Finding Happiness at Work: A Stoic Perspective

Ancient wisdom for a successful career

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

Today's piece is from Stoa co-founder, Michael Tremblay. Michael is a consultant, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach, and did his PhD on the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus.

🏛️ Theory

When reflecting on your own career, how do you know if it is the right role for you? There are so many options available to each of us. We have to choose between a variety of industries, roles within those industries, and companies that provide those roles.

So where to start? Should you take that new job offer? Should you go back to school and train for something else entirely? Should you switch companies? Should you switch positions within the same company? These are serious questions, but daunting to answer.

If we approach these questions from a Stoic perspective, we have to approach these questions as questions about happiness. The Stoic always asks, what is the best way for me to live?

Sometimes this means being courageous in the face of injustice, or self-controlled in the face of insults. But the same Stoic question applies when we look at our careers.

For the Stoics, happiness, and the best way to live, comes from living in accordance with Nature. This applies to the cosmic level of nature, or the physical world. Living in accordance with cosmic nature means accepting things as they are, but also understanding that you have a small role to play in changing things for the better.

But the Stoics also argued that we should live in accordance with our personal individual nature. Not all humans are the same, and we live in accordance with our individual nature when we act in a way that honors and aligns with our personal interests, talents and values.

So the first way a Stoic would approach the question of work, is actually by looking inward. A Stoic would ask three related questions:

First, what do I like doing? This is what I have always been drawn towards.

Second, what am I good at? This is what I naturally tend to do better than other people.

Third, what are my core values? These are the things that I find meaningful. We know something goes against our core values if we find ourselves having trouble connecting with it at a personal level, or it makes us feel uncomfortable.

A Stoic life involves self-knowledge. So to approach your career as a Stoic, you need to understand these three things: what are your interests, talents and values? And this is done, by paying attention to yourself. As Epictetus says:

How is it that when a lion attacks, the bull is aware of its own might, and hurls itself forward on behalf of the entire herd? Isn’t it clear that the possession of such power is accompanied at the same time by an awareness of that power? And in our case too, if someone possesses such power, he won’t fail to be aware of it.

Epictetus, Discourses 1.2

🎯 Action

Today, write down one practical example of a job that you might like, be good at, and meet your core values. If you're confident in your current role, note how it meets that criteria.

🔗 Links

🏛️ Check out our series on Stoicism at Work in the Stoa app. It includes daily meditations and lessons on how to apply Stoic philosophy to your career. Over the week long series we cover:

  • Reflecting on your interests and talents to find the kind of work that is right for you.

  • Navigating difficult coworkers and management.

  • Taking a long-term perspective to career development.

  • Embracing the challenges of work that make us better.

  • And avoiding becoming over to our work, so we stay in a career that is a poor fit.

Note – if you still want to use Stoa after trying a free trial but cannot afford it, reach out to us and we’ll give you a free account.

🎧️ Listen to this Stoa Conversations episode if you want Caleb and I’s reflections on philosophy graduate school. It gets into the weeds some, but if you’re curious how two people, heavily influenced by Stoicism, think about the academy today, check it out.

🤔 For those of you who are no longer working professional careers, what Stoic advice would you pass on?

What did you think about today's letter?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Join the conversation

or to participate.