Don’t Run Away

“As you move forward along the path of reason, people will stand in your way. They will never be able to keep you from doing what’s sound, so don’t let them knock out your goodwill for them. Keep a steady watch on both fronts, not only for well-based judgments and actions, but also for gentleness with those who would obstruct our path or create other difficulties. For getting angry is also a weakness, just as much as abandoning the task or surrendering under panic. For doing either is an equal desertion — the one by shrinking back and the other by estrangement from family and friend.”


In today’s chapter of The Daily Stoic, we are reminded to not run away. Yes, we should keep an eye out for people who will try to knock us off our chosen path. But we shouldn’t cut those people off entirely.

Often when you make a resolution to do something in your life, and change course, the other folks in your life don’t like it. They feel threatened by it, or they feel it’s a condemnation of their continuance along the path you were just on.

It doesn’t matter how carefully you phrase it, they’ll feel left behind, or that it’s somehow a de facto judgment on them because they’re not changing course. “It’s not about you, it’s about me and what I want to do with my life,” you might say. But it falls on deaf ears, of course.

Those people then might throw stumbling blocks in your path, or try to guilt trip you. “Come on man, just have one drink with us tonight, it’s Carl’s bachelor party! Are you too good for us?” they’ll cajole. They might put the drink right in front of you, despite what you’ve outlined about taking a new path and how important it feels to you. They’ll try to drag you back.

And then you might start to think, “Who are these people, trying to hold me back? Are they really good for me anymore? Maybe they’re a bad influence. Maybe I don’t need them in my life anymore.”

When you try to change your life in a bold way — and especially if the thing you’re changing is the thing that brought & held you together in the first place, like drinking or partying — well then you’ll be out of alignment with the rest of those folks. And then you start to wonder if you can ever re-align with them. Maybe it’s time to move on from them, you’ll think

That might be a mistake. You were in their position only recently. You were just there. And those relationships might have more importance than that single aspect of your life which you’re moving on from. It doesn’t mean you have to move on from the entire person.

Casting off friends

Honestly, this sounds an awful lot like me.

Over the past couple of decades, I’ve repeatedly moved on from friends that I felt unaligned with. There was one friend I was particularly close with; we spent almost all our free time together. He was my best friend. Over the years of our friendship, I repeatedly tried to end it with him, as I felt that lack of alignment and also had concerns about how healthy the friendship was for me. But we stayed close friends, and I always forgave him.

Eventually, I became convinced that our friendship wasn’t healthy at all, and that he was bad for me. He treated me very rudely and meanly at times, and I finally decided I’d had enough. When I moved away, I didn’t tell him, and I refused to keep contact. That was that, and I haven’t seen him in the 14 years since, even though I’ve moved back.

I guess my situation isn’t exactly as Marcus Aurelius outlined above — it wasn’t just that I’d changed, but also a realization that he wasn’t good for me, and was cruel at times. There are many, many articles (maybe you’ve read them) about how you should feel free to cast aside relationships that aren’t good for you, without shame or guilt, and just move on. That’s generally how I’ve operated. Aurelius seems to indicate otherwise though, that these relationships have value and we shouldn’t run away from them.

My best friend now, he’s a great guy, and we have a great and healthy relationship. I’ve known him for an incredibly long time, nearly two decades. But our friendship has revolved around habits that I’m moving away from. And sure enough, he feels threatened and condemned by that, and makes that clear either explicitly or passively. Sometimes I think it’s time to just cut him off, because I’m ready to move on, and I’m growing and he’s not. He seems content to just stay the same person forever, and I’m looking to improve myself. But I’m starting to realize that would be a mistake. That relationship took a long time to grow, and it has value, and it’s good for me and for him.

At my day job, I’m being asked to take on an impossible project without clear expectations or even any idea of what the path forward is. It’s very unappealing and I don’t want it. I’ve been very frank and clear about that.

What makes the situation stickier is that I’m effectively saying “nope” to my bosses, who have become my dear friends and have in a way become my benefactors too, always advocating for my best interests in my career. They’ve pushed hard for me to receive raises, promotions, opportunities, growth. And now it feels like I’m bailing on them, just refusing to help them out. One of them in particular is someone who has always had my best interests at heart, more than anyone else in my entire career. And it feels like I’m deserting her by running away.

I guess I’m still trying to sort all this out. I get what Marcus Aurelius is saying about not deserting friendships. But I also have to protect what’s important to me, and recognize when my soul is not aligned with what I’m being asked to do. I have to acknowledge when it doesn’t feel right, and I can’t say “yes” to something when every part of me feels the opposite.

So I’m still thinking this through. I don’t want to lose the friendships I have, and perhaps that’s the key — I don’t need do something that doesn’t feel right, and I can change course and improve my life as I feel compelled to do, but I also don’t have to completely cut people off. Perhaps these friendships change into something else, and perhaps I see them less. But I don’t have to end the relationships completely.

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