Consult Your Inner Stoic

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I turned a routine layup into a turnover.  One of two job offers was from a small, flexible start-up, which in hindsight was perfect.  Perfect.  But I went, instead, for the firm that was a little more formal and business-like.

The chemistry was wrong and no job offer materialized after a trial period.


I used to tell myself failure was not an option.  That’s how I’d stay motivated.  I didn’t know how right I was.  It isn’t an option.  It’s forced on us.  It doesn’t ask.  But we still have a choice.  We can choose how to respond to failure.

I’m fascinated by entrepreneurs that consistently turn defeat into victory.


The only lasting failure is when we focus on the failure, which of course is always in the past.  What happens in life was made specifically for you and could not have happened otherwise.

Anyone can go to school.  But you’re the only person in the world with the opportunity to learn from the unique combination of challenges you face in life.  A school for one.  Steel is forged in the fire.

That’s the lesson of an ancient book called “The Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius.  Marcus Aurelius’ character was the elderly emperor murdered by Commodus in opening scene of the movie Gladiator.

It’s Stoic philosophy.  It’s the book General (now Defense Secretary) James Mattis carried with him while on campaign in Iraq.

It’s easier to listen to than read.  It translates from Latin into a kind of old English.  Get the translation by George Long.  Google the LibriVox app and download it onto your phone for free (both the app and the audio-book).

What Is Stoic Philosophy?

It’s business philosophy.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s stoicism.

I can’t turn back time, and stoicism teaches that we shouldn’t want to.  The way things happen is the way they’re supposed to have happened.  This doesn’t mean we have no choice in the matter, however.

Stoics have a parable for this.  It tells of a dog chained to a horse drawn buggy that takes off down the road.  One way or another the dog is going where that buggy is going.

But in life we still have a choice; we can choose to run with the buggy or be dragged along the ground by it.

Stoicism Is About Acceptance

There is something going on in the American economy where people are being forced to evolve.  A lot of lemonade is going to be made.

Part of that process is taking what life gave you and owning it; making it a part of your story.  In this video Simon Sinek shows how Apple beat out all the other computer companies by doing this.

It shows how they used story to connect with people who shared their vision of the world.

It’s too simple.  It can’t be true.  It says Apple’s answer for why they did business was so good people would wait in the rain for days to buy their product.

What do you think?

What Does Bitcoin Have To Do With It?

Seth Godin never talks about Stoicism.  But he appears to practice it.

He said that in 2008 he wrote an article about why Bitcoin was going to be a big deal.  Why it made sense to buy.  The article did well.  But he didn’t buy Bitcoin.

Had he bought $1000 of Bitcoin he would now have Bitcoin worth $40,000,000.

He points this out, not to howl at the moon in pain.  Maybe a little?  He says it’s to show the difference between knowing and knowing for sure.  In 2008 he knew enough to write a popular article about where Bitcoin was headed.  But he didn’t know for sure, he says.

That’s a powerful lesson.  From the jaws of defeat, some remnant of a victory.  He wasn’t, obviously, meant to own Bitcoin.  If he was, he’d own Bitcoin.

Find Your Why, Find Your Value

What you are paid does not represent your value to the market.

What you could be getting paid represents your value to the market.

In economics, the difference between what is and what could be is known as positive vs. normative value.

When I read this there were numbers, equations, and Greek symbols, that I’ll never understand, to prove how they derive this principle.

I’m truly grateful they know how to do this.  But for me the how is not what’s most important.  We know it’s true on a gut level.

We know, instinctively, why this is true.  So much of education is teaching us how.  But we are moving in the “why” direction.  Macs started flying off the shelf because Apple told everyone why they made them, not how.

They said it was to “challenge the status quo.”  They invited potential customers to “think differently.”  We respond to “why” on a gut level.  Kids learn how to walk, and talk.  They are always asking “why.”


In a world dominated, more and more, by computers “why” is increasingly more important.  Computer’s can’t tell us why.

The Marines have taught this for a long time.

Any mission order has what’s known as the “Five w’s.”  (Who, what, when, where, and why).  The “why”, the Marines teach, is by far the most important.

If I know why I’m going through that mountain pass at 0300 hours, then if the mountain pass is snowed in, I can figure out another way to accomplish the reason for going through it in the first place.

Just call back and ask?  Not always possible.  The first thing to fail is communication.  Isn’t this true everywhere?


The following is a way too simple list of how we spend our lives:

  1. 1/3 of it sleeping
  2. 1/3 of it earning a living, and
  3. 1/3 doing whatever we want.

I’m always trying to figure out how to make two and three look more alike.

People who can aren’t working late because they have to.  They’re working late because that’s what they would do in their free time anyway.

I was looking for a job where number two would look totally different from what I already knew I like doing in number three.  I’ll never make another decision based on money.

A Bird In The Hand

I always remember a story about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  It’s said that at age 22 it took him two minutes to turn down a quarter of a billion dollars.  That was going to be his share of Yahoo’s offer to buy Facebook.

After making the offer, the Yahoo execs left the room to allow Zuckerberg, and his two investors, to decide what to do.  Zuckerberg turned to the much older partners and said “Ok, obviously were not selling so lets just spend the next 10 minutes talking about some things I want to do with Facebook.”

Zuckerberg’s point was simple.  He said he already owned an internet company.  If he sold, and made all this money, he’d just go looking for another internet company to buy.  He said he kind of liked the one he had.  His confidence inspired the much more seasoned execs to give him a shot.

The offer was for a billion dollars.  Facebook is now worth over $500 billion.

Maybe you’ve already got a bird in the hand.

Cuddly Old Poppa Bear

James Altucher says Warren Buffett looks like a cuddly old poppa bear–who happens to be one of the two or three most wealthy people in the world.  He says, news flash, those two have never gone together and never will.

Here’s another thing about Buffett, though.  He still eats at Mcdonalds everyday, drives an old car, and lives in the same middle class house in Omaha Nebraska.

I think I understand what James means.  I think he respects Buffett tremendously.

For this reason.  Warren Buffett says he skips to work every day.  He says that’s how much he loves his job.  The point isn’t that everyone is going to turn what they love into a gazillion dollar company.

The point is that if you do what you love, every day, you can’t lose.  Bruce Lee taught that he fears a fighter who has practiced the same kick 1000 times more than the fighter who has practiced 1000 kicks one time.  That’s Warren Buffett.

After The First 85 K Were All Equal

Here is what’s more amazing.  Buffett, himself, points out that science shows that after $85,000 in income, more money has no measurable increase in happiness.

That’s why Buffett lives an $85,000 lifestyle.  His business decisions are based on his love of sound business principles, not what is going to increase his material wealth.

The irony of course is that is, precisely, where his enormous value add is.

Deciding what that thing is, for lots of people is difficult.  Not because they don’t have that thing, but because it’s hard to isolate into one single concept.  I didn’t know it when I turned down the perfect job.

In a way, yes, we’re unique snowflakes.  But in another way we are very much not.  We are wired to do what we love.  When we find what we’re passionate about, and do it a little, or a lot, everyday, and that thing also helps other people–that’s when we’ve arrived.