Marcus Aurelius on FIRE

I have been quite lucky to be able to have Marcus Aurelius on FIRE today on my blog.

Marcus Aurelius is one of the men that inspired me to deep dive into Stoicism, which makes this an exciting opportunity for me.

Before you ask, I cannot give you much detail on how I was able to get an interview, and spend time, with a long-dead Roman Emperor during the 21st century. Listen, I read and attempt to write, fantasy novels, not science fiction. No, they are absolutely not the same thing.

Alright, enough about me, let’s ignore my complete lack of scientific knowledge and dive right into the interview.

Reader’s Introduction

Finance Stoic (FS): Welcome to the blog Mr. Aurelius, it’s great to have you. Please can you tell my readers about yourself.

Marcus Aurelius (MA): Please, please call me Marcus. When you say Mr. Aurelius it makes me think of the many fathers I had, so many fathers.

What can I tell your readers that they don’t know…Well, hmmm, I would start with what I am most known for, which is being an Emperor of Rome. Someone who helped to usher in a period of greatness in our history, with a focus on logic and doing the right thing.

FS, when I perished, as we all must do, I could only marvel at where we Romans must have gone from then to now. I am excited to get out with you and see our modern day glory.

FS: cough** cough**

MA: FS, I may have been dead for 1,800 years +/- a couple hundred, but your face is clearly telling me something is up, do tell.

FS: Well MA….I don’t know how to tell you this, but your son turned out to be more of a Cato than a Marcus Aurelius and it was pretty clear to everyone that he didn’t read your book, Meditations…In fact MA, you were seen as the last great Roman Emperor.

MA: F#@king Hell, I was pretty sure that little sh7t was a bad seed. Did you know that eight of my twelve children died? I often thought that rotten little…killed a few of them…hmmm

But wait, I cannot dwell on that. I have to live in the Present Moment. What is this book that you were speaking of FS? Meditations?

FS: Oh, sorry, I forgot it was published posthumously, your book of quotes and deep thinking.

MA: You mean my diary??? My lord, is nothing sacred in this world? You have read my diary?

FS: Well, yes. We have been reading it for thousands of years now and it’s really had a resurgence this decade.

MA: Well, that was a long digression FS, let me get back on topic. When I was young, my father died and I was raised by my Grandfather and eventually my adopted father. He was a good man, aside from making me marry my adopted sister.

My Grandfather ensured that I had the best teachers and learning, from his father he learned

To avoid the public schools, to hire good private teachers, and to accept the resulting costs as money well-spent.

From these tutors, I found my greatest love, Stoicism. I didn’t necessarily enjoy, nor care, about the physics and logic of the Greeks. Rather, I tended to focus my efforts on

The three disciplines:

The discipline of perception

  1. See things dispassionately for what they are
  2. Avoid value judgments, such as “good” or “evil”
  3. It is not objects, or events, but the interpretations we place on them that are the problem

The discipline of will

  1. Governs our attitude to things that are not in our control
    1. Those that are done to us by others, by nature
  2. We control our own actions and are responsible for them
  3. Things outside our control have no ability to harm us. They can harm us only if we choose to see them as harmful

The discipline of action

  1. Governs our approach to the things in our control
    1. Those that we do
  2. We were made not for ourselves but for others, and our nature is fundamentally unselfish
  3. In our relationships with others, we must work for their collective good, while treating them justly and fairly

FS: *A bit of snoring…sh7t…I hope he didn’t notice, I think as I wipe a bit of drool off my chin.

MA: *Clearly seeing me sleeping, I apologize FS, I can ramble about my passions. I will condense from here: I became the Emperor of Rome, with my adopted brother, and we ruled over most of the free world.

What do you like

FS: That is a solid introduction MA, thanks. I usually ask people what they do for a living and what they enjoy about it, but you have clearly laid that out for us as the Emperor of Rome. Can you tel me what you liked about the role?

MA: Well, good question. I think what I enjoyed the most about my role was that I was constantly challenged to live according to my values.

The opportunities that presented themselves to veer from my virtues were endless and any of those forsaken hedonists would have taken advantage of them. The rich foods, the wine, the women, it was endless and tested my resolve every single day.

The ability to say I am content was a challenge, and yet, so enriching. I loved it so much, I recall thinking, and I may have wrote this in my diary

People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash and eat.

What inspired you to write Meditations

FS: That is interesting. I have never heard anyone like a role because it put their morals to the test every single day. I applaud your resolve, it’s inspiring. Can you tell me what inspired you to write Meditations? Sorry, I mean your diary?

MA: I realized one day that I had to

stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.

As with those Stoics that came before me, a journal was a way to keep myself on-track. I was able to write my observations of good behavior in others, and in myself.

*MA coughs and chuckles a little.

Sorry, based on your face FS, I can only assume you thought the journal was solely my personal thoughts. My gosh man, I would have been a Saint if that was the case! Okay, given I was a heathen, I don’t think anyone would have made me a Saint, but I think you know what I mean.

No, no, the Meditations, I do like the sound of that, were the greatest observations in people that I saw or heard throughout my life. I would read it regularly to remind me to behave as the best person I could possibly be.

What are you afraid of

FS: Well, that just changed history a bit right there MA. It was not only me who thought they were self reflections, but pretty much anyone that ever read Meditations. Let’s take this in a different direction, what are you afraid of?

MA: Ha, you sound like someone that has read what I wrote now, for sure.

My only fear is doing something contrary to human nature. The wrong thing, the wrong way, or at the wrong time.

Effectively FS, I am afraid to live other than I wrote.

Financial Independence or Early Retirement

FS: You may have heard of the FIRE movement MA, which is why I really wanted you to join me on the blog. Can you tell me what your thoughts are on FI and ER?

MA: Well, I don’t understand ER at all.

The main thing we were made for is to work with others.

Work, not to rouse pity, not to gain sympathy or admiration. Only this, activity, stillness. As the Lord requires.

We are made to work.

To work hard, and to serve others.

To be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

For financial independence, I could not agree more that all people should be pursuing it. I have listened to podcasts since being back, read your twitter feed, and read various FIRE blogs. I quite identify with frugality, specifically. Thoughts I have had on the subject:

  • It’s the pursuit of these things, and your attempts to avoid them, that leaves you in such turmoil. And yet, they aren’t seeking you out. You are seeking them out.
  • Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.
  • If you couldn’t stop prizing a lot of other things, then you’ll never be free, independent, imperturbable.
  • You don’t need much to live happily and just because you’ve abandoned your hopes of becoming a great thinker or scientist, don’t give up on attaining freedom, achieving humility, serving others, obeying God.
  • There is a limit to the time assigned you and if you don’t use it freely yourself it will be gone and will never return.

An Emperor writing about financial independence

FS: That was deep MA, I thought you sounded like someone into financial independence. But, what do you say to some of the controversy that is going on in the blogosphere right now?

Specifically, Tanja, of Our Next Life, wrote What Fire Writers Owe Readers: A Blogger’s Manifesto the day after Physician on FIRE wrote this tweet. It appears Tanja thinks that an Emperor blogging about financial independence isn’t a fair representation to readers, because of the unfair advantages you have.

MA: Whoa, I don’t think you are being fair to Tanja FS. To me, that isn’t what she’s saying.

In my opinion, she’s just arguing for radical transparency.

It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.

Take me, for example, I am not telling your readers that I am a ditch digger and achieved financial independence by saving my daily wage. I acknowledged, from the beginning, that I was an Emperor, and one could argue the richest man on earth at the time, and I am writing on philosophy that can allow me, and anyone, to be a better person and achieve financial independence.

At it’s core, I am telling you to be happy with what you have, which is central to financial independence. Whether a writer is white, black, asian, wealthy, poor, retired, semi-retired, should not matter if the content they’re providing is beneficial to readers and well written. Please FS, give your head a shake and go read this excellent post by Lily at the Frugal Gene. She says it so much better than me.

What is your paradise

FS: That is helpful MA, thanks for giving me a different lens to look at Tanja’s post, I feel quite differently about it now. Effectively, you are saying anyone can write or speak about FIRE if they’re radically transparent about their path to it and their current situation. Okay, switching gears, describe your paradise.

MA: Yes, that’s what I am saying, thanks for the summary. You are joking though on paradise, right? That’s a trick question?

FS: No, why?

MA: Well, I guess people today are the same as in my day.

People try to get away from it all – to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within.

Nowhere you can go is more peaceful – more free.

Now, that all said, I do love a beautiful beach at sunset, but…my mind is my paradise!

What is the most annoying thing someone can do to you?

FS: I appreciate that MA. I have been working on meditation daily and I feel I am a better person for it. Escaping into my own mind is something I am getting better at every day.

For those who are stressed, I recommend reading the managing stress section of my Manage your Time post.

Next, what is the most annoying thing someone can do to you?

MA: Interesting FS, interesting.I am going to give you two answers to this one.

For the first answer:

I can control my thoughts, as necessary; then, how can I be troubled? What is outside my mind means nothing to it. Absorb that lesson and your feet stand firm.

Second, I actually side with Tanja. Nothing bothers me more than:

The despicable phoniness of people who say “listen, I’m going to level with you here.” What does that mean? It should be obvious – written in block letters on your forehead. It should be audible in your voice, visible in your eyes, like a lover who looks into your face and takes in the whole story at a glance. A straightforward, honest person should be like someone who stinks when you’re in the same room with him, you know it. But false straightforwardness is like a knife in the back.

False friendship is the worst, avoid it at all costs. If you’re honest and straightforward and mean well, it should show in your eyes. It should be unmistakable.

Nothing matters to me more than honesty FS. What bothers Tanja bothers me. If you are making money, then just say “we are making money”. Don’t say “we are retired and living off investment income”. They aren’t the same thing.

Who did you admire

FS: Wow, tell me how you really feel MA! Okay, for a lighter note, instead of what you are annoyed by, tell me about someone you admired and why:

MA: Easy one for me,

Take Antonius as your model, always. His energy in doing what was rational…his steadiness in any situation…his sense of reverence…his calm expression…his gentleness…his modesty…his eagerness to grasp things. And how he never let things go before he was sure he had examined them thoroughly, understood them perfectly…the way he put up with unfair criticism, without returning it…how he couldn’t be hurried…how he wouldn’t listen to informers…how reliable he was as a judge of character, and of actions…not prone to backbiting, or cowardice, or jealousy, or empty rhetoric…

Content with the basics – in living quarters, bedding, clothes, food, servants…how hard he worked, how much he put up with…his ability to work straight through till dusk – because of his simple diet (he didn’t even need to relieve himself, except at set times)…his constancy and reliability as a friend…his tolerance of people who openly questioned his views and his delight at seeing his ideas improved on…his piety – without a trace of superstition…

Open question time

FS: That is interesting MA, he sounded like a good man. A person who lived a frugal and financially independent lifestyle.

Okay, I always end with an open mic time. What do you want your parting thoughts to the ten or twenty readers of this post to be?

MA: Well FS, I would like to thank you for bringing me back to life to speak to your tribe. While it’s not quite as large as the tribe I used to speak to, its better than being dead.

I have enjoyed our conversation and I have thought your writing is getting better. You seem better when you do long-form content and can put some creativity into your writing. You should do more of that.

Please, keep being you and writing what matters to you and don’t fall for the trap of always writing top 5, 7, 10 lists. It’s not for you.

I do want to talk about your time management post, which I enjoyed, because there is a lot I think I can add to it:

On setting goals

Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile: stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions…People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time even when hard at work.

On concentration

Concentrate every minute…on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And, on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can – if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you…

You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random, everything irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious. You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, “what are you thinking about?” you can respond at once (and truthfully) that you are thinking this or that.

On the power of a Not To Do List

If you seek tranquility, do less. Or (more accurately) do what’s essential…Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. It you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?

Finally FS, I want to end with this thought for you and your readers

The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.

Color it with beautiful thoughts FS, color it like a rainbow.

FS: Wrapping up, I would like to thank Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor of Rome, for being our guest today on a journey into finance and Stoicism. When I first read Meditations, I knew I’d found something I was passionate about and would pursue in-depth.

As I have said before, I believe Stoicism is synergistic with financial independence and I hope that prior writing and this interview: Marcus Aurelius on FIRE, are starting to show you that.

Until next time,

FS

Finance Stoic

13 thoughts on “Marcus Aurelius on FIRE

  1. Did you ever read/enjoy Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series? We loved it so much my wife wrote her a letter when we heard she wasn’t going to write another book, she wrote back!

    Like

  2. It chronicles the lives and careers of Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Pompeius Magnus, Gaius Julius Caesar, and the early career of Caesar Augustus. It spans from January 1, 110 BC through to January 16, 27 BC.

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    1. I wish, that would be a feat. You’d diagnose me with multiple personality disorders. Though, in fairness, I do use a different voice in my head when I’m thinking of his responses!

      Like

  3. yes yes yes yes yes
    Did I say YES to how much I loved this. Your creative approach to sharing these principles was fun and entertaining, well done.
    On the topic of MA and Stoicism thank-you for reminding me of much that I have to work on, that slid to the side and I was getting sloppy on. Take a second and reflect on all these teachings with the current political and corporate battles facing many places in Canada especially the west coast.
    I shared the three principles on my personal FB as a reminder to friends and yup I have meditations by MA on my shelf.

    Like

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