Amor Fati

Amor Fati

My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not in the future, not in the past, not for all eternity. Not only to endure what is necessary, still less to conceal it  … but to love it…

Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche was, by no means, a Stoic, but he understood this core concept nonetheless. Stoics are called to not merely bear the trials and tribulations of life, but to embrace them, to love them – amor fati.

Stoic writings are filled with variations on this theme. Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca all embraced their version of amor fati. In the Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes “The impediment to action becomes part of the action; the obstacle in our way becomes the way forward.” Seneca writes “Whatever happens, let your mind suppose it was bound to happen, and do not rail at nature.”

Epictetus had, perhaps, the most enlightening metaphor:

This is Hermes’ magic wand: touch it to anything you like, they say, and the wand will turn it to gold. Not so; bring anything you like, rather, and I’ll make it something good. Bring disease, bring death, bring poverty, bring insults, bring punishment for high crimes – all these things will be made beneficial by Hermes’ magic wand.

Epictetus, a physically impaired Roman slave-turned-founder of a school of philosophy, knew quite a bit about hardship. The Stoics believed that no matter what the hand of Fate threw at them, they could take some lesson or otherwise grow from the experience. Beyond the Stoic motto of “bear and forebear,” the Stoics counseled us to love the messiness of life.

Amor fati is a concept that is immensely helpful to practicing attorneys. So much of what happens throughout our day is out of our control. Clients, colleagues, the bench, and firm or company management all have their own demands on you and your time, and those demands are not always (or even often) aligned. 

Opposing counsel can’t seem to meet a deadline? What a great opportunity to practice patience. Your colleague swings by your office (pre-Covid) unannounced to talk through some personal issue? Thank that colleague for an opportunity to demonstrate your wisdom, including the wisdom of knowing when you do not have any good advice to give. 

Firm management increasing your billable hour requirement? You now have even more incentive and opportunity to hone your legal skills. Instead of fighting against the harshness of modern legal practice, why not embrace the challenges and grow?  

How about you? What recent experiences gave you a chance to express your love of fate and what skills did that allow you to develop or expand? Let’s talk about it in the comments.