Stoics do not ever control the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We don't control them if we are the person in charge, the emperor of the known world, or in any other place of power. We don't control them if we are alone and we don't control them if we are doing something at which we are experts. This is not a choice. Stoics do not abstain from control. We are simply recognizing a truth. The circumstances humans find ourselves in are never actually within our control.
I bring this up because I've seen comments about Stoicism that seem to divide circumstances into those we control and those we don't. That is not the case. They are, by stoic definition, outside of our control and I don't just mean circumstances external to ourselves. I includes many situations that take part within our own bodies. If you read the first chapter of the Enchiridion you'll find that Epictetus very clearly lists our own bodies in the "outside our control" list.
So what's my point? Are Stoics hopelessly adrift amid the waves of fortune? Not in the least. Stoics are masters of our fate. We achieve this by concentrating our energy on what is in our power. We find freedom by controlling the only thing that is truly free, our own will.
How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised by anything that happens in life.
The problem with the misunderstanding I first referenced, that Stoics seek control of circumstances, is that accepting that position makes us weak. It requires us to seek out moments in time that will help us flourish and likewise retreat from situations that would supposedly hinder us.
If you believe that circumstances must play out in a "good" way in order for you to flourish, you will waste time trying to micro-manage your environment. What guarantee has life given us that would lend hope to the idea that our struggles are meant to be light? If your philosophy, worldview, or religion, isn't realistic (in that it won't accept the world-that-is) you will attempt to build a sanctuary where your tranquility won't be challenged. It will not work. Controlling your environment is a defensive game and Fortune has a great offensive line. You will either be shaken often, or you will create a hiding place so good life will never find you.
Stoicism is robust. Fate can not diminish its strength. Stoicism demands that we control our intentions and actions. It says to stand on virtue despite circumstances. In doing so, we flourish in the moment, in every moment. The easy days can certainly be appreciated but the draining days, the toil and the struggle, they do not surprise us nor shake us. As Aurelius said, bad fortune born nobly is good fortune.
Musonius Rufus concluded that, "because we humans acquire all good things through struggle, the person who is unwilling to endure that struggle all but condemns himself to being worthy of nothing good." Is courage tested as I read in my chair? Does justice flow through people who shy away from the society they're in? No and no. Our philosophy was born in the public square and that's its proper environment. So let us be bold. Stoics do not seek monasteries. One final quote, this one from Seneca.
Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: Not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity, and always to take full note of fortune's habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do. Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock.