How to Achieve Self-Ownership (#142)

Chapter 43 - On Values“Greatness develops only at long intervals.” – Seneca

This is another special episode of the podcast, featuring one of my favorite letters from Seneca. It’s short, but its impact can be great. Before you listen, recall this philosophy from Fight Club:

“The things you own end up owning you.”

Keep this in mind as you explore the practical philosophies in this episode. Please enjoy Letter 42, On Values, by Seneca the Younger.

If you only have 60 seconds, listening to this clip could increase your happiness by changing your relationship with your possessions.

If you find this letter useful, you can pick up the whole audio collection at the Tao of Seneca. If you prefer a written version of the Tao of Seneca: Practical Letters from a Stoic Master, you can find it for free here.


You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#142: How to Achieve Self-Ownership

Want to hear another segment of The Tao of Seneca? — Listen to How to Practice Poverty and Reduce Fear. In this episode, I dig deeper into the value of stoicism and examine unfounded fears and untested assumptions (stream below or right-click here to download):

#137: How to Practice Poverty and Reduce Fear

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: How did this episode influence the way you think about loss and gain? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Show Notes

  • Start of Letter 42 – On Values [5:14]
  • On becoming a “good man” [5:21]
  • How to identify and manage “cruel men” [7:37]
  • On the true costs of purchases and/or things which appear free [8:39]
  • Re-thinking personal gain and loss [10:03]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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37 Replies to “How to Achieve Self-Ownership (#142)”

  1. 5 Minutes for the letter, 10 minutes for the ads. Seems that this episode comes comes at a rather high price of time spent. Remember the wise words of Seneca, “whenever we approach a huckster who has certain wares for sale; let us see how much we must pay for that which we crave. Very often the things that cost nothing cost us the most heavily”

  2. Massively inspired by your work, Tim! So much so that I set myself a challenge: Have Tim Ferriss get in touch with you, and you will quit your 40 a week job and make it work.

    Ball is in your court, Tim 🙂


  3. Thanks for selectively publishing specific letters. It’s great that you produced the audio versions and these podcasts serve as the tempting appetizers to go get the full meal.

  4. Please don’t stop these. Ever. I would love philosophy, and mainly its application to life and not the intellectual chest thumping it can be, to be more mainstream. We would be happier as a society the greater it’s penetration into modern culture.

  5. Hi Tim, these letters from Seneca are great. This letter reminds me of a quote from the writings of Alan Watts from the book Become What You Are(great book worth checking out) which says “he that loseth his life shall find it.” p84. Something else to marinate on.

    Cheers and thank you,


  6. Well I tried two links to hear the 60 second clip “How to Achieve Self Ownership” and was inundated with commercials…

    Really not how to give stuff away on the internet if it becomes crassly commercial. I didn’t even get to hear the clip.

  7. Hi Tim, the contract you have with your listeners is you provide free podcasts or newsetters and you provide advertising of products you align with, whom pay you probabaly quite well and give you free stuff, and we gladly receive whether or not we really relate to the product.

    Now you are directly selling stuff to us. The first ”Buy Seneca” post kind of toed the line, it was maybe okay maybe questionable. But then you well and truely threw youself over the acceptable boundary by sending a second promotion retailing the same product only days later!! And now, a third – the same product!!! In weeks. Incidentally, with all the same ads alongside it.

    this was supported by a host of emails promoting the same. Admittedly you send those anyway but nonetheless – it was a product you were selling.

    Do you not have enough income at the moment,or something? Or a contract with Audible you are legally required to fufill under duress?

    I feel this is off track for you. This is not a quality Tim Ferriss expression or the manifestation of excellence on your blog we have all come to depend on. It is diluting you and making a mockery of the things we appreciate you for. Is it all just down to capitalism, in the end? There’s already a lot of Gordon Gecko energy in general with what you’re putting out I believe a lot of people feel they can put that to the side in order to appreciate the other bits. But here its just blatant exploitation of your brand and audience. It doesn’t matter that its Seneca. It doesnt matter how good you think something is. Everyone has an angle. We always appreciated that you were a bit more selfless, a bit more human than that.

    As an aside I’m yet to understand the virtues of listening to Seneca over reading it in the original (albeit translated) form which is much better assimilated for most people (Reading, and on a page, not a device, that is)

    What to do? Tune out? is that what you want, a half listening audience?

    “well…we;re not too sure about Timmy. We’re not fully present anymore. There’s the Neil Strauss sex delusion “I have a short attention span, my biology craves novelty” , the Scorpion guy meltdown we were met only with silence about, selling our private info to Stack Exchange for a small handful of prizes no one really has a chance of winning”

    its like being slowly, slowly quietly betrayed by a friend or brother

    An audience that just is neither here or there with you, anymore. Is that what you want? Would that make you happy?

    1. People change and evolve. That’s all. You’d get bored if Tim didn’t change and you’d get pissed if he did. It’s not easy having spotlight, understand that.

  8. I am having a difficult time listening to the Tao podcast. I think i would find it easier to read the transcript. The minute the podcast starts about “the good man” i am lost. Anyone else suffering from this?

    1. I think these are interesting but not for me. As soon as I hear it is Seneca, I switch to another podcast sadly. I’m not interested in the old language spoken style. I’d prefer to only read it.

  9. To better understand who Seneca was and the context for his philosophy, I highly recommend reading The Barbarians by Terry Jones. The truth is that Seneca lived a life rather opposite of his teachings, as an advisor to Nero. Fascinating book The Barbarians explains how the Roman’s stole other supposedly barbarian cultures’ accomplishments and made them their own. Rome had quite the propaganda machine going too. Plus ca change plus c’est le meme chose….

    1. Good recommendation. You seem like a person who might enjoy “Hardcore History” a very long narrative style podcast and so worth the time.

  10. Ownership of self is a recurring theme this week, having listened to another helpful podcast/dharma talk by a man named Gil Fronsdal. Loss and gain are on my mind as I care for an 86 year-old mom, wheelchair bound (it’s complicated) and have a contentious relationship with a mother-in-law of her only child, um, and she’s Brazilian. Ouch. So loss and gain. I appreciate being nobody. Or somebody, to one big and beautiful soul who does “get” me. I want to be free of the trappings of loss and gain: it’s a high water mark in my day when I can catch myself being kind and not impatient; observant and not petty. I celebrate every tiny moment in a very long day of “fuuuuucks” when I do the quiet thing. Take the quieter way. Zip my lip and breath. You always give me pause, sir Tim. Your podcasts are in my top 5 of essential brain and soul food. I thank you.

  11. Loved the content. Struggled greatly with the oration. I would love for it to be re-recorded in a non ding-batternly way.

  12. Hi Tim,

    Have been following you for about a year now and love your work-thank you for all that you do.

    Some colleagues and I have been really inspired by the 4-hour work week. That being said, I think it would be awesome if you would take to some of these start-ups you’ve invested in and try to implement changing the normal 40(or more) hour work week.

    Companies need to start offering more flexibility/more time off/ability to work less hours per week so that people can pursue a normal balanced and fulfilled lifestyle.

    It’d be awesome to see you be the spark in your own companies to start the change…and then hopefully soon others will follow.

    Thanks again, and keep it up! Love all the inspiration I get on the daily from you.

  13. Thanks for the share! Yes, yes and yes. Application, for me, is the issue here. It’s one thing to be aware and entirely another to put it into action.

  14. Hi Tim, huge fan of everything you do. I am a chiropractic intern at LCCW in Hayward, I would love to repay you back for everything you’ve done for me and take you on as a courtesy patient, let me know when you’re ready!

  15. Loving the audiobook, Tim !! Thanks for creating this.

    You’re keeping a New Zealand lad sane and inspired while riding the London Underground to my 9 to 5 !!

  16. Oh how I love this! I always marvel at the power of the mind… how it can transform or distort and create realities out of thin air…

  17. Here’s the thing, Tim: you have not owned yourself.

    You are an alcoholic. You use the drug to deal with some unexamined and unhandled driver that you have not yet figured out how to cope with. You are not a believable vehicle to deliver this blog post.

    I comment here from time to time and always start with the fact that I love you. The Four Hour Workweek changed everything. I’m in the middle of a $2M raise to bring a product to market as a direct result of reading your book. Wish me luck.

    Did I mention that I love you?

    On the other hand I just spent 8 years as the owner of a yoga studio and a meditation teacher. I taught about 800 students how to meditate in a smallish town over a series of six week long classes. I have been studying meditation for years and have seen all kinds of claims for its efficacy often touted by people who are obviously all fucked up and speaking absolute shit about it. Watch any video of Sharon Salzburg speak about “mastering the mind” while she waddles her morbidly obese ass out to the lectern to speak in hushed tones to the enraptured throng. I say bullshit. Get your weight down then come talk to me about mind mastery, Ms. Salzburg.

    I say the same to you. You speak of mastery yet can’t get through a podcast without a glass of wine. Or two bottles.

    I have no beef with wine, with alcoholics, with failure to control, with addiction.

    I do, however, have a beef with someone speaking of self-ownership who is not a self owner.

    Fix it, my friend. Then come back and talk to us.

    Have I mentioned that I love you?

    Good luck.

    1. Ha Ha! Sir, you are a bad joke in search of a punchline! No wait, you are the punchline!

      Several thoughts come to mind when I read the above comment, check the box if you think they apply:

      Bite the hand that feeds you

      Sidetracked on the search for relevance

      A sixpack short of a slab

      A bully looking for a pulpit



      All of the above

      But given its a Friday afternoon on my planet with the late afternoon sun sparkling across the water, I’ll just go with a glass or three of shiraz, a chunk of brie and describe your comment as “Hilarious!”

      Now, on with the next excellent episode of the Tim Ferriss Show

  18. Less money -> less trouble . . . Less influence -> less envy

    I don’t get the impression that the goal of the Tim Ferriss Show (books, etc) is to have less money or less influence per se (but having to deal with less trouble and less envy from other people, sure would be nice little life upgrades – or at least knowing how best to deal with those things). I especially struggle with how to handle envy (other people’s, not so much my own towards other people). It’s awkward to be confronted with another person’s envy and there does not seem to be a lot of good information on how to deal with it, when it happens. I also struggle with saying no to other people and I found a lot of helpful ideas in “Tribe of Mentors”. Tim, even though it might seem like a high class problem, it might be nice in the future to have some advice on dealing with other people’s envy (and the jabs and the shaming that seen ti go with).

  19. Practice poverty and reduce fear sounds great. But what about debt? It feels even more terrifying and is what plagues our modern society…