February 2023 Vol 5 Issue 2
Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):
Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling
Let me tell your story!
Welcome Mid-February, 2023!
Although winter hit us early and hard toward the end of 2022, more recent weeks (apart from a cold interval in January) have been unseasonably mild—and lately sunny, too!
However, in the middle of February (often thought in Saskatchewan to be winter’s “cruellest” month), the cold has returned and more of it is promised next week.
Friends who suffer from migraine headaches, people with sinus challenges and those with weakened immune systems, can be overheard lamenting recent weather fluctuations. But now into year three of the global pandemic, good readers, aren’t we all happier that 2023’s cold spells don’t seem to last? Saskatchewan winters demand such resilience from us.
The principals or directors of “ei advantage (Emotional Intelligence Advantage),” Winnipeg-based Hayley Hesseln and Janice Gair, published a blog posting recently on how stoicism can foster that same resilience in all of us–especially in these costly, challenging, Covid times. So in “Article One” this month, I review some of the arguments of their posting, “10 Stoic Quotes to Build Resilience.”
What’s in store in Article Two, “Word Nerd’s Corner,” you may ask? For a change of pace this month, I present some compelling book dedications— intriguing or inspiring statements that I’ve encountered when reading business books, entrepreneurial guides, fiction and more.
May the next month be kind to you, good readers, as we are closing the long loop of winter!
IN THIS ISSUE:
ARTICLE 1: Does stoicism build resilience?
STORYTELLERS’ CORNER: Book dedications from assorted authors
Article One: Does stoicism build resilience?
Hayley Hesseln and Janice Gair offer progressive programming for leaders and entrepreneurs through their “ei advantage” company. In one of their recent blog postings, they offer “10 stoic quotes that build resilience.” Why? Because as part of our unending global pandemic, soaring inflation affects every sector of life, the bottom drops out of the stock market and even routine aspects of life now sometimes feel that “they’re too much to handle.”
When “such vicissitudes have always been part of the human experience,” Hesseln and Gair are among many business thinkers who give credence to stoic philosophers whose writings (as early as 300 BCE) still have value and “ring true to this day.” Ryan Holiday’s book (whose title encapsulates his value for stoicism), The Obstacle is the Way (2014), has sold like hotcakes.
Hesseln and Gair write that stoicism has been practiced by “kings, artists, thinkers, presidents and entrepreneurs” from the likes of Adam Smith, Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Washington, and many more. Its perspectives, from writers like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus, are designed “to increase resilience, manage adversity” and (writes Aurelius), to “stand ready and firm to meet sudden and unexpected onsets.”
“Emotional Intelligence,” Hesseln and Gair write, can arise from the four central virtues of Stoicism: (1) Courage—reframing the world of difficult situations as opportunities to learn and better ourselves; (2) Temperance—doing nothing to excess when being brave can lead to recklessness; (3) Justice—doing the right thing because it is more important than anything else; and (4) Wisdom—recognizing that there is always more to learn, so we should strive to deepen our understanding of the world around us.
Among the 10 quotations of ancient Stoics that are cited in the blog posting, more than one argues Seneca’s point that “we are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” In other words, most of what we worry about is in our heads, or that things do not disturb people but only the judgments we make of those things. So we get anxious running imaginary arguments, mapping out situations in our minds that never occur and worrying about risks that never lead to disasters.
These thought patterns are what contemporary psychologists and psychoanalysts call anxiety. The key to resilience, then (say the stoics), is to “pay attention to your thoughts and the things you worry about” and ask this: “are these real problems or just my imagination?”
Some other quotations advocate against hoping that events will turn out as you want them, but welcoming whatever happens, as the “path to peace” (Epictetus). It can be hard to welcome pain, loss and violence and make peace out of them, I might counter.
The posting concludes with Seneca’s teaching that “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness”–i.e. that “we [can be] remembered for how we treat others in our lives.”
Hesseln and Gair show that Stoicism does underpin some of contemporary thought and familiar expressions, such as “learn to roll with the punches” and “be the change you want to see in the world.” It’s good to know that such thinking dates to times as long ago as 300 BCE—we should not reinvent the wheel!
But while I admire the leadership training and coaching of Hesseln and Gair, and I while I admire some of Holiday’s writing (that I reviewed in an earlier blog posting), what concerns me most about such ideas is that they assume that we can all “hurry-harder” (to borrow a curling term) in trying times, and that adopting an attitude of “tough-love” for oneself is healthy, tenable, and sustainable.
To push through the obstacles we meet in life (as Holiday’s title suggests), we would have to curtail our emotional lives, bracketing off our feelings indefinitely and apparently without repercussions. This assumption is patently false. Who among us hasn’t experienced a breakthrough in our work only after we have grieved heavily over stressful obstacles, disappointments and lost time and energy that undermined our goals?
To deny our emotional lives is guaranteed to lead to thinkers’ and writers’ block (i.e. more obstacles) which reflects depression, not progress. Yes, contemporary life requires us to grapple with life’s obstacles first-hand. But if we are to force ourselves through them, blind to the pain and emotion involved, that would
American psychologist Kristin Neff has argued over the past 20 years that we need compassion for ourselves, not self-denial, if we are to find satisfaction in life. She cites the Buddhist belief that “suffering = pain x resistance”–that when we resist emotional pain, we only compound our suffering. But the “highlights” of stoicism by their very nature resist pain and fail to connect how it pertains to suffering. When we experience at least some of the pain of our lives (instead of denying it), we stop resisting it, and, with the support of a therapist, good friends or family, that process can (albeit counterintuitively) actively reduce our suffering.
In my 2017 book of interviews, Keep Going: Five Creatives Build Resilience, I cite the Concise Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “resilience” as the ability “to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.” More intensive definitions come from psychoanalysis, which a whole volume of blog postings could only begin to address. (But do consult Diane Coutu’s masterful article on the topic in the “Harvard Business Review”).
But if we are to recover and so find resilience from these “stressful and overwhelming times” (Hesseln and Gair), I still contend that we won’t be able to do it with stoic thinking or “self-mastery”– an inconvenient truth. The annual mental health expenditures of most Western nations (including ours) provide ample evidence that many sufferers are not achieving resilience, despite the popularity of Holiday’s and others’ tracts on stoicism.
We also need leaders who recognize the importance of health care and, in particular, mental and senior health care, so that our communities have resources to turn to, in especially these “stressful and overwhelming times.” Not coincidentally, evidence shows that quite the opposite is happening. In this week’s news, our second (and last) gastroenterologist has announced that she’s departing Saskatchewan, leaving more than 1000 local patients without specialist care. And at the same time, support is growing among seniors for physician-assisted dying, as at least some of the time, a tragic alternative to the very broken senior health care system in SK.
On these matters, stoicism could (and may already) underpin political quietism. For that reason, either the stoics’ ancient or contemporary formulations should be vigorously analyzed before they’re adopted as truisms for life.
And now it’s your turn: Do you find writings of stoicism (whether ancient or recently adopted) to help you find resilience within? Please write in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.
STORYTELLER’S CORNER: Words, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on Writing and Editing . . .
This Month: Memorable Book Dedication Pages
Do you ever wonder about the “dedications” of the books you read? I often find them intriguing. Here’s a recent sample:
- “To Amazon Addict” (Dr. Jud Brewer, Unwinding Anxiety: Train Your Brain to Heal Your Mind ). Psychiatrist Jud Brewer dedicates his latest book to the anonymous reviewer of his first book. The reader protested in his/her Amazon review (ie. s/he is the “Amazon Addict”) that Brewer provided no insights on how to heal. And I agree! (His comprehensive online program of the same name now addresses that.)
- “To Evan, who always trusts his cape. And to Caroline, who does things that scare her.” (Ann Handley: Everyone Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content ).
- “For all the children left behind when fathers and mothers go off to war.” (Laurel Corona: Penelope’s Daughter ).
- “To my wife Maggie, who always believed. She just always believed” (Pete Savage, co-author of The Wealthy Freelancer ).
- “To all the well-fed writers around the globe—past, present and future” (Peter Bowerman, The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less ).
- “To Dad, for driving an old tan Chevette while putting us through college. To Mom, for making us breakfast every day for eighteen years. Each.” (Chip and Dan Heath: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck ).
Do you have a book dedication or a story, riddle or joke on any aspect of communications? Please share it with me; I’d be delighted to use it in an upcoming issue.
Special thanks every month to Parish Nurse, Laura Van Loon, for so generously assisting me as I continue to provide elder care. As I’ve observed in past months, the cuts to senior care in Saskatchewan for more than 20 years have left the burden of care to living family members, who often lack the time, funds, space and health to bridge the gap.
Laura has witnessed much mishandling and mismanagement and still advocates for fair and better senior health care. The words “thank you” do not really suffice, but I offer them again here to her (she is also a faithful reader of this newsletter)!
And in other spaces and places . . . .
A hearty thanks this month (and maybe a Reuben sandwich?) to Brent Kreuger, IT specialist, VP of Global Infobrokers and founder of Praxis International Institute (the province’s first entrepreneurial high school, based in Craik, SK). Why?
Brent continues patiently to handle the tech side of meetings and classes for a local charity’s “Women’s Employment Readiness” program, for whom he also facilitates on diverse and numerous topics, including digital competency and software skills. He teaches on expansive terms how to think and live well, to our newcomers and to budding entrepreneurs.
The same local charity recently contracted me to facilitate on business communications these same newcomer women, who are already fluent in English. (And thanks for the referral go to Monica Kreuger, CEO of the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship).
Thank you also to Employment Specialist, Nuru Nyoni, and Women and Family support coordinator, Hannah Enti-Brown, for discussing the contract with me, last month.
And as a part of this work, I’ve been delighted to start learning about the experience of African-Canadians in Saskatchewan by tuning into activities for “Black History Month.”
Discussing themes of “Black resistance, resilience and resolution” and leading to a discussion on black women entrepreneurs in Saskatchewan, our local African Canadian network (in SK) asserts many ways that our province’s history is black history. I look forward to discussing further some aspects of that history, as I meet course participants.
Entrepreneur of the month: I have meant to add for months (if not years) how much I appreciate Massachusetts-based Michael Katz’s postings on LinkedIn, where he grapples with some of the most vexed aspects of freelance creative life.
For instance, how do entrepreneurs sustain prospecting, when they have been self-employed for over a decade (and suffer burn out)?
How do we adapt to AI, without losing our writing practice, or our minds (e.g. ChatGPT, air tag surveillance, etc.) !?
And how can we value fellow newsletter-ists and bloggers, despite their differences (or because of them)?
Michael’s humourous approach belies his shrewd and well-read mind. As “Chief Penguin” of Blue Penguin Development, he inspires his followers: a few sentences from him can warm even the coldest winter morning! (And, btw, Michael tells me he once dated a woman from Saskatoon whom he met as an undergraduate student at McGill University in the 80s! Small world. . . .)
Thank you, Michael, for caring and not just doing!
There are always new businesses and ideas to promote and discuss. Please write me to share your stories . . . . . .But this is a wrap for mid-February.
Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.
Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now help newcomers to Canada to secure better jobs by improving their language skills; I help small- and medium-sized businesses to close more sales by communicating more effectively; and I help major companies tell their legacy stories.
Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant website (www.elizabethshih.com).
After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!
Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca).
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