Stoicism 101 for Job Hunting
Job hunters ask, “What does philosophy have to do with job search?” For me, the answer will always be, “Everything.”
Your thoughts determine your emotional state. Your emotional state drives your behaviour. You wake up unmotivated or depressed or hopeless and you will have an unproductive day by the end of which you will have nothing done to improve your life situation. However, if you wake up thinking, “well, I am certainly feeling like a cow turd today, but yeah, whatever, I will get over it, and get 💩 done”, then trust me, with this mental attitude things will start happening.
With that being said, welcome to Stoicism 101, the only philosophy you will need to be an effective job-hunter (and in my humble opinion, the only one you’ll need to be an effective human being too).
If you’ve never heard about stoicism before, here are 7 Stoic ideas that will change your mind and eventually change your life. Let’s go!
1. Summum Bonnum — The Pursuit of the Ultimate Good.
For a stoic virtue is the most important thing. Ethics is at the core of all mindsets that a stoic applies to life. For a stoic, the highest good is the answer to the question, “What are we supposed to aim for in this life?”
So, how does this aspiration translate to a job-hunting world?
Well, if your thoughts are ethical, so will be your actions. Virtue will be guiding your interactions with others — you will be honest, modest, open-minded, non-judgemental, and do only things that are in alignment with your most authentic self.
Your authentic self is always striving for a virtuous life. Deep down, you know that at all times you mean no harm, you are built to serve, you are hard-wired to collaborate and live in peace with others. If you live and act in alignment with these fundamental truths, your relationship-building skill will be on the whole another level. And you know that better than anyone, job-hunting is a relationship-building game.
2. Amor Fati — Love your fate.
I always bring the same example. Think about choices in life. There is no such thing as a right choice or a bad choice. Only the choice that’s been made. There is no point to think of all the could-have-beens because once the choice is made it becomes your only reality, and that is the reality you have to deal with.
Same thing with your fate.
You cannot predict what the future holds for you. And if you are self-aware and highly analytical, you’ve already noticed that the following is true for you (as well as for others) — we as human beings have a very limited capacity to foresee the future.
In my mother tongue we have a saying, “Do you want to make God laugh? Tell him about your plans.” The expression on point. Just think about it for a moment — how often life had unfolded precisely in accordance with your massive expectations about it? If you are honest with yourself the answer will be — “well, not so often”.
That is why the ancients believed in fate. What happened happened. And what’s meant to be is meant to be. But we meditate on fate not to fall into fatalism or our helplessness in the face of the inevitability of all the adversities that come our way. Absolutely not. On the contrary, we meditate on this to embrace life as it is — to accept it in all its totality as it unfolds before us. To stop losing our energy trying to control things that are beyond our control. To release the strong grip on reality, and take a moment to open our eyes and see that it is precisely our choking grip on reality that makes us suffocate.
By reminding yourself to “love your fate”, you remind yourself to love the present moment, and that grounds you in your power of presence, as well as in deep understanding that the present moment is the only time you have. Fall in love with your present, and you will be more effective in it creating your future.
3. Premeditatio Malorum — Anticipate the future.
Making peace with your limited capacity to predict the future shouldn’t stop you from running thought experiments about it.
One of the best stoic tools is at your disposal — it’s called negative visualization.
We all heard that we need to visualize all the positive things that we want to manifest. The practice of negative visualization focuses your attention on the things that you have in the present.
Look at your life, your possessions, your environment. Think about what would your life look like if you lost all that?
- You live in Canada? What if you woke up tomorrow in a warzone or a village in a third-world country with no access to pure water?
- You have a great partner? What if they die tomorrow?
- You have a roof above your head? What if you slept on the street tonight?
- You have food on your table? What if you went to bed hungry today?
- You have health and your body is not disabled? What if you had a terminal disease or lost your ability to walk, see, or hear?
Stop reading and marinate in those thoughts for a minute. Do you feel this wave rising inside you? That’s gratitude.
Whatever your life situation is today, there is someone out there who would do anything to be in your place. Visualize their life for a moment, and mentally apply their life situation to yourself. Do it regularly and you will nurture a grateful mind.
And from that point, there is only growth.
A grateful mind develops a mentality of abundance. An abundance mindset leads to an abundance of opportunities.
In the end it all adds up. Anticipate the future. Envision the multitude of the worst-case scenarios. Don’t hope for the best. Seize to hope and you will seize to fear. Practice gratitude, work smart, and the right door will present itself.
4.The obstacle is the way.
Look back at your life and see. All the hardships that you’ve encountered on your path made you who you are today. It is true. Some of them have scarred you. But even those scars you carry proudly — they became your badges of honour. You have struggled, but you have survived. You’ve been through crises, yet you have prevailed.
Today is no different. You might be struggling now but deep down you know that if you survive this it will only fortify you. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Maybe not always. But for the majority of our life experiences, you know this catchy Nietzche phrase is quite applicable.
The obstacle is the way. We crush them. We get stronger. This is how life goes. And this is how we grow. You can’t be a problem solver if you don’t face problems. You can’t learn how to think outside of the box if you’ve never been inside one. The muscle tissue must first undergo destruction on a micro-level to get denser. Some parts of your identity must also be demolished when you push through the vicissitudes of life so that you could get an opportunity to reinvent yourself. And with your new identity, you rise to a new level of challenges.
The obstacle is the way.
5. Ego is the enemy
What is ego? In the most generic definition, ego is your “I” — it is an amalgamation of all the concepts and beliefs that you have about yourself. If you have healthy concepts and beliefs, and most importantly you remember at all times that your ego is just a mental model, a particular function of consciousness, with its plasticity, characteristics, and certain modes of operation, your ego can be a practical tool that you can use to shape your reality. But if you are not awakened to the truth that your ideas and thoughts about yourself are not you, if you “merge” with them in complete association, you fall slave to the illusion of the thinking mind. The ego becomes the enemy.
Look around (and within you) and you will find so many examples of the manifestation of an unhealthy ego.
- Racism. It is a consequence of being stuck in the illusion of thought that you are better because you are born into a body of a different colour. Once you say it out loud, you probably can understand how absurd it sounds. You can also sense the depth of the ignorance of people who discriminate on the grounds of race. Well, clearly, any kind of discrimination on any grounds is the aftermath of the sense of superiority that stems from some sort of dysfunctional belief. And “dysfunctional” is an appropriate word to use here because if you can’t tell the difference between your true self and your belief system, then something is not working and it’s time to wake up.
- Hunger for power. Well, hunger for anything really. Our physical body needs sustenance that’s for sure. But beyond that, any excessive desire is a product of ego. Examples? Complete association with the body + hunger for beauty leads to all those YouTube videos in which you see people deforming themselves with plastic surgery. Complete association with your mind + hunger for money leads to the news headlines about yet another guy who lost a fortune and jumped from a building afterwards. Ego — a conglomerate of unhealthy beliefs is killing those people. But they live their lives. What we need to be asking ourselves is, “When I say “I believe” or “I think” who is that “I” that does the thinking?”
But my apologies. I digress. You are probably thinking, “So what? How come my ego is the enemy when it comes to job hunting?” Well, I’d say you already know the answer. Your effectiveness as a job hunter directly depends on your beliefs about yourself. Limiting beliefs lead to limited opportunities. Limited opportunities lead to depressing thoughts. Those thoughts overwhelm you and you lose control — your mind takes over and you lose your true self in constant energy-draining thinking. Loop closed.
To persuade others that you have value, you must internalize the belief that you have value and ground yourself in this belief, make yourself unshakeable in it. To create abundance in your life you must first make yourself believe that the Universe is indeed abundant and kind. To be a great relationship builder you must convince yourself that you are one and then start acting like one. To be = to do, but to start acting, you must first start to align your thoughts in the direction of action. You can’t do it effectively, if you associate yourself with your thoughts, forgetting the fact that you are the one who is in charge here.
Your mind is your most powerful tool. But if you stop using it as a tool, if you don’t learn how to put down the tool and stop thinking, your tool will overpower you. It will become the overfed boss and you will be following its commands. So this is a decision you have to make. Whom do you want to be? A king or a horse? Because if you don’t make this decision, you won’t be a rider. You will be overridden.
6. Sympathea — We are all interrelated.
“Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe. For in a sense, all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other — for one thing follows after another according to their tension of movement, their sympathetic stirrings, and the unity of all substance.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.38
Food chain. 4 seasons. Circle of life. Everything you see as a chaos of disconnected elements is in fact one infinite ocean of vibration. But you must be tired of all this physical/metaphysical line of discourse so here is a simple and fun thought to entertain.
Here is you. If you are an average person, throughout your life, you will meet/know about 1000 people (although you can see that with tools like LinkedIn this number can be significantly amplified). Each one of those people has its own network of 1000. What does it make you? It makes you a person with 1,000,000 second-degree connections. You see, if every person on the planet has 1M of 2nd-degree connections, what does it say about our connectedness?
We are all interrelated. And our recent experience with the pandemic is very loud evidence of that. If one person sneezes on one side of the planet, we hear the echo of that sneeze on the other. Quite literally.
So how can you use this knowledge for job hunting? You can do it in two ways.
First, stop separating the world in your mind to “I” and “them”. There are no evil “them” who wake up with the malicious intent to destroy your life. There are just people. We are all just people. And we all do the best we can. Some are in deep sleep. Some are more awakened. But as Alan Watts said, “An acorn is not better than the oak. They are just at different stages of development” (not an exact quote but something like that). No matter how soulless the world of work can seem on the surface, people hire people. Whenever you network, strive to establish a human connection because the truth is — you are already connected.
Second, stop seeing life as a chain of disconnected events. Start seeing life as a flow. See it as a continuity, or maybe as some sort of a river that will inevitably carry you out to the variation of the future in which you are meant to be. It doesn’t mean that you should give in to the current and dry the oars. Not at all. It just means that sometimes pulling against the current might not be the wisest strategy.
7. Memento mori — Remember that you die.
In the moments of self-doubt, questioning yourself, or dwelling on hard mind-bogging dilemmas, you can always rely on death. Death is the best advisor.
Don’t know what to do with your free time? You’ll die. Did someone wrong you? They’ll die. Spending your days doing meaningless work? You’ll die. Hesitate to ask because you are afraid of rejection? You’ll die.
Maybe you go, “Ok, stop man. I get it. I get it.” My apologies. I didn’t want to end on a grim note. On the contrary, my pointer here is that in the face of death all the things that make you upset on a daily basis die away in their meaninglessness.
Memento mori, my friend. And that will make your life joyful.
And if you want to apply this to job hunting, that’s easy. Life is too short to work jobs that do not fulfill you. Life is too short to be small, and timid, and to self-sabotage yourself in the baseless thoughts about your own insignificance. We can choose to think that we all are just grains of sand being milled on the grindstones of time. But we also can choose to think as Rumi wanted us to:
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”
I watched this video the other day. Read the comments too. Very grounding. Take 2 min to meditate on this. Who knows how it will inspire you.
Ok, well that went smooth. And by smooth, I mean my writing is, as usual, all over the place but I am okay with that :) I am not sure if this helps you, but sure as hell, I hope it does.
If Stoicism intrigues you, here is some further reading I recommend. Ryan Holiday — all books, he writes with flair and his modern twist of an ancient philosophy helps with digesting. And of course, all the classic ones — Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus.
With that, I leave you today.
Be stoic. In job-hunting and in life.