Becoming a Workplace Stoic: How to Stress Less at Your Day Job

Mitch Malone
3 min readMay 9, 2024
When life gives you lemons. Lemon by Francesco Cantinelli.

I wouldn’t call myself an expert in stoicism at large, but over the last several years I have made a conscious effort to adapt some of the principles of stoicism to my life, and to an even larger degree, my work life.

No one can deny the power of the “adult in the room” who contains themselves when things go wrong and begins mapping out various courses of action. They’re also the person who usually shows that issues aren’t as first imagined.

Once upon a time while working with a former colleague, Ben from Scalable Leaders, I was often in awe of his ability to take news which I personally found stressful or frustrating and deal with it in a practical and straight-forward manner. I’d inevitably find myself frustrated or concerned on a topic, and then Ben would calmly lay out options before I walked away assuming he was some kind of workplace soothsayer.

Inevitably I’d leave the situation feeling calmed and back in control, but I’d also feel mildly frustrated at myself since I had all the logical tools to do the same, but I’d let the stress and confusion of the situation get in the way. “There is always the option to do nothing,” Ben would say. And he was usually right.

The adrenaline rush of things going wrong at work can be very real, and like it or not a small part of us enjoys the importance of solving these issues. It usually starts with some unwanted news such as a frustrated client, and before there is time to think clearly about the situation there is an emotional response.

While this can feel like a normal response in the moment, the reality is that any business where external parties like clients are involved, there are always frustrations at some point or another. One client or another will eventually be frustrated, even when everyone has great intentions for the relationship.

Dealing With Workplace Stresses Like a Stoic

The three steps I use to gain back control of bad situations in the workplace are simple to implement:

  1. Write down the worst thing that could happen based on the situation, then assign it a probability out of 10. While there might be the chance that the upset client will fire you, it’s probably not very likely. And if they did, the upside might be that it frees you up to improve your relationship with your other remaining clients.
  2. Ask yourself the question, “is there always a chance that this could happen?” Sometimes clients are unhappy, it’s probably the biggest downside of the client-provider relationship. Work with enough clients and eventually one of them will be unhappy; it’s inevitable.
  3. List out the actionable things that can be done to solve the challenge (including doing nothing if that’s an option, it usually is). Acknowledging the options of how to deal with a situation is usually one of the key elements of actioning the situation. Instead of worrying about the situation, recognize that the only thing you really can do is choose a course of action and go.

One of the things that come with experience and years in the workplace is that you generally see a lot of things go wrong. At the end of the day, businesses aren’t very valuable or worthwhile pursuing if you’re not solving some kind of problem, and it’s hard to get paid for doing work that has no challenge.

Most things that are likely to happen to in a workplace situation have happened before to thousands of others. They, like you, went on to learn from the experience and added it to the bank of things to not stress over too much next time they see it.

Better Next Time

One of the great concepts of stoicism is the recognition that negative things happen, and they happen whether you let them upset you or not. So even if there is a failure to objectify the situation in a particular instance, stoicism teaches us that even the failure to do so is a lesson in itself.

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Mitch Malone

Product and engineering leader (prev. CTO @ Linktree, Head of Eng @ BlueChilli). Nomad, remote worker, writer, photographer.