107 - On Accepting The Inevitable - Moral Letters for Modern Times
I can scarcely believe my ears to hear you carrying on so, Deuteros. Have you forgotten everything we have been discussing? Does it take no more than an inconvenience to throw you off course and set you back to the beginning of your studies? Three of your employees have given notice that they are leaving for greener pastures. That is their perfect right, or have you in your delusional state also forgotten that you work with paid employees and not Roman slaves?
If you paused in your lamentations to examine your thoughts, you would realize the true cause of your anguish. You are put to some inconvenience because you must now conduct a replacement search, and not just one but three! This takes time and is certainly a distraction from the daily business. Worse, you are worried about what your colleagues may think of you. Will they consider these defections a reflection on your leadership? But I think most of all, you are secretly worried that your former employees are giving not just two weeks’ notice to the company, but giving you notice of some defect in you yourself. I can almost hear you wondering whether the old saying is true “Employees don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.”
Recognize these thoughts for the signs of weakness that they are, my dear Deuteros, and give them no leave to plague your mind. You will no doubt spend some time to find your new teammates but think on what opportunities this gives you to upgrade your team. I have taught myself to find the positive in every situation, for this is a habit you can practice like any other. If you have not found the upside yet, assume it is because you are not looking in the right places and keep looking.
Your colleagues may think ill of you. What of it? You know as well as I do that people project onto others their own fears and desires. If they are prone to assume that your employee turnover signals trouble, then you may entertain the thought that they have their own troubles to deal with. And as to your self-doubt, this is one condition that you can bring about and multiply merely by thinking of it. Remember instead that all feedback is useful to you, either revealing something of the giver or something about you. In either case, make it your own and use it to better yourself. If the feedback is from a trusted source and true, you now have a profitable topic to pursue. And otherwise the input should be easy to dismiss.
Epictetus provides a helpful summary of the point I would have you take from this discussion. Perhaps his words will resonate with you if mine have not:
Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.
The broader point I would make is this: ask yourself in all situations do you improve your position by complaining? This typically only serves to magnify minor complaints into larger ones. And even if your misfortune is truly major – the death of a close friend, failure of your business, or a diagnosis of serious illness – will you make it worse by losing your well-ordered mind and railing against fate? What is the benefit of making yourself unhappy and irrational because the things that are destined to happen to humankind in fact happen?
“But they are not destined to happen to me!” goes the reply. “Others will get ill and die and suffer bad luck. I expected my life to be charmed at all turns.” This is no more than a pleasant fantasy, a daydream for children. Do you complain that the world is unfair? That you have not been allotted the same portion of good luck as some other, imaginary person? You would be as justified to complain that the sun rises each morning to disturb your sleep, that ants invade your picnic, or that your lottery numbers never get called.
Though fairness in life is unevenly distributed, there is one thing that we all share alike: our mortality. We are each destined to die. If you wish to feel better about the unfairness of it all, consider that the luckiest, wealthiest, and most beautiful people are all going to die. They are going to leave their charmed lives behind all the more grudgingly compared with those who have endured hardship and defeat. Tell me, will their deaths be any less final than your own?
You should not become spiteful in considering the fate that awaits all humankind. Nor should you become fearful at the thought of the misfortunes that may befall you. By thinking on all the things that can happen to you, you prepare yourself to deal with them appropriately. The fact of bad news coming as a surprise is often all that is necessary to throw your reason temporarily out of balance. It can come as no surprise to one who has contemplated misfortune in advance.
Think on the possibility of a hundred hardships. Better yet, expect them to afflict you at any moment. Not only will you be ready for whatever comes your way, you will say “Is this all? I expected much worse.” The same situation, happening to the same person, but the reaction makes all the difference. If contemplating misfortune is part of the cure from misery when ill winds blow, are you really better off dreaming only of pleasant things?
I leave you with the words of American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who also manages to summarize my point in far fewer words with his aptly named serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.