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Stoic Wisdom for Business Resilience and Success

ScribblingGeek earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.

The basic beliefs of Stoicism.

The basic beliefs of Stoicism.

Mention Stoicism and chances are, people would think you are referring to the noun form of the commonly known adjective. Tell them that Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that continues to have relevancy for the modern world, and I'm guessing you would receive a frown or a loud, "WHAT?"

This is not to say that people are ignorant. Stoicism was popular during Roman times but with the fall of the Roman Empire, it went downhill too. The tenets of stoic wisdom also clashed with another rising school of belief, i.e. Christianity. The starkest example of which being disagreement over the nature of God.

Religious and spiritual aspects aside, Stoicism still has plenty of useful guidelines for today's world, particularly in the areas of business resilience and business success. To begin with, the philosophy could be considered a reality check, one that places you on the correct footing. How you continue to apply the ancient school of thought to your business mentality then presents the most sensible path to move forth with.

1. Focus on Controlling What You Can

Life sucks. Bad things happen to the best of us, the most capable of us. The stoic response to failures begins with the acceptance that disasters happens no matter how hard you try to prevent it. Instead of brooding over why it happened, focus on how to react to it. And move on.

Move. On.

This is not to dismiss the reasons for failures, though. Instead, it is to acknowledge the grim reality that plenty of things are beyond our control, foremost of which being the past.

While we can all learn from the past, can we change it? If not, why brood over it? Why allow it to drag down the future?

Stoicism encourages the clear separation of what we can control and what we can't. To put this in the context of business resilience, do not obsess over external factors such as industry downturns, technological changes, lousy staff, etc. Focus instead on your reaction to them.

Acknowledge too that beyond your thoughts and intentions, practically everything is outside of your control. Therefore, make the best of what you do have an actual grip on i.e. your reaction to shock, loss, tragedy, and so on. Never sink into negative emotions. Doing so only make things worse.

A fundamental component of stoic wisdom is the acknowledgement that many things in life are beyond our control.

A fundamental component of stoic wisdom is the acknowledgement that many things in life are beyond our control.

2. How You Choose to React to a Crisis Is Entirely on You

One way to summarize stoic wisdom would be to say that it is a set of guidelines for life. A philosophy with an emphasis on surviving adversity and practicing self-restraint.

Stoicism views fear, anger, and despair as intensely personal choices. In other words, you do not have to feel negatively towards a crisis. You do so only because you chose to.

Yes. You whine over the loss of a business contract not because you're only human, but because you choose to react that way. You lose sleep over an industry downturn not because it’s “only to be expected,” but because you allow the downturn to creep into your personal life.

The gist of it, instead of allowing these negative emotions to overwhelm you, why not concentrate on managing them? On containing them? To put it in another way, do not allow yourself to be lured into a state of learned helplessness. Always believe in and practice your conscious ability to both contain and redefine adversity.

3. Awful People Do Not Deserve a Response From You

This goes under the umbrella of what was stated in (1) and (2).

Think about it. There are so many examples of such terrible characters. The school bully. The nit-picking boss. The scheming colleague, and so on. All are people who obviously do not adopt the stoic approach to life; they attempt with all sorts of unpleasant ways to manipulate things beyond their control. Why waste time joining their games? Why be their pawn? Why allow their negativity to dictate your own actions and life?

Again, this isn't to say you should just allow a bully to take your lunch money, or a business competitor to steal your trade formula. It is about having a realistic, controlled approach to such nuisances. Respond with a clear and calm mind, not with one that is enslaved by negativity, or worse, clouded by fury. Seek to remedy, never to get-back. Aim to resolve, not to avenge.

Stoic wisdom is similar to chess. You strategize by knowing what to avoid, and to know what is unavoidable.

Stoic wisdom is similar to chess. You strategize by knowing what to avoid, and to know what is unavoidable.

4. A Mastery of Self Through Stoicism

The Stoics have an interesting exercise named the practicising of misfortune. Seneca, one of the key figures of Stoicism, recommended that in times of affluence, we set aside days to practice poverty. This involves doing things like abandoning your creature comforts, going hungry, dressing in rags etc. Now, this sounds like asceticism. It's also mostly impractical in today's world. But consider the real purpose of Seneca's exercise. Is it not to strengthen yourself against the possible downturns of life? By thinking about it, knowing it and imagining its taste, wouldn't you have a clearer idea of what to do if it indeed happens to you?

Coming back to the topics of business resilience and business success, Seneca’s exercise is a superb reality check. So your business is booming now. You have a huge new office and you are taking your clients and staff out for thousand-dollar meals. Are you going to regret such extravagances when times are bad? Are you going to look back and regret not managing your funds more wisely?

Of note, stoic wisdom emphasizes four cardinal virtues. That of wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. While these sound somewhat contrary to business, which is a contest for material gain, metaphorical dosages of the four virtues in business management never hurt. If you need examples, just google how many businesses failed because of excessive expenditures during good times. These businesses surely regret not practicing temperance, as in expenditure restrain, during their best days.

5. A Way of Moving On

As stated by Seneca, Stoics "count each separate day as a separate life." They cherish the new opportunities available with each coming day.

Stoic wisdom also advocates clear goals. Another quote from Seneca goes that if you have no clue which port you are sailing to, no wind is ever good for you.

The worth these beliefs have for business management is crystal clear.

To live each day as a separate life encourages the belief that failures are finite. Yes, a disaster could be very traumatizing. It might even be crippling. But life always goes on, doesn’t it? Life only stops if your negative emotions insists that it stops.

Yes, you lost a huge contract. Your business might be going under. But does this mean you wouldn't have another opportunity? Does this mean you would never be able to do business again for the rest of your life?

Of course not. Your failures are permanent only if you want them to be.

Move on, a Stoic would tell you. Learn from it and move on. Don't dwell on things you cannot change. Move on and there is always another tomorrow. Another new life.

© 2016 Scribbling Geek


ann on April 17, 2020:

Hi, currently in the first few weeks of a Coronavirus lockdown and so many good bits of advice here that can be applied.

I may loose a job and a contract at the end of all this, but other doors will open and life goes on. Thank you.

Scribbling Geek (author) from Singapore on July 19, 2016:

Hi Kyriaki, thanks for your comment. :) Stoicism is a gift from ancient Greece for all of us.

Kyriaki Chatzi on July 19, 2016:

That is what I call "UNIQUE HUB"! The idea behind this article is so great! Great job! And to answer your Poll question: After reading this Hub, YES! I think that Stoicism can be applied in terms of business.