7 things the ancient Stoics can teach you about becoming a strong, happy, and morally sound professional

marcus aurelius

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Marcus Aurelius’ reign from 161 to 180 was defined by a pandemic (which originated in the distant east and quickly overwhelmed Rome’s institutions), civil unrest, interminable wars in the provinces, personal health issues, cultural decadence, income inequality, and so much else. 

As he would observe in “Meditations,” people have always been people, and life has always been life. The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Yet, Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics still found a way to be successful, happy, strong, productive, and good, despite all these difficulties. In this, we must learn from them. The history of Stoic philosophy is filled with all sorts of unique characters from unique backgrounds — from slaves to generals, lawyers to writers, daughters to doctors — who thrived amidst both adversity and prosperity. 

After more than a decade now about writing about the Stoics, most recently with my book “Lives of the Stoics,” here are seven lessons we can take from the ancient world and apply to our modern times. 

1. Find a mentor

“Choose a master whose life, conversation, and soul-expressing face have satisfied you … For we must indeed have someone according to whom we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler.” — Seneca

Fittingly, the story of Stoicism begins with misfortune. On a merchant voyage, Zeno was shipwrecked. He lost everything. He washed up in Athens where he walked into a bookstore and listened to the bookseller reading dialogues from Socrates. After the reading, Zeno asked the question that would change his life: “Where can I find a man like that?” That is: Where can I find my own Socrates? Where can I find someone to study under?

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In that moment, Crates, a well-known Athenian philosopher, happened to be passing by. The bookseller simply extended his hand and pointed. You could say it was fated. The Stoics of later years certainly would have. According to the ancient biographer Diogenes Laertius, Zeno joked, “Now that I’ve suffered shipwreck, I’m on a good journey,” or according to another account, “You’ve done well, Fortune, driving me thus to philosophy,” he reportedly said. 

Nearly all of the ancient Stoics had a formative mentor, living or dead. Cleanthes had Zeno. Cato had Sarpedon. Seneca had Attalus. Epictetus had Musonius Rufus. Marcus Aurelius had Rusticus — who turned him onto Epictetus. Chryssipus had Cleanthes. Thrasea had Cato. Antipater had Diogenes. Panaetius had Crates. Posidonius had Panaetius.

The Stoics knew that life is hard and requires help. “Only beasts can do it alone,” Marcus said. We need guidance from those who are further ahead on the path. We need mentors. 

2. We don’t control what happened, we control how we respond

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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