“We cannot choose our external circumstances but we can always choose how we respond to them.” Epictetus
If we do not have complete control over the external circumstances of our businesses, what do we have control of?
When I read this quote the first time I thought I was reading a quote by Viktor Frankl. Turns out this concept is even older than Frankl. If you’ve been reading many of my blogs you know that Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist imprisoned in the Nazi Death camps Auschwitz and Dachau during WWII. He wrote about his experiences and what he learned. His book is “Man’s Search for Meaning”. It is both a horrifying and inspiring revisiting of life in the Nazi concentration camps.
However, today’s quote is from Epictetus. If you’ve been reading my blogs you also know that Epictetus was born a slave of the Administrative Secretary to Nero. Talk about working for the world’s worst boss, Nero was not a nice guy! History has mixed reports about Epictetus’ youth. Some reports say his owner in a rage broke Epictetus’ leg. Others say it was an accident. Regardless, Epictetus went through life with a mal-form, mal-adjusted leg. Pictures of his as an adult show him with a crutch and deformed leg.
Both of these men had the same message: We cannot (always) choose our external circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to them. In recognizing and embodying this Truth Viktor Frankl discovered he had more freedom than his captors. Epictetus, embodying this Truth was set free and his former owner set him up in his own school so that he might teach the youth around him.
I’ve been re-reading Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Care to guess what the first habit is? Covey calls it being “pro-active” instead of “reactive”. In his words, recognizing that between the moment of stimulus and response we have the freedom to choose our response.
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy! In a way it is, but it is also hard, very hard, depending upon what habits we have established. The good news is that it is never too late to start choosing to be free. It will require some internal dialogue, introspection and inquiry. We have to ask, “Is my first response in alignment with what I hold to be true what I ultimately value? Is my definition of “true” something I have taken the time to evaluate or is it something I have accepted from others without my own in depth investigation? How will my response affect the future? Will it help me live effectively?”
Now, let’s apply this principle to the world of business:
If we cannot always control the external circumstances of our businesses, what do we have control of?
FYI: Epictetus, around 55 A.D. to 135 A.D. was born a slave, discovered his personal internal freedom, which led to his actual freedom and the establishment of his school, so he could teach others.