Now take what’s left and live it properly.”
Seneca said something similar:
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I so feared?’“
These exercises force you to accept the absolute worse case scenario– death, poverty, alienation– as a given, and then proceed from there. Accepting the worst. Assume you already lost, and the move on.
Because once you do that, fear ceases to exist. You are able to see the advantages of every situation and seize them with both hands. You don’t hesitate so much. Your regrets are dead in the water, and you are moved to action.