Stoicism: Can the Ancient Philosophy Make You a Better Business Owner?

I have always considered philosophy to a strange topic full of mysterious sentences and complicated concepts.

So I was pretty surprised when I read Epictetus’ Manual for the first time.

The advice in the book was not only understandable but also surprisingly actionable.

I have since read many more books about Stoicism and found that the ancient philosophy is full of useful tips for living a good life, and more surprisingly, full of useful lessons for growing an online business.

Here are my favorite lessons from Stoicism and how they can help you grow your online business.

Stoicism can help you deal with pain and disappointment

Not everything is under your control

Imagine you just spent 4 hours painfully looking for broken pages and doing email outreach to try to earn a few backlinks.

You took the time to craft useful emails and are certain you will at least get a few replies.

2 weeks later, not a single person has answered you.

Our default behavior would be to feel frustrated, maybe complain about it.

But what good does it accomplish?

A lesson I learned after years of frustrations and headaches is that not everything is under our control.

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius said it best:

You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

Marcus Aurelius

I have control over the work I choose to do and how well I try to do it. I don’t have control over people’s reaction.

In the case of a failed SEO outreach campaign, all I can do is accept that nobody answered my emails and there is nothing I can do about it.

Then, I can think about changes that are in my control such as writing different emails, contacting different people or using a completely different SEO strategy.

Clearly establishing what is and isn’t in your control won’t make frustrations and problems disappear but it will help you take control of your business and focus on what you can do instead of dwelling on your failures.

Anticipate problems with negative visualization

Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness.

Marcus Aurelius

No matter how talented you are or how hard you work, there are times when you will face failure and nothing will seem to work in your favor.

Your website may get hacked and years of work lost.

Google may ban you for a few days.

The course you spent weeks creating may not sell.

And while establishing what is and isn’t in your control helps, it won’t solve everything.

That’s when the stoic technique of negative visualization comes in handy.

From time to time, take the time to think about everything you have: a dedicated audience, a course people love, wonderful clients.

And imagine losing it.

Before a launch, write down what could go wrong.

Before reaching out to someone you admire, imagine the possibility that they may not answer or worse, be rude to you.

Doing so may seem counter-intuitive but I find that anticipating problems helps make them less painful when they do happen.

It also helps you appreciate what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have.

Choose not to get hurt and you won’t be

Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.

Marcus Aurelius

I’m not gonna lie.

The first time I saw this quote, my reaction was to laugh nervously.

Surely, “choosing not to be harmed” can’t be that easy.

I’m not a robot, I can’t just turn off my feelings.

As I got more familiar with Stoicism, I realized that while I can’t completely choose not to be harmed, there is value in reminding myself that how I interpret things has a great impact on how I feel.

If someone leaves a nasty comment on an article I spent hours working on, my first reaction is to feel hurt but it helps to remember that I am not hurt by the comment itself but by my interpretation of the comment.

Stoicism can help you grow

A work journal is a powerful tool

work journal

You have to catch yourself doing it before you can reform.

Seneca

Journaling is an important part of stoicism.

Marcus Aurelius’s most famous work, Meditations wasn’t actually a book meant to be published but a journal he used to reflect on his actions, express gratitude and grow.

Keeping a work journal may sound like a strange idea but I find answering the following questions at the end of every workweek extremely insightful:

What did I accomplish this week?

What do I wish I had done differently?

What should I do next?

What am I grateful for?

Taking 10 minutes to answer these questions helps me reflect on my work and look at it from a distance. Sometimes, I realize that I have been going in the wrong direction and need to make a change.

Other times, I feel great about what I have done and use this weekly habit as a way to feel grateful for what I have.

Writing down how I feel about my workweek also acts as a sort of official closing ceremony. Once I close my journal, I know I’m done working for the week and can now relax knowing that I did my best.

Be humble

There are probably lots of things you are great at or even fields in which you may be considered an expert.

But this doesn’t mean you have nothing left to learn.

Just as Epictetus said:

Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.

Epictetus

The most successful business owners I know all spend a lot of time learning.

Master copywriters still attend conferences.

Well-known SEOs take online courses.

And you need to do the same if you want to grow. You need to go about the world with a curious mind, eager to discover new things and change your opinions.

So next time you see something and think “Oh I already know that”, take a look anyway. You may be surprised by what you end up learning.

Remember you will die

sakura
Cherry blossoms only bloom for a few weeks a year and that’s what makes them beautiful.

Memento Mori.

Remember you will die.

Behind this harsh-sounding phrase is an idea at the core of Stoicism.

We are all mortals and all things are impermanent so we need to enjoy what we have and avoid distractions.

What may sound like a disaster today may not matter anymore 2 weeks from now and the things we take for granted could be gone overnight.

So take the time to appreciate what you have, avoid distractions and make the best of the time you have left.

Be wary of habits

Habits are as wonderful as they can be dangerous.

A positive habit can help you make incredible progress in the long term but a negative habit can slowly destroy all your progress.

That’s why Stoics are wary of habits.

The key is not to eliminate habits but to be mindful of them and regularly review our habits and ask whether they are positive or negative.

The same is true for things we do because everybody else does them.

It’s not because we have always done something that we should always do it.

And it’s not because everyone does something that we should do it.

Take the time to regularly review your habits and automatic behaviors because habits have the power to slowly but surely transform your life, for better or for worse.

Stoicism can help you be a happier business owner

Be grateful for what you have

As your business grows, you will slowly get used to new things and take things you used to desire for granted.

You will get used to having thousands of daily visitors and earning a full-time income while working from home.

You will get used to having people comment on every article you publish.

But it’s important not to forget that many of the things you now take for granted are things you were dreaming of a few years ago.

That’s why I like to write down what I’m grateful for in my journal. This helps me appreciate what I have instead of focusing on what I don’t have.

Surround yourself with people who make you better

The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.

Epictetus

This last stoic advice may sound cliché but there is a reason it has been repeated for centuries.

Studies have shown time and time again that we become a reflection of the people we surround us and that the people who are around us have a huge influence on us.

For example, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that people who have one friend becoming obese increases their own change of becoming obese by 57%.

As an entrepreneur, I have found that finding like-minded people and being surrounded by people who push me to be better is incredibly important.

So make sure you go to local entrepreneur meetups, hang out with other entrepreneurs online and don’t take the journey alone.

Being surrounded by people who encourage but also aren’t afraid to point out your mistakes is incredibly important.

Over to you

Has stoicism influenced your life and your business? What have you learned from other philosophies?

Benjamin Houy
Benjamin Houy

Bonjour ! I'm Benjamin Houy, the founder of French Together, a language-learning blog that attracts 238,717 monthly visitors. After 6 years in the language-learning niche, I created Grow With Less to share my passion for blogging and show online business owners how to grow without the overwhelm.

Leave a Comment