Worst Case Scenario: Stoicism

Perhaps there’s a way to deal with the chaos and uncertainty of 2020, and here it is: Imagine that the worst case scenario happens, in every sense.

This is one of the principles of ‘Stoicism’, and it might sound a bit bizarre at first, but there is some genuinely sound thinking behind it. It’s about resilience, and generally I think a lot of us apply this method of thinking in day to day life, perhaps without even noticing it.

If the Austrian authorities are reading, please stop now. Okay, now they’re gone, I can divulge my worries, and what prompted me to think about stoicism. I don’t have health insurance (possibly the worst time in the history of the world to be uninsured), however I need it for a residence permit by the end of January. My options are: EHIC from the UK Government (free – but a bureaucratic nightmare), voluntary health insurance from the Austrian Government (60€ a month – too expensive) or employer contributions.

Usually I’m pretty rational, but in this case I just haven’t been able to wrap my head around it – I am losing a disproportionate amount of sleep, as I’m sure many of us do about our own trivial problems – reading this you’re likely thinking something along the lines of “What’s he even got to worry about? He should see my problems!” And, dear reader, you are absolutely, 100% and without a shadow of a doubt, correct.

This is a bit of a non-problem, but my brain automatically assumes that none of these will work. Here’s where the stoic technique I mentioned before comes in to play:

I should best imagine that I can’t get any health insurance, and I don’t find a job – my residence application gets thrown back in my face with disdain only the Austrian government is capable of. What happens then?

Well, I come back to the UK, and I can start again. That’s it. A bureaucratic pain, yes, but it’s not actually bad. I don’t instantly get chained to the Volksgarten gates for mockery, or thrown in the Danube tied to a cannonball.

There seems to be something about modern life that makes it so difficult to see this bigger picture. I stress about the EHIC application not being finalised in time, lose days worth of sleep over this, when there’s nothing I can do – and yet I have the audacity to sit here and write to you about how we should see the bigger picture.

That’s because, if you haven’t noticed already, I am writing this for myself – this post is aimed at very specifically at me.

So what actually is the solution?

According to stoicism, in one of its quirkier moments, we would all be better off if, once in a while, we unplugged the WiFi, turned the heating off, opened all the windows up and slept on the floor without pillows or a blanket. This serves as a very visceral exercise in “What if the worst does happen?”

I’m not suggesting you do this, but use it as a ‘thought experiment’. Imagine you did do this: What would you miss out on? How bad would your life truly become if you lost everything? Perhaps it will become clear what’s really at stake; what might you be able to see if the facade of just worrying fades away, if the scales of irrationality fell from your eyes?

Stoicism is something I certainly want to implement more myself, as I am privileged beyond belief, but worries are relative. You cannot feel my worries, just in the same way I don’t feel the sickening pain when you stub your toe on your way to the toilet at midnight. We all have our own issues, and we experience them just as individually.

So, next time you’re faced with a crisis, just think: What if the worst really does happen? And then really sit there, let it sink in and stew over – make this imagining of the worst happening as real as you can.

I think most of the time it won’t be nearly as bad as we think. This is difficult and takes practice, but I think we’d all benefit from a bit of stoic practice every now and again.

Well reader, for me that was therapeutic and I hope you got something new out of it too – if you did, please share it on social media! If you’re a WordPress user, I’d love for you to follow my blog, it means a lot. All the best everyone.


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