Geeky Stoics
Geeky Stoics
There Will Be Rewards
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There Will Be Rewards

Following your passion, facing Resistance and Avatar: The Last Airbender
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This week I had quite a bit of travel to do. I was slated to speak on the main stage of LibertyCon 2024 in Washington, D.C., then attend a conference in Miami, and then speak at Atlanta Comic Con. All back to back. Last night I got home from the marathon of travel and collapsed onto my bed, tired and grateful.

Over my coffee this morning, I thought of one of my favorite animated series — Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is about to be rereleased on Netflix in a new live-action adaptation. In the show, there is this old wise man named Uncle Iroh. He served as a wartime general for most of his adult life, and his nephew, Zuko, more or less wants the same life of struggle, glory, and “honor” that Iroh sought as a young man. Now, Iroh just wants nothing more than to run a tea shop in obscurity. Tea was always his passion.

Avatar: The Last Airbender S2E19, "The Guru", Uncle Iroh and Zuko

Uncle Iroh says many wise things to Zuko over the course of his time running the tea business, a short period of bliss during Airbender’s second season. Here’s what stuck out to me today. It’s simple.

“Follow your passion and life will reward you”

It’s been three years now since I published my first book, How The Force Can Fix The World, a collection of thoughts on Star Wars and politics I’ve had bouncing around in my head since I was 15 years old. It stuns me just how much better my life is today because I dispensed with my fear and apprehension just long enough to crank out that book and publish it. Star Wars lights me up inside. The galaxy far, far away brings me a kind of focus I always envied in athletes who live and breathe their sport. And it feels kind of goofy. Some days it feels like a tremendous waste of time and energy.

Then other days, I’m speaking in front of a young audience in Washington about what Star Wars can teach us about the corrupting influence of power. I’m shaking hands and signing books in Atlanta to beaming smiles from other Star Wars fans who share my passion for the story and its relevance to our everyday lives. Not everyone can do what I can do, which is to synthesize an appreciation for the Star Wars story into something deeper than mere fandom.

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It is a gift that was given to me. It came from somewhere else. Following it has brought great rewards. Those rewards have come in the shape of material and financial gain, meaningful friendships and community, travel, and the opportunity to build new skills like public speaking and sales.

Zuko resists his calling to break away from his family legacy. Iroh pleads with him to look inward.

But every step of the way I grapple with a voice inside that says to stop. “You look foolish”, “You’re pigeon-holing yourself”, “Isn’t this all a bit immature?

I’m reminded of the great writer Steven Pressfield, whose book The War of Art describes how we fight back against passion and resist its rewards.

In a blog post drawing on the themes of the book, Pressfield writes:

The dream arises in our psyche (even if we deny it, even if we fail to or refuse to recognize it) like a tree ascending into the sunshine. Simultaneously the dream’s shadow appears—i.e., Resistance—just as a physical tree casts a physical shadow. That’s a law of nature. Where there is a Dream, there is Resistance.

In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko is frustrated with Uncle Iroh and his simple passion for running this tea shop. Zuko has a claim to the throne of the Fire Nation and is on a mission to reclaim his “honor” from a father who exiled him from the kingdom. Zuko is obsessed with retaking his place. Uncle Iroh implores Zuko to search himself, look inward, and determine once and for all if his passion is truly his own, or if it flows from the expectations of his cruel father.

In the Stoic texts, the most beautiful passages I’ve read are those that have to do with accepting your own nature. Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations are the most evocative and poetic of the Stoic canon, and he writes about the many faces of Resistance, the same sort of enemy Steven Pressfield described in The War of Art. Aurelius says….

Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

Here he is speaking about the struggle of getting out of bed some days. You could liken it to depression or an addiction to the comforts of a warm bed, but ultimately it’s an emperor reminding us that human beings like all sentient life have a nature. What makes human beings so special though is that our natures diverge. We have a greater capacity for individual thought, action, and purpose than the average animal.

A bee is born knowing it must pollinate. A spider is born knowing it must weave webs. Ants know to march in a line and protect their queen.

Human beings know a few things by nature, like how to feed, drink, and breathe, but I’d go so far as to argue we also know our calling in life. The variable is the size and strength of our Resistance. My Resistance feels like a ten-foot-tall beast. I can’t ever seem to wrestle it down, and when I do, it gets back up again. I’m not saying that your calling is clear to you, I’m saying that for most people it’s the voice of Resistance that is more clear.

Perhaps you can relate.

All of this is just to say, thank you, to everyone subscribed to Geeky Stoics and keeping up with the writing, podcasts, and videos. I feel called to it, and it’s a reward unto itself, but your support is an incredible added bonus.

Geeky Stoics is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

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Your favorite stories are part of your real life. Star Wars. The Lord of the Rings. Marvel. Batman. Are you listening to what they’re trying to tell you? Geeky Stoics is all about Stoicism, Philosophy, and Wisdom found in Pop Culture. http://geekystoics.com/
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Stephen Kent