When you think of the Stoics, lessons on pragmatism, morality, and imperviousness to societal distractions probably come to mind. But there is a lot more to the Stoic’s way of life. Above all, their pursuits mainly revolved around living a practical and effective life, no matter their circumstance. And as entrepreneurs, what’s more important than being ‘effective’ with your time?
I’ve read a few books on Stoicism, with Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ being my all-time favourite. While away over the holidays, I read a close second volume from another legendary stoic philosopher, Epictetus…
Unlike Aurelius, who was groomed from birth to become emperor and had all of life’s trappings at his fingertips if he so desired, Epictetus was enslaved — yet his outlook on life was optimistic and peaceful. At the core of his being was a belief that no person nor circumstance can alter your mood or suppress your happiness and sense of freedom. Freedom, he believed, can only come from your mind, not your environment. According to Sharon Lebell, who released a modern-day translation of Epictetus’ ‘The Art of Living’ (I read her version),
“Your happiness depends on three things, all of which are within your power: your will, your ideas concerning the events in which you are involved, and the use you make of your ideas.”
In other words, if you can’t control it, don’t let it consume your mind share — and put your authentic ideas to use.
I don’t think anyone can read The Art of Living without feeling more relaxed, centred, and clear-headed. There are many great lessons/proverbs from Epictetus, but I will share my four favourites that apply perfectly to entrepreneurs.
Watch your inputs: You shouldn’t stumble into watching, listening to, or reading just anything that comes your way. Content that enters your brain should be filtered because it can alter your moods and ambitions. Moreover, your friends’ and acquaintances’ views, moods and perspectives are contagious. You will, to some degree, adopt your friends’ attitudes. As the age-old adage goes, you are the company you keep.
Epictetus doesn’t suggest you abandon or ignore your friends who are going through a tough time or are in a negative state of mind, quite the opposite, in fact. He believed you need to be there for those you love but should be singularly focused on helping them out of their rut. It is easy to wallow in negativity — to pile on with sorrow. To support and join in on being upset with your friend about a nagging issue can even seem like a compassionate thing to do. However, it’s counterproductive if you’re truly trying to help your friend move past the problem and heal. Joining the pity party will end up taking you both down.
Epictetus’ advice is to be there for your friends and colleagues by helping them discriminate between the negative event and their reaction to it.
Left unchecked, fear and ambition create a cluttered, distracted mind unable to be present: Ambition rooted in beating others is toxic and distorts your sense of reality. Similarly, fear should not be a driving force in your life. While fear is our most powerful motivator, it is often created from imagination and can lead you astray.
Never compare, and control your impulses: Comparison is the thief of joy. Acting on every, or most, impulses leads to stress.
You can’t experience joy looking over your neighbour’s fence. And you lose control of your life’s purpose if impulses dictate your day-to-day.
Being up to date on the latest news and political happenings is an unhealthy endeavor:
Why do I get insecure about not knowing the daily machinations of our national or local politics? Because I fear I’ll be disconnected and ignorant to the goings-on around me.
We’ve been taught to be concerned if we don’t stay on top of the news. By not staying ‘current’, we’ll be ill-informed, which may change how people view us. This is silly. Your happiness and achieving YOUR life goals rely on an ability to only concern yourself with things within your control.
‘The Art of Living’ by Epictetus was the perfect book to read before setting my resolutions. It made me reflect on what’s important, why I have particular desires and goals, and how to prioritize my ambitions. It’s a classic that I’ll probably end up reading many more times, potentially even make it an annual read. Highly recommend.