Simon Drew is an alignment coach, a musician, and a trail runner, but if you have an interest in Stoicism you’ll know him best as the host of the excellent Practical Stoic podcast. You can find Simon at https://www.simonjedrew.com/ and The Practical Stoic at https://practicalstoicpodcast.podbean.com/
It was great to be able interview Simon recently, and without further ado here are his answers!
Hi Simon, love the podcast! For those who haven’t heard it yet, what are the main benefits someone can get by listening to The Practical Stoic Podcast? And what would be a good episode to start with?
Thanks for allowing me to answer some questions, Allan! The Practical Stoic Podcast is really my attempt to get a more complete understanding of what Stoicism is and how it can benefit our lives. I also use it as an opportunity to explore some of my own ideas around philosophy, personal development and what it means to be a human being. I don’t have all the answers and I never will, however I hope that what people will get out of my show is a renewed sense of wonder and a desire to go deeper with their understanding of the concepts found in Stoicism and other philosophies. I also want people to get a sense from my podcast that being a Stoic means finding value wherever you can, and I want to show people that Stoicism isn’t supposed to make you a boring, emotionless person, but rather it should enhance your ability to be effective in your relationships, career, health and contribution.
I’d suggest that those who are just starting to learn about Stoicism should start with episode #1, but anyone who is well-versed in these ideas could start from Massimo Pigliucci’s interview and go from there.
Since starting the podcast how far do you feel you’ve come in your journey as a Stoic and are there still areas of Stoicism you are yet to explore?
When I look at my time learning, applying and teaching Stoicism I can honestly say that I’m now calmer, I’m more effective at the things I do, and I seem to be developing a greater understanding about myself and all the ways that I get in my own way. But having said that, I do feel that the more I learn the more there is to learn. This is simply a byproduct of choosing a more philosophical life. If you ask the right questions then eventually you realise that there is so much more to learn under the surface, and that’s what I’m trying to discover. I’m trying to find those nuggets of wisdom hidden under the surface where only those who dig can see.
And on that note, I think that there are still plenty of elements in Stoicism that I’ve yet to fully explore. For example, the principle of “alignment with nature” has always been scary to me because I didn’t understand it, but now it’s my main area of discovery and I’m really trying to get a clean grasp of it. But ultimately there will always be more questions to ask as a student of Stoicism because being a Stoic isn’t just about studying Stoicism. The Stoic should be interested in any line of inquiry that can help him to better understand how to live well, and so if we can broaden the study of Stoicism like that then we’ll never be bored and we’ll never run out of things to learn.
You took a brief break from the podcast in 2019 and returned with a new level of commitment – how important was it to reassess your priorities? Did you use any specific techniques to do that?
In 2019 I actually decided to leave my full-time gym manager position and go 100% in on the podcast and my alignment coaching, and I can honestly say that it was the one of the biggest and easiest decisions I’ve made in my life so far. By this I mean that it was a massive change that required a lot of thought and planning, but when I saw how much value I could bring to people’s lives through the podcast and how much my coaching could help people individually it was an easy choice to make.
I think the most important lesson I learned from my own personal inquiry and the reassessment of my ideal future was that I really needed to start listening to myself again. I needed to trust that a meaningful path would always bring joy and I needed to choose what was right over what was expedient. So here I am, and I’m absolutely loving the ride!
What are your future plans for the podcast? Are you planning any other Stoic endeavours?
I’m very excited about the future of the Practical Stoic Podcast. As I’ve eluded to in previous answers, the learning of a Stoic is not limited to Stoic ideas, and so from now on I’m going to be inviting guests from many backgrounds and disciplines onto the show so that I can find more truths that can help me and my audience to live better lives. I want to speak with scientists, psychologists, musicians, artists, adventurers, athletes, philosophers, authors, professionals and any other individuals who can help me to draw connections of truth between various philosophies and areas of study. My mission now reaches far wider than Stoicism alone and I think this is how the ancient Stoics would have liked it. As Seneca said, “Truth is open to everybody; there is no monopoly on truth.” So I guess you could say I’m trying to look for my slice of the truth pie.
As well as a podcast host, you’re an alignment coach, a musician, and a trail runner – how has Stoicism helped you in these pursuits?
Stoicism helps me to go deeper under the surface of my pursuits, to ask the right questions, and to set the right kinds of goals. For me, coaching, music and running are three of my main preoccupations that also really align with with my personal nature. My study of Stoicism has guided me to chase those pursuits that I know I’d be naturally good at and would be good for me, so I think the main benefit of Stoicism for me could be that I’ve really begun to align with my nature. This is absolutely invaluable to me, and I use these principles in my coaching to help people to align with their own personal nature.
Stoicism also offers many wonderful tools and tactics that help me to sharpen my skills as a coach, musician, or runner. Things like the dichotomy of control (to keep me focused), the view from above (to keep me grounded), and negative visualisation (to keep me sharp) have been invaluable for me in terms of being able to better understand how to be effective in my pursuits and how to make the right decisions that help me in the long run.
What books or resources would you recommend for the aspiring Practical Stoic? (Those with the most practical advice, directly or indirectly related to Stoicism)
Honestly, I’d just suggest starting with the basics. Read the classic texts of Stoicism from Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca, and let the ideas seep in. If you don’t understand the principles, think about them. Like Marcus Aurelius said, don’t be happy with just “getting the gist of things”. My journey hasn’t been one of hyper-discipline and constant-correction, but rather I believe that I’ve experienced the most peace and personal change simply by letting the ideas ruminate in my mind. Once an idea makes sense to me I find that it’s easier to change, but if I had started by assigning myself all kinds of activities and exercises then I don’t believe I’d be where I am now.
Having said this, I do believe that this is a philosophy of action, so it’s very important that people do start acting on what they’re learning. But personally I have found that the best change comes slowly over time while the ideas you’re learning start to make greater sense.
Marcus Aurelius had his own “epithets for the self”: “Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. Cooperative. Disinterested.” What would yours be?
This is a great exercise, and I have to say that I’ll be using this with my clients from now on! Having said this, I think that I’d prefer to keep those to myself. If Marcus were asked the same question I’m sure he would have also preferred to not answer, and he would have said some clever remark about living your principles and not simply speaking them. I’m sorry for the boring answer!
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Simon. A slightly open-ended question to finish off – in terms of what the philosophy means to you, what is Stoicism?
Stoicism is a philosophy that calls us to ask one very important question: “What does it mean to be a human being?” This is the question that I hope to answer every day for the rest of my life, and I have Stoicism to thank for getting me into the mindset that allows me to ask it.