The Startup
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The Startup

5 Stoic Strategies that Every Entrepreneur Should Know

Practical advice from ancient Greek philosophy.

Photo credit: Nils

You may think that philosophers overthink and underdo, and because of that, philosophy wouldn’t help your company. You are an entrepreneur, and you need action!

I used to think like that until I started studying Stoic philosophy. Stoicism is designed to make us more resilient, happier, and wiser. It is a straightforward philosophy to put into practice, and I have been trying to follow my life and work to the fullest concerning its teachings.

For the past couple of years, I have been studying the works of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus, who are the three great Stoic philosophers, in addition to reading the books of Ryan Holiday, who is a great student of this fantastic philosophy. Because of these studies, my thoughts about being an entrepreneur have changed a lot.

I’ve been trying different things and noticing the ones that led me to a happier life and more productive work.

1. Stop worrying about what you can’t control

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” —Epictetus

When I started my first company with three more partners in an office, I was a much more stressed person. One of the things that stressed me was that one of my partners usually got late to the office.

We didn’t have a specific time to start, but it was nice when we worked together in the office. Most of the time, he worked alone later than the rest of us, and because of that, couldn’t wake up early the next day. That stressed me a lot.

All of this stress didn’t allow me to work well. I was unproductive and made many mistakes. How many times did you notice yourself angry and not being able to get work done because of that? Is it worth all of this madness? Are you worried about what you can’t control?

We can’t control the world around us, external events, other people, nature, genetics, or the past. My partner wasn’t getting later than me to stress me. He was working later to help the company make money. I was working earlier in the morning for that.

I was unhappy and unproductive because of an assumption that I had about everyone being at the same time working together. I could have talked to him about its importance and how I felt when we didn’t do it. Stress wasn’t a wise choice.

2. Focus on what you can control

“Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” —Epictetus

When you have a digital product, you want it to be online 24/7. Your customers need to be able to access your product whenever they want.

My first company was a gaming one, and we had games on Facebook. The games run on servers, and the servers need to be working correctly to keep the games running for the users. My worst nightmare was when one of our games went offline.

That happened once, and I talked to the technical leader about it. He had forgotten to pay the annual fee for the server and the games were offline for a couple of hours.

The next year, the same thing happened. Once again, he had forgotten to pay the annual fee for the server. My first instinct was to get angry, but then I stopped. What do I control in this situation?

After fixing the problem and having the games working again, I talked to the technical leader. I highlighted the fact that that had already happened before. Then I asked: what can we do to avoid this problem from happening again?

It was a simples question. I wasn’t angry. I just wanted the situation not to occur again. He gave me a simple solution, and the problem never happened again. If I didn’t focus on what I could control, I wouldn’t have solved this problem.

3. Think about death

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” —Marcus Aurelius

Many entrepreneurs build companies following strict rules and create a life around that. I used to do that, and that led me to burnout and unhappiness. Let us do the opposite. We need to know what kind of life we want to have for ourselves and build a company around that.

Turning 30 made me think more about life and death. Do you really want to keep doing what you are doing today for the rest of your life? How do you want to live? What can you change?

Answering those questions helped me create a better environment in my company for myself. I was much happier, and because of that, much more productive, which led me to better results.

There will be many unpleasant situations on the entrepreneurial journey. Greatness isn’t found in the comfort zone. However, our time on this earth is limited. We are mortals, and time is something we cannot get back. We shouldn’t waste time on trivialities or unnecessary things.

4. Want less

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” —Epictetus

I’m a very competitive person. I always thought about being the best. The mission of my company was “Be the #1 word games company in the world”. As I accomplished a goal, I was already looking for the next one. I wanted more. I thought that more is better, but that just made me sad.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t work for more. I’m saying you should appreciate what you already have. We usually forget about our achievements, and we keep focusing on the next one.

When I was going through burnout, I thought I hadn’t accomplished anything significant. I needed the help of my therapist to make me see all the fantastic things I had already accomplished.

Nowadays, I’m working on getting more things in my life, but I’m thrilled with what I already have done.

One thing that I’ve been doing lately is to imagine myself talking to myself from the time I was living in Chile (5 years ago). At that time, my company wasn’t profitable yet, and I was still living with my mom in Brazil because I was not making enough money.

If myself from that time saw everything I’ve achieved so far, he would be thrilled. I do not doubt that. So, why can’t I be happy about it now?

5. Simplify your work

“Straightforwardness and simplicity are in keeping with goodness. The things that are essential are acquired with little bother; it is the luxuries that call for toil and effort. “ — Seneca

We tend to overcomplicate things at work. It’s easier to avoid that when you’re small and don’t have the time to do the fanciest, most complete thing. However, as you grow, that becomes a more significant challenge. What simple thing can you do first?

One of the company values of my first company was Keep it simple. We didn’t want people overcomplicating things at work. We need everyone to be fast and to do what is essential. We can’t waste time on things that won’t help us achieve our goals. To make that possible, we need to understand how we can simplify our work.

We should always be mindful of whether our thoughts and actions are doing anything to move us forward or improve our work. There is a difference between being better and bigger. What can you do to be better? Are you overcomplicating or simplifying your work?

Final thoughts

Those five Stoic strategies helped me to be a better entrepreneur. I wouldn’t get so far if I haven’t put into practice these things that I studied. You can be a philosopher and a person of action. Stoicism is a straightforward philosophy that you also can put into practice.

It’s always important to remember that the person you are at work is the same person you are out of it. You may try to be different people, but that doesn’t work. Work is part of our lives. We spend the majority of our time working.

You don’t need to be happy just when you get home or at the weekends. I believe it is essential for all of us to look for happiness in our works as well. If you are happier, you will work better and achieve more.

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João V Souza

João V Souza

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