Apply Stoicism to the Workplace With These Strategies

Stoicism has its roots in the powerful nations of ancient Greece and more popularly ancient Rome. Yet the stoics regarded themselves as quite ordinary. They are the student in school, the parent at home, the employee at work, the athlete in the arena, and the executive in the board room. In other words, anyone can be a stoic, as long as they adopt the stoic mindset.
Every job is well-suited for stoic philosophy. At its core, philosophy is the study of life. Things like how we should act in our day-to-day to achieve success, how we should gain knowledge, and how to establish the mindset of a “good person”. All of these things fall under philosophy.
Stoicism is a philosophy designed for action. It’s a lot less theory than other philosophies. Instead, it's focused on how we can practically apply our stoic mindset to live a better life. Almost every stoic quote you’ll hear is referencing something in the real world, something that can be applied, an action to be taken. That’s why it’s become popular with so many successful people. From Marcus Aurelius (emperor of the Roman Empire), to Theodore Roosevelt (former US President), James Stockdale (Vice-Admiral of the US Navy), and Michael Lombardi (NFL Executive), just to name a few. You can read more here.
How can we follow in the footsteps of these accomplished people to accomplish our own career goals? The answer is to apply stoicism to the workplace. Understand the core teachings, and then shape them to be applied in the modern workplace, to take action. Below are four stoic strategies to do just that.

#1 Check Your Emotions At The Door

“Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it easier to maintain control.”
― Epictetus
Doing well at work relies heavily on your emotional control. You could have the best technical skills in the building, but if you can’t master your own emotions, then those technical skills won’t take you far.
Business is business — things are going to happen that you didn’t want to happen. A project failing, your coworker taking credit for your efforts, your boss being mean to you — it’s all part of the game. Most people in any one of those situations would crumble under their own emotions. They say things like “it’s not fair”, “that was just luck”, or “it’s not my fault!”
To apply stoicism means to re-gain control over your emotions. It’s inevitable that in life, especially in a place as hostile as the modern-day workplace, that some things won’t go the way you want them to. There are other players on the field and outside forces which you can’t control. The best way to handle that lack of control is to set your emotions aside. Don’t ever take things personally.
If a project failed, there could be a huge list of reasons why; just see what you can do to improve your own performance and then move on. You’ve done all you can do at that point.
If a coworker screwed you over, well that’s expected, this is business and they were only doing what was in their best interests. Instead of getting angry at them, know that what’s done is done and then make a plan to learn from your mistakes. Use concepts from The Art of War to make your position more defensible for next time.
If your boss is being mean, it’s only that they’re trying to assert their dominance and feel strong. That’s what emotionally weak people do. Forget about it, be strong yourself, and just do your work. If you get your work done and stay strong, you’ll eventually move past him or to a better position.
Speaking of just doing your work, that leads me to point #2.

#2 Do your job every day

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.
— Seneca
Do you ever have those moments when you’re at work and just figure “meh, I’ve worked hard enough this week, I’ll just chill today.” While it may seem nice or pleasurable to do such a thing, it’s not very productive.
The stoics strongly believed in the shortness of life and as such in eliminating what we call “dead time.” Dead time is any time you are living without some kind of purpose. When you’re just sitting there, doing nothing for the sake of doing nothing.
The problem with this kind of time is that it’s incredibly wasteful. There are other things you could be doing with your time. Perhaps you feel stagnated in your job which makes you feel bored, so that’s why you’re having dead time. But if you do feel that way, then the dead time isn’t going to help you. The thing that will help you would be sharpening your skills and learning new things to make getting a promotion or your next job easier. There’s always something productive that can be done.
If you do feel like you need a break, don’t go into work and have dead time. Just take the full day off. You’ll be able to rest better and fully clear your head. But if not, then get to work on progressing in your life. Understand that every second you have on this earth is precious. It’s an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to live.
Speaking of progress …

#3 Always look to improve

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”
― Seneca
In life, it’s very easy to stagnate. We get into a good spot in our careers, the money is good enough, hours are reasonable. But then we stop. It’s not because we don’t want to advance or to move up, it’s just the natural reaction for your mind.
The human mind is inclined to do less work, not more. It doesn’t want to expend more effort because then you’ll be expending more energy. It wants to find the easiest way possible to get the job done. But of course, we know that such a mindset doesn’t get us anywhere. In order to move forward, you need to work proactively, consciously pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. This type of thinking and action should be done constantly throughout your career.
To stay on top of your proactive action pushing out of your comfort zone, the stoics suggest voluntary discomfort. Voluntary discomfort is about deliberately doing things that you find uncomfortable or difficult. At work, this means taking on new challenges. Things like:
  • Asking your boss if you can take on more responsibility for a project, perhaps leading it
  • Aiming to finish your work tasks a few days before the deadline
  • Learning a new skill through an online course — Udemy and Coursera are great for this
  • Deliberately take on responsibilities outside of your job description where you’ll learn new skills
  • Pitch a new project to upper-management
The point is that there’s a number of ways to push upwards and outside of your comfort zone. You want to be doing this constantly so you’re always improving, always moving forward. You can track your progress in a journal if you’d like, which will help you hold yourself accountable to the constant push. Remember that if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

#4 Don’t take things too seriously. Have fun too!

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
― Marcus Aurelius
When we’ve got our heads down, grinding it out for our careers, we often forget to slow down and take it all in. We’re so focused on the money and the status and making it to the very top, we forget that there are other parts to life that aren’t work-related.
You chose this career for a reason. Part of it might have been that it paid well, but I’m sure that another part was that you enjoyed it too. The work was interesting or cool or had lots of variety, which you found really fun. You want to remember that every single day when you’re working. Every once in a while, take a step back and admire your career progress. Smile at all the awesome work you’re doing and the great contributions you’re making.
There are a few deliberate things you can do (of course, the stoics were always about taking action) with regards to this:
  • Be the one to plan the event with your coworkers. Invite them out to the bar or some other fun spot on Friday night after work
  • Celebrate when you have a big win at work or reach a career milestone. Treat yourself to dinner or buy yourself something nice
  • Make friends with people as much as possible. It makes work and life far more interesting than if you were just grinding it out on your own
  • Finish work at a reasonable time, at least every once in a while so you can spend time with friends, family, or on hobbies
  • Always be learning new skills. It keeps things more interesting and fun. Variety is the spice of life
Yes work hard, yes push for your goals, but have a good time while you’re doing it. Enjoy the process and enjoy life.

Key Takeaways

The workplace is a competitive arena with ever-changing rules and players. Stoicism is all about establishing a level-headed mindset based on reason in order to overcome life’s challenges. We can apply it to the workplace in the following ways:
  • Check your emotions at the door. Keeping your emotions in check will help you make logical, well-informed, and better decisions in the workplace
  • Do your job every day. Focusing on your own work is the best way to constantly move forward towards your goals
  • Always look to improve. Never stagnate and always look to move forward. If you’re not growing, you’re dying
  • Have fun too! Life isn’t all work. Smile at what you do every day and have a good time
Previous Post Next Post