How Stoicism Helps Cultivate Relationships


Admittedly I’m a little timid to try something different, especially since I’ve been getting good responses, and just wrote this post. But not only do I have something to say, but also something to share. Let’s start with a quick story.

For the vast majority of my life I’ve lived at the extremes, which is to say I’m a very intense person. When things were good they were great, and when they weren’t… you probably wanted to avoid me like the plague. I’m was the guy who could inspire you, empower you and push you to new heights. I was also the guy who could derail the train if we collided with the right mix of adverse conditions.

To illustrate a couple of trees in the front yard at my parents house have lifelong scars because I tried to chop them down with a baseball bat on nights I had bad games.

Fortunately, the latter came few and far between, but nonetheless it’s something I’ve worried about when I think of myself as a potential leader of a team, of a community, of a business.

As I’ve grown older, maturity seems to be a valuable prescription in fighting these negative symptoms, but being insatiably curious (like many of you) I still sought a tool to help provide more balance in my life. I needed balance to help facilitate the type of relationships, both business and personal, that I wanted to facilitate in my life.

Enter Stoicism.

I got turned on to stoicism by Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferris when I found myself fascinated with Ryan’s “Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs.

Stoicism differs from most existing schools in one important sense: its purpose is practical application. It is not an intellectual enterprise. It’s a tool that we can use to become better entrepreneurs, better friends and better people.

Stoic writing isn’t about beating up on yourself or pointing out the negative. It’s a meditative technique that transforms negative emotions into a sense of calm and perspective.

And that was the start of my journey down the rabbit hole.

It hasn’t been an overnight success, and I have barely skimmed the surface of all the things I want to read, but I can attest to the fact that I’m already seeing a positive difference. I am being less vocal about things that irritate me, I’m remaining more calm in situations that would usually entail a long walk to avoid saying something I couldn’t take back, and I even navigated a recent situation enabling me to retain a friend (albeit under different circumstances) that in the past I would’ve turned my back on.

I’m proud of these small steps, and I feel confident that stoicism will enable me to grow and cultivate the kinds of relationships that will lead to success. So in the spirit of that growth, I’d like to share some of my favorite quotes from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditationswith all of you with the hope that even just one is something that resonates with you and makes your life a little bit better:

“Every hour of the day give vigorous attention to the performance of the task in hand with precise analysis, with unaffected dignity, with human sympathy, with dispassionate justice – and to vacating your mind from all its other thoughts.”

“When it is open to you, at any time you want, to retreat into yourself. No retreat offers someone more quiet and relaxation than that into his own mind.”

“‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.'”

“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”

“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.”

“It is the gentle who have strength, sinew, and courage – not the indignant and complaining. The closer to control of emotion, the closer to power. Anger is as much a sign of weakness as is pain.”

“Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial.”

“Imagine you were now dead, or had not lived before his moment. Now view the rest of your life as a bonus, and live it as nature directs.”

What techniques, school’s of thought, strategies do you employ to help cultivate relationships? Do you have an intense, potentially abrasive personality? What do you do to contain it? Most importantly, what did you think of the quotes? Could you apply them to your own life to help you progress and become a better person? Friend? Businesswoman?


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  • You should get rid of that copy and use the Gregory Hays translation from the Modern Library. It may seem like an academic criticism but it’s not, the books are a world apart and you’re doing yourself a disservice by reading the wrong one.

    If you’re really going to go down that rabbit hole you should read one of Pierre Hadot’s books after that.

    And to raise what actually is an academic quibble, Marcus would take issue with the idea that Stoicism could ‘lead you to success.’ It should lead you to be content, humble and resilient. Success is the wrong priority.


    admin Reply:

    @Ryan – First, thanks for the heads up about the right book. Unfortunately, I have trouble finding the time to consume as much as you, but I’ll definitely add the Hays translation to my queue. Is there a Hadot book you’d suggest starting with? “What is Ancient Philosophy?” “Philosophy as a Way of Life,” other?

    And I don’t disagree with you about stoicism ‘leading to success.’ This was something I toiled with before writing the post. That said, I think you could argue that learning to be more content, humble, and resilient can potentially make you more “successful.” And not necessarily in a fancy suit wearing way, but in a happier, more fulfilled life sort of way.

    Thanks for adding your insights.


  • You mean aside from a workmanlike dedication to reading everything everywhere? Constantly shifting strategy and customizing it for clients. Here’s the thing: You can make tons of money utilizing one thing that works. Or you could try and ensure a client makes tons of money by utilizing different marketing/pr techniques that differ from the norm (but appeal to their demo).

    Sometimes it’s scary how much you remind me of myself btw (case in point).

    Although, you sound far more literate. (I however pwn you on pop cultural references)


    admin Reply:

    @Stuart – And therein lies the value that most companies just don’t get. It’s all about what “they do,” and not what you can do to help them, to enhance their overall strategy. What do I do? I try to influence YOUR bottom line using social tools and strategies for creating a conversation with your fans/consumers.

    What does that entail? Whatever you want so long as I’m capable of delivering it for you and it helps you achieve YOUR goals. It’s pretty simple.

    It’s also pretty frustrating when you hear a braggart tell you what all they’ve done and achieved and are experts at. I don’t care about ANY of that unless it helps my company make money, right? Maybe this is where stoicism could come into play for those people. The ones who aren’t humble enough to build great relationships (the ones that think they have them, but are clowned behind their back.)


  • Ryan, I really like this post. I can feel the honesty and genuine emotion coming from your words and think it’s awesome the new step you’ve taken towards “stoicism.”

    I have to admit that when I first read “stoicism” or even think of the word stoic, it turns me off. I don’t like people that don’t display their emotions or hide them. Stoic is hard to read and I am upfront and Italian ie. opposite of stoic. However, like you, I also have intense emotions but I have since learned to control them and keep them in check. You’re right that displaying those intense emotions in a business or entrepreneurial setting can often be seen as a weakness.

    I find that in general, rest and getting enough sleep is one of the easiest (free) ways to eliminate stress. I also like to spend time in nature AWAY from the hustle and bustle, especially when I’m alone. Montras and thoughts like the one you’ve provided from Meditations also help. The power of thought is well, powerful.

    Thanks for sharing. Really interesting and relevant!


    admin Reply:

    @Grace – To your point, I definitely think there are times when people in the workplace wished I didn’t have a stoic approach. They’d rather read my emotions and act accordingly. But it’s what works for me, it’s what keeps me from flying off the handle.

    If I knew I wasn’t, I’d think I was an Italian. I like displaying the whole range of emotions.

    Like you, I love my Sunday’s (though I usually only do afternoons) all to myself. Reading a book on my balcony, laying by the pool, getting chores done, cleaning up and reorganizing. It helps me to unplug, but doesn’t help me when confronted with something in the moment. That’s where stoicism helps me retain my composure.

    Thanks for sharing Grace!


  • Great stuff Ryan. A lot of this, as you say, is just a part of growing up, a part of maturing. We learn to control our emotions, which is absolutely crucial in business settings. One of the worst things you can do is wear your emotions on your sleeve and allow yourself to become totally transparent, for better or for worse, to those around you.

    So in essence – we would all benefit from some of the stoic teachings – think about Kramer’s ‘Serenity Now’ mantra – calm the nerves, take a deep breath, take a step back and realize that everything, in the grand scheme of things, is going to be OK.

    Just be careful to not bottle up those emotions. Serenity now, insanity later.


    admin Reply:

    @Matt – And not only is everything going to be okay, but that everything in the scheme of things is a but a tiny, minute blip on the radar. Swallowing our pride, and as one of my colleagues likes to say, “It’s over. What can you do about it now?” probably isn’t going to change our lives.

    Re: Bottling up emotions. Prior to stoicism (<– that sounds dumb, like I’m an expert or something), I kept my composure on the outside, but was merely bottling it up, and on more than one occasion I’ve nearly lost my mind. That’s why stoicism has helped me, because rather than just letting others perceive me as calm while boiling over inside, I usually am (eh, sometimes) more calm.


  • “‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.’”

    This quote is money. I am going to write it out and post it on my cork board to give me inspiration. It seems that part of stoicism is to accept responsibility for yourself and your actions, despite what is happening around you. I love this idea. I think it is an important trait to be able to accept reality without blaming it on outside circumstances.

    As Grace was saying earlier, when Tim, and now you, wrote a post about Stoicism, I was also very skeptical. Now I might need to look into the mindset, if only to pick up a few really good quotes. This is a great mind-opening post.


  • Ryan

    This is a though-provoking post.

    Stoicism is a wonderfully practical construct for meaningful thought-action. I re-read the Discourses of Epictetus for inspiration, and to find solutions to problems that are particularly vexing.

    Stoicism has believers and critics. There’s no such thing as a perfect philosophy. We seek answers from different sources and imbibe what helps us lead a better, more meaningful life with relationships that nourish us.

    My favourite among the quotes shared:

    “Imagine you were now dead, or had not lived before his moment. Now view the rest of your life as a bonus, and live it as nature directs.”

    Death is a powerful incentive to live!



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  • Ooooh, a philosophy post. And one much deeper than stuff learned from a shampoo bottle! Even though I quit the philosophy game early on, I DID major in classical studies, which led to a whole lot of reading by the early Stoic writers. One of the things that I learned and frequently see misinterpreted is the idea that stoicism is somehow the lack or hiding of emotions. It is, in fact, nothing of that nature. It is more like having emotions, but knowing how to handle them and what to get “caught up with.”

    You have to be careful with it though. Most people at my work also think I’m abrasive and a little scary. As people get to know me better, however, they realize that I’m neither of those things, I just try not to wear any emotions on my sleeve at work. This is partially cause my job frequently pushes me way outside my comfort zone. The demeanor of a calm, cool, laid back spirit is sometimes viewed as blase, cold and uncaring if people don’t know “the real you.”

    PS – This one’s my favorite: “It is the gentle who have strength, sinew, and courage – not the indignant and complaining. The closer to control of emotion, the closer to power. Anger is as much a sign of weakness as is pain.”