Seneca on achievement and ambition

Seneca is particularly skeptical of the double-edged sword of achievement and ambition — which causes us to steep in our cesspool of insecurity, dissatisfaction, and clinging:.

“It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return. New preoccupations take the place of the old, hope excites more hope and ambition more ambition. They do not look for an end to their misery, but simply change the reason for it”.

This, Seneca cautions, is tenfold more toxic for the soul when one is working for somone else, toiling away toward goals laid out by another.

A personal take: I once employed people, who in a sense were employing me. I found myself “acquiring by great toil what I had to keep by greater toil.” I sort-of achieved what I wanted, very laboriously, and “possessed what I had achieved very anxiously”. Later, I adopted Epicureanism and devoted twenty years to writing music, with my wife – a new preoccupation. But in this endeavor we toiled, but it was fun; we achieved what we wanted to achieve, but we neither of us expected anything more than personal satisfaction. We made not a penny from it, and we didn’t care. We had done it to our own satisfaction.It was a joy.

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