“Concentrate every minute like a Roman— like a man— on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can— if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered , irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.”
In “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius
Teu exagera ou exclui.
Sê todo em cada coisa. Põe quanto és
No mínimo que fazes.
Assim em cada lago a lua toda
Brilha, porque alta vive.”
In “Odes de Ricardo Reis” by Fernando Pessoa
Word of caution: this post is going to be all over the place.
I translated this into German a long time ago. I’m not sure I’m up to the task of translating this into English this time around…
Let’s give it a go:
“To be great, be whole: nothing
Of yours exaggerate or exclude.
Be all in everything. Put all you are
In everything you do.
Be like the moon that
Shines whole in every lake
Because it lives up high.”
'Employees that don't care' tend to be carried by their colleagues and managers, until a point whereby their un-professionalism makes their continued employment untenable; nobody wants their workload increased by having to prop up a free-loader. Not overly caring about work and being professional are not mutually exclusive - the “not overly caring” just means not getting too emotional about work, having an objective view about what's achievable and not letting personal feelings interfere too much. Actually it's the opposite. Understanding what's important, not getting bogged down in minutiae and focusing on priorities is perfectly doable while not giving a shit. A lot of people waste their day moaning how busy they are, talking crap in meetings and generally not doing any actual work - while looking like they really care. If someone is continually self-sacrificing in picking up slack to the point of martyrdom, is it your issue or theirs? I fail to see why this is an image worth aspiring to.
I think Bhuddism has a lot more baggage than stoicism though and at some level with the meditation and worldview anticipates neuroscience that was to come 2000 years later. They intuited that we were meat puppets and they managed to see behind the veil of our always chattering mind. I don't think stoicism was that clear-sighted. The messages along the lines of "if you don't work hard others have to pick up the slack" amaze me. Why do others need to pick up the slack? Why is it in your interest that you work extra hard for your company, or that your company makes more profits. Are you going to see any of that? No you are not. Pick up the slack for whom exactly? Incredible self-righteous slave mentality that perfectly illustrates the plutocracy we live in. It can also become a situation whereby if you are continuously picking up the slack, others may leave things for you to as 'sure Doggybone will do it, he practically lives here', while he get to leave early. Being a martyr for a company, work group or manager is a fool’s move: “Doggy got the bone!”
I advocate ducking out of professional life’s more pointless rituals, like (some) conference calls. “I have never been on a conference call where something actually got decided or accomplished,” some people might say. Might work for some. I have done most of my boldest and successful things by conference call. I've usually met them previously, but not always. The phone is a terrible, wonderful thing. I hate it in lots of ways, but it’s useful to run a business when your partners are in different facilities and sometimes countries! I think it’s important to recognise the times in work when a little extra effort is needed and apply yourself in those moments. Making sure you hold the line and persevere until the problem or task has been resolved will get you far.
About twenty years ago I found myself looking at a picture of the tombstone of Man Ray, in Montparnasse cemetery (I was visiting Berardo’s exhibition in Lisbon and I became fascinated by some of his paintings on show). Man Ray’s tombstone was a simple, concrete slab, and it had just four hand written words written on it by hand by Juliette Man Ray. They read: “Unconcerned, but not indifferent.” I lost track of the time I stood in stunned silence, contemplating this thought (I was still in the exhibition; I like to look up artists online I’m not familiar with when I’m to go to museums or art exhibitions). This particular thought has become my own rallying cry, and it's made a huge difference to how I work since a few years ago. This means, I'll do what I can, to the best of my ability, and as quickly as I can. If others want to stay late, needlessly fretting over largely pointless nonsense, that's their issue. I aim to stay detached, but alert. So I've gradually managed to shift my perspective to I'll come in, I'll do my job and - on occasion when required - will work above and beyond to make shit happen but I'm damned if I'll be a martyr to the cause. I worked with one of those some years ago, and, frankly, it was exhausting to be around. He was also one of the least organised and least productive members of our team. I also am very comfortable speaking to all directors as equals and don't shy away from a healthy debate around decisions and strategy (I was once a 2nd line SAP Manager so I know what I’m talking about). In fact, these days I rather enjoy it. As a result, work has become easier and my productivity has increased. Worry can make you an incredible procrastinator. So, in conclusion, not giving a fuck is truly liberating. I highly recommend it.
Turning to the book at hand, which I read for the umpteenth time, I think Buddhism has a lot more baggage than stoicism though and at some level with the meditation and worldview anticipates neuroscience that was to come 2000 years later. They intuited that we were meat puppets and they managed to see behind the veil of our always chattering mind. I don't think stoicism was that clear-sighted. I agree with the stance that learning when to give a fuck and when not to is at the crux of the matter, because it is exhausting and impossible to keep on top of the chaos of reality in an ordered way. Sometimes you've just got to realize that some things don't turn out how you expected them to and be at peace with that fact. Some years ago, I started coming to work with mismatched socks. My thoughts were that the people who saw me without shoes knew me well enough to get the point - and I have to say it gave me a perverse sort of pleasure going to meetings with my directors knowing I had mismatched socks :-) Small minds and all that :-) Life's too short to be concerned about wearing matching socks...
NB: I finished this book on the 18th of April after having been told that a colleague of mine from work, who I had worked with at a major client, had passed away at the tender age of 41 years old. This review reflects the way my take on life is starting to shift. I know I’m a bit late, but better late than never…