Lessons from Stoicism

I came across Stoicism a few years ago while listening to a podcast. Since then, I’ve purchased a few books on the subject. What’s most interesting to me is how much time the Ancients put into thinking about how we should interact with the world. Project managers certainly have challenges with team members and face project issues. Stoicism can guide us.

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Project tasks may be delayed or have unfavorable results. We are in control of our emotions and should accept the events willfully. This approach allows us to focus on understanding the situation and to start planning our next steps.

The lesson I value most is not worrying too much about what people say or how they act. That is a massive burden lifted from my shoulders. In our interconnected society, it’s easy to get caught up in disputes and extreme rhetoric. I’m not saying to close you eyes and ignore your surroundings. Stoicism advises to show others their errors and to restrain frustration or anger with others. As leaders of project teams, we have the opportunity to take the higher ground and get the team back on track. Cooperation and doing what is right for the common good are common Stoic themes.

The ancient Stoics also understood complexity. They believed Nature changes often and we shouldn’t be surprised by this. We also need to accept that no one can predict the future so dwelling on it won’t help us. It comes down to accepting events as they are, whether positive or negative. The PMP methodology emphasizes project planning which includes creating schedules. This is important but we should be prepared to make changes to our plans. This is where robust change management processes come into play.

Lastly, people and events will slow projects down or impede progress. From the book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (a new translation by Gregory Hays), “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Your competition most likely faces the same challenges you do. Having a Stoic mindset and developing a resilient project team will put you on a path to becoming world class.

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