“The person is free who lives as they wish, neither compelled, nor hindered, nor limited—whose choices aren’t hampered, whose desires succeed, and who don’t fall into what repels them. Who wishes to live in deception—tripped up, mistaken, undisciplined, complaining, in a rut? No one. These are base people who don’t live as they wish; and so, no base person is free.”
—EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 4.1.1–3a
It is sad to consider how much time many people spend in the course of a day doing things they “have” to do—not necessary obligations like work or family, but the obligations we needlessly accept out of vanity or ignorance. Consider the actions we take in order to impress other people or the lengths we’ll go to fulfill urges or sate desires we don’t even question. In one of his famous letters, Seneca observes how often powerful people are slaves to their money, to their positions, to their mistresses, even—as was legal in Rome—to their slaves. “No slavery is more disgraceful,” he quipped, “than one which is self-imposed.”
We see this slavery all the time—a codependent person who can’t help but clean up after a dysfunctional friend, a boss who micromanages employees and sweats every penny. The countless causes, events, and get-togethers we’re too busy to attend but agree to anyway.
Take an inventory of your obligations from time to time. How many of these are self-imposed? How many of them are truly necessary? Are you as free as you think?”
Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman. “The Daily Stoic.”