Stoicism helps you become a better person and live a better life.
Here’s how I applied its wisdom during my most challenging flight experience.
“Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable… then stop complaining.” - Marcus Aurelius
I was 1 hour away from Budapest after a 23-hour journey.
Long story short, I missed my connecting flight because of delays and hassles at security. By this point, I felt exhausted, frustrated, and upset. I even called my partner to complain.
After our conversation, I dragged myself to the service counter to rebook my flight.
I’ll be honest. Talking to the man at the counter wasn’t one of my best moments. I was rude. I was impatient. I was angry.
And I almost cried when he presented my two other options. Both of which extended my journey by 8 hours.
By the end of our conversation, I realized this man did not deserve my attitude.
The reality is that I already missed my last flight. There was no point in complaining or getting angry at him or the airline.
The only thing I could do was focus on my next steps.
After this realization, I apologized to him and thanked him for his help.
So here’s what I (re)learned: Complaining solves nothing. Endure it. Accept it. Or think of solutions. These are better uses of your energy.
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” - Seneca
I started imagining the worst-case scenarios.
I mean… Can you blame me?
I had already missed my final connecting flight. And the new flight I rebooked was delayed.
I kept worrying, “What if I miss my next connecting flight? What if I lose my luggage? What if I have to sleep in the airport?”
After thinking about it non-stop for two hours all the way until I boarded my next flight, I remembered what Seneca wrote: We suffer more in imagination than in reality.
In the end, I told myself, “Look, what’s the point in imagining these worst-case scenarios? Sure, sometimes negative visualization helps you prepare for situations beforehand. But in this case, is there anything you can do to prepare for it? No. So stop thinking about it and you’ll cross that bridge when you get there.”
After that pep talk, I focused on what I could do at that moment which was close my eyes, focus on my breathing, and rest. That’s it.
In the end, I did make it to Budapest (with a 1.5-hour delay) and I also got my luggage.
So here’s the main takeaway: Focus on what is in your control. Ignore the rest.
“Choose not to be harmed - and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed - and you haven’t been.” - Marcus Aurelius
I had a frustrating experience on my longest flight.
The lady in front of me reclined her seat all the way during meal service, and the flight attendant didn't ask her to put it upright.
When my food arrived, I still expected the flight attendant to say something to the lady but she didn’t.
I ended up trying to eat with her chair in my face, but eventually, I reclined my seat for more space.
You're not going to believe what happened next.
Minutes later, I heard a voice behind me. It was the flight attendant. She asked me to put my seat upright so the gentleman behind me could eat!
I was in disbelief, and I felt it was unfair.
I had only reclined my chair a bit to have more room because the woman in front of me had hers all the way down.
At that point, I still hadn't voiced my thoughts. Why? Because I was afraid to speak up.
So I ate my meal fuming. At the situation. At the flight attendant. And at the lady in front of me. I believed they were discriminating against me.
Halfway through my meal, I realized… Who's the real awful person here? Me.
I chose not to speak up. I chose to get angry. I chose to let myself be harmed.
I could've accepted the situation as it was or asked the lady to put her seat upright, but I did neither. I just got angry.
The bottom line is, you always have a choice: to be harmed or not to be harmed. To do something about your situation or don’t. These choices lie within your circle of control.
“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” - Marcus Aurelius
I kept judging everyone.
Why is that group talking so loudly? Don’t they know to be quiet to not disturb others?
Why are these people cutting in line? Don’t they know to wait for their turn?
Why doesn’t the airport open another line for check-ins? Don’t they know a lot of people are rushing for their connecting flights?
So why did I keep judging people?
Reflecting on it now, my lame excuse is I was tired from the long layovers and uncomfortable flights so I was more susceptible to angry, judgmental thoughts.
It was only later, after stewing in frustration before my last flight, that I remembered something I had read: The world reflects your feelings back toward you.
In a nutshell, because I was being rude and judgmental, I kept seeing these traits outwards in the world around me.
And I realized I kept judging everyone because I felt superior to them.
For speaking quietly. For lining up. For respecting others' space.
But you see, if I felt this way, then I missed the point of Stoicism.
Practicing philosophy isn’t about condemning, mocking, or judging others.
It’s about using other people’s weaknesses as a rubric to judge and improve yourself.
Simply put, make sure you’re doing the right thing. Let go of everything else you can’t control. That’s it.
“Do you think my temper got better?”
I asked my mom this question a few days before I left Taiwan.
She said, “No, there just hasn’t been anything to trigger you yet.”
At that time, I thought she was wrong. I thought I had better control of my anger, my judgment, and my emotions.
But turns out, she was right.
After this experience, I realized I still have a lot of work to do to improve my character considering how I reacted when things didn’t go my way on this journey.
Because the truth is: Your character is revealed through adversity. How you handle difficult situations. And how you act then is who you really are.
Now, should you feel disappointed in yourself if you reacted in a way you didn’t want to?
I’d say that reflecting and improving your character is a better use of your time and energy than feeling disappointed in yourself.
Because philosophy is not about being perfect. It’s about making progress and getting better every day.
Today’s Action Step
Grab a pen and paper.
Think about a difficult situation you had. Write down what happened, how you responded, and what you can do better next time.
Why should you do this?
Because it’s important to reflect on your thoughts, words, and actions. It’s how you improve.
Without reflecting, you’ll never know why you think, say, or do certain things.
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