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5 Truths of Ancient Wisdom That

Will Make You a Better


Entrepreneur
Take pride in your work. But it is not all there is.
Original Link: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/283883

Ryan Holiday, Contributor, OCTOBER 18, 2016

Very few ancient philosophies can be traced back to an entrepreneur, but one
can: Stoicism. Around 304 BC, a merchant named Zeno was shipwrecked on a trading
voyage. He lost nearly everything. Making his way to Athens, he was introduced to
philosophy by Crates of Thebes, a famous Cynic, which changed his life. Within a few
years, Stoic philosophy would be born. As Zeno later joked, I made a prosperous voyage
when I suffered shipwreck.

Since then, Stoicism has been a source of guidance, wisdom and practical advice for
millions. Its been used by everyone from Marcus Aurelius and Seneca (one of the richest
men in Rome), to Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick the Great and Michel de Montaigne.
More recently, Stoicism has been cited by investors like Tim Ferriss and executives like
Jonathan Newhouse, the CEO of Cond Nast International. Even football coaches like
Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks and baseball managers like Jeff Banister of the
Texas Rangers have recommended Stoicism to their players.
Below are five Stoic exercises and strategies, pulled from the new book The Daily Stoic,
that will help you run your business, and find clarity, effectiveness and serenity.
Find The Right Scene
Above all, keep a close watch on thisthat you are never so tied to your former
acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you dont, youll be
ruined. . . . You must choose whether to be loved by these friends and remain the same
person, or to become a better person at the cost of those friends . . . if you try to have it
both ways you will neither make progress nor keep what you once had.
Epictetus, Discourses, 4.2.1; 45
Jim Rohns widely quoted line is: You are the average of the five people you spend the
most time with. James Altucher advises young writers and entrepreneurs to find their
scenea group of peers who push them to be better. Your father might have given you
a warning when he saw you spending time with some bad kids: Remember, you become
like your friends. One of Goethes maxims captures it better: Tell me with whom you
consort and I will tell you who you are.
Consciously consider whom you allow into your life -- not like some snobby elitist but
like someone who is trying to cultivate the best life possible. Ask yourself about the

people you meet and spend time with: Are they making me better? Do they encourage me
to push forward and hold me accountable? Or do they drag me down to their level? Now,
with this in mind, ask the most important question: Should I spend more or less time with
these folks?
The second part of Goethes quote tells us the stakes of this choice: If I know how you
spend your time, he said, then I know what might become of you.
The Art of Negative Visualization
We say that nothing happens to a wise man against his expectation. . . nor do all things
turn out for him as he wished but as he reckonedand above all he reckoned that
something could block his plans. Seneca, On Tranquillity of Mind 13.23
We often learn the hard way that our world is ruled by external factors. We dont always
get what is rightfully ours, even if weve earned it. Not everything is as clean and
straightforward as the games they play in business school. Psychologically, we
must prepare ourselves for this to happen.
If it comes as a constant surprise each and every time something unexpected occurs,
youre not only going to be miserable whenever you attempt something big, youre going
to have a much harder time accepting it and moving on to attempts two, three, and four.
The only guarantee, ever, is that things could go wrong. The only thing we can use to
mitigate this is anticipation, because the only variable we control completely is ourselves.
The world might call you a pessimist. Who cares? Its far better to seem like a downer
than to be blindsided or caught off guard.
You know whats better than building things up in your imagination? Building things up
in real life. Of course, its a lot more fun to build things up in your imagination than it is

to tear them down. But what purpose does that serve? It only sets you up for
disappointment. Chimeras are like bandages -- they hurt when torn away.
With anticipation, we have time to raise defenses, or even avoid them entirely. Were
ready to be driven off course because weve plotted a way back. We can resist going to
pieces if things didnt go as planned. With anticipation, we can endure.
We are prepared for failure and ready for success.
Never Do Anything Out of Habit
So in the majority of other things, we address circumstances not in accordance with the
right assumptions, but mostly by following wretched habit. Since all that Ive said is the
case, the person in training must seek to rise above, so as to stop seeking out pleasure
and steering away from pain; to stop clinging to living and abhorring death; and in the
case of property and money, to stop valuing receiving over giving. -- Musonius
Rufus, Lectures, 6.25.511
A worker is asked: Why did you do it this way? The answer, Because thats the way
weve always done things. The answer frustrates every good boss and sets the mouth of
every entrepreneur watering. The worker has stopped thinking and is mindlessly
operating out of habit. The business is ripe for disruption by a competitor, and the worker
will probably get fired by any thinking boss.
We should apply the same ruthlessness to our own habits. In fact, we are studying
philosophy precisely to break ourselves of rote behavior. Find what you do out of rote
memory or routine. Ask yourself: Is this really the best way to do it? Know why you do
what you do.

The Startup of You.


But what does Socrates say? Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and
another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day. -Epictetus, Discourses, 3.5.14
The rage these days is to start your own company -- to be an entrepreneur. There is no
question, building a business from scratch can be an immensely rewarding pursuit. Its
why people put their whole lives into doing it, working countless hours and taking
countless risks.
But shouldnt we be just as invested in building ourselves as we would be to any
company?
Like a startup, we begin as just an idea: were incubated, put out into the world where we
develop slowly, and then, over time, we accumulate partners, employees, customers,
investors, and wealth. Is it really so strange to treat your own life as seriously as you
might treat an idea for a business? Which one really is the matter of life and death?
Dont read the news today.
Today you will be tempted -- pressured even-- to stay abreast of current events. To watch
the news, to read a few articles, to check the stream of real-time events on Twitter. Resist
this impulse.
Remember what Thoreau said: To a philosopher, all news, as it is called, is gossip, and
they who edit and read it are old women over tea. Remember what Epictetus said, If
you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters.

Unless youre a hedge-fund manager or a journalist, most of the breaking news out there
is utterly irrelevant to your life (to say nothing of it being endlessly manipulative,
exploitative and often incorrect). And considering all the things you could have been
thinking about and doing instead, following it comes at a cost. A cost which is paid by
you and your family and the world around you.
Dont watch the news today. Focus on whats in front of you. Exist solely in the present
moment.
Your career is not a life sentence.
How disgraceful is the lawyer whose dying breath passes while at court, at an advanced
age, pleading for unknown litigants and still seeking the approval of ignorant
spectators. -- Seneca, On the Brevity of Life, 20.2
Every few years, a sad spectacle is played out in the news. An old millionaire, still lord of
his business empire, is taken to court. Shareholders and family members go to court to
argue that he is no longer mentally competent to make decisions -- that the patriarch is
not fit to run his own company and legal affairs. Because this powerful person refused to
ever relinquish control or develop a succession plan, he is subjected to one of lifes worst
humiliations: the public exposure of his most private vulnerabilities.
We must not get so wrapped up in our work that we think were immune from the reality
of aging and life. Who wants to be the person who can never let go? Is there so little
meaning in your life that your only pursuit is work until youre eventually carted off in a
coffin?
Take pride in your work. But it is not all there is.