There are many wonderful books out there on career empowerment – many of which have been recently published.
Oddly enough, for me, the most impactful career advice that I ever received came from a 2nd century AD Greek stoic philosopher named Epictetus, in a short instructional manual called The Enchiridion.
This small book – which is less than 7000 words in total – has been widely cited by distinguished individuals both past and present, including Adam Smith, Former President Bill Clinton, and Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale, one of the most decorated officers in the history of the U.S. Navy, as a source of strength, inspiration, and decision making influence.
So how can this little gem positively impact your career – starting today? This article will answer that question by quoting directly from the book:
There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs. (Enchiridion, I)
Understanding what we can and can’t control in our life are critical aspects to maintaining a healthy emotional state, a positive outlook on life, and having the ability to “self-validate” in the course of our careers.
Having properly embraced what we can control (which essentially is our minds, and our actions) we can then set out each day to take full advantage of this concept – we can do everything that is in our power each day to achieve our goals, and we can emotionally detach from the things that we have no control over. When we do this on a consistent basis we drive positive results, we show inner leadership, we attract people into our lives (because we are rarely found complaining) and we continually improve. All these things allow us to succeed.
Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things. (Enchiridion, V)
In most cases, what causes emotional upset is the “story” that we have about how certain events, or people (both of which are beyond our control) could negatively impact us. However, we can just as easily change our inner story. We can change the answer to the question of “what does this mean” to one that is empowering for us. When we lose our job, miss out on that promotion, or fail to get our initial business idea off the ground – we can see it as an opportunity for personal improvement and reinvention. Our interpretation is within our control – and so are the next actions that we take.
You can be unconquerable if you enter into no combat in which it is not in your own power to conquer. (Enchiridion, XIX)
We can always achieve our goals if we set goals that are totally within our power. This way we are controlling the “rules of the game”. This is similar to what Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic, describes in his book How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big, as embracing “systems” rather than goals. Setting goals that involve a factor outside of our control is a dangerous game. If we want to be empowered, mentally and emotionally, we should view our goals from the process of “inputs” – that is – what can we do, each day, that is within our control. Then we execute these, and continually measure and improve.
In every affair consider what precedes and what follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit, indeed, careless of the consequences, and when these are developed you will shamefully desist. (Enchiridion, XXIX)
For every job or position that we accept, business idea we put into motion, educational program we enroll in, or any other goal that we set, we should first take the time to determine what will be the “real cost” of what is to follow. Only after we properly understand the “real cost”, and then accept that real cost, can we know that we have the ability to follow through. Following through is what will get results, but in order to do so, we must understand the costs of what we hope to achieve.
Begin by prescribing to yourself some character and demeanour, such as you may preserve both alone and in company. (Enchiridion, XXXIII)
I interpret this concept as the “creation of my own personal operating system” – a set of guiding principles that I will live by, each day, independent of the circumstances around me. When you do this you embody personal leadership. You attract positive people into your life. Opportunities open up for you. You become empowered and you empower others through your example.