A stoicism inspired process for dealing with setbacks

Written by Stefan on 8/15/2021

Background

When something happens that at first sight seems like a major setback we have two main options:

1. Feel bad about it and sorry for what happened to us
2. Accept the challenge and figure out what we can do and learn from it

I'd argue that for the sake of making progress we should aim for (2.) and I want to share with you what process I tend to use to get there and want to give you a recent example that happened at our company.

Process

1. Detach

Try to see events as what they are, without emotion and judgment, if you manage to do this properly, you can take the sting out of almost anything that's thrown your way.

2. Apply the dichotomy of control

Look at the event that just happened and distinguish between:
1. What's in my control about this event?
2. What's not in my control about this event?

This is paramount to accept the things that are out of your control as facts and find an angle of attack for the things that are in your control.

Instead of dwelling on things that we can't change (the past), we need to look at what we can change (in the here and now) to impact our way going forward.

3. Act on what's in your control

After breaking down what part of the event is in your control, come up with atomic, actionable steps to improve going forward.

This will make you feel more in control of what's happening and will help limit your negative thoughts around the event as you regain control over the situation and end up with a clear plan of how to proceed.

4. Learn for the future

After some time, reflect on what else you can do to dampen the impact of a similar event in the future

Example

Recently one of the founders of our company decided to quit, he was one of the two people that got together in the beginning before we approached our third founder and holds a unique skillset (Growth & Product).

Those skills are complementary to the other 2 founders (Development, Product) and we've also recently developed a product in a niche where his expertise was important to build up an audience.

Let's put the "process" into action by looking at it in more detail.

Event

Friend/Founder with unique skillset within the company is leaving because they feel too stressed with our company as a side hustle and want to have a better work/life balance.

1. Detach

A couple of first impressions:

  • This sucks, I thought we were friends and would lead this company for the foreseeable future together
  • It sucks to "waste time" and have to replace the expertise
  • We have to throw away the projects that we have to build around the expertise now, how could he not think of this?
  • How could he not be aware of the "stress" when this is something that is obvious if you do something on the side?

Now all of these are reasonable to think/feel as a first impression but only parts of them are helpful, a lot of it is actually harmful, driven by negative emotions and judgments of what happened.

I gave each of those points some thought and separated emotion from what was actually happening and what was important and that is simply:

He is leaving and we have to find a replacement


2. Apply the dichotomy of control

Not in my control

He is leaving because he is stressed and his quality of life has decreased

In my control

How can I react so that we can still be friends?
What can we do to replace the expertise?

3. Act on what's in your control

How can I react so that we can still be friends?

Don't give in to any of the first impressions, rather have empathy that this step has become necessary for him to regain some sense of happiness in his life and know that this was not an easy decision

What can we do to replace him?

We can revisit if we care enough about the projects that we set up with him as the domain expert to continue by ourselves or find another partner that can fill the void
We can look at his expertise (Growth & Product) and decide if we have the necessary skills, want to learn them, or can hire people to supply us with them.


4. Learn for the future

After a little bit we came up with a couple of things that we can do to make this less painful for us in the case of something similar happening again.

What?

Some of the things he was doing were not yet in operations manuals so they're a bit of a black box for us

Action item

Get the operations manuals in order and try better to keep them up to date

What?

This decision didn't come from one day to the other, so we should have made sure to talk about how we're feeling in regards to the work more often.

I expected him to speak up but that didn't happen and I should have known better not to expect anything, so this is clearly something to improve.

Action item

Have regular explicit check-ins about how people are feeling with the progress, where the company is at, and how it blends into their life. We've added an item to the Agenda of our weekly call for this.

There's more but these are probably the most important ones from my side πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ

You?

First off, thanks for getting through this, it was a long one 😁

How do you handle negative events? Let me know in the comments below.

Conclusion / Shameless plugs πŸ€”

This post is by no means meant to blame someone for making a decision, I wish my friend all the best and we're in fact still Friends to this day, rather I want to give you a process that can be used to turn a seemingly negative situation into an opportunity for growth.

The process is somewhat loosely based on Stoic principles and we strive to use those as a way of handling things within our company.

For a lot of people, Stoicism can a bit hard to internalize so we're to trying to make it more approachable and we've put together a site with Stoic quotes that you can check out to get inspired by the ancient Stoics.

If you're not yet familiar with Stoicism check out the Questions section we have some info for you there.

If you're already familiar with stoicism we'd love for you to submit your favorite stoicism related quote.

We're also working on content like this article that breaks down stoic principles for specific use cases, so stay tuned πŸ˜›

As always I appreciate any feedback that you might have and I will try not to judge you 😳😏

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