“There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.”

None of this is mine. Nothing more than the intention to share it. I’m lucky enough that someone wanted to share it with me. It’s from the mailing list of a site I’d never visited before, The Daily Stoic. Here’s the story.

Of the Stoics, Seneca seems like the one who had the most fun. He’s the one who it’s easiest to picture spending time with friends or mingling at a dinner party (in fact, he was known for his legendary parties with hundreds of guests). Whereas almost all of Marcus’s writing is private and solitary, and Epictetus’s comes to us in the form of lecture notes from his students, a sizeable chunk of what survives of Seneca are the letters he wrote to his dear friend Lucilius.

We don’t know too much about Lucilius, except that he was a governor of Sicily and possibly also a writer. Nor do we know much about who the guests at Seneca’s parties were. But from what we do know, we can gather than Seneca was social and had a large circle of friends and acquaintances with whom he spent a lot of time.

Which begs the question: How did he choose these friends? We can hope—and expect—that Seneca’s many friendships adhered to the rule he put down to Lucilius in one of those famous letters:

“Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve.”

It’s an impossible thing to know really—even for ourselves—how we came to know most of the people in our lives. But how they stayed in our lives? How our acquaintances evolved into friendships, that should be easier to figure out. And Seneca’s rule is a wonderful guide because what he’s describing is what friendship is about. A process of mutual improvement, benefit, and enjoyment.

We become like the people we spend the most time with…so we should choose wisely. And we should choose widely because life is too short to live lonely or narrowly—even for a Stoic.

I think about this a lot. I mean A LOT a lot. How do the people we spend time with impact who we are? How do they help us meet our potential? Or hinder us?

I respond well to diversity. The friends I like to surround myself with inspire me, they support me, they challenge me. They are different than I am – they have different hobbies, they are of different ages, they come from different backgrounds. They bring experiences, opinions and interests that are not that same as my own. I don’t often learn to share them, but I like to be aware of them and understand them. New perspectives, unique adventures, fresh eyes. They also give me something to aspire to. I want to be more like them in some way. I like positivity tempered with realism and complaining without solution is a major turn-off. They mean what they say and they say what they mean. And even though my most precious people have all of those things in common, they are all still radically unique. 

I focus a lot on effectiveness in my life. It’s my nature. Whether I’m at work or in my personal life, I want results. I want to see the additions and subtractions that result from my actions. The positives and negatives, the contributions and the distractions. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to hone my friend group to include only the most meaningful relationships. Lately I’ve felt it important to be more diligent about that and it’s actually been a big happiness booster. More time with people who make me better, less time with people who don’t. It’s become something that has become very important to me. 

One Comment

  1. Lesley Maisey

    Thank you for this. I was familiar with Epictetus but not Seneca. Seneca sounds like my kind of person! Time is precious and how we choose to spend it should get more consideration than it does.

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