We read blog post after blog post about the importance of leadership, creativity and motivation in success. Yet what is often overlooked is the inner system that guides individuals and their behaviours. When setbacks occur ‘out of the blue’, how do we respond? What are the guiding principles on which we base our responses, consciously or otherwise?
Perhaps the reason why quotes from the wise are so popular are because they point to tried and tested principles, or if you will, profound, inner belief systems. The principles found in Stoicism, a pragmatic branch of philosophy, are particularly relevant for us today, given our perennial quest to find meaning and purpose in a chaotic world. Stoicism focuses on how to overcome adversity, how to develop self-control and how to live with our nature, not against it. So we can understand the challenges that confront us and not try to escape from them and, ultimately, achieve inner peace.
Below are some illuminating quotes from three renowned Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius
1. Marcus Aurelius
“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions – not outside.”
Takeaway: All your emotions come from within: it is what you tell yourself that dictates how you feel. Next time you look at your bulging inbox and are tempted to headbutt your desk, what are you telling yourself?
“Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person.”
Takeaway: Has your diploma in customer services enabled you to treat all your customers well? It’s not the number of degrees you have that will show your competence; it’s not even the type of degree you have. What really shows your worth is your ability to apply the knowledge you’ve gained. Your education should spark some sort of action or improvement in what you do and how you do it.
“Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: Not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity, and always to take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do. Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock.”
Takeaway: This one does what it says on the tin: develop resilience, don’t put your trust in what you have; beware prosperity’s ability to be with you one day and be gone the next.
“A person who is not aware that he is doing anything wrong has no desire to be put right. You have to catch yourself doing it before you can reform…”
Takeaway: You must be brutally honest with yourself about whether you really want to improve. This awareness is the first step to changing. Then, catch yourself doing what you shouldn’t be doing and make/take every effort to improve. This one’s particularly relevant to anyone with a tendency to procrastinate.
5. Marcus Aurelius
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being.”
Takeaway: If you carry the quote on (it’s a long one), you’ll see that the essence of Marcus Aurelius’ words is that as human beings, we’re ’programmed’ to work, to do things and experience them. Eating, drinking, working, sleeping, resting – these are what we’re meant to do as living beings. They are part of our nature. To give less attention to any of these aspects of life will be to deny our nature of its true needs; to give “less respect” to our own nature “than the dancer does for dance”.
As you carry on with your life, in pursuit of greater success, remember this one, from Seneca:“Non est ad astra mollis e terris via”, which translates as, "There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.”
If you’ve enjoyed reading these quotes, why not go deeper and get hold of these two books: Seneca’s Letters From a Stoic, and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations – you’ll be glad you did!
Do you have any other great quotes from the Stoics that we missed? Please let us know below...