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If you don’t have a canvas to paint on, you can always just steal a door and paint on that.

If you don’t have a canvas to paint on, you can always just steal a door and paint on that.

Personally, I’m a lazy artist. I want the biggest bang for my buck. I want to do the absolute minimum and still make an impact. That’s why I love Jean Michel Basquiat. His work is proof that you can paint with the proficiency of a 5-year old, and still make a statement worth listening to. Also, doesn’t he look like what would emerge if Kid Cudi and The Weeknd did the fusion dance?

Basquiat was an incredibly gifted artist, cut short in his prime (he died at 27) and namechecked by rappers ever since. His work was distinctive, full of childlike youthful energy, irreverent, and seemingly nonsensical, but also revealing a profound knowledge and respect of art, its history and social commentary. In 1980s New York, an electric nexus of time and space, Basquiat emerged as an unlikely artistic force, rising as a black man, from the grimy streets, to global stardom. 

He is the quintessential example of the artist who throws himself with reckless abandon into his work. Moving out of home for good as a teen, he spent most of his young adult life basically being a bum, surviving off money picked up in the streets, and immersing himself in the culture and the scene of the time, bouncing from place to place and party to party. His early creative efforts included cryptic haikus scribbled in graffiti under the moniker Samo scattered all over the city, as well as experimental live music with his band (none of them could actually play an instrument, but that was part of the appeal). 

He is charming, talented with a keen air of innocence, and he befriends and eventually moves in with his sort-of-girlfriend, Suzan. At this point he had progressed from graffiti to full on painting at the insistence of another friend. Suzan worked and paid the bills, while he spent his time painting. And it is this one anecdote about his life that really earned my respect. Basquiat was too broke to afford canvasses, so he would salvage broken doors, windows, fridges, scraps of paper, tins, anything with a surface he could paint on. He didn’t wait to get proper canvases, or the right kind of paint or tools. He worked with whatever he could find. 

If you really want to create, if you really want to do something. You just do it. 

That is the crux of true creativity, its raw essence. The true artist doesn’t allow a lack of resources to become an insurmountable obstacle. In fact, we are drawn to such art-forms, pieces made with the scrappiest, bare essentials, because through all the limitations, and perhaps, even because of then, we can see the passion shine through, we can see the potential. We see a brave artist battling against his restrictions, turning his obstacles into stepping stones that pave his way. Basquiat has nowhere to paint, so he turns an abandoned fridge into a priceless work of art.

This same energy you have to bring to your life and to your work. If you have ambition, a burning desire to create something that resonates, that has impact, if you want to devote your life to the mastery of a skill or an artform, or a career, you start where you are, you work with what you have. 

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can 

Arthur Ashe

The biggest companies on the planet right now all started small. The origins of the slick phone you’re reading this on now can be found in a dinky garage decades ago with a bunch of nerds, hippies, and a couple pieces of hand-assembled circuit boards. Facebook the almost omnipresent behemoth it is now, started in a dorm room. The colossus that is Amazon started in a garage with doors as its first desks, Jeff Bezos packing books with his team to fulfil customer orders. The first Star Wars movie was produced with a shoe string budget and a lot of DIY.

Our problem too often is that we want perfection right out the gate, before we have earned it, and we want to do it with the absolute best tools. We think we need the light ring and DSLR camera before we start the youtube channel, the best mic and mixers before we start the podcast. So we don’t start.

Or we are insecure in our creative ability, and so hide behind our lack of tools. Sure, the right tools do help, but it is the artist that precedes the tools. A writer who knows what he is doing will do a lot more damage with an ordinary pen than a talentless hack with a Mont Blanc. You cannot hide your lack of skill behind expensive tools, but you can use the lack of tools as an excuse to procrastinate. You just have to begin. If you are really good, the world will respond, and better tools will present themselves to you.

Every master was once a disaster.

T Harv Eker

We all have to start from somewhere. 

If you waited till everything was perfect and you had all the resources, you will be waiting forever. And even if you did get it – the perfect studio, the perfect lab, the right writing chair, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. At most, you would churn out works of stunning mediocrity. The tools don’t make the artist, the work makes the artist. The lack of tools is a gift. You get to work with the scrap, failing, prototyping, learning, crashing, rising up, drafting and tearing up, you need the grind, you need the work, because that is where you hone your skill. That is where you work around the obstacles, that is where you distil and learn the principles of your craft. 

I started my design journey on dinky little Toshiba laptop (that was everything to me then by the way), a pirated copy of photoshop, and a design magazine. Now, I type this to you from a MacBook Pro. But it was all the work I designed on that first Toshiba, and then a PC, and then this sexy huge white Dell I had, that allowed me to finally get my first MacBook and then another one, and now, all the bells and whistles I need to create. 

The obstacle is the way.

Ryan Holiday

Creativity is just as much about limitations as it is about infinite exploration. The searching and playing around is an important part of the process. It is necessary to go far and wide in ideation. But it is the limitations – the brief, the deadline, the boundaries that really focus us and unleash the creative power to combine ideas, materials, colours to create something inventive, something remarkable. 

With inventiveness and creativity, you can make the limitations you face a distinguishing feature in your work. Don’t have enough money for different colours? Limit your palette. Can’t make the special effects you really want? Hack it and let it have a DIY vibe to it. Whatever the obstacle is, use it to your advantage.

You don’t have to be fancy. You just have to begin. Even Basquiat started by painting on abandoned doors.

The Pioneer Spirit

The Pioneer Spirit

Every day, something new is created in the world. The effects of most of these – events, inventions, products, and new knowledge are linear. They build on top of what has been done before, what we know for sure is possible. They improve, they optimize, they make things slightly better. Then there are those events, inventions, and breakthroughs that are simply revolutionary. They spark an incredibly far reaching change in a relatively short period of time. They upend everything we understand and take for granted about the world and open up new possibilities.

To innovate is part of human nature. Forever restless and full of creative energy, we are always inventing. Major milestones in our history like the development of language, the written word, the concept of money, modern finance, the printing press, gunpowder, electricity, the steam engine, the electric bulb, the computer, the internet, the smartphone, and space travel did not just make our lives better, they radically transformed them.

I’ve been reading an incredible book lately – My Vision by Mohammed bin Rashid Maktoum. It’s a book about the thematic ideas guiding the growth and development of the UAE and Dubai. I don’t pay enough attention to world politics and global trade, but between this book, talking to people, being home and looking at things with fresh ‘outsider’ eyes, I am inspired, and I have ideas. It is apparent, there is a clear way to development, growth and wealth creation on the African continent, if we can fix the underlying issues of leadership, unity, vision, commitment and political will.

Every great achievement or victory does not happen by accident. From the global stage to our personal lives, they happen as a result of an ambitious vision backed with real work ethic. Painstakingly, with great effort and perseverance, despite obstacles and set-backs, great heights can be attained. But it begins with vision, the ability to see the unseen, and to imagine what does not yet exist.

It is no easy task. It is much easier to match the status quo, to say, let us rise to this benchmark, the set standard. We have seen what an efficient company looks like, so let us imitate and build one like it. We know what functioning healthcare systems behave like, so let us create one just like it. And that certainly does work. A big part of personal growth is the idea of modelling winning behavior. Look for people who have what you want and model how they live. The problem with that, is that where you can go is capped by what has already been done.

The visionary studies the best solutions and thinking and then pushes them even further. The visionary stretches the imagination to create something never achieved before.

When you face a challenge that demands a solution or a decision, you have two choices – you can either emulate the example set by others, or use your own creativity and intelligence to formulate a new idea.

– Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (My Vision)

To rise from bottom in our lives and as a nation or a continent, we must reclaim the pioneering spirit. It is not enough to be like the greats, we have to go where no one has gone before. We have to be committed to doing more and going further. It can be as basic as being a pioneer for excellence in a surrounding sea of mediocrity. Or as boundary pushing as changing the game. Why settle for good enough, why not shoot to be the best? Why stop at building a great company, why not revolutionize the entire industry?

One way of thinking is incremental, the other is exponential.

If you want to lead, if you want to get ahead, then you must go even further, take the pioneering and creative approach. Break the rules, change the playing field.

Be an instigator.

Start something new. Let the world be different and better because of it. Even if it is just your neighborhood, or your company, or your class.

Be a pioneer.

Sure, you will be mocked, you will become a target. The pioneer disrupts the status quo. By her very existence, she throws shade on everyone else who is passive and subservient to the system. You will be misunderstood, you might even be accused of terrible things, of being foolish, reckless, or willingly seeking to harm or exploit people. But pioneer you must anyway.

First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.

– Nicholas Klein

It is easy to color in the lines, and do as you are told. Sit still, blend in, don’t ruffle feathers or stir up the pool. But pioneers, the ones who stoke the fire in their bellies are the ones who expand our understanding of what is possible. They end up building higher than we have ever seen and exploring depths we have never imagined. They expand our world.

But it takes huge vision, ambitious vision, crazy vision. And faith, faith that it is possible, faith that if we work hard at it, confident in its resolution, this project will take shape, this obstacle will fall, and a new era will dawn.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

– Rob Siltanen

We live in an exciting time. Sure, we have tremendous challenges, unsolved problems, deepening inequality, crises in climate, in economics, in politics, in finance, in development. All around the world. With these challenges also come tremendous opportunity, to think differently, and pioneer new paradigms. For the first time in history, we are connected to each other and to storehouses of knowledge at a bigger scale than ever before. It is the age of ideas, and it is our inspired ideas that will change our lives radically. If we do not become pioneers, we will fall even further behind.

If our sole goal is to attain the level others have reached, then we are setting our target too low…Do not fool yourselves into believing that we are moving forward when we are only keeping up with general trends, while the real opportunities are slipping away.

– Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (My Vision)

To be a pioneer means to embrace the unknown, to trust instinct and curiosity, to try over and over and fail, and try again. To embrace every obstacle not as an invitation to stop, but as a challenge to solve. To work harder than anyone else but driven by passion, by love and obsession. It is hard work, but it is worthy work.

Reclaiming the pioneer spirit means that you are not limited to solving problems you have seen before. But you can confidently face the future and tackle completely new and left-field scenarios because you have the mental toolkit and resources to meet the challenge and create transformational solutions.

And in case you thought it was the work of the lone ranger, the lone genius working in the basement, know that it is also born of community, of a shared belief and shared hope for a collective destiny. A pioneering group of people united will build the world of the future.

Death by a thousand strokes

Death by a thousand strokes

Whenever you come into contact with an immerse and impactful piece of work, the towering obelisk, the frescoes on the ceiling, the sculptures, the works of art, the architectural marvel, the music, films and books that draw us in deep into new and exotic locales, it is easy to be so impressed, so moved by these works that we are both inspired and intimidated. We feel the stirring within, that innate desire to go on and create our own masterpiece. We also feel the fear. How can we attempt such? How will we ever pull off creating something so great? Where would we even begin.

For each of us, the masterpiece is different. It could be picking up a new habit, or learning a new skill, or making something, an event, a painting, an EP, a book. But at its core, they are all the same. It is an undertaking that will demand time and effort.

We know that the road to getting things done is not without its twists, turns and difficulties. So, in our minds, to get started, we have to carve out this block of time. The perfect Saturday evening to sit down and work through our idea, and really get it going. We fantasize about the one perfect stretch of time and space that would arise to really work on it and get it done.

But things never happen that way, right? Life is just too unpredictable, and there is enough that pops up daily to stop us. A new project pops up, a family crisis arises that we have to handle. In that way, we keep plodding along, putting out our fires and getting busy with the business of living. At the back of our mind, the thought lingers, on the thing we need to be doing…

Even worse, let’s say things do go that way. You successfully carve out the time to work on that big idea or dream of yours, and what happens? You squander the time. You play around, you get distracted, you find an excuse. Making the time is one thing, doing the actual work is another.

There is a better way.

The idioms that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, and that the way to dispose of an elephant is to eat is one bite at a time offer the clue. When you stop looking at your project as this immense thing, and begin to understand that with consistent small actions, you can tackle it. You can hack your doubts to death with a thousand cuts and bring your work to life by a thousand strokes, applied over a long time.

Sure, creative work demands large stretches of time, to think and to tinker our ways to answers. But don’t let that metastasize into an excuse that stops you. Adopt the long-haul attitude also. Embrace the little time you can get. Maybe you can steal 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour or two here and there to work on this project that is so important to you. Take them. Work within those constraints.

10 minutes might be all you need to outline your project and note down some quick execution steps. Then when you get another bit of time, you can work on those first steps you outlined, and then the next steps and so on. The idea is to begin where you are, and work with what you’ve got.

This does a couple of things

When you work in spurts like this, you are able to savor the process more, and let creative ideas percolate and evolve over period of times between the sessions. The slow burn can help you birth a deeper, more nuanced work than trying to hack through it all at once.

You focus on building the habit of working on something consistently. You can move your attention from quality. You are not worried about getting it right all at once, you are concerned with showing up. You won’t always be at your best, you might not always be inspired. But you can commit to making something small consistently, and then over time, you gain volume, and out of that volume, you can curate something great.

And when you do get that magical block of time – a day, a weekend, a month to really dig in, it would be easier not waste it, because you have cultivated the habit of working on it consistently.

You focus on acting and creating in whatever pockets you can find them, until your creative obstacles collapse in a constant barrage of strikes, and your creation, your masterpiece emerges over a thousand strokes.

Stretch your imagination

Stretch your imagination

The need to dream big

Since January, we have been on the journey of unpacking what it takes to get what you want. Knowing yourself, embracing the hard work, crafting the routine, and being consistent. These ideas help us lay a strong foundation of habit, and action. They make sure that we step up to the plate every day and take a swing. They are the core of this process.

Supposing you have laid this foundation. You have adopted new habits, established routines and rituals. You even journal and check in frequently to keep yourself accountable in the process of chasing success – getting what you want. There is something fundamental and invisible that can hold us back or make us stop short. That is our mental image of ourselves and our future.

Like a great athlete, we must have a very clear vision of what we want to accomplish before we make a move. Vision, in preparation for an action, is as important as the action itself. – Marianne Williamson

The law of attraction has as one of its tenets, the concept of visualizing what you want in order to manifest it. So, imagine sitting in that new car, getting the keys to that new house, going on that holiday, setting up that foundation, whatever floats your boat. And while that can sound like very rah-rah motivational kind of fluff, we do need to embrace the power of the mind’s ability to visualize as a key part of getting what we want and becoming successful. To get what we want, and then transcend it, we have to exercise something we sometimes take for granted. The power of imagination.

It is not like we don’t use it anyway. We are skilled in the art of imagination. It is just that our mind more easily tends to paint images of doom and gloom. We think about our futures, and the fears rise up like specters crowding and clouding all corners of our mind. We are more easily inclined to think about all the things that could go wrong than all the things that could go right.

And that is okay. Sometimes, our present situation is too overwhelming, our environment too toxic, the economy is shit. We are surrounded by negativity, by a fearful apathetic world. We have problems and obstacles in our way. That is why we do the work. That is why we learn how to maneuver, how to overcome impossible odds. That is why we focus on what we can do, the actions we can take. That is why we create an inner citadel, a place of peace and positivity and light.

Because we need that foundation. Think of it like trying to build on a plot of land. Imagine this land is full of ruins, rubble and weeds. First, we have to clear it. We have to remove the obstacles, the rocks, the weeds. We have to reduce the plot to an empty clear space ready to be built on. And that is a good metaphor for what we have discussed all year. Clearing the plot, putting yourself in the position to succeed. The routines, habits and actions begin to form the foundation that we are going to build on.

So, what do we build?

It is easy to settle for just comfort. After all, we have overcome so much, let us just build a small little house and take it easy. Don’t do that. Invest in the quality of your imagination. In the field of architecture, there are designers that create cookie cutter, functional design, and there are those that shift paradigms of what a building could even look like. Become the visionary architect of your life.

I have referenced Peter Theil’s idea of ‘definite optimism’ before. The outlook of having a definite ideal, a clear vision for the future backed up with a strong commitment and plan to achieve it. It is a call to stop being resigned to the status quo for yourself and reach for more.

It is this vision, this mental image of ourselves doing and experiencing and creating things we would never before that fires us up, fills us with emotion and both magnetically matches us to the vibration of what we want, and pushes us to take the concrete actions and steps to get there.

The greatest motivator of change is a crystal-clear vision of what the future should look like. – Andy Stanley

Build something remarkable. Don’t just settle for being comfortable, for setting yourself up and heading off into the sunset. Go Big. Dream Big. Allow yourself to experience and build and create things you never thought possible for you. Visualize yourself living your wildest dreams regularly. Paint a daring audacious vision for your future.

And not just for yourself, but for the community, the people and the world around you.

The Immigrant Mentality

The Immigrant Mentality

The gift of the outside perspective.

Many of us are immigrants in some place or the other. For different reasons, we leave our homes to make a life elsewhere. Sometimes we are fleeing terrible conditions, homes and communities ripped apart by war, and catastrophe. Or we might just seek new opportunities for a better life, or in a more indulgent way, enough distance from home to be ‘ourselves’, make our own way.

For whatever reason, many of us find ourselves as outsiders, at least for a time, or perhaps our whole lives in places we have chosen to settle in. This all too common experience, of being foreign, lends a texture to life, a perspective that we can perhaps examine and mine for its insights into the goal of getting what you want.

There are studies that insinuate that a large percentage of businesses are started by immigrants, ditto, the number of advances and inventions made. For instance, more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies operating in 2010 were founded by immigrants or their children – including the likes of Apple and Disney. For all the oppressive negative and uncertain climate globally around the topic of migration, we cannot deny that much good has come from people who moved across borders for search of a new life.

This ‘foreign’ experience is not just restricted to immigrants, people who move from one country to another for a better life. It is also felt by the traveler, as you encounter strange, new cultures and places. It is even felt, albeit to a lesser extent by the one who moves across metropoles, or from the rural country to the city.

There is a vibe and mentality that prevalent amongst these immigrants, the new guys. They are generally more heightened and awake than natives. Coming from different places and having different experiences makes everything new to you. You have to stay on your toes. You have to adapt to a system that has been running along without you, you are an outsider. You have to keenly observe and see where you can fit in and what opportunities you can take advantage of.

Many times, the odds are stacked against you. The same benefits and advantages that are available to citizens are not available to you. So, the immigrant does not depend on the system. He cannot. The system was not built for him. He has to make a plan, he has to figure it out. He has to grind, seek opportunities, make friends and connections, band together with family and friends, and do whatever it takes, within and outside the system, because his survival is dependent on it. He has to get creative.

The immigrant has to build from scratch and be vigilant against losing it all tomorrow. Because you don’t have the safety net, the comfort of home, and your people around you, you have to build something new. Plus, you may have come from somewhere that was amazing, before things changed and, in a few days, the country collapsed, and you and your family lost everything. You know better than most, just how fast everything can change. This drives you to work extremely hard, and prove yourself, so you become valuable enough to dictate your terms. So, you can build a life for yourself, a life you can be proud of. You don’t just want to eat today, you want to build some kind of long-term stability, you want to be antifragile.

It is this force that pushes you outside your comfort zone. The same one that brought you here, that will continue to work on you and in you and keep you relentless in your pursuit of success. It will hopefully inspire you to think, ‘what can I offer, what can I contribute? What are my passions and skills and how can I be valuable here? ‘. It will force you to take realistic stock of your circumstance and take full responsibility for it.

And it’s that experience, the cocktail of conditions that allow many immigrants to excel. The strangeness of your new environment that forces you to stay sharp and awake. That is your gift. Because, you don’t take anything for granted, you won’t rest on your oars, there is no one to support or catch you. You will hunker down and push. You will study, work, network, put yourself out there, take the menial jobs, do whatever it takes to survive and succeed. You will make a plan and play a long-term game.

The gift of being an outsider will terraform you into the person that gets what you want.

What to do when you have been punched in the mouth

What to do when you have been punched in the mouth

I’ve never been punched in the mouth. At least not literarily. And not in recent memory. Perhaps last in some childhood scuffle. But I get punched in the mouth every week. Some weeks, I get punched every day. Metaphorically speaking. By life. By adulting.

Especially as a creative, as a freelancer, as an entrepreneur. Life can be sometimes feel like a series of fires to put out, and punches, mis-steps and mistakes. If there is one thing that is for sure, is that things will not go your way. The client will not pay on time, the job will take longer than you think to be commissioned, it will take even longer to get done.

Bad things are sure to happen.

How do you live in such an unfortunate and uncertain world? Do you hide and try to maximize certainty, or do you find a way to embrace the chaos and work with it?

Just under a decade ago, I began to open my mind up to other schools of thought, spiritual ideas and ways of looking at the world. In my transition into young adulthood, there were a lot of incongruencies and uncomfortable paradoxes in my belief system, and I sought to figure out a way to view the world and a way to live. The prevailing criteria for whether I would adopt a worldview or not, was its efficacy. I didn’t care where the idea came from, as long as it worked.

Life post-faith, or life after the walls of your previous belief system have been blown off can feel like free floating in the vast void of space, far from any planet or ship to orient you. This was the mental image I consistently pulled to mind as I wrestled with things in that period of my life. But sometime in 2011, I came across a blog post written by Ryan Holiday on Tim Ferris’ website that introduced me to a school of thought that would prove an anchor, and a guide. It is one I still hold dear. In fact, I count Ryan as one of my favorite authors, and his books on the school of thought as some of the most important books I’ve read. That school of thought is Stoic Philosophy.

Every now and again, a friend would come to me for advice, usually panicking, overwhelmed with some situation or event, and I would offer some perspective. I’d often refer to stoic philosophy as a possible solution or framework to analyze the problem and offer a solution. And then they would ask, ‘what is Stoic Philosophy”. There, I would stumble on my words trying to articulate something I understand quite well but can’t often express as well. This post is my attempt to do so.

Stoicism is a philosophy that is immensely practical in its approach. In other brands of philosophy, there is usually a lot of deliberation on the nature of life or reality. Or they are marked with arcane concerns that are more about jumping through intellectual hoops than anything else. Not stoicism. The main focus here is simple. How to live well.

Founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC, stoicism was famously practiced by Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus, and they are considered the main leaders of the philosophy. But over the course of history, many have illustrated stoicism as a way of life. In their ranks, leaders and statesmen, thinkers and athletes.

The core of stoicism is this. Real life is unpredictable, and much is outside our control. Our lives are fleeting, and we are plagued by anxieties. How then shall we live? How can we be steadfast, strong and in control of ourselves?

The stoics offer what are known as “spiritual exercises” meditations and patterns of thought that offer perspective and strength. I’ll highlight a few.

 

  1. Practice Misfortune

“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favours on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.” – Seneca

Comfort is the worst kind of slavery because you are always afraid that something or someone will take it from you. – Ryan Holiday

Seneca, who was immensely wealthy man in his time, suggested that we ought to take some time every month to practice poverty. Eat little food, wear your worst clothes, expose yourself to embarrassment. Place yourself in the uncomfortable situation you fear and ask yourself ‘Is this what I used to dread?’

If you practiced the worst-case scenario, when it actually happens, it loses its ability to disrupt your life. You are already familiar with it. If you get punched every now and again, you get desensitized to it, better able to handle it.

 

  1. Train Perception to avoid good and bad

“Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.” -Marcus Aurelius

Nothing is good or bad. It is our judgement that makes it so. Management of perception is one of the core tenets of stoicism. In fact, the first theme in Ryan’s book ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ is all about the ‘discipline of perception’.

When tragedy strikes – you don’t win the pitch, you have a bad day at work, your colleagues undermine you, it is easy to judge what has happened as bad, getting wrapped up in the resulting emotion, anger, distress, worry. To the Stoic, everything is opportunity. Things simply happen. We decide if its good or bad. We choose to see the good in it. We choose to turn the obstacle on its head.

The failed pitch becomes a teachable moment, an event to mine for lessons to fortify ourselves for the next one. It becomes practice. Problems at work with colleagues becomes an opportunity to learn, to practice virtue – compassion, equanimity, leadership, forgiveness. The bad day teaches us resilience and a chance to maintain an inner citadel of peace in a chaotic harsh world.

 

  1. Is this within my control

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .” – Epictetus

Perhaps the most important practice in stoic philosophy is discerning what we can control and what we can’t. You can’t control the weather, you can’t control traffic, you can’t control the actions of others. You can’t make someone like you or love you. No amount of huffing and puffing and crying and whining will change certain things. Why expend energy on them?

There are only a few things that really matter and only a few things you can control. Focus on those.

You can’t change where you were born or who you were born to. You probably can’t change the job market, or the prevailing economic conditions. Not without immense coordination and collaboration with others anyway. But you can change your perspective, you can change your actions. Focus on what you can do and take action along those lines.

This meditation dovetails nicely with the discipline of action. As a person with goals and aims, all I can do is focus on what I can control and consistently take the actions I can to move me closer to them. I can’t control when the client will pay, but I can focus on drumming up new business, I can focus on finding better clients, I can focus on increasing my streams of income. There is no use crying about how unfair it all is, all I can do is focus on what I can do. And take bold action.

Everything must be done in the service of the whole. Step by step, action by action, we’ll dismantle the obstacles in front of us. With persistence and flexibility, we’ll act in the best interest of our goals. – Ryan Holiday (The Obstacle is the Way)

So, what do you do when you have been punched in the mouth?

Take a step back. Wipe off the blood. Learn from the punch.

Was it inevitable? Was it just bad luck or misfortune? Did you fail to account for something? Were you too relaxed? Did you let your guard down? Maybe it’s okay that you got punched. Punches make you tougher, they build your resilience. Perhaps you can learn to pull a punch like that. How can you avoid another punch? How can you deal better with it next time? How can you use the momentum of the punch against your opponent, against your obstacle?

Don’t get mad. Don’t let it throw you off balance for too long. Don’t let it ruin everything you have been working for.

Learn.

Steel yourself.

Keep fighting.

I have borrowed liberally from this primer on Stoicism here, to articulate the philosophy and some of its meditations. I also highly recommend Ryan’s books ‘The Obstacle is The Way’ , ‘Ego is the Enemy’ and ‘The Daily Stoic’. Also Robert Greene’s books The 48 laws of power, The 50thlaw, The 33 strategies of war and Mastery are very much in the stoic vein…at least in my opinion