I used to hate my philosophy and ethics courses back in high school.
But let me do some clarification first. I’m not going to talk about metaphysics, and other abstract stuff in here. I’m interested in practical philosophy, specifically Stoicism.
I used Aristotle as clickbait for my title (sorry ‘bout that). Aristotle was not a stoic, but not many people really know the true stoics; Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca.
Stoicism has been trending lately with the publications and books of famous authors and bloggers, such as Tim Ferris and Ryan Holiday. Not surprisingly, both of them are quite active in the startup ecosystem. Why is that?
Entrepreneurship is the perfect battle ground for modern day stoics. Overall, the world’s life quality has improved immensely; wars are not as frequent and brutal, hunger and poverty have decreased at a constant rate and Justin Bieber’s music has improved greatly. Basically, the world is a better place nowadays.
Stoics used to face things such as famine, slavery, wars, exile, torture, etc., and their principles were practical enough to face those kind of problems. In today’s world, problems are less-worse. However, their teachings are still as useful as always. There’s a particular group of people who could be clearly practicing stoicism in our contemporary era: Entrepreneurs.
Here are six ways in which this kick-ass philosophy could be helping you become a better founder, business owner, investor or whatever your entrepreneurial approach is.
- ‘Every hour focus your mind attentively…on the performance of the task in hand, with dignity, human sympathy, benevolence and freedom, and leave aside all other thoughts. You will achieve this, if you perform each action as if it were your last…” — Marcus Aurelius
- Hic et nunc, is the latin term for “here and now”. As a founder, a lot of things might be coming at you from different flanks. Multitasking and distraction is the common mental state for entrepreneurs. This is not necessarily good. It might make you err more frequently and seriously; and it doesn’t let you perform at your best. Mindfulness means to be in te present moment; to be aware of things happening at that specific time and place, and not worrying about past mistakes or future anxieties. I know this is difficult, and many more things are involved (such as delegation, leadership skills, and time management), however, improving your mindset is the first step Get your sh*t together and start living in the present.
- Daily Improvement
- “As long as you live, continue to learn how to live.” — Seneca
- Stoics were constant learners, daily improvers and they thought curiosity was a bliss. I once read “ignorant people can be taught, but the incurious are in for trouble”. We all start as ignorants in certain topics, but if we don’t have the spark to improve and get better at that specific subject, skill or habit, then there’s no point on even starting a company.
- Rough times
- “You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” — Epicurus
- This is my favorite point. Stoics really help out when dealing with loss, grieve, sickness, failure and all other painful situations. Every founder has to go through a lot of sh*t while starting up, there’s no way everything goes smoothly. Stoics thought this was a good thing; just as the muscles under stress become bigger and stronger; feelings and thoughts under acute stress become also more resilient. Tough times make tough people.
- “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” — Marcus Aurelius
- Many times, we think things are essentially bad, while they end up helping us or becoming something good at the end. Your thoughts color the context of the situation. If during an insult, an argument, a broken relationship, etc., you don’t think you’re being harmed, you’re actually not.
- Anger Management
- “Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it.” — Seneca
- This one is a tough one for me. I tend to get angry frequently…and easily. I just got angry right now by talking about my angriness. Anyways, stoics are calm and unreactive. They don’t let external events influence their emotional state and feelings. I guess it’s obvious to say that founders get angry at many people, many times throughout their day. Perhaps, remind yourself of some stoic quotes, will help you keep your head cool in those situations and focus on the what is needed instead of what just made you furious.
- Time vs. Money
- “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.” — Seneca
- Many founders are text-book perfectionists. There are many wrong things about this, but one of them is the disability to delegate and hand-out tasks to other people. Worried about things not looking or performing as they picture them in their heads, they prefer to take over the task and do it themselves. This is not only bad in terms of leadership, it is also extremely inefficient. Seneca talks about this on his book On the Shortness of Life. He obviously was not talking about Silicon Valley’s founders, but it is also a timeless and applicable advice. It is a common practice to leverage money, but people are very skeptic about leveraging time. Just remember, money is a renewable resource, while your time is running and not coming back.
There are many books out there that helped me understand many of these concepts. Of course, I still have to consciously think about applying these concepts on my daily life, but a goal of mine is to be able to act just like these ancient philosophers subconsciously.
Suggestion: Start reading the “digested” content from authors such as Tim Ferris, Massimo Piggliucci and Ryan Holiday. If you enjoy those go deeper with the classics; Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.
Read those. Come back. Tell me what you think.