How to Act at Work

As I come to the final post in our series on classical career advice the topic turns to not how we think, or what we say, but what we do.
Prudent Action

We have now reached the point where Epictetus has some advice for how we should act in our jobs and careers. His points here echo throughout history as advice given to all those who strive to do something great, and yet, the actual substance of his words is plainly simple. First, he explains how we should begin.

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”
Really? This is his profound advice?  Sounds like a Nike commercial, you say. 

Well, you’re right. The gist of this advice is to “just do it.” But just because we have heard it before doesn’t mean it is not valid. And let’s be honest with ourselves. Do we really, consciously, decide what we want in our careers and then actually make a plan to achieve it. Do we take daily steps in that direction, no matter how small, but always forward in a clear direction? Or do more of us tend to drift, letting those around us dictate the direction of our professional lives.

If we unpack this simple advice we see many more eternal truths, not just about career development, but about life in general. Think for yourself. Take responsibility for your own actions. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Decide, and then do.

However, even the best laid plans...well, you know, sometimes things just go wrong. Epictetus has some fatherly advice for us here as well.

“Difficulties are things that show what men are.”
"The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it.”
You need fire and a heavy hammer to sharpen steel. A man’s character requires just as powerful a tool. Your fire and hammer are provided by the obstacles that you meet along the way. Rather than bemoan the fact that your boss has given you twice the work load, or cut your territory, or your co-worker has stolen credit for your latest project, pick yourself up and keep moving forward. Decide on a course of action that will rectify the situation and then act.

The tougher the problem, the more refinement your character can receive. You have all you need already inside you, but only if you truly apply all of the advice Epictetus has to offer. Prudent attitude. Prudent words. Prudent actions.