“Whatever anyone does or says, for my part I’m bound to the good. In the same way an emerald or gold or purple might always proclaim: ‘whatever anyone does or says, I must be what I am and show my true colors.'”MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 7.15
As we arrive in the month of July, we see that the focus for this month is “Duty” in The Daily Stoic book. And sure enough, the entry for this 1st day of July is very blunt and to-the-point: do what you’re supposed to do.
Every person and every thing has a function to perform, a raison d’être, a reason for being.
We each have a role to play in this big cosmic drama we call life, and it’s our job to perform that role as best we can. Even bad people have a role to play, and that’s to add the necessary counter-balance of evil to the world.
Your role however is to be good and wise. That’s clear because you’re reading this book and trying to improve yourself. “Good” in this context means that you’re striving to do what you know to be right for you, and based on your understanding of the world.
So do your job, and play your role — and nobody else’s! Be good to the best of your ability (see definition above).
This goes back to a tenet that’s at the heart of stoicism: concerning yourself only about things which you can control. You can control how well you perform your role. You cannot control how well other people perform theirs, and to worry about that is folly and only adds unnecessary stress and angst to your life. It pushes you away from being happy and content, so don’t do it! Play just your role, and let the rest go.
Playing Other People’s Roles = Too Many Cooks
Imagine a big Broadway drama production, where the director had no control over the cast, and there were massive egos running rampant (well, maybe that’s all of Broadway, but pretend it isn’t for a second). And imagine that on opening night, everyone tried to play whatever role they decided to. And if an actor was struggling, another cast member would come over and try to take over that role and play it for them.
It would be a disaster, wouldn’t it? The play would be unwatchable, and it would fall apart in chaos.
That’s why it works a lot better when people stick to their roles and perform those as best they can, and don’t concern themselves about how others are doing, or even what they’re doing.
At my job, there’s a big, massive, can’t-fail project that I’m part of, and it involves every function in our business and has at least fifty people involved. It’s a freaking mess, to be honest. Why? Because there’s a perception that leadership isn’t strong on the project, and as a result everyone is trying to step up and be the leader. There are wayyyyy too many cooks in the kitchen.
Everyone is trying to do everyone else’s job on this project. Their efforts comes from well-intentioned desires, to help unstick the project and help it move along, but it adds to the chaos rather than helping.
Just a couple of days ago, a co-worker who I’ve known for years and get along really well with suddenly informed me that he was going to start doing parts of my role on the project! I don’t think he realized that he was barging in on my role, and of course I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed his intentions were simply to help. But did it help? Not really. Because he didn’t fully understand my role, and he wasn’t sticking to his.
Things just work better when everyone just does their job, and performs the very important role that life has laid out for them. Let the rest go!