For the past several years I have been reading, researching, and thinking a great deal about the ancients and their unique way of looking at leadership. It’s interesting to realize there is indeed nothing new under the sun. All the great leadership books, thoughts, theories can be traced back to the ancients. Today there is deeper research, more data, and of course—more books, but really when we look at a group like the stoics—there is a lot to learn.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)
We don’t have a lot of info on the stoics, but we can divide their writing into three eras:
Early Stoa, from the founding of the stoic school by Zeno to Antipater.
Middle Stoa, including Panaetius and Posidonius
Late Stoa, including Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius
No complete work by any Stoic philosopher survives from the first two phases of Stoicism. Only Roman texts from the Late Stoa survive—let’s look there.
Musonius Rufus: (6)
- “If you accomplish something good with hard work, the labor passes quickly, but the good endures; if you do something shameful in pursuit of pleasure, the pleasure passes quickly, but the shame endures”
- “Wealth is able to buy the pleasures of eating, drinking and other sensual pursuits-yet can never afford a cheerful spirit or freedom from sorrow.”
- “You will earn the respect of all if you begin by earning the respect of yourself. Don’t expect to encourage good deeds in people conscious of your own misdeeds.”
- “Humanity must seek what is NOT simple and obvious using the simple and obvious.”
- “Most of all, teachers shouldn’t only be speakers of helpful words, but their actions should be consistent with them. The pupil’s duty is to attend pro-actively to what is said, and to be on guard in case they accept something false without thinking.”
- “For I believe a good king is from the outset and by necessity a philosopher, and the philosopher is from the outset a kingly person.”
- “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.”
- “While we teach, we learn.”
- “I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”
- “We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.”
- “If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favorable.”
- “No man was ever wise by chance.”
- “The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.”
- “No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”
- “It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.”
- “Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.”
- “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”
- Difficulties are things that show a person what they are.
- “Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.”
- That’s why the philosophers warn us not to be satisfied with mere learning, but to add practice and then training. For as time passes we forget what we learned and end up doing the opposite, and hold opinions the opposite of what we should.”
- “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”
- “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 then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”
- “If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, ‘He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would have not mentioned these alone.’”
Marcus Aurelius (my personal favorite): (13)
- “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One.”
- “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
- “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”
- ‘When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”
- “The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”
- “No one could ever accuse you of being quick-witted. All right, but there are plenty of other things you can’t claim you “haven’t got in you.” Practice the virtues you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer—beyond excuses like “can’t”? And yet you still settle for less.”
- “Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.”
- “Yes, you can–if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.”’
- “At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’”
- “It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet.”
- “When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them. It’s good to keep this in mind.”
- “Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human–however imperfectly–and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.”
- “No carelessness in your actions. No confusion in your words. No imprecision in your thoughts.”
BONUS: And—lets add a few modern stoics just for good measure
Tim Ferris: “If you let pride stop you, you will hate life.” —
JK Rowling: If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.
Nick Sabin: “Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is changing someone’s behavior.”
James Mattis: “The most important 6 inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger: “For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.”
Tom Brady: Too often in life, something happens and we blame other people for us not being happy or satisfied or fulfilled. So the point is, we all have choices, and we make the choice to accept people or situations or to not accept situations.
LL Cool J: When adversity strikes, that’s when you have to be the most calm. Take a step back, stay strong, stay grounded and press on.
John Steinbeck: Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.