On stoicism

Do you know who Marcus Aurelius is? He is one of the Stoics, a Roman emperor, and one of his greatest fears was not to live to his fullest potential. In his words, a human being has a duty to do so and unfullfillment is a crime and the worst sin a human can do. At the same time everything beyond your potential should not stress or concern you and you should only worry about the things you can actually change. Thus some of the greatest ideas of Stoicism are to let go of everything that is beyond your potential to affect in any way and work as hard as you can for everything which is within your potential.

I like pondering about these questions too and I somehow feel something is missing in his thoughts. If a potential is an estimated boundary between what we should work so hard to fulfull and what we should completely drop from our concerns then how do we set this boundary? Where do we draw the line and how do we estimate our own potential? A little bit too high and we will needlessly suffer for external giant problems we cannot fix, a little bit too low and we commit the crime of not trying hard enough. What we know for sure is that no matter how capable or talented one is, there is always a boundary somewhere out there. But again this is too low of a bar to consider knowledge that is solid enough to guide our actions. Thus, Stoicism seems to work only if one has a very realistic perception of themselves.

This is the crisis of action due to lack of knowledge, i.e. the crisis of power due to lack of wisdom. One way to try and solve it is by simply trying any fulfillment possible. Granted, there will be numerous failures to follow but we should not be afraid of failing and rising again. And most importantly, nature will always make sure to correct overly ambitious arrogance or general greedy overestimation when some direction was not supposed to be tried and some potential overdone. However, most of the gained experience will remain superficial and most of the effort will go to waste. There could instead be knowledge from a greater depth in applying and developing the same potential, all the way down to unreachable singularity of stillness. However yet again, there might be bigger potential in there that may never be discovered and expressed, resulting in a zero sum game of two mutual exclusives.

What is even a potential to fulfill? Is human potential a form of talent that one would have to estimate before developing or perhaps a measure of opportunities the same human is given? Both can be missed and indefinitely many of both are unknown. The less human centric interpretation is that potential is naturality of actuation where some reality could manifest more naturally then another one: some things happen more easily than others, some humans perform some actions more easily than others. Not crossing natural bridges is a waste of opportunity for one's betterment. But we could be excused for not getting better opportunities or opportunities to notice better opportunities. One could also argue that the way of the world might waste but ultimatly and inevitably fulfill potential. Either argument is escapist from responsibility. The human centric interpretation is one of talent as potential whose actuation would more greatly benefit the human kind, a duty to discover and devote to. Perhaps even a potential to benefit just oneself? Either way, knowledge of all talents is lacking and most will remain forever undiscovered.

So are you fullfilling your potential? One of the things I am fearful about is suboptimality. Even if we accept being finite in our capabilities and resources, we still want to be close to our own limits, a restricted optimization of sorts. To explore them, we have to face discomfort in the form of challenges. However, we can best explore them if the challenges are not too hard or too easy, they have to once again be close to the boundary of what we can actually do. And to make sure we select such challenges well, we still have to know at least the approximate limits of our own. Perhaps we can see them better by ourselves, a contradiction given that we are blind to our own blind spots. Perhaps we can see them in the eyes of others surrounding ourselves with as many such reflections as possible, also a contradiction given how much more of our internal world we never share.

Ultimately to rephrase these ideas from Stoicism in my own flavor, care about what you are aware of and what you know of, put all your vigor in what you actually do and can have conscious effect on, this is where the boundary of your own potential separates you from everything else.