“If someone asks you how to write your name, would you bark out each letter? And if they get angry, would you then return the anger? Wouldn’t you rather gently spell out each letter for them? So then, remember in life that your duties are the sum of individual acts. Pay attention to each of these as you do your duty . . . just methodically complete your task.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.26
If you asked me to recommend a movie that represented a Stoic approach to life, The Martian may be the first out of my mouth. For those who are not familiar with the movie, it’s the story of astronaut Mark Watney’s efforts to survive on Mars after being left behind, presumed dead, by the rest of crew. A deadly storm hits their location, and he is impaled by debris. With his life support, signs negative the crew must leave or their craft will be damaged.
I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I highly recommend the movie, and ever more so the book. I listened to the book while traveling to North Carolina. The reader’s voice fits Watney’s personality like a glove. I’m also not sure I could have read the book considering the depth of math, botany, physics and chemistry used to frame the situation.
When addressing his predicament, Watney frames it this way.
At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.
How often do we complicate things because we get caught up in the passions of the situation? We compound a difficult task by with emotions that do not serve the task. If Watney wants to survive he must move beyond hit situation. Being left alone. Having a limited food source. Maximizing the food he has. Figuring out how to contact NASA. He has his moments, but he expresses the emotion then moves past it. He does not dwell on things that cloud his vision.
And the best part of Watney’s story is the humor he uses in his video journals. Maybe if we laughed more at our situations, not take things so seriously, we’d stay more on task.