Stoicism and Business? A Practical philosophy by which to run your business

Planning, Strategy and Calls to Action rule the boardroom, but does stoicism have a place in your business? Marcus Aurelias, Zeno, Seneca, and Epictetus are some of the names attached to the practice of stoicism, an ancient philosophy that embraces principles of accepting a moment as it is, and not being controlled by fear or desire. It’s a way of life, a way of being and thinking.

How does this apply to my business, you might ask? Practitioners of stoicism say it is “a personal operating system for a high pressure environment.”

For Eugenio Pace, CEO and Co-founder of Auth0, stoicism has played a part in shaping who he is. Forging new paths in the tech industry is not easy, self-assuring work, and in the high-pressure, highly competitive environments in which he works, stoic principles, which draw from logic and rationality, are a key psychological component to success.

He says, “When you’re building a business, you’re constantly pressed to look forward—to take the growth you’ve achieved at face value and continue to expand. But as entrepreneurs in the tech world, we must also brace for flux and change—we can’t always predict the market or the latest hiccups in our business model, but we can learn to enjoy the journey.”

One of the biggest lessons Pace takes from stoics and applies to his business is practicing kindness and acknowledging “the duty we have to others.” His company lives by the motto, “ ‘No BAP,’—‘ No Bulls—t. No A—holes. No Politics.’” This goes hand-in-hand with practicing humility and actively soliciting feedback from those around you, good leadership qualities, in other words. As soon as we think we know it all, we are out of touch.

Also, “practicing misfortune” is a way stoics prepare themselves for the things in life that are not guaranteed, such as good health and wealth. They replace lavish with simple for a few days a week by going without their morning coffee, choosing to eat for sustenance instead of taste or enjoyment, or trading the car in for a bus ride.

In his blog post “How to use stoicism to conquer fear and supercharge your business,” Bidsketch blogger, Corey Pemberton, says stoicism can help you “mentally prepare for negative events.” Like someone criticizing their own piece of art while others think it brilliant, there is a difference between an event and your perception of that event.

“Our perception is loaded with value judgements about which things are “good” and which are “bad,” he says. “Viewing our interpretation as truth makes us worry, fearful and anxious…what if our new product gets negative feedback? What if our next ad campaign loses money?”

Psychologically separating ourselves from outcomes and “what is” is what sets stoics apart.

They view a situation objectively and train the mind to see the opportunity in an obstacle. Even if an event was not what was expected, your state of mind and reaction to that outcome can change the course of a day, week, month, and even year in your business.

Better understanding your relationship to your business is one way of not only successfully facing obstacles when they come, but preparing for them. Even when things are going well, the economy is working in your favour, your team is made up of top-notch talent, and sales are great, there is worry connected to the things to come that we cannot control.

Self-mastery is also central to stoicism . Whether that is rising early each day to meditate and set your intentions, or whether it is keeping a strict work schedule for 30 hours so you can take a day off a week, self-mastery is one way to stay focused on one task at a time and completing it. Do you ever think about how you use your time? Seneca’s philosophy on how we use our time might be of interest…

"Were all the geniuses of history to focus on this single theme, they could never fully express their bafflement at the darkness of the human mind. No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbor can mean hell to pay; yet we easily let others encroach on our lives — worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We're tightfisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers."

— Seneca, " On the Brevity of Life," 3.1-2

Want to know how other entrepreneurs are using stoicism to serve them and their businesses? Here is a TED talk with Tim Ferriss. He also wrote Tao of Seneca. Ryan Holiday has a podcast, The Stoic Entrepreneur, and The Obstacle is the Way.


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