It’s easy to compare the emotional turbulence of running a business with riding a roller coaster. The standard business lifecycle comes with tense uphill climbs, exciting turns, and sometimes heart-stopping descents. When you’re that invested in your work, you can’t help but feel the intensity of those moments.
And those moments will come. Every business, successful or not, goes through them.
One of the biggest tests for founders and business leaders then becomes how you react in those situations.
Whether your business hits an incredible peak or has to navigate a deep valley, can you maintain perspective? Can you embrace both the good and the bad and find ways to use them to propel you forward? Can you look at both extremes objectively?
That perspective is a big part of what we can learn from stoicism.
It’s not that we should try to ignore changes or pretend we’re immune to them. We can still celebrate wins and acknowledge losses.
The test is whether those experiences take such a mental hold of us that we get derailed.
Stoicism centers around the idea that we have control over how we react to situations. And that maintaining a sense of balance throughout good and bad events can keep us from going off a cliff.
That balance keeps us focused on doing great work.
The thing with business is that most of the work happens behind closed doors. You may see moments of celebration at a milestone but you rarely see the night-sweats of the downs and the grit-sweats on the way up.
And if you get any glimpse into the way leadership handled their journey it’s usually a hindsight interview or carefully crafted blog post. It’s a summary of events once they’ve happened.
But recently, there have been a couple examples of capturing a stoic mentality in action on video.
To see it, we have to look beyond the world of business into a place where cameras are rolling all the time — sports.
Two New Legendary Sports Stoics
Actually, because these two are so stoic in nature it’s possible you don’t know their names at all. People that don’t express wild emotions don’t tend to get as much attention.
But despite not being household personalities, their achievements got plenty of press.
Kawhi Leonard was the MVP of the NBA finals for the first-time world champion Toronto Raptors.
And Alex Honnold completed the first ever free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite. This means he climbed the 3000 foot rock face alone without any ropes or safety equipment. The film about his achievement, Free Solo, won this year’s Oscar for best documentary,
Two very different sports with very different physical demands. But each accomplishment legendary in its own way.
And what connects them is that the two individuals driving the feats share a common outlook on how they approach work.
Kawhi summed it up best right after he accepted the trophy for Finals MVP:
He said this moments after leading Toronto to its first ever NBA championship with tens of millions of people watching and the entire country of Canada’s hopes riding on his shoulders.
For any NBA player, that could stand as the pinnacle of their career.
Kawhi took it in stride.
And it wasn’t a smooth ride to get there.
Last year, he played for the San Antonio Spurs and was limited to only 9 games due to a hip injury. He had played his entire career in San Antonio and won a championship there as well. But during the injury he had a falling out with the team and it prompted him to push for a trade.
Going to Toronto meant starting over with new teammates, new coaches, a new city, and even a new country.
On the road to the finals, there were other massive highs. The biggest came in Game 7 of the conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. Kawhi hit a shot at the buzzer to win the series.
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At the time that was the biggest moment in the history of the team. People went nuts.
But from the incredible low of his injury and trade to the peak of that shot, he maintained the same stoic outlook. He stuck with what he could control. He showed up every day, worked hard, and kept his focus on the prize of a championship.
It paid off big.
Alex Honnold’s journey also had huge challenges along the way.
[Warning: mild spoiler below]
The film Free Solo documented Alex’s life leading up to the final climb. In that span, he endures multiple injuries as well as a failed attempt on El Capitan that delays his final accomplishment by almost a year.
There’s no question that Alex gets frustrated along the way, but he never dwells on the situations long. Instead he acknowledges them and figures out how to operate even when he’s limited.
In one moment, rather than letting an ankle sprain delay his training, he decided he could still do some climbing. He just did it with a giant, protective boot.
In the end, his ability to maintain focus and push through helped him accomplish something that seemed unthinkable to even the most elite climbers in the world.
It’s not that he was immune to challenges, it’s that he didn’t allow them to dictate the course of his work and goals.
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We Can Learn From These Extreme Cases
Kawhi Leonard and Alex Honnold are unique in many ways. In addition to being world-class athletes, they both seem to be wired with a naturally stoic disposition.
In Alex’s case, for the film they even had doctors take an MRI of his brain to see how he was different on a biological level.
It turned out, his amygdala — the part of the brain that helps process emotional responses like fear and anxiety — truly operates in a different way. It means he doesn’t get stimulated in the same way as an average person. It takes a lot more to get him riled up.
I’m not sure if Kawhi has had his amygdala checked, but I would bet there are some similarities.
Most of us aren’t wired this way so we have to take a more active role in how we manage our responses.
The good news is that regardless of any differences with our biological makeup, we can all benefit from stoic philosophies.
Running a business may not involve shooting a ball over 7-foot giants or clinging to a sheer rock face with your fingertips, but the emotional intensity can feel just as intense.
It comes down to how we react to the circumstances we’re faced with in our work.
Can we keep perspective when things get high or low. Can we embrace the good and the bad and use them to our advantage. Can we take a step back and look at a situation rationally and objectively.
Most of us aren’t super athletes, but we can achieve massive things by embracing that mentality.
Get Help Staying Objective
When your business faces big opportunities and challenges, it’s important to have a clear strategy to keep you on course. A documented strategy provides a system of checks and balances and a level of objectivity when emotions are running high.
Our Brand Guidebook process provides the clarity to keep you and your team working toward your larger goals no matter what comes your way.