A good job, or the stoic approach to the world of work
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Some of the most powerful words in philosophy come from the writings of Marcus Aurelius a true philosopher king, probably one of only a handful in history. Marcus, who is my favourite stoic, was emperor of Rome between 161 and 180 AD. Although his recorded thoughts were not originally intended for publication but instead were just personal notes to himself, they offer invaluable insight into his code of conduct and ethical standards. After his death, his writings were carefully preserved by the people that he had served because they recognised in him the presence of a truly, great man, one of the five good emperors of Rome, a man who ruled with justice and temperance whose essence they wished to preserve. His notes or ‘meditations,’ have survived the test of time and now make up an invaluable guide to stoic thought and practice.

Marcus Famously said:

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”

In this passage Marcus was asking himself to mentally prepare for his interactions with other people throughout the day he reminded himself that people can be difficult to deal with because they may lack the ability to distinguish between Good and Evil, however he also acknowledged that he himself has the ability to recognize good and evil and therefore he is in a better position to deal with difficult people. Marcus encouraged himself to view others with compassion and to recognise that they share a common human nature with him. He believed that to feel angry or to turn away from someone is unnatural because humans were meant to work together, he asked himself to focus on cooperation and to avoid obstructing others or feeling hatred towards them. Overall, Marcus Aurelius encourages us to approach others with understanding, empathy, and a sense of unity. Marcus’s desire to do good, to attend to duty in accordance with stoic discipline is evident throughout his meditations. For example, in the following quotation he says:

“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly. What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”

In this quote Marcus encourages us to reflect on our own mortality, to remember the fact that our time on this Earth is limited, by imagining oneself as already dead, one can gain perspective on what is truly important and live the rest of our life in a way that is aligned with our true values. The second part of the quote ‘what doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness,’ is a metaphorical statement that suggests that if something or someone is not positively contributing to the world, they are creating negativity by default. In other words, if we are not actively spreading positivity, we are contributing to the negative forces in the world overall. This quote encourages us, the reader to live a purposeful and meaningful life, and to focus on spreading positivity and goodness in the world rather than contributing to negativity. For stoics, the concept of good (or virtue) is closely tied to the idea of living in accordance with nature. According to stoic philosophy, everything in the universe including human beings has a natural purpose or function that it is meant to fulfil. Living in accordance with nature means living in a way that is aligned with one’s purpose or function. In Practical terms stoics believe that the key to living a good life is to focus on developing one’s own moral character and cultivating the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, self-discipline, and Justice. Stoics believe that these are necessary for living a life of meaning and purpose.

We Stoics also believe that external events or circumstances should not be the primary focus of our attention since they are largely beyond our control, instead, we believe that we should focus on developing an internal state of tranquillity and Equanimity called ‘ataraxia,’ or ‘peace of mind,’ and indifference to external circumstances. This means accepting whatever happens with a calm and rational mind and not getting caught up in strong emotions such as fear, anger, or anxiety. It’s not that we deny these emotions whenever they arise, only that we recognise them for what they are, mental events that we do not have to agree with. We can, at any time, refuse to give them our assent and by doing so retain our peace of mind. Overall, we stoics understand that a good life is one that is lived in accordance with nature cultivating our virtues and developing an internal state of tranquillity and equanimity.

Which brings us on to the next subject. A good job that benefits the community.

Like many people I have had the awful misfortune to have worked for bad employers. I grew up in the Wales of the 1980’s, the heavy industry of which was in the process of moving overseas to cheaper climes or in some cases was forced to shut and close their doors unable to compete with the rapid globalisation of the world in the Era of Thatcher and Reagan taking with it the last remaining non-government well paid jobs. These former industrial areas, now the rust belt of Great Britain have never recovered from the closure of mines, steelworks and factories, the owners of which made the rational decision to relocate to somewhere where people will work in hellish conditions for pennies on the dollar. This is the price of progress we keep on being told. The same thing was said by rich mill owners whenever a Victorian worker fell into a machine, only to lose a limb and be unable to work ever again, without welfare, or forced to beg, steal and borrow, should of course, he survive the injury in an age without anti-biotics and sanitary conditions. That’s the price of progress, but progress to what exactly?

As far as todays, metropolitan, neo-liberal globalists are concerned, the rotting, former industrial heartlands of our great nation, now full of social decay are a good thing. They genuinely do see these empty, putrid and abandoned old buildings, warehouses, and mines as monuments to progress. ‘Isn’t it wonderful,’ they say, ‘that production is now cheaper, we’ve moved elsewhere, and profits abound.’ In stark contrast the locals who depended upon for jobs and by extension their quality of living feel very let down and that’s because in the UK we had the best part of a thousand years of feudalism in which the lords were responsible for the wellbeing of the peasants, they presided over, it was their duty to provide them with income and a place in the community where they could exist for the benefit of their neighbours and be respected as a valuable member of the community. That changed when the Lords were replaced with the mercantile classes who from the point of view of the peasantry looked exactly the same. They were rich owners of capital that provided them with work, sometimes for generations. That’s why whenever a factory shuts, and those jobs are sent abroad, the locals feel betrayed because their Lords have abandoned them.

The service sector jobs that were left behind by all of this ‘progress,’ were low quality coffeeshop affairs, I spent my youth washing dishes, waiting on tables, serving drinks, doing bar work, scrubbing tables, mopping floors and so on. My mother held out some hope that I would have a career and work my way to the top, one rung of the corporate ladder at a time, but that wasn’t to be. That was a false belief, a product of the previous generation when times were better for the fair people of this ancient and noble land.

So, if you want to know what the globalists mean when they talk about progressive values, it’s this, the continual progress towards ever cheaper means of production. Progressive politicians think that they are being nice to minorities by espousing ‘progressive values,’ but they are not, they are just facilitating cheap labour for over eager globalists desperate to make a quick buck, the financial equivalent of drunkenness.


Have you ever noticed that whenever the government wants to bomb a middle eastern country into the stone age, they always say that it’s in the ‘national interest?’  That’s a phrase that I hate, because we all know who runs the country, it’s the super-rich, the globalists, the bankers, and their sock puppets that we get to vote for. Whether they have a red tie or a blue one is irrelevant because they all come from the same establishment who vet their preferred candidates and block the appointment of people they don’t like. It’s no accident that Prime Minister Liz Truss was kicked out of office by people who capitalised on a financial crisis, because the people who wanted her out of the way with, have all of their pudgy, gold encrusted fingers on all of the levers of power. They can create any crisis they want whenever they want, simply by changing an interest rate!


It’s in the midst of this injustice that we have to live, that we have to work in, and let us not forget that we work for our benefit, not the benefit of the managerial classes, the London elites or the WEF puppets elected to government. The long and the short of it, is this, if work doesn’t pay, change your work, you don’t owe them anything, they depend upon you for their production. They owe you. If the company needs to, they’ll have no problem sacking you when the time comes. If the company loses money as a result of their bad management, they’ll make you believe that it’s all your fault as they walk you through the process of redundancy. That at least is my experience of the world of work. I take this view because, everywhere I worked, especially when young, I kept on running into horrible people, the type of individuals incapable of seeing human beings whenever they looked at their workforce, all that they could see were interchangeable units of production, fleshy bags of economic activity. Minimum wage apparently, cost them the most, more so than any other business cost, whether that was rates, rents, electricity, or taxes none of which they could reasonably control, but they could control their wages bill and that was why we workers had the most scrutiny. If they could con you out a quid’s worth of overtime they would. Human lives and dignity were forever being sacrificed to the god of profit, it disgusted me then and still does in the present. We were overworked, underpaid and treated worse than machines. How do I know this? That’s because when a new machine arrived someone was sent on a training course to work it properly so that it would nor break, and the machine would have regular breaks for maintenance, that didn’t apply to us! The machine was an asset and needed to be looked after, we were a cost that was needed to be reduced or got rid of!


Very few jobs are well paid in Wales, the ones that are attract lots of applicants and like most average valley’s kids with a crap education they were as far out of reach to me as a free of charge trip to the moon. Most of my working life was spent working for companies and organisations that only paid me minimum wage because the law compelled them to do so. If they could have had me working for pennies on the dollar they would have. The object of capitalists everywhere is to get the cost of production to as close to zero as possible, staffing costs we were repeatedly told were the biggest slice of the pie for the company more so than rents, electricity, running costs, taxes, and fuel and so on. When I worked in a Little Chef restaurant, (and I can mention them because they’ve gone out of business, sunk to the bottom of the financial ocean, like the Titanic) that was part of a busy motorway service station, it was made plain by the management that our wages were burdensome and that we should be grateful to have a job, and that we could easily be replaced if we didn’t like it.


Employers had it good in the 1980’s thanks to market liberalisation and a pool of reserve workers, the 3.5 million unemployed kept on the dole in a benefits trap to keep wages low, those same employers have had it even better since Tony Blair reshaped Britain in his own image in the 1990’s, destroying the social fabric of a 1000-year-old civilisation in the process. Previous governments had sold Wales off internationally as a low wage zone before this, a policy that was adopted by the Blair/Brown government for the whole county in the 1990’s, all of which I’ve lived through, worked in and bumped along at the bottom of for my entire adult life. The point being that I’ve had enough lived experience to tell the difference between a good job and a bad one.

So, what makes a bad job?

  •  Crap Level of pay. When I worked for MFI (I can mention them because they’ve gone out of business) the sales staff were the poorest paid, the admin and warehouse staff took home more money than the people who generated the income and profits.
  • Stress – unreasonable targets. When I got a job in a furniture store, I was lied to in the interview by the area manager who told me that there weren’t any targets, ‘we just want you to sell as much furniture as you can,’ he said. Imagine my surprise when I found out on my first day that there were 9 different targets that were averaged to a 90% success rate across the whole company, the stress of which forced other salesmen to lie to their customers in order to hit them. This company unsurprisingly had a revolving door mentality to the whole hiring and firing process, and a high turnover of staff, they applied the same mentality to their customers, another one would be along soon like lambs to the slaughter! If you work in a place that requires you to compromise your morality, then you must leave, your character is your only permanent possession.
  • Anti-social hours – In this same firm we were required to work weekends, evenings and bank holidays without exception. I was told by the other salesmen that I would soon be divorced, because that’s what happens to all the men who worked there, unable to spend time with their wives and kids. The saddest man I ever met, was the ‘top book,’ of this particular company, his stats were so high that he was sent around all of the other branches to provide training. He told us one evening after work when we were all enjoying some food in the local hotel that hosted the event that he only saw his wife and daughter one day of the week! Halfway through the week’s activities we finished early and he took us into town in the minibus to an arcade where he behaved like a ten year old, gleefully hitting every machine from space invaders to penny slots desperately trying to manufacture some fun in his life, not for us, but for himself.
  • No dignity at work. This was also a place of no dignity, because dignity cost money. The management was sociopathic and encouraged this within their sales staff. The skin crawling mind games of the brothers Grim.
  • Repetitive machine-like work. I then left this job after being walked through a disciplinary process for not hitting my targets (I was unwilling to lie to my customers) and then got a job working for a training company that delivered NVQ’s, thinking that it would be a nice to do, to enrich other people with qualifications and improve their life chances. How wrong was I. We had never-ending paperwork, bean counting busy work that cost the company money without producing anything. It was needed to prove quality of outcome but was so burdensome that it was impossible to provide quality of delivery. We had an email from our chief executive, who prior to this was unknown, a complete nonentity who told everyone to cut down on sending emails because thousands of emails were being sent every day by people trying their best to get other people to do their work for them, so much so, that it was impossible to keep up with them. When push came to shove the company didn’t care, the qualifications had to be done, the quality wasn’t important as long as they could claim the funding from the government for issuing the certificates and keep the business afloat was all that really mattered. The email traffic increased in the wake of this, and the firm eventually went out of business, our own branch (by then I’d been made redundant due to being crap at my job, during a time when I was drowning in depression and paperwork), caught fire, got burned to the ground taking all of the records with it. To this day I don’t understand how a building made of concrete and glass can burn totally to the ground. How did the fire spread, how hot does it have to be to set concrete alight?
  • Bad management. They demand a good attitude from you without giving you an equal amount of good attitude in return, attitude must be reciprocal. Staff are dehumanised and considered to be fleshy units of economic production and nothing more. If you work in a place like this, get out, your good attitude will never fix theirs. Should you witness the sea gull style of management, where they flap in, squark loudly and shit everything only to flap off into the sunset leaving you to clean up their mess then get out. If you are lucky, the business will carry on working despite their efforts, if not then sooner or later you will be looking for another job anyway. All of the above and more took its toll on my self-esteem, mental health, and ability to function, I finally had a nervous breakdown in 2006 when working for a college the same type of thing happened again, not the fire, but I did run afoul of someone sociopathic who moved heaven and earth to get rid of me. Then I became self-employed and retrained into a new industry, then I was invited to become a partner some with others in overlapping and related fields, it was within this new company that I became a director but worked with people unable to change or deviate from their own bad decisions. I couldn’t affect any change, I was being dragged down with them all and in the end another sociopath pushed me out, but that’s another story for another day.
  • Constant threat of sacking or redundancy. As mentioned previously, the great evil of our time is that when the higher ups fail, they pass the blame and the consequences onto the people below them. Nobody with any authority wants to be held accountable. This attitude extends to our politics too, not just the boardroom. They all want to take credit for the successes but are unable to face the failures. This is narcissism, plain and simple.
  • No Prospect of Promotion/career advancement/training.


This was before my introduction to philosophy, this is the lived experience of an average Welsh, working class man just trying to make his way through life. I was ill, sick and depressed because I believed that I was to blame, and, in a sense, I was, because I was unable to sell my soul and compromise my morality and that made me unsuccessful. I genuinely believed that everyone else was successful and that I wasn’t. There was something wrong inside of me, something screwed up, something evil that was sabotaging my chances. It turns out that it was actually something good. In the years since I’ve discovered philosophy and I’m glad that despite the immense hardships that I experienced; I kept my character intact because it’s my only permanent possession.

If you are in a similar situation or have been and feel just as disappointed in yourself, I hope that buy now that this is enough to remind you that it’s not you, it’s them that is the problem! They operate without virtue, but that’s not you. They only know vice, but that’s not you!

So, my advice is not to chase the best paid jobs because they will be oversubscribed and hugely stressful, but just do the jobs that you can do best because once you’ve done that you already have dignity and purpose at work, don’t strive to be the best, just strive to be useful and as a result your skills and competence will increase over a period of time raising your commercial value in the process.

I’m mindful of Epictetus who on the subject of work said:

“Don’t undertake to do things that are beyond your means. If you do, you will not only embarrass yourself, but you will also miss an opportunity to do successful things that are within your means.”

The Good life handbook or Enchiridion (Dr Chuck Chakrapani)

A modest income in a stable environment is better than a high paid job that doesn’t last. Work is necessary, we have to earn our way in the world so that we are not a burden to others, but a good life is not possible without a good balance between work and leisure. If work stresses you so much so that you can’t relax when you’re away from it, then you don’t have a good job. Likewise, if you are expected to answer your emails when you are in bed or watching TV then you are not really away from work and as such living an unbalanced life. A lot of people earn vast amounts of money but are not happy with their riches, for example, Musonius Rufus said that:


“…wealth is able to buy the pleasures of eating, drinking and other sensual pursuits-yet can never afford a cheerful spirit or freedom from sorrow.”


Another good quote from him is as follows:

“What good are gilded rooms or precious stones-fitted on the floor, inlaid in the walls, carried from great distances at the greatest expense? These things are pointless and unnecessary-without them isn’t it possible to live healthy? Aren’t they the source of constant trouble? Don’t they cost vast sums of money that, through public and private charity, may have benefited many?”

And finally, on the subject of Musonius Rufus, it was said that he “…ordered a thousand sesterces to be given to a man pretending to be a philosopher, when several people told him the man was a bad and vicious fellow, deserving of nothing good, Musonius answered with a smile, ‘Well then he deserves money‘.”

A good life is from an Epicurean point of view one in which you have a good job that benefits the community, sufficient leisure to spend quality time with friends and family, as well as some alone time to reflect upon it all, to make sense of things, to philosophise. The stoics would say that a good life is one in pursuit of virtue, the cardinal values of which are the pursuit and development of wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage.

Wisdom is the foundation of all forms of philosophy. Diogenes Laërtius, a biographer of Greek philosophers, wrote that wisdom is “knowledge of what we ought to choose, what we ought to beware of, and what is indifferent.

This separation of good, bad, and indifferent is what underpins the Stoic definition of wisdom. Good actions are informed by virtue, while bad actions, like lying to avoid responsibility, taking advantage of others, or acting with greed, tend to be informed by vice.

Wisdom allows us to make informed decisions and actions to apply our learnings in a practical way, to choose the right action at the right time, to do the right thing which brings us on to:

Justice, the most important of the four virtues (according to Marcus Aurelius) requires that all are treated fairly and that you treat others as you would like to be treated if in the same circumstances, it also requires that you demand that are treated as favourably as others in the same position.

So, choose a workplace that allows you to practice and develop your virtues in a way that makes them reciprocal. Whilst health is preferable to illness and wealth is preferable to poverty, we have everything that we need within us to maintain our peace of mind should any of those states arise. We are not slaves unable to speak freely or to refuse work but should that occur, we can remain indifferent if we choose and practice our stoicism by maintaining our peace of mind, but there’s no virtue to be gained by remaining quiet in the midst of injustice, to look the other way to deal dishonestly with your customers so that others can profit whilst you sell your soul one piece at a time. In such a workplace, all that remains is vice, the opposite of virtue and the very antithesis of a good life. Which is why we say that a simple living honestly earned is better than any amount of money dishonestly earned.

“If you pursue good with labour, the labour passes away but the good remains; if you pursue evil with pleasure, the pleasure passes away and the evil remains.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

About Post Author

Comicus Muo

Comicus Muo loves dualism, Existentialism, Nihilism, Absurdism and a plethora of helpful philosophies from the ancient world such as Stoicism, not to mention a healthy dose of Cynicism. Comicus is also a reasonable theist, atheistic in his thinking but also a Mystic, spiritual rather than religious and keenly aware that it's the Judaeo-Christian heritage of the west and it's enlightenment values that allow him to be this way.
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