By GrowthX Academy student Jonathan Jardim
The amber California sun shone brightly through the windshield as I pulled into the Emergency Room parking lot. I was working in a Critical Care Ambulance and had been dispatched to take an active stroke patient from the ER of a small hospital to a larger medical center with specialized surgeons. The ER doctor gave the patient report to the Critical Care Nurse that I worked with and then we wheeled the patient away. My nurse looked at me and with a serious tone told me that if I drove too fast and hit a bump, the clot might progress further into the brain, which could kill the patient. However, if I drove too slowly then we would not make it in time for the patient’s surgery and he would most likely die. As I started to drive I felt stress creeping up on me. I slowly breathed in and out and cleared my racing mind so that I could be fully present in my body and faculties. There was no room for doubt or fear; this was a time for calm intentional action.
As we arrived and entered the basement parking lot of the medical center, three doctors wearing x-ray protectors from head-to-toe greeted us. I knew we were cutting it close because surgeons rarely, if ever, made a trip down to the ambulance bay. As we unloaded the patient one doctor looked me in the eyes and informed me that we had five minutes to get the patient to surgery. We hurried into the medical center toward the elevators; they had prematurely taken one out of service so that we would not waste time.
We reached the surgery floor and entered a room just a few feet away. My partner and I moved the patient off the stretcher and onto the surgery table. The surgeon swiftly began surgery. “Two minutes!” a nurse shouted. The surgeon needed to complete a certain procedure before time was up for them to be able to save the patient’s life. “One minute!” the nurse yelled as the doctor stayed focused on the surgery. Before time was up, the doctor called out to the room, “I did it!” The room erupted in celebration and clapping. One of the head surgeons grabbed my partner and me and thanked us for getting the patient there in time and in stable condition. A life was saved.
Six months prior to this I am not certain I would have been able to keep my cool. Working in a stressful world full of human suffering led me to search for knowledge and wisdom. Of the myriad ideas that my experiences led me to entertain, one particular philosophy that spoke to me was Stoicism. The influence of Stoic ideas can be found in famous writings throughout history, including the work of contemporary thought leaders. It is truly timeless wisdom that touches on the internal human world. It introduced me to the disciplines of perception, action, and will and imparted practical guidance on how I could develop an intentional relationship with my mind.
A powerful concept of Stoicism for me was cultivating self-awareness by analyzing my thoughts then consciously forming the habit of focusing them on what I could control.
What Can You Really Control?
Although there were a multitude of things out of my control in life, I had the power to focus on what I could control, such as my thoughts and actions.
I began to realize how much time and energy I spent thinking about, analyzing, hypothesizing, and judging things that I could simply not control.
I could not control other people or most external things in an emergency situation, however, through focusing my thoughts on my actions, I could control my response.
As I practiced this disciplined way of thinking, I started to realize how powerful this philosophy was. The more calm I could be in any situation, especially an emergency, the clearer my mind would be and the more effective I could be in intentionally deciding how to respond. This way I could do a better job at balancing the act of giving the best care possible without feeling rushed and still getting the patient quickly to the ER.
A Different Perspective on Rejection
Although I discovered the ideas from Stoicism while working in an ambulance, I continue to practice this philosophy both in my career and personal life. For example, the word rejection has such a terrible connotation in our society. So much so that many of us fear putting our ideas out there in order to protect ourselves from the uncomfortable feeling that we associate with rejection. We judge this uncomfortable feeling as being “bad” and blame other people for making us feel that way.
I decided to take a step back and to think about this rationally and objectively from a Stoic point of view. Is the uncomfortable feeling we get when we face rejection truly “bad”? When I analyzed it for myself, I discovered that the times when I faced rejection, and I felt uncomfortable, I usually grew afterward. Thus this was just another duality of life; experiencing this uncomfortable feeling allowed me to grow and expand my comfort zone. Once I had this insight, it did not make sense to judge rejection negatively and to dwell on it any more than was necessary to learn from the experience.
In order to help change my perspective, I broke down my thought patterns. I could not control whether my idea would be rejected or the reaction of the person that rejected it. Therefore it was unproductive to focus my thoughts on those areas.
Instead of judging other people’s reactions as “good” or “bad,” I decided to see them for what they were, feedback. I could learn from this feedback and implement it in my future thoughts and actions so that I could grow.
Intentionally thinking about life from a Stoic viewpoint has empowered me to have a more rational and productive relationship with myself and reality. Although it is easy to intellectually understand these concepts, it is difficult to live them. This takes a lot of discipline and practice and is an ongoing effort for me. It may be challenging, but so are most things in life that are worth it.
Ultimately, the value that I get from Stoicism is that it has given me a framework for how to grow power from within.
Thank you for reading. This article only scratched the surface of Stoicism. If you are interested in learning more I’d recommend starting with Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I read this book at least once a year. Tim Ferriss also has a great Stoicism blog post for entrepreneurs and Ryan Holiday has written some great contemporary books on it as well.
I’d love to hear about your experiences, has philosophy impacted your life?