Just like with any aspect of life, many things that occur in the workplace are out of our control — for better or for worse. We don’t get to choose our boss, the people we get partnered with for a project or our salary, for the most part. But this habit of accepting that there are things we simply cannot control might be the key to workplace success.
The understanding that some things are out of your control, and therefore shouldn’t have a bearing on your happiness, is the core belief of Stoicism. If you truly embrace this concept, you can shift your focus to internal achievements instead of external outcomes. Not only can this help you live a more fulfilled life, but it can also help you be happier — and more successful — at work. Here’s how taking Stoicism to heart can help you deal with different workplace situations — and also help you find happiness at work.
Asking for a Raise or Promotion
Philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci explained in a column for Aeon how Stoicism can help you get a raise or promotion: “If your goal is to get the promotion, you are setting yourself up for a possible disappointment. There is no guarantee that you will get it, because the outcome is not (entirely) under your control. Sure, you can influence it, but it also depends on a number of variables that are independent of your efforts, including possible competition from other employees, or perhaps the fact that your boss, for whatever unfathomable reason, really doesn’t like you.”
Pigliucci said that instead of focusing on the outcome you want — in this case, a promotion — focus on the things you can control to influence the outcome.
“If you adopt the Stoic way, you would conscientiously put together the best resume that you can, and then mentally prepare to accept whatever outcome with equanimity, knowing that sometimes the universe will favor you, and other times it will not,” he wrote. “What do you gain by being anxious over something you don’t control? Or angry at a result that was not your doing? You are simply adding a self-inflicted injury to the situation, compromising your happiness and serenity.”
If you’re wondering how to get a raise at work, understand that there are no guarantees, but being as prepared as possible is the best you can do. If you put all your energy into preparing your resume and reasons why you deserve that raise — instead of putting that energy into worrying about whether you’ll ultimately get it — you’ll be much better off.
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Dealing With a Difficult Boss
Having a boss that you don’t like — or that doesn’t like you — is an unfortunate reality for many workers. But you shouldn’t let this affect your happiness or determination to be the best employee you can be.
An employee-boss relationship is just like any other relationship — you’re not entirely in control about how the other person feels about you, but there are things you can control to influence the situation.
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In his Aeon column, Pigliucci gives the example of how to apply Stoicism to a romantic relationship: “Do you want your partner to love you? It is outside of your control. But there are plenty of ways you can choose to show your love to your partner — and that is under your control.”
Obviously, this type of love is different than the type of love you want to receive from your boss, but the same principle applies: You can’t make your boss like you, but you can try to be the best employee possible and help out your boss as much as you can. Acting this way might not repair or improve your relationship, but it will certainly make you a better employee, which can set you up for success in the long run.
Feeling Stressed Out at Work
We’ve all had those work days when your to-do list seems impossible to get through, and new tasks keep getting added to your plate. Our initial instinct might be to react by getting stressed out and feeling overwhelmed, but these emotions aren’t productive and are counter to what Stoicism teaches.
“Work can’t overwhelm you — [work is an] external object, and [it has] no access to your mind,” Ryan Holiday wrote in “The Daily Stoic.” “Those emotions you feel, as real as they are, come from the inside, not the outside.”
Instead of letting your emotions get the best of you, take a deep breath and focus on the tasks at hand.
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Getting Into a Conflict With a Co-Worker
Conflict isn’t always a bad thing — it can ultimately lead to innovation. But at that moment, it can be hard to not let emotions get the best of you when you’re not seeing eye-to-eye with a colleague. Instead of getting heated, take a Stoic’s approach to dealing with conflict.
For starters, anticipate that conflict is inevitable. Being mentally prepared for conflict before it happens can stop you from reacting in a negative way when you find yourself in disagreement. Second, remember that “this too shall pass.” The conflict will end, so there’s no use expending your energy to get upset about it. In fact, getting angry will make it worse — it can prolong the conflict and will also take a mental toll. Lastly, put this conflict into a larger perspective.
If you find yourself engaged in a conflict, don’t get upset. You can’t control how your colleague thinks or feels, but you can control how you feel. Do your best to get your point across without ruffling any feathers. If you think the conflict can be resolved, work through it without letting emotions get the best of you. If you don’t, cut your losses and move on with your workday.
Click through to read more about how Arianna Huffington and other CEOs maintain work-life balance.