Stoicism at Work: 6 Key Ideas

Most people want to do really well in their careers. there are certainly a lot of rewards for it: more money, freedom, happiness, and a sense of accomplishment.

Just about everyone tries to have a great career, but very few succeed. The working world is complicated and takes a lot of skill to thrive in.

We can look to Stoicism to uncomplicate this challenge.

Stoicism is a philosophy that’s been around for over 2000 years, standing the test of time. It’s been practiced by Roman emperors, former presidents, military leaders, business executives, scientists, athletes, and artists. We can also use it to build better careers for ourselves.

1. Get close to great people

“Above all, keep a close watch on this — that you are never so tied to your former acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you don’t, you’ll 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 in the Discourses

Who you spend your time with greatly affects your life. The thoughts, feelings, and energy of those around you rub off on you. You will be spending a significant amount of time at work, so you want to make sure it’s with great people.

When choosing a job, consider the people who are working there. Do they seem like positive people? Are they friendly or rude? What kind of products are they working on — ambitious, interesting, and ethical — or boring, slow, and immoral?

Answering these kinds of questions will tell you a lot about what the day to day work will be like. As much as possible, you want to make sure that the environment where you’re going to be spending a lot of your time is one that is positive and helps you grow as a person.

2. Always be self-improving

“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 in the Discourses

Your career is certainly a great opportunity to earn a living and accomplish big things. But it’s an even bigger opportunity to improve yourself.

Self-improvement is a journey for life and it doesn’t stop just because you’re at work. Throughout your workday, there will be many opportunities to practice your own self-improvement:

  • Staying calm when a coworker ticks you off
  • Being a leader in meetings and projects
  • Remaining kind, despite the brutality of the workplace
  • Doing your best work at all times, no matter who is watching

Keep striving forward in every moment you can. Not just for your career but for your own personal development. Eventually, your efforts will pay you dividends in your career with skills in emotional intelligence, management, leadership, grit, and many others.

3. Don’t take things personally

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Not every day at work will be a smooth ride. There will be times where your coworkers try to piss you off, customers are rude, or a project you’re assigned to just isn’t working. Naturally, many people get anxiety from such experiences as they feel that some pain has been inflicted on them.

Stoicism teaches us to take a step back here. Look at the situation and ask yourself: “is this really painful, or do I just think it’s painful?” Often times we overthink things, imagining that our situation is a lot worse than it actually is.

Next time you’re in a situation that causes you distress, take a step back and try to look at your thoughts from a more objective perspective. The idea that you are in pain or are being harmed is nothing but an opinion from your own mind, one that you can revoke at any time.

4. Blaze your own path

We should not, like sheep, follow the herd of creatures in front of us, making our way where others go, not where we ought to go

When we’re young, we’re often told to follow a set career path. Get a Bachelors’s degree, get a job at a big company, work hard, and you’ll be rewarded.

Yet that strategy rarely works because so many other people are trying to do it; it’s just too competitive. That type of career path may not even be the best thing for you. We’re all unique and thrive in different environments doing different work.

The way to really succeed is to create your own career path. Pick the job that fits you, not the one other people tell you pays well. Go into a career that makes you happy and aligns with your purpose. You can do well in any career path as long as you love it. Because when it’s truly the right path for you, you’ll be more willing to work hard and stay the course.

5. Cultivate an opportunism mindset

“The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

You will inevitably face challenges throughout your career. Tough projects, terrible coworkers, job loss, or things just not going your way.

The most important thing to always keep in mind is that within each of those challenges, there is an opportunity.

  • Job loss means you have more time to look for something better
  • Tough projects force you to get creative and try new things
  • Terrible coworkers help you develop your self-control

Always be on the lookout for opportunities, no matter the situation. There’s always a chance to move forward if you have the right mindset.

6. Be willing to make mistakes and learn

“If anyone can refute me — show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective — I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

You need to be willing to make mistakes in your career if you want to grow.

Often times, people are scared of taking risks and making mistakes at work because they feel that they’ll look stupid or be judged by their coworkers.

But taking risks is the only way to have a shot at the big rewards. Making mistakes is the best way to learn because you get direct exposure and feedback from the real world about how you can improve yourself. One real-life lesson from a mistake can be worth more than reading an entire book on the subject because the exposure is so direct.

On top of that, be open to constructive criticism from others. Everyone you meet brings a unique perspective and set of life experiences to the table. By opening yourself up to their feedback, you can extract their knowledge and unique perspective to use it for your own learning.


Stoicism is a powerful and timeless philosophy with universal applications to life. You can use it to build a great career for yourself with these 6 ideas:

  1. Get close to great people
  2. Always be self-improving
  3. Don’t take things personally
  4. Blaze your own path
  5. Cultivate an opportunism mindset
  6. Be willing to make mistakes and learn

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca

The Discourses by Epictetus

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