Think of a time when someone really pushed your buttons—when some jerk was rude, broke in line or did something totally inappropriate. What was your reaction? Did you treat it as an opportunity?
Going back to the times of Ancient Greece, we find a group of people who did think these moments were opportunities. They were the Stoics. To a Stoic, a time of adversity is an opportunity to practice virtue. To the Stoics, virtue is similar to excellence. And as a good citizen, you practice being virtuous. I lifted a list of these as described by John Stobeaus from UC Davis’ website. They are below.
- Prudence: (concerns appropriate acts) knowledge of what one is to do and not to do and what is neither
- Temperance: (concerning human impulses) knowledge of what is to be chosen and avoided and what is neither
- Justice: (concerning distributions) knowledge of the distribution of proper value to each person
- Courage: (concerning standing firm) knowledge of what is terrible and what is not terrible and what is neither.
So what does this have to do with creativity? It’s about seeing opportunity where no one else does. To most of us, we see problems as problems—things to be avoided. But in a pursuit of excellence and practicing virtue, a Stoic engages with problems as a means of practicing virtue.
Let’s take temperance for example. Say, a stranger comes up and says you’re an idiot for blocking the sidewalk while waiting to cross the street. Then, instead of firing back an insulting a jab of your own, you decide to temper your response and counter with a witty comeback humorous in its approach to engage that person in a moment of reflection. You might not change that person’s mind, but you practiced changing people’s attention to a topic of your choice.
That kind of skill might come in handy during a pitch. Often times in pitches, committee members make off the cuff or rude comments. And you should be ready for those situations. Real pitches are not the time to practice skillful retorts, those are the times to capitalize on them. Having practiced temperance in the past can help you skillfully seize on the opportunity to turn an insult into insight.
Next time you run into adversity, practice a virtue.