Hackernoon logoStoicism in the Workplace by@jmrocela

Stoicism in the Workplace

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@jmrocelaJohn Rocela

getting a better perspective towards work and people

Time and time again I keep hearing how people hate their jobs. How people despise their managers. How people would rather die than be in a toxic environment. To be honest, I was like that before.

What I’ve learned over the years is that there are no greener pastures. Just challenges. Just things that need to get done. It’s the same everywhere you go. The same the higher up you move.

Let’s take a step back and figure out how one typically expects to be treated in the workplace: One usually goes in to a new job or a new role with excitement. This goes on for months, while day after day; frustrations, disappointments, and failed expectations pile on. One builds judgement towards their managers and colleagues. Then one day, a trigger, a slight push towards an idea. An idea that would lead to a vicious negative cycle that’s hard to break out of. Seem familiar?

Settling — https://xkcd.com/1768/

Yes. Everyone I’ve come to know has had at least some or all a familiarity with these conditions. How can one stay sane and be productive despite the pessimism?

“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.”

There is one way that, in my experience, have helped me hold on and improve my outlook in the workplace as well as in life. One that helped me get better perspective on how I see myself and especially how I see others. Some people might call it “being a stoic”.

Stoicism is a broad topic. It’s a discipline that promotes being in control despite an uncontrollable world. There are a lot of resources out there discussing it for self improvement. It’s all great reads and all very insightful. However, the truth of the matter is, people know but do not apply it. It’s not supposed to be taken in as just literature. It’s a guideline. Something to be put in practice and studied.

The way I discuss this topic will be cherry picking only parts of the stoic discipline. I would encourage you to learn more about it afterwards below.

A Personal Northstar

Photo by Diego Hernandez on Unsplash

A Northstar, in simple terms, is an objective. It has recently been cropping up in the tech circles as a buzzword for company vision or a team’s guiding principles.

Career wise, people should employ this discipline as well. This is inherently important because it serves as a guide to your future, giving you flexibility of how you want to do it. Sadly, not a lot of people know how and where they want to go. My suggestion is to start small. Thinking of something bigger is an overwhelming task that will often lead into cycles of doubt and confusion.

“Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake in little things, and then proceed to greater.”

Instead of staying in a zone of uncertainty and chaos; help yourself and create a small list of things you want to achieve, be it big or small. This can be your own guiding principles.

Here is an example of my “Northstar”: To prepare for my own company and work hard for it.

Keeping it vague will help me think of ways to achieve it and possibly, more avenues to learn from. E.g; managing people, communication, and managing expectations.

Tip #1: Create a finish line. Work towards that finish line. Small or big. Keep it in focus. Do it again and again.

Read my other article about organizing information here.


“Don’t be concerned with other people’s impressions of you. They are dazzled and deluded by appearances. Stick with your purpose. This alone will strengthen your will and give your life coherence.”

Let’s get the most important thing out of the way. The truth is they are unavoidable. The judgments one makes are choices they have against something or someone. These are neither good nor bad in itself, it’s the actions you take against these judgments that matters.

We all judge people based on their appearance and skill. It’s just in our nature. It maybe considered that this greatly affects one’s productivity and dealing with people. It’s important to have the right mindset in the job you have because it is something that you deal with every day. Imagine how a day would go if just one day, you started to not care about what your peers think.

Another side of this is something that people tend to overlook. Judging situations. A great example is your work environment and how people react and engage you. Sometimes, people hate their jobs because the people around them are not to their expectations. But the reality is, everyone is different.

One tends to dictate a negative impression when things don’t go their way. When problems arise and they think that they are unlucky or cursed, people stop and complain. If you get into this stump, step back, ask yourself, what can I do to improve this situation?

Be a part of a solution. Don’t stay in the problem.

Judgments are in place to give you better insight about things around you. Use them in a way that is helpful.

Tip #2: Don’t let your judgments affect your work. Instead, stick with your objective/goal/purpose. It’ll give you clarity, focus, and motivation.


“It is our attitude toward events, not events themselves, which we can control. Nothing is by its own nature calamitous — even death is terrible only if we fear it.”

People are emotional creatures. You’re no exception. People in the workplace are often frustrated, exhausted, dissatisfied, and defeated. But we get by, right? To be honest, not everyone has a strong mental fortitude. People break down when pushed too far.

Unfortunately, there are people who struggle managing their emotions and judgments. This often leads to social boundaries that were originally nonexistent. Ultimately leading to drop in productivity.

It’s important to note that emotions play a big role in our daily lives. It’s what keeps us safe and connected. A great influence to how one thinks, judges, and works. Let’s look at ones we experience at work:


The one that we most certainly aspire for. There is only one way to happiness and that is to stop worrying about things that are out of our control.

Expectations tend to eat through our happiness. Instead, let’s help ourselves set our expectations realistically and preparing our emotions for the possible outcomes.


Satisfaction. This is a great driver for most of us. Some people lean on money, some authority and the craving for these keep us hungry. But be mindful that this can also be a destructive emotion.

Keep to our Northstar and use our appetite as a force moving forwards.


A powerful, and very useful emotion. This is often the most dreaded in the workplace, with the constant looming thought of getting sacked.

Keep yourself focused and work hard. Subjectively, if worst comes to worst, treat is an opportunity to learn, move forward, and improve.

Do not stay in fear.


Be content to be thought foolish and stupid. People have struggles with this as we are taught to be right all the time. The world expects us to be. This forms a character that is hard to break.

Keep to your goals with integrity. Accept that being right is not always expected. Work with your peers and help them along the way.

Never disregard your emotion, acknowledge them. Then ask yourself, is the emotion i’m feeling useful? To me, my peers, and the company?

Tip #3: Acknowledge your emotions. Prepare yourself for outcomes and Keep ego out of the office doors.

This is a practice that I do myself and not based on any one particular teaching. I do hope that I build a strong enough case for you to consider the points I have made above.

Good Luck!

*All quotes are paraphrased from Epictetus

RIP Chester Bennington 1976–2017


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