A familiar question is overheard at cocktail parties and included in essay topics: If you could meet a historical figure from the past, who would it be and why? The query strikes dread in the hearts of some, who fear the answer lies in a minefield of famous history-makers who are too cliché, obscure, or controversial to charm an audience or selection committee. Others happily answer, plucking a character from history who captivates them.
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Toby Carrodus, a global investor and quantitative analyst, says he would enjoy meeting Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, an influential Stoic philosopher and conscientious ruler. Aurelius’ journal was published as “Meditations” nearly 2,000 years ago as an ode to the Stoic School of philosophy. The writings promote the achievement of self-mastery, perseverance, and wisdom by practicing reason and self-restraint.
Despite its ancient birth, Stoicism is having a moment. The philosophy is suddenly hip on Wall Street and Silicon Valley, far from its birthplace. Stoicism arrived in Athens in 314 BCE, when the Aegean Sea spat Zeno of Citium onto Grecian shores, leaving his wrecked ship behind. Zeno sought solace in Athens by reading Socratic dialogues and establishing a new philosophy called Stoicism.
The Stoics practiced self-control in an uncontrollable world, maintaining that a man conquers the world by conquering himself. Adherents resisted the urge to complain, focusing on factors within their power to control and eschewing what is beyond human control. The philosophy is winning fans among the intelligentsia who believe living according to “logos,” or universal “reason,” is life’s meaning.
How Toby Carrodus Makes an Ancient Philosophy Actionable
Through practicing Stoicism, Aurelius learned “the impediment to action advances action,” as he penned in his journal. Stoics believe that staying positive and focused helps one overcome life’s challenges and obstacles.
Toby Carrodus says his favorite Marcus Aurelius quote is, “What stands in the way, becomes the way.” It fits him. By many measurements, Carrodus faced untold obstacles. He spent his childhood in small-town Australia, cared for by a single parent, his mother. They subsisted on government support, but poverty didn’t stand in Carrodus’ way. Like the Stoics, he practiced self-discipline to strengthen his mind against adversity and turn challenges into mastery.
As a university student, Carrodus won scholarships and achieved a Bachelor of Economics and a B.A. in political science from the Australian National University. He then moved to Germany, polishing his German and earning a Master of Science in Economics degree from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
Being a lifelong learner agrees with Stoicism’s tenet of self-sufficiency – and Carrodus embraces that tenet, being an autodidact who learned how to invest and trade successfully. He also taught himself Python programming.
“Harnessing the power of computers in an age of such technological advancement has allowed me to ride that wave rather than being run over by it,” he explains.
Toby Carrodus’ Lifestyle Reflects Stoicism and the Sufficient Self
Four simple virtues comprise Stoicism: courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. Adherents were advocates of self-mastery and self-examination, which require room for regular reflection. Toby Carrodus understands this intimately due to his job specialty of portfolio management with a focus on systematic global macro trading. This line of work can be noisy and plugged in.
Carrodus, in Stoic fashion, creates space in his schedule to process his thoughts. Each day, he wakes up several hours before his family does to create space to think and work.
“I find this is a golden time of the day to get work done and plan the day. Some of my most productive and creative work happens at that time as there are zero distractions – it is dead quiet.”
Carrodus finds that exercise also clears his head and unleashes creativity. His approach is disciplined; his 75-minute daily workout at 10 a.m. is non-negotiable.
“I exercise at the same time each day, Monday to Friday – no excuses,” he says. “I have found that some of my best thoughts, strategies, and ideas come to me either during or immediately after exercise.”
“It is not sustainable and is not going to foster the mental clarity needed to make sensible decisions in a pressured environment,” he says. “Make sure you take time each day to clear your head, whether it be rhythmic running at a steady pace, meditating or going for a walk.”
Lastly, like Marcus Aurelius, Carrodus keeps a “diary of quotes, lessons, and anecdotes on hand.” He examines it daily.
“Keeping a small diary allows me to separate the ‘signal from the noise,’” he says. “I write down key lessons and fundamental principles I have learned that I want to be reminded of.”
He glances at his diary on his phone, rattling off what he recently wrote – “Things don’t need to be difficult – they can be as simple or complex as you make them,” “focus on the people,” and “relationships are key.” Reviewing my diary periodically reminds me of the most important things instead of getting swept up in day-to-day life.”