‘To live under constraint is a misfortune, but there is no constraint to live under constraint.’
Listen, bad stuff happens. All. The. Time.
It can really hit home when it happens to us, or our friends, or our family.
Losing your job
Finding out your partner has been cheating on you
Finding out your car has broken down
Losing money in an investment
Your start up failing
Your established business failing
Having an accident
Getting an illness
It can sting right?
Conventional wisdom might be to "think positive", or something of the sort. But I say that can hinder as much as help.
"To govern was to serve, not to rule"
Seneca was one of the daddies of Stoicism.
What a lovely little bit of advice this is, and relevant given the political comings and goings of this year.
Service, not power.
Giving, not taking.
It's a lovely shift in perspectve.
Not, "What can I get today?" Instead, "What can I give today?"
Not, "I can't believe I have to sort this out for my team again!" Instead, "I get to help my team again."
Not, "How much more value can I squeeze out of my employees?" Instead, "how can I serve my employees to empower them to be better?"
Not, "It's such a chore to do this and that for my ageing parents." Instead, "I'm very fortunate to be able to help those that brought me into the world."
It reminds me of something my mentor said to me years ago, way before I'd read Seneca:
"Joe, remember this, the fortunate should serve."
Remove the weight of "I have to", and replace it with the empowering "I get to."
So what are you going to be today to be of service?
A lot of us get stuck in cycles of wondering if what we're doing with our lives is what we're "meant to be doing" with our lives. I know I do.
Lists upon lists upon lists of ideas. So many lists - maybe that's my purpose...chief list maker, guardian of the listiverse.
The truth is, you don't find purpose, you create purpose. By doing things. By being interested. By getting really good. Through practice.
Unfortunately, most of us get trapped on the income treadmill. Not in an empty corporate greed, making money with the aim to make more money, to then make more money kind of way. But instead in a costs are rising, wages are reducing, how am I going to survive kind of way.
That lingering, heart-raising, economic anxiety.
Some others are a little more fortunate, prospering in the workplace. Getting raises to get more raises to get more raises. Replacing Fords with Ferrari's and Jeeps with Jaguars and so on. Adjusting to their means and so still not escaping the income treadmill.
And all of that is great if you're doing what you love to do but if its not, when are you going to do what you love to do? As Alan Watts said, the upsetting thing is most of us do things we hate doing and raise a family and teach them to do the things they hate doing and so the cycle continues. When what you could do is practice the thing you love to do until you get so good at it that people will pay you for it (video here).
Of course, life is hard, and for most of us it's not so easy to just do the things we love to do. At the very least, we still have bills to pay and so jobs to maintain. In the meantime, however, there is nothing stopping us being interested in other things and to eventually get so good at them that we can make careers out of them.
Right now though, how do we increase our current situation happiness? There are two methods I know of, so read on.
Your colleague humiliated you in front of everyone and you're angry. You want to get even. You can't concentrate on anything else but retaliation.
It's justified right? But is it helping?
You're angry at your neighbors refusing your planning application for a new building. You no longer talk to them.
Is it helping?
You're pissed off with your daughter because she didn't call last weekend, so you're short with her when you next meet.
Is it helping?
You don't talk to your partner that evening because he's home from work 3 hours later than he said he would be and you slaved over a meal.
Is it helping?
You sink into yourself and feel angry at the world for not realizing the brilliance of your breakthrough idea after the investors rejected your start-up pitch.
Is it helping?
One of your customers leaves you after citing a poor customer experience and you withdraw into yourself in a world of self-pity and denial.
Is it helping?
It's easy to react based on the external world around us. How we were slighted, how the circumstances were unfair, how the other person got a better deal.
But with all things considered, is it helping? Better to focus on what you can do to make the best of now. Better to see what possibility you can create to improve the circumstances. Better to maintain your own scorecard and standards.
The customer left you, ask them why. Take the objective feedback, and double down on your existing and new customers.
Your partner was late home. Forget the meal. Be the possibility for them to step back from the tough day they had.
The investor rejected you? Get feedback, they've seen hundreds of pitches. Alter your pitch, find more investors, go again.
When you react, ask yourself, "is it helping?" "Am I being helpful?" Because an attitude of win-win is what helps to improve the world.
Forget the Facebook moments, the Instagram posts of perfect lives, the LinkedIn swagger about the aren't-we-awesome-at-business crowd.
Forget the cheap praise, the "you've done enough" attitudes, the "you're-so-great" compliments.
Forget the jealousy, the low-blow shots, the gossip spreading, the "why is he doing that" murmurs.
Instead, maintain your own scorecard.
The external chatter, the well-intentioned praise, and the soul-destroying harm can do two things:
1) Convince you that you're better than you are
2) Convince you that you're worse than you are.
Instead, maintain your own scorecard.
This is a characteristic of how great people think. They hold themselves to high standards when others already deem their efforts enough. They keep trying when others mock or judge or critique. They use real, measurable feedback and compare where they are to their own internal scorecard.
Let the others judge and compare and seek recognition. Instead, build your confidence on solid, unshakable achievement.
"The Iron Law of You. You think more about yourself than you think about me. There's a corollary to the Iron Law of You - the Iron Law of Me. I think more about myself than I do about you. That's just the way the world works."
It turns out Adam Smith wasn't just a world leading economist, but a pretty astute philosopher as well!
The world demands our attention like never before. Information and communication exchange can be almost instantaneous. We get frustrated when we don't get replies to our emails, text messages and voicemail's. Why isn't the world paying attention to me?!
The insight by Smith above is a lovely reminder that you are not the center of the universe. When you send an important communication to someone, maybe a business pitch, it might be the single most important thing to you at the time. To the respondent, well your message is just one of a huge number, tossed in the mix with everything else they have to complete that day.
So don't get worked up. Practice patience. Remember that the respondent has a million things to deal with, just like you. In the mean time, how many people are screaming with anxiety because you haven't dealt with their important request? How many people are creating stories of worry and fear and rejection? Can you help any of them today? Go do that while you're waiting.
'But the best advantage is the fact that those who have acquired the habit to commend their enemies is that they do not have hostile feelings and do not feel envious because they are jealous of their relatives' or friends’ success, and are removed from envying their good fortune.' (Plutarch)
Fire burns you, but it can be a source of light and heat too.
When your enemies slander you, when they scream at you or are sly with you, when they gossip about you or wound you; you have two choices:
You can either hit back, clouded with rage. You can fuel the fire and struggle and toss mud and smear the both of you. You can have stress coarse through your veins, you can lose sleep, you can work yourself up, you can respond in a petty tit for tat exchange.
Or you can learn. You can practice grace and poise. You can display virtue and balance. You can be kind, calm, and generous, taking adversity in your stride.
Don't respond in anger, instead be a man of virtue.
Remember, when someone treats you poorly, it doesn't degrade you, it degrades them.
Learn from the exchange. Are there any truths in the accusations? Can you adapt in the future? Are you acting with courage? With patience? With clear thinking?
Imagine then, who you are, your character, when you respond to slander with grace, to anger with objectivity, to a loss of control with a steady nerve, to grandeur with humility, and to underhand tactics with courage.
Your responses forge, craft and refine your character, preparing you to overcome ever harder adversities. All the time whilst your enemies work themselves into a perpetual cauldron of entitlement and rage.
Grace and poise, always.
1. "The wine which is poured out first is the purest wine in the bottle, the heaviest particles and any cloudiness settling to the bottom. It is just the same with human life. The best comes first. Are we going to let others drain it so as to keep the dregs for ourselves?" (Seneca)
If you can, do the things that interest you early. Don't wear out your body and mind in the hope that someday you can do the things you want to do. Don't do 40 years of drudgery in exchange for a comfortable retirement and pseudo-safety. Not in today's age, not when opportunity is every where.
Instead, save the best years for yourself. Work on what interests you, get good at it. Have fun.