Even Keel, Steady Heart

“Receive without pride, let go without attachment.”


In today’s entry in The Daily Stoic book, author Ryan Holiday implores us to “receive honors and slights in exactly the same way.” He uses the story of Cato the Roman senator, who was granted a large military command which was a high honor, and then had it removed shortly thereafter, in what should have been a big humiliation. However, Cato responded to both occasions with an even keel, and basically had very little response at all in both situations.

The idea here is to keep a level head and not to let the honors or the slights of any particular day sway you too much. These events aren’t really about you personally anyway. Promotions or demotions don’t generally reflect anything about your character — but your reactions and subsequent actions in response to these events do. That’s how you show your character and what you’re made of.

To be honest, luck plays a bigger role than we’d like to admit. Whether we receive a commendation or a scolding on any particular day certainly does have something to do with how we’ve conducted ourselves to that point, but that’s barely half of the story. Happenstance and chance is probably the bigger factor.

So don’t let it go to your head, either way! Keep a steady heart, regardless of what happens. You have a duty to stay focused on, and your own personal up/down feelings have to take a backseat.

Be careful of promotions

A few years back, I was working at a big multinational firm with a great environment and great pay. Some of my superiors noticed the excellent work I was putting in, and they advocated for my promotion to a more senior role. And then I got promoted again. And again. I was now in a senior role!

Did luck have anything to do with it? Of course it did. I was lucky enough to have senior leaders who recognized my potential and liked me enough personally to go to bat on my behalf. I was fortunate enough to work at a company that had that upward mobility potential and a strong focus on career development. Luck wasn’t the only factor, but it certainly played a part.

I kept an even keel, for the most part. But eventually I think I let it go to my head. After my meteoric rise stalled, I became convinced that I deserved more, that I needed to keep ‘climbing the ladder’ and being in positions of even more authority. So I left the company which had done so much for me, and that great environment, and took a promotion at a different company.

It was a disaster. I didn’t have the support I needed (and which I had at the previous company) to continue my personal growth. The culture and environment of this new company was all wrong, and I didn’t have the respect of my peers which had been so helpful.

In retrospect, it’s clear that I didn’t maintain the even keel through my previous honors, and I didn’t keep a steady heart, and that led to me making some poor decisions that I regret. A cautionary tale!

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