Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 9)

Books

“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” – Seneca

For those interested to explore further, here is a summary of books on Stoicism, starting with the original writings:

Discourses and Selected Writings, by Epictetus: “Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicopolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. The Discourses argue that happiness lies in learning to perceive exactly what is in our power to change and what is not, and in embracing our fate to live in harmony with god and nature. In this personal, practical guide to the ethics of Stoicism and moral self-improvement, Epictetus tackles questions of freedom and imprisonment, illness and fear, family, friendship and love.”

Letters from a Stoic, by Seneca: “For several years of his turbulent life, in which he was dogged by ill health, exile and danger, Seneca was the guiding hand of the Roman Empire. This selection of Seneca’s letters shows him upholding the ideals of Stoicism – the wisdom of the self-possessed person immune to life’s setbacks – while valuing friendship and courage, and criticizing the harsh treatment of slaves and the cruelties in the gladiatorial arena. The humanity and wit revealed in Seneca’s interpretation of Stoicism is a moving and inspiring declaration of the dignity of the individual mind.

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius: “Written in Greek by the only Roman emperor who was also a philosopher, without any intention of publication, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius offer a remarkable series of challenging spiritual reflections and exercises developed as the emperor struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe. While the Meditations were composed to provide personal consolation and encouragement, Marcus Aurelius also created one of the greatest of all works of philosophy: a timeless collection that has been consulted and admired by statesmen, thinkers and readers throughout the centuries.”

There have been many modern writings about Stoicism. A selection:

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William Irvine: “Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives. [He] offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the Stoics, Irvine offers a roadmap for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us. Irvine looks at various Stoic techniques for attaining tranquility and shows how to put these techniques to work in our own life.”

How To Be A Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living, by Massimo Pigliucci: “Stoicism teaches us to acknowledge our emotions, reflect on what causes them and redirect them for our own good. Whenever we worry about how to be happy, we are worrying about how to lead a good life. No goal seems more elusive. Massimo Pigliucci explores this remarkable philosophy and how its wisdom can be applied to our everyday lives in the quest for meaning. He shows how stoicism teaches us the importance of a person’s character, integrity and compassion. Whoever we are, we can take something away from stoicism and, in How to be a Stoic, with its practical tips and exercises, meditations and mindfulness, he also explains how relevant it is to every part of our modern lives.”

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living, by Ryan Holiday: “[It] is a wise, calming, page-a-day guide to living a good life, offering inspirational daily doses of classic wisdom. Each page features a powerful quotation from the likes of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the playwright Seneca, or philosopher Epictetus, as well as historical anecdotes and thought-provoking commentary to help you tackle any problem, approach any goal and find the serenity, self-knowledge and resilience you need to live well.”

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, by Donald Robertson. “Cognitive psychotherapist Donald Robertson weaves the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius together seamlessly to provide a compelling modern-day guide to the Stoic wisdom followed by countless individuals throughout the centuries as a path to achieving greater fulfillment and emotional resilience. [The book] takes readers on a transformative journey along with Marcus, following his progress from a young noble at the court of Hadrian—taken under the wing of some of the finest philosophers of his day—through to his reign as emperor of Rome at the height of its power. Robertson shows how Marcus used philosophical doctrines and therapeutic practices to build emotional resilience and endure tremendous adversity, and guides readers through applying the same methods to their own lives.”

Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In, by Kai Whiting and Leonidas Konstantakos: “Twenty-three centuries ago, in a marketplace in Athens, Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, built his philosophy on powerful ideas that still resonate today: all human beings can become citizens of the world, regardless of their nationality, gender, or social class; happiness comes from living in harmony with nature; and, most important, humans always have the freedom to choose their attitude, even when they cannot control external circumstances. In our age of political polarization and environmental destruction, Stoicism’s empowering message has taken on new relevance. [The authors] apply Stoic principles to contemporary issues such as social justice, climate breakdown, and the excesses of global capitalism. They show that Stoicism is not an ivory-tower philosophy or a collection of Silicon Valley life hacks but a vital way of life that helps us live simply, improve our communities, and find peace in a turbulent world.”

May Stoicism guide you in your personal quest for a better life!

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 8)

Advice

“It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.” ― Seneca

I know it is easier to give advice than to take it. But since I write the blog primarily for myself, I think of this as advice I am giving myself. And if others can benefit from it, that’s an added bonus!

Daily Me-time is a must: One needs to reflect at the end of a day. What did you do right, what went wrong, what are mistakes to learn from, what did not happen, where did you lose your temper, what could you have done better. It is about making oneself better each day – more progress than perfection. Getting those 15-20 minutes at the end of a day to think back can be very helpful. A diary habit can get all the thoughts out of the system so one gets a peaceful sleep. Sometimes early mornings can also be very helpful to plan out the day.

Imagine worst-case scenarios: When starting something new, it is important to think through the worst eventuality so one is mentally prepared for it. Most of us are optimistic by nature and that is good. But when starting on a new venture, one needs to face up to the outcomes that can cause pain and frustration. This way, one is ready for those situations in case they happen. It is still going to be hard navigating through them, but at least the surprise and shock is limited.

Saying Sorry: Apologising is not an easy thing to do. Yet the five-letter “sorry” has much more power in it that we can imagine. It is never an easy word to speak. It means accepting a mistake, which we are generally reluctant to do – it is always someone else’s fault. Sorry is about setting one’s ego aside. It is accepting our own fallibility. It is even harder when it has to be said in person making eye contact with the person we have wronged. And yet, when done, it can be a great liberator. It lets us leave the past behind and look ahead to the future.

Controlling the mind: In today’s world of myriad distractions, it is easy for the mind to wander. In Zoom meetings, the inbox is just a click away. In a presentation, many mental hyperlinks beckon. In between tasks that need focus, WhatsApp notifications lure us away and diminish our productivity. Attention recession is pervasive. This is where we need to be even more aware of what we are doing, and ensure we stay in the moment. Being “indistractable” requires inner power and there are great rewards for those who can master their mind.

Entrepreneurs need stoicism: The life of an entrepreneur has more downs than ups. The daily battles with a never-ending stream of issues can be gut-wrenching. Anyone who begrudges the handsome paydays that entrepreneurs get (sometimes) have to see their lives. Entrepreneurs (or founders) are the final port of call in a growing company and have to be able to handle all issues: from the trivial to the most critical. To keep one’s calm in an endless stream of meetings, to hide one’s emotions when an order is lost, to show people the bright future and upside, to deal with angry customers, to pull through when employees leave – it’s all in a day’s life.

Nothing I have said above is anything new; it is all obvious if one thinks about it. And that’s what I like about Stoic ideas: they are logical, simple and straightforward. Living life as a Stoic is not easy; it requires great discipline, self-reflection and awareness. It needs a mindset which is capable of constantly learning. We all are works in progress, and that is what Stoicism recognises. With some effort, we can become better and create a happier life for ourselves and those around us.

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 7)

Experiential Learning

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.” — Seneca

As a 10-year-old, I was diagnosed as having glaucoma by an ophthalmologist. While there was no Internet for me to help me understand what it was, I understood from conversations with the doctor that there was a serious possibility that my eyesight could weaken as I grew older. My thick specs reminded me daily of a future which I hoped would not happen. Luckily, the diagnosis was wrong – an error of judgement made by a well-known doctor. It was during these troubled weeks that I had developed a new hobby – listening to radio, since I was barred from reading after sunset. The radio opened up a new world for me, and even now, I wake up to BBC World Service News.

In my 9th standard, I contested for the post of school captain. I was the teacher’s favourite, the stellar “always coming first” kid. And yet, I lost narrowly primarily because I forgot my speech in front of all the “voters” – I flunked my most important test. That failure made me enrol in a public speaking class and learn how to overcome my flaws.

In my first semester in IIT, I studied hard and did not end up in first position. I was upset – I was a topper, and now suddenly, I was not. I had not known a life beyond academics. What would I do if I wasn’t a topper? And then came a new path – extra-curricular activities, and I found my calling in organising student events.

As I was graduating from Columbia in the summer of 1989, I started looking for a job. It wasn’t the best of times. A couple months went by and I had done just a couple interviews and had no offer. I absolutely wanted to work in the US, but with each passing day, my hopes diminished. I would sit in my dorm apartment and watch TV to while away my time. And then one day, as I was visiting a friend in Berkeley, I got the call from NYNEX. I said Yes without even waiting for the compensation package! Those two months of waiting had finally paid dividends.

In many ways, it was events like these in my formative years that helped make me resilient and if I can use the word, Stoic. I learnt to control my emotions, did not go into a funk after failure, channelised my inner feelings into journaling so I could open up to myself, instilled a desire to constantly become better by learning from others, and made honesty, humility and punctuality key tenets of life. I try and analyse mistakes and work hard to ensure I don’t repeat them. But I am not perfect.

A year ago, I let my anger get the better of me and shouted at Abhishek (my son) over a very trivial matter. Something else was bothering me, and I took it out on him. I am normally good at anger management, but for some reason, I lost my cool then. He was the most vulnerable, and I unleashed my fury on him. He saw shocked and started crying. I stayed unmoved. It was only later when Bhavana came and made me see my folly that I realised what I had done – let ego get the better of me. I went to him and apologised. I sat that night, analysed my behaviour, and promised myself that I will not repeat such anger, especially against a person who cannot fight back. It is ego which is, as Ryan Holiday puts it, our enemy.

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 6)

Hard Times

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” ― Marcus Aurelius

From 2001 to 2004, my wife Bhavana and I underwent multiple IVF cycles so we could have a baby. Each cycle raised our hopes only to be dashed later. It was a time of emotional ups and downs, as I have written here. While the story had a happy ending with the birth of Abhishek in April 2005, the few years that we went through the IVF treatment was one of the most challenging I have lived through, and it was even more so for Bhavana. But we saw that period through. For Bhavana, it was her faith in God. For me, it was my belief that the outcome was not entirely in my control, and I had to stay strong through the saddest moments.

Perhaps, it was my early failures as an entrepreneur that had steeled me. IndiaWorld’s success came after many failed ventures and flopped fund-raising efforts. Even till the end, it was not clear that I would have a happy outcome. In 1999 (as is happening now), everyone with a .com was raising capital – except me! But I had something which others did not – profits. For a brief period of time, profits had no value; all that everyone wanted was eyeballs. In the end, my faith in doing business the right way got me an exit I had not even dreamt off – a sale for $115 million.

In the “growth-at-all-costs” mindset that prevails today, I am once again being told that no one cares about profitability and I have made a big mistake through the past few years sacrificing growth for profits. I have thought about this often – because I also have the responsibility for Netcore’s staff, many of whom have stock options. The only way I know to run a business is to fund growth through profits, and not just through investor money. I grant that SaaS (software-as-a-service) businesses have different dynamics and land grab matters, but at the same time, I also know that once we get in the habit of spending more than we are generating, it is not easy to turn the tap off. Seeing competitors raise and spend capital, seeing some star employees leave because we declined to double their salary in the face of competition which doesn’t worry about profits, seeing my own colleagues question my growth-and-profits approach – it hasn’t been easy. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know what my core beliefs are and I stand by those. Like during IndiaWorld, I have this faith that everything happens for good, and there is a good reason for even some not-so-good events.

In some ways, this attitude has been formed by many of the early failures I experienced as an entrepreneur. They brought me down to earth and taught me that just as bad times don’t last, neither do the good times. A venture can fail, but that does not make me a failure. While I didn’t know it then, many of the Stoic principles have seen me through some of my toughest times.

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 5)

Testing Moments

“What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.” ― Epictetus

About two years ago, I was going to Savannah, Georgia (US), for an email marketing conference. I had taken the non-stop Air India flight from Mumbai to Newark and was waiting for my next flight at the gate at Newark airport. I then heard an announcement that the flight had been cancelled. My first reaction was that of panic. I knew that there were not that many flights to Savannah, and I had a conference to attend the next morning. I walked up to the agent’s counter and asked for options. The first response was that the next available flight they could book me on would be on the following morning – about 20 hours later. In a quiet voice, I told the agent I had come a long way and I could not possibly afford to miss a third of the conference. Were there any other options? All this was happening as I saw tempers rise around me of fellow travellers who saw their own plans getting disrupted. The agent then suggested an option: if I was willing to travel to La Guardia airport immediately, there was a flight from there which could help me get to Savannah by late evening. My checked bag would not be on that flight and would be delivered either late night or the next day. I had minutes to decide. She offered to cover the cab fare to La Guardia.

A younger me would have thrown a fit, and argued that they should put me on a later flight from Newark itself. (There were flights, but they were all booked.) But a “Stoic” me stayed calm, and took the La Guardia option. I have come around to the belief that “there is some good in everything that happens.” The flight cancellation was beyond my control. What I could control were my reactions. Getting angry at the agent would not get me to Savannah. It was not her fault. The worst case was either that I missed a few hours of the conference the next morning or I landed in Savannah in the evening without my checked bag. I took the latter option.

I made it on time for the flight from La Guardia. When I landed in Savannah and reached the hotel, my first task was to get myself some clothes for the next day – just in case my bag didn’t make it at night. (I normally always carry a set in my carry-on baggage, but had not done so this time.) After checking in at the hotel, I rushed out and found a Gap store that was just about to close for the day. I persuaded the manager to wait a few minutes and managed to buy some clothes. All’s well that ends well! My checked bag arrived just after midnight – for once, I was delighted to be woken up in the middle of my deep sleep! Come morning, life was exactly how it was supposed to be. My bag and I were united, and I was making my way to the conference right on time.

As I thought about the incident, I was surprised at how calm I was. At a younger age, I would perhaps have not been so, and would have gone into a negative frame of mind. But through the years, I have learnt to accept things as they come.

The “excitement” on that trip did not end there. When I checked in at Savannah airport after the conference to take a flight to Los Angeles via Atlanta, I forgot my credit card in the self-check-in machine. I had to pay for the baggage, and two of my credit cards did not work. I was a bit flustered and then made a mistake. The third card worked but I forgot to remove it from the machine. I only realised it as the flight was landing in Atlanta. I told myself that the worst case was that someone would take it and ring up some charges – money was the only loss, and I could presumably get that back from the credit card company. So, I once again stayed calm, messaged my office in Mumbai, and asked them to cancel the credit card, even as I rushed to make the connecting flight to Los Angeles.

Both were small incidents – one beyond my control, and one where I erred. I could have let both consume me, but I did not. I accepted what had happened, thought through the worst case scenario, and worked out the best possible option, and moved on with life. In both cases, my Stoic mindset helped me navigate the situations.

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 4)

Principles

“Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it easier to maintain control.” ― Epictetus

Daily Stoic offers nine core Stoic beliefs by Stephen Hanselman:

  1. If You Want a Smooth Flow of Life, Live According to Nature
  2. Happiness Isn’t Found in Things, but in Virtue Alone – It’s All About What We Value and the Choices We Make
  3. We Don’t Control External Events, We Only Control Our Thoughts, Opinions, Decisions and Duties
  4. We’ve Each Been Given All the Inner Resources We Need to Thrive
  5. We Must Eliminate Toxic Emotions – Why Hope, Fear, and Anger are Always the Worst Strategies
  6. We Are and Must Remain a Unified Self – We Can’t Complain or Blame Anyone Else (Best to Deal with Our Own Demons)
  7. No Man Is an Island: The Stoic Golden Rule
  8. Our Personal Development is Bound Up in Cooperation with Others
  9. Persist and Resist: It’s All about Progress, Not Perfection

N.S.Gill lists eight of the main ethical notions held by the Stoic philosophers.

  • Nature: Nature is rational.
  • Law of Reason: The universe is governed by the law of reason. Humans can’t actually escape its inexorable force, but they can, uniquely, follow the law deliberately.
  • Virtue: A life led according to rational nature is virtuous.
  • Wisdom: Wisdom is the root virtue. From it spring the cardinal virtues: insight, bravery, self-control, and justice.
  • Apathea: Since passion is irrational, life should be waged as a battle against it. Intense feelings should be avoided.
  • Pleasure: Pleasure is neither good nor bad. It is only acceptable if it doesn’t interfere with the quest for virtue.
  • Evil: Poverty, illness, and death are not evil.
  • Duty: Virtue should be sought, not for the sake of pleasure, but for duty.

Paul Jun writes about 9 principles, distilled from the ideas of Stoicism:

  1. Acknowledge that all emotions come from within
  2. Find someone you respect, and use them to stay honest
  3. Recognize there is life after failure
  4. Read purposefully, and apply your knowledge
  5. Challenge yourself to be brutally honest
  6. Reflect on what you spend the most time on
  7. Remind yourself: you weren’t meant to procrastinate.
  8. Put the phone away and be present
  9. Remind yourself that time is our most precious resource

Chris Loper offers a list of 10 principles and practices:

  1. Focus on what you can control
  2. Take action
  3. Be virtuous
  4. Lead by example
  5. Diminish your ego
  6. You’re not entitled to anything
  7. Exercise your will
  8. Practice resilience when faced with obstacles, failure, or tragedy
  9. Choose your response
  10. Be grateful

Modern Stoicism elaborates on the key ideas:

  • It’s not things that upset us, but our judgements about things, said Epictetus. How we think about things is key. You are only frustrated or disappointed or angry about any given situation because you have judged that something terrible has happened. But is that judgement correct?
  • Negative emotions such as fear, anger, or jealousy should be avoided because they are based on mistaken judgements, are unpleasant to experience, and can lead to bad actions. Anger is a temporary madness, Seneca said, and should be avoided at all costs, for all too often it can escalate to violence.
  • It is a mistake to think that external circumstances and objects are inherently good. The only thing that is genuinely good is having a rational mind / virtuous character; this is the only thing the Stoics say we need in order to live a good life. While everything else – money, health, status – might be preferable (we’d all choose them over their opposites), none of these things are essential and it is possible to live a good life even without them.
  • With this in mind, the Stoics argue that it is possible to live well in any and every situation, so long as one has the right frame of mind. Whatever bad luck or adversity someone might experience, these external shifts in fortune can never undermine their frame of mind, so long as they guard it well.
  • Our focus, then, ought to be on cultivating this excellent state of mind. This means paying attention to the judgements we make and avoiding negative emotions. It also means developing positive character traits such as justice, courage, moderation, and wisdom. These virtues will enable us to act as ‘good citizens’, in line with our nature as social animals.
  • The ideal Stoic will thus be clear headed and rational, but also unselfish and social, as well as ecological and global in outlook. They will value their own integrity higher than material success. They will appreciate what they have and, if they lose it, accept with good grace that nothing can be kept forever. They will behave the best they can, without getting frustrated when things don’t work out as hoped.

As one thinks about these ideas, beliefs and principles, what is striking is their simplicity and how obvious they are. At the same time, it requires immense self-discipline to make them part of our life’s daily operating system.

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 3)

Origin Story

“Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.” – Zeno

The ideas of Stoicism originated in Greece and were then built upon by Romans.

N.S.Gill: “The Stoics are one of five major philosophical schools in classical Greece and Rome: Platonist, Aristotelian, Stoic, Epicurean, and Skeptic. The philosophers who followed Aristotle (384–322 BCE) were also known as the Peripatetics, named for their habit of walking around the colonnades of the Athenian Lyceum. The Stoic philosophers, on the other hand, were named for the Athenian Stoa Poikile or “painted porch,” the roofed colonnade in Athens where the founder of the Stoic philosophy, Zeno of Citium (344–262 BC), held his classes.”

Brad Inwood’s book, “Stoicism: A Very Short Introduction” offers a timeline for the history of Stoicism. Much of what we know now comes from the works that survived – of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, Epictetus, a slave, and Seneca, a Roman author, politician and philosopher. They all built on the earlier works of the Greeks, which unfortunately, have not survived.

Ryan Holiday in “Lives of the Stoics”: “Across the first five hundred years of Stoic history, its members form an astonishing spectrum of stations in life, ranging from Marcus Aurelius, the all-powerful emperor, to Epictetus, a lowly slave who was crippled in captivity but whose writings and life were an example that inspired many, including Marcus. Some of their names you may already be familiar with, and others (Aristo, Diogenes of Babylon, Porcia, Antipater, Panaetius, Posidonius, Arius, and Musonius Rufus) likely not. But each is worth knowing about, whether they were merchants or generals, writers or athletes, parents or professors, daughters or diplomats. Each has something important to teach us. Each walked the path of virtue in a way that we must learn from.”

New World Encyclopedia offers more details: “The Stoic school was founded by Zeno of Citium (334-262 B.C.E.) in Athens, Greece, around 308 B.C.E. After studying under Crates the Cynic and several other Athenian philosophers, Zeno developed his own system of thought and began teaching in the Agora of Athens at the stoa poikile (Painted Colonnade), from which the school takes its name. Upon his death in 262 B.C.E., he was succeeded by his disciple Cleanthes (331-232 B.C.E.), and then by Chrysippus (c. 280-c. 206 B.C.E.). Chrysippus was a prolific writer, and is credited with organizing and developing the teachings of Stoicism into the form in which it continued for the next four centuries. Except for a short “Hymn to Zeus” by Cleanthes, only fragments of the written works of the early Stoics are preserved. In the first century C.E., Flavius Arrian (c. 86–160 C.E.) composed two books, Discourses and Handbook, based on the teachings of the Greek Stoic Epictetus (55 -135 C.E.). These works clearly explain the Stoic system of ethics and lay out a detailed course of exercises in self-examination and self-discipline to be followed by anyone striving to become a Stoic. The power of Stoic thought is evident in the writings of Cicero (106-43 B.C.E.) and of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 C.E.), who both applied Stoic theory to political life … The early Stoics provided a unified account of the world, consisting of formal logic, corporealistic physics and naturalistic ethics. Later Stoics focused on ethics, and progression towards living in harmony with the universe, over which one has no direct control.”

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 2)

What It Is

“A Stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” – Nassim Taleb

So, what is Stoicism?

Wikipedia: “Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. It is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to eudaimonia (happiness, or blessedness) is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or by the fear of pain, by using one’s mind to understand the world and to do one’s part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly. The Stoics are especially known for teaching that “virtue is the only good” for human beings, and those external things—such as health, wealth, and pleasure—are not good or bad in themselves (adiaphora), but have value as “material for virtue to act upon”.”

Daily Stoic: “In its rightful place, Stoicism is a tool in the pursuit of self-mastery, perseverance, and wisdom: something one uses to live a great life, rather than some esoteric field of academic inquiry … Courage. Temperance. Justice. Wisdom. They are the most essential values in Stoic philosophy … Everything we face in life is an opportunity to respond with these four traits.”

Paul Jun: “The Stoics focus on two things: How can we lead a fulfilling, happy life? How can we become better human beings? The goal of Stoicism is to attain inner peace by overcoming adversity, practicing self-control, being conscious of our impulses, realizing our ephemeral nature and the short time allotted … It’s important that we understand the obstacles that we face and not run from them; it’s vital that we learn to transmute them into fuel to feed our fire.”

Holstee: “Simply put, Stoicism was designed to help people live their best possible lives. It’s a philosophy of life that maximizes positive emotions, reduces negative emotions and helps individuals to hone their virtues of character. At any moment, in any situation, and at any stage of life, Stoicism provides a framework for living well. It reminds people of what is truly important, providing practical strategies to get more of what is valuable. Stoicism was deliberately created to be understandable, actionable and useful. Practicing Stoicism doesn’t require learning an entirely new philosophical lexicon or meditating for hours a day. Instead, it offers an immediate, useful and practical way to find tranquility and improve one’s strengths of character.”

John Sellars: “Stoicism holds that the key to a good, happy life is the cultivation of an excellent mental state, which the Stoics identified with virtue and being rational. The ideal life is one that is in harmony with Nature, of which we are all part, and an attitude of calm indifference towards external events. [There are] two foundational principles … The first is that some things are within our control and some are not, and that much of our unhappiness is caused by thinking that we can control things that, in fact, we can’t.”

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 1)

A Stoic is Discovered

Before you get going in the morning say to yourself, ‘Today I’ll meet people who are meddlers, ingrates, bullies, cheaters, envious and antisocial people. All of this happens because they don’t know the difference between what’s good and what’s bad.’” – Marcus Aureliuis

“You are a Stoic,” said a friend to me a few years ago. I replied with a puzzled look. I knew the definition of “stoic” (suffering pain or difficulty without complaining), but the “a” before Stoic meant something else. He then explained, “You have an almost Zen-like calm through ups and downs. You  control your emotions, do not let external events upset you, reflect a lot on what happens, are generally happy and content, and are always wondering how to become a better version of yourself. These are the key ideas behind Stoicism. You should look it up.”

That was the first time I had come across Stoicism. The fault was entirely mine: the focus on engineering early on in my career meant that the liberal arts were given short shrift. This is the one thing I would undo if I had a chance to live life again. Philosophy was a word I dreaded after doing a compulsory course during my undergrad in IIT. It took me almost three decades to forget those scars and take a fresh look at philosophy, economics and the related arts.

As I read about Stoicism, I realised that my friend was right. I had lived life on the principles of Stoicism without understanding that there was a name for it. Since then, I have read up more on Stoicism and have even advocated it to many others. What the Greeks and Romans came up with a couple thousand years ago has modern-day relevance. They also tie in with some of the ideas in Jainism around detachment. These ideas have helped me not just in personal life but also in business as an entrepreneur to live through more than 30 failed ventures and maintain equanimity through the 3 successes I have had in the past three decades.

When I spoke to others about Stoicism, I realised most were like me a few years ago – very few had heard about Stoicism. Hence this series – to summarise the key ideas, provide some stories from my life, and offer suggestions on leading a better life. We cannot control the events that happen, but can control our reactions to those events. The writings and wisdom of people like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca can help us lead a happier life and also create a continuously improving version of ourselves. It can mean better relationships with those around us – at home and work. And by doing so, we will have less stress and greater mental calm. Each of us may have our own way to reach that state – meditation, long walks, journaling, and so on. But what I like about Stoicism is that it provides a holistic approach rather than point solutions.

Philosophy is the study of ideas and beliefs about the meaning of life. I wish I had studied it more when I was younger. This series is a way to correct that mistake and offer advice to others who are younger and likely to find it useful. In today’s always-on world where it can be hard to find peace and tranquillity amidst a constant flurry of meetings and messages, Stoicism offers a guide to a more fulfilling life.

Economic Times Story on Netcore

Economic Times interviewed me recently, and published a story on Netcore’s future growth plans. I have reproduced it below since its behind a paywall.

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Martech company Netcore Cloud eyes $150 million ARR by 2024

The company expects 30-40% of the revenue to come from outside India in the next few years through a mix of both organic growth and acquisitions.

Chennai: Martech SaaS company, Netcore Cloud is looking to double its annual recurring revenue (ARR) to $150 million by 2024 and will look to expand in new geographies, said Rajesh Jain, founder and managing director of Netcore.

“We are at about $75 million at this point of time and we are profitable,” he said. “The growth will come from multiple dimensions. The first is international expansion. We have had great success in India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East and want to now replicate that success in the US and Europe.”

Jain said that Netcore is looking to hire in local markets to take care of some front end work in those markets as well as in India to leverage on the remote model. Netcore will also look at hiring with a focus on engineering, as it believes this is central to every company.

He said that he expects about 30-40% of the company’s revenue will come from outside India in the next few years through a mix of both organic growth and acquisitions.

“We’ve done three acquisitions in the last two and a half years or so,” he said. “I expect a lot more of this in the coming years. So that will also expand our geographical footprint. I see Netcore’s growth coming along these dimensions—more products, more geographies and much remote selling in the true tradition of a SaaS company from India and do all this with growth and profits in mind.”

The three acquisitions that Netcore has recently undertaken include Quinto, Boxx and Hansel. Jain said that over time, acquisitions will play an important role, especially in markets like the US and Europe where it will take a lot of time to build the businesses organically.

“So the goal is to look at companies where you could invest probably $50-100 million in each of these markets for acquisitions,” he explained. “So that gives us a significant footprint, it gives us very good customer access. And that can then fast track our growth. We have a very strong product suite already. And if we can possibly buy companies with complementary products, which are there in the broad martech space, or even some products, which are very similar, we could help bring down the costs by shifting some of the back office work in India.”

Netcore Cloud works in the marketing technology space and boasts over 500 employees while having a presence in 18 countries. The company works with brands including Airtel, Flipkart, ICICI Bank, Myntra and The Body Shop. Jain said that three of four enterprises and eight out of 10 unicorns in India use at least one of Netcore Cloud’s products. Further, 75% of India’s email traffic and 50% of Asia’s email traffic goes through Netcore Cloud.