Over the past few years I’ve dealt with several matters in my personal life that put quite a bit of stress on me. My mother’s progressing dementia led to the need to move her into a long term care facility, that meant my 82 year old father would be living on his own and in need of his own periodic in-home care, and if this wasn’t enough, I was now the primary care giver for my aging uncle who has no family of his own to look after him. Dealing with 3 aging adults in need of different levels of care (and my time) who live in three different locations was beginning to take its toll. I found myself losing sleep, gaining weight and becoming more & more distracted from my responsibilities at work. Things had gotten to the point where my health was becoming a concern and I knew I needed to find some help, some way to cope with the personal pressures and at the same time get back to focusing on the business I lead.
I began to research ways of dealing with stress and came across several articles on various philosophies, but in particular the philosophy of Stoicism. I read works by Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and books by Ryan Holiday, such as “the Obstacle is the way”, and found much of what I read to be of great use in helping to “rewire” my thought process to change how I viewed or perceived the immediate issues I was dealing with. I found that using a “Stoic’s thought process” in dealing with my personal issues was so helpful, that I began to study ways in which I could apply Stoicism not only to my personal life, but incorporate a more stoic approach toward my business leadership skills, and more importantly, teach these tactics and principles to our entire team.
Here are the 5 stoic guiding principles I find to be the most applicable to business leadership;
1. Understand what’s within your control & what’s outside of your control.
Throughout the course of our daily lives “stuff” happens, events occur, plans go awry, all without your doing and all outside your control. It’s important to understand that these events are neither good nor bad, negative nor positive, they’re just events. However, it’s your perception of the things that occur that IS within your control and can “color” the events good or bad, negative or positive. For example, a mandatory training class can be viewed as a pain in the neck, an inconvenience to an already busy day, or it can be viewed as an opportunity to learn a new skill that will increase your value to the organization and future earning potential, it’s totally up to you & your perception.
You CAN’T control the things that pop-up over the course of the day, but you most certainly CAN control your perception and your attitude.
2. Live in the present, leave the past alone.
How much of your daily interaction is “colored” by previous interactions that YOU choose to perceive as negative, how many times have you allowed your previous history to cloud your judgment or change your attitude toward the way you approached this NEW situation. A demanding client’s phone number pops-up on your caller I.D, is your first reaction to hit the ignore bottom and let it go to voicemail, or roll your eyes “oh, not this guy again”, or do you cease this as a NEW opportunity to win him over and make him your biggest fan.
Whatever occurred in the past has already happened and there is NOTHING you can do to change it, so leave it there where it belongs.
Use the past for nothing more than an educational experience, a chance to learn & gain experience from, but don’t let the past steal from your today.
3. Take time to pause before you take action.
One of the main differences between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom lies in our ability to pause and apply our reason to stressful situations. We possess the discipline in our perception that lets us resist the urge to panic and kneejerk react, unlike a deer whose reaction to a loud noise is to dart out in front of a moving car.
We don’t have to fire off a retaliatory e-mail response just because the person on the other end sent a harshly worded email directed at you. Take a few minutes to cut through the emotion so that you can clearly see the problem, than formulate a non-emotional response that presents a possible solution and nothing else. No need to let someone else’s bad day bring you down, their bad mood is their issue, not yours. Take a pause, no need to “fight fire with fire”.
4. Check your EGO at the door.
It’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a demeaning job or task, only an opportunity to gain a new experience and add to your education. Far too often I’ve seen people who find certain jobs or tasks to be beneath them, or somehow insulting to either their education level “I went to college to do this”, or tenure with the company “I’m here longer then him, so make him do it”. Get over your EGO and realize that no matter what you’re tasked with, it’s another opportunity to demonstrate your value to the team, while picking up a new skill or polishing up an old one. Understand that there are thousands of people who would kill to have the opportunity you’re turning your nose up to, don’t let your EGO get in the way of your appreciation.
5. Never fear or dread anything that comes your way.
Too many times we allow ourselves to build up anxiety in anticipation of a big meeting or a business trip, either fearful of failure or dreading the hard work that lies ahead. Always remember to replace the phrase “I have to…” with the phrase “I get to…” Work is something that not everyone GETS the opportunity to do, but YOU do, so cherish it.
As for fear of failure, there is no better teacher than failure, so the worst case is that you learned enough from your failure that when the next opportunity comes around you’ll be much better prepared to cease the moment. There’s nothing wrong with being nervous or fearful, only lunatics are completely without fear, but there is a problem with allowing fear or nerves to consume you, to distract from your focus and preparation. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s the control of your fear. Be thankful for the opportunity and be courageous in the opportunity.