A Lesson from the Stoics

We might be fluent in the classroom but drag us out into practice and we are miserably shipwrecked


We all need some time off to relax and unwind from our busy business lives. So during my holiday in Indonesia (ticking one of my must-do bucket list – visiting the Komodo islands), I came across the above quote from Epictetus in a book by Ben Aldridge, “How to control the uncontrollable”. Epictetus lived from 55- 135 CE and is regarded as one of the most influential Stoics. I recommend reading Aldridge’s book if you have never heard about the Stoics. Basically, Stoicism is a Greek philosophy that guides us to live better lives. Their values build character and make you a better person, no matter your background or religion in your life.

Epictetus’ quote could not better describe the reality we encounter practising the new way of selling. Especially the shipwrecked part. At the final SLNB training (Bringing It All Together), we challenge sales participants to role-play their new skills and mindset. Unfortunately, we observed that although their preparation was optimal, when confronting the customer, many fell back into their old way of selling and got dramatically rejected by the customer. Proof that the new way of selling is not as easy as we all hoped for. And Epictetus apparently knew that already 2,000 years ago!

But, what can we learn from all that?

  1. Anything new, especially when it comes to new habits, takes time to develop and master. So, lower the expectations. Instead, demand from yourself to see progress time over time.
  2. After every sales call, reflect on how much of what you intended to do and say happened. Only then can you focus on making minor improvements every time. Think about how top athletics get to the top: they break down their performances in small steps and improve them bit by bit.
  3. You need a sales coach who helps you replace old habits with new ones. Even 2,000 years ago, the Stoics recognised that their philosophy (way of living) would only have a chance to survive not by telling people what to do but by coaching others and also by being coached. Spanning a 500 years time frame, their philosophy was passed on from Zeno (300 BCE) to Chrysippus. From Seneca to Rufus. And from Epictetus to Marcus Aurelius (180 CE). And they achieved that without the internet, Facebook or Netflix!

The key message is simple; nothing comes by itself. If you want to change, you have it in your own hands, which requires hard work— you got to practice. You may want to apply the above three learnings as your guidance. Help each other, learn from each other. And like the Stoics, keep what you believe in alive and kicking. In our case, the new way of selling should not gravitate back to old selling habits. Instead, it should grow and become your own. Only then you become the master and can pass it on. That’s the lesson I took from reading about the Stoics. 

Feel free to share with your colleagues. Help Each Other.

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