“In poverty, anyone can live happily but very seldom in wealth and power. The value of poverty excels so much that no just person would exchange poverty for disreputable wealth.” – Epictetus
It is important to remember that poverty means different things across cultures, time frames, and situations. Epictetus was writing in the Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago. The Roman Empire was made up of multiple nations joined together by military conquest. Keeping living conditions at least passable lowered the threat of rebellion. Uprisings are very expensive to Empires and bring about little good. That’s not to say being in poverty is ever a great benefit and of course rebellions did happen in Rome so the quality of life wasn’t always even passable. But for those who would have had the time and ability to read Epictetus’ work or hear his teachings, the idea of poverty would not have been the fear inducing, below subsistence living we might think of. Let’s consider instead a life where we have enough, but no more.
When we think about what it might take to move our station up a rung on the socioeconomic ladder we find ourselves on, there are many ways to do it but they can be broken down into two categories. Ways we are proud to share with people in conversations and ways we in which we are going to gloss over the details a bit or alter the story to make us look less bad.
The argument being made here is that if we have the choice between staying in the position we are in or getting ahead by misrepresenting ourselves or by hurting someone else, we would be better off staying where we are.
In the cases where we find ourselves weighing those options and we find ourselves choosing between doing something we are not proud of and moving ahead or staying where we are – again this assumes our basic needs are met and we are not in danger – we would be best off by looking at the things we have that we should be grateful for. And choosing to stay where we are. That is until we can find a way to get what we want honestly and in a means that we would be proud to tell others about.
Paradoxically, being grateful for what we have and where we are in life removes a large amount of the risk when it comes to thinking about making changes to our lives, the risk disappears when we are choosing between making a change and staying where are if we are already content with what we have. The desperation goes away as well, we are more relaxed, confident, and self assured when we are coming from a place of contentment. This lends itself to more opportunities being presented to us because people want to work with or be around people who are content. Being grateful opens doors for us.
We might get ahead by compromising who we are and who we want to be. It’s true that in many cases psychopaths rise to the top of organizations because they are willing to do things we would not, but unless we are already psychopaths, starting to act like one now is only going to hurt us in the long run.
Better to be grateful, be content and see what kind of doors that opens.
virtus fortis vocat