Lessons from the Stoics | Inquirer Business

Lessons from the Stoics

(Last of four parts)

Rico (not his real name), 55, is the head of a successful family business in Manila. The Stoic philosophers are his guides, and “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman is his bible. What lessons did he learn from them?


1) Innovate, but stay on top of things

“I respect the traditions handed down by my father, who founded our business,” says Rico. “Seneca said that our ancestors are not our masters, but our guides, so I discard the old ways when needed, and I encourage my children to improve our systems as well. Marcus Aurelius says that the only constant in the universe is change.


“One time, we wanted to streamline our operations, so my son hired his US business school professor, who had lots of theories, none of which worked in our business. I did not get angry, because my son had good intentions and the professor tried his best, but since my son did not completely understand the recommendations, he got us into some trouble. He had to fix the problems, with my help. You advise me not to micromanage, so I give my children real accountability (“Help! How can my son be a worthy heir?” Feb. 17, 2022).

“I reminded my son of Marcus Aurelius’ warning: ‘I learned to [be careful] and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole, and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something.’”

“Similarly, I tell my children that even if as business owners they can delegate routine tasks to managers, they still have to comprehend why decisions are made in this way, or how events happened in that manner.”

2) Stop the blame game

“The pandemic took a big toll on everyone, but let’s stop using it as an excuse for everything,” says Rico. “You wrote that Isaac Newton made huge discoveries even as the plague decimated London (“What to do with the time that is given us,” April 22, 2020). In the same way, the philosopher Musonius Rufus continued his studies even when he was exiled by Nero.

“Our ex-manager is the opposite of Rufus. Prepandemic, we paid the tuition for his MBA. But last year he dropped out, using the pandemic as an excuse. His studies were all online, and we even gave him paid leave. Such a person will always have an excuse to slack off, so we let him go.

“That said, my biggest disappointment is my brother,” says Rico. “He never worked hard and I have to support him all his life. My parents spoiled him because he was the youngest. When his business ventures failed, he blamed bad luck and bad friends, even if it was due to his own lack of planning, skill, savvy. I trained my children early on to take responsibility, or else they might turn out like him.


“The philosopher Diogenes says that nothing is worse than self-deception. My brother keeps on blaming others or fate. As Marcus Aurelius says, ‘If we [believe in] the power of our own choice, then there is no room left for blaming gods or being hostile to others. Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own. Enough of this miserable, whining life. Stop monkeying around! Why are you troubled? What’s new here? What’s so confounding? The one responsible? Take a good look. Or just the matter itself? Then look at that. There’s nothing else to look at.’”

3) Count your blessings

“On the whole, I am content with life,” says Rico. “I had a heart attack once, so I watch my health, and today doctors say I am strong. My wife and I are faithful to one another. My kids don’t have major vices. I practice gratitude, which Seneca says pays itself back in large measure.”

Rico quotes Marcus Aurelius: “Don’t set your mind on things you don’t possess as if they were yours, but count the blessings you actually possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren’t already yours.”

“According to Seneca, many times an old man has only his age to prove he has lived long,” says Rico. “Marcus Aurelius tells us to ‘stop wandering about’ and ‘get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in our own rescue’ while we still can. I live life fully; I want to make it count.”

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or the e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]

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