Tawanda Discovers Stoicism

By Ashley Dube

Tawanda closed his laptop slowly in despair. He had just gone through his inbox hoping that today would be different, that he would finally get a job offer or at least an interview call. Alas, it was the same story every single day, and his days were becoming far too similar for his liking, with the same routine he followed day in day out. The only day he looked forward to was Sunday. Every Sunday, Tawanda went to the local Catholic parish to sing his favorite hymns during Mass.

Tawanda had graduated four or five months ago with a second-class upper division (2.1) degree in accounting. He remembered his graduation day like yesterday, how he’d felt on top of the world as he played Imagine Dragons’ hit song “On Top of the World” on his way to the ceremony, how he’d dressed smartly in an elegant grey three-piece suit—he even remembered the scent of the Playboy cologne he wore that day. Four months down the line it seemed like the four years spent in college were all in vain. He had scattered his curriculum vitae and resumes all over the country. He had set about the task with spirited enthusiasm, anticipating an imminent job offer. As time went by his enthusiasm subsided and it was replaced with an immense cloud of sadness and despair. Tawanda contacted his former employer at Duly’s, the company he’d worked for during his internship year, where he had left a fairly good impression. He was told the firm was in all sorts of financial trouble and in danger of liquidation; as a result, they were not hiring but rather retrenching.

Reality slowly sank in. The unemployment rate that kept on skyrocketing day after day ceased to be a topic of banter as Tawanda realized he was now a statistic. A smart and industrious lad in his own right, Tawanda had saved up some money from his earnings in his internship year. He decided to resuscitate his mother’s broiler business and ordered twenty-five chicks to start with. To his dismay, the chicks were ravaged by illness and twelve out of the twenty-five died, which was a loss of epic proportions. A frustrated and desperate Tawanda was running out of money-making ideas to support his family as well as make a decent amount for himself. And so, in an act of pure desperation, he invested the remainder of his savings in a pyramid scheme. It proved a poor decision on his part as the bogus pyramid scheme collapsed and the company’s agents left without a trace. Poor Tawanda was devastated and often cried himself to sleep in the wake of his losses.

Tawanda found solace in a peculiar place, a book called The Daily Stoic, a self-help guide that preaches Stoicism, made up of 366 meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living. The book was written by Ryan Holiday and features recent translations of the great stoics of history, including Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius fascinated Tawanda the most as he was one of Rome’s greatest emperors and probably one of the richest individuals of that time, and yet even he was not immune to bad fortune and life-threatening ordeals. His favorite quote from the great emperor reads: “Not to feel exasperated or defeated or despondent because your days are not packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit that you have embarked on.”

Tawanda felt this on a very deep level and it helped him come to terms with everything that had been going on his life, from the failed business ventures to his ongoing joblessness. He realized that he shouldn’t be too hard on himself, and that he could pick himself up even in these tough times. Like Marcus Aurelius, he was not immune to negative occurrences in life, and he understood that he needed to get back on track because at the end of the day tears and despair do not solve anything. Another gem Tawanda found by Marcus Aurelius reads: “Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment and works around it—turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself—so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.” Tawanda learned that obstacles are not the end of the world but can be used as fuel to propel oneself to greater heights.

One of Tawanda’s key takeaways from The Daily Stoic was that all of the great stoics immersed themselves in journaling. Journaling is the art of personal writing: recording one’s reflections, taking notes on one’s reading and the conversations one hears or engages in, and keeping various notebooks on important subjects. Tawanda embraced journaling but put his own twist on it: instead of writing down thoughts and reflections he began writing down business ideas and concepts, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of different ventures and their potential returns, and then narrowing these down to the more feasible ones, taking into account his situation at that moment. He roped in one of his closest friends to gather the funds needed in order to get something off the ground. The pair asked for loans from their parents and a few relatives in order to obtain the capital for a modest but smart venture.

Tawanda dusted himself off and kept at it. He’d learned that regardless of what had happened in the past, whether you want to stay on track, or rather in his case get back on track, the key was creating better habits and taking back control of your life through decisive action. And with this new, positive mindset, Tawanda started afresh, partnering with his friend to open up a cleaning agency that cleans commercial offices at competitive rates. To date he has secured three contracts with three different firms, and he is also in the process of setting up a car wash in his neighborhood. One could say business is booming for Tawanda, and long may it continue.

Tawanda attributes his newfound success to Stoicism. He adamantly claims that reading the exploits of other stoics gave him the much-needed drive to succeed in these very trying circumstances in Zimbabwe. One may beg to differ and call it a mere coincidence but what do I know…

17 February, 2023