Many are harmed by fear itself, and many may have come to their fate while dreading fate.
—Seneca, Oedipus, 992
“Only the paranoid survive,” Andy Grove, a former CEO of Intel, famously said. It might be true. But we also know that the paranoid often destroy themselves quicker and more spectacularly than any enemy. Seneca, with his access and insight into the most powerful elite in Rome, would have seen this dynamic play out quite vividly. Nero, the student whose excesses Seneca tried to curb, killed not only his own mother and wife but eventually turned on Seneca, his mentor, too.
The combination of power, fear, and mania can be deadly. The leader, convinced that he might be betrayed, acts first and betrays others first. Afraid that he’s not well liked, he works so hard to get others to like him that it has the opposite effect. Convinced of mismanagement, he micromanages and becomes the source of the mismanagement. And on and on—the things we fear or dread, we blindly inflict on ourselves.
The next time you are afraid of some supposedly disastrous outcome, remember that if you don’t control your impulses, if you lose your self-control, you may be the very source of the disaster you so far. It has happened to smarter and more powerful and more successful people. It can happen to us too.
* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman