Did you know that nearly half of Americans consider themselves to be "workaholics?" In our collection of Stoic quotes on hard work, you'll find that our favorite ancient philosophers might not have thought this was a good thing.
While the Stoics wholeheartedly support working hard in one's life, they are also skeptical of putting all of one's energy towards business alone.
Your life's work isn't just the hours you spend clocked in Monday through Friday. Becoming the best person you can be, in the eyes of the Stoics, includes working on yourself every day and being focused on your purposes as a human being.
Whether you're a chronic procrastinator or a self-described workaholic, you'll likely find some wisdom in the Stoic perspective on hard work.
If you avoid hard work in your life, you'll miss out on making progress in your personal growth.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius
If you're facing an obstacle in life or work, don't let it get you down. Use it as fuel and hurl yourself over that fence.
“Difficulties strengthen the mind as labor does the body.” – Seneca
Physical hard work is good for your physical body. Mental struggles will make you mentally stronger. If you avoid hard things, you won't be able to reach your full potential.
“The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths.” – Epictetus
It's easy to get bummed out by all of the unfortunate circumstances that have befallen you. Ultimately, though, this is how you learn about yourself and grow.
"Strength and growth only come through continuous effort and struggle." — Napoleon Hill
To the professional lazy-bones, this might not sound like good news. However, once you get going there is nothing more rewarding than hard work.
Hard work might sound unpleasant, but the benefits of putting your all into something meaningful are far greater than those you can get from lazing about.
“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.” – Seneca
When you take an easy path, you might get where you're going, but you didn't learn a whole lot along the way. Don't mistake this as a dictum that you should suffer for the sake of suffering, but it's worth understanding that tough times create strong men.
“If you accomplish something good with hard work, the labor passes quickly, but the good endures; if you do something shameful in pursuit of pleasure, the pleasure passes quickly, but the shame endures.” – Musonius Rufus
Ain't it the truth? We are so quick to seek easy pleasure but they really don't last that long and can leave us feeling pretty bummed out. Hard work is hard, of course, but the benefit you reap from it sticks around.
“Others have been in poor health from overindulgence and high living, before exile has provided strength, forcing them to live a more vigorous life.” – Musonius Rufus
Having been exiled several times, Musonius Rufus has quite a bit to say on the topic. Interestingly, he saw that many wealthy men became more vibrant beings once it was required that they do some difficult work in exile.
“Thus it appears that exile helps, rather than hinders body and spirit, by treating them better than they treat themselves.” – Musonius Rufus
Continuing from the previous quote, Rufus notes that men don't always give themselves what they really need when they have complete freedom. The struggle of exile, in his view, was actually quite healthy.
“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.” – Seneca
As you might imagine, the Stoics are very concerned with your mindset when it comes to hard work. The content of what you're dealing with is less important, in Seneca's eyes than the way you deal with it.
“Pleasure consumes us. Work strengthens us. Let us choose.” – Charles Baudelaire
It's easy to dream of retiring-- a time when we can lay on the beach and drink tropical cocktails all day. In reality, though, it is meaningful work that makes us stronger and better people.
"Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." – Theodore Roosevelt
Isn't this a beautiful way to look at life? The goal shouldn't be avoiding work, but putting everything into work that is worth doing.
"Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
You might win the lottery, but you probably won't. Success in life comes from the marriage of ambition and hard work.
“The sum of wisdom is that time is never lost that is devoted to work.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you feel like work is a waste of time, maybe you should change the work that you're doing rather than try to find ways to avoid work altogether.
As you might imagine, the attitude you bring to your work day is very important in the eyes of the Stoics.
“The first step: Don’t be anxious…The second step: Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being…Then do it, without hesitation.” — Marcus Aurelius
It can be hard to focus in this day and age. Our old friend Marcus Aurelius is here with a simple recipe to follow in terms of how to approach your workday and life in general.
“Concentrate every minute like a Roman-like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you.” — Marcus Aurelius
Worth hanging on your cubicle wall, isn't it?
“Stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. But make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time—even when hard at work.” — Marcus Aurelius
We live in a society where your attention is constantly being vied for. Find what is meaningful to you and put your attention there.
“Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.” – Seneca
If you're having a hard time facing something you have to do, try and bring yourself back to the present. When you only focus on the past and the future, it is difficult to fully focus and get the most out of work and life.
"This is the real secret of life— to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it's play." — Alan Watts
Alan Watts echoes the ideas of Seneca with a little whimsy attached. Work on being in the present moment and change your attitude for the better-- you'd be amazed at how miraculous the results can be.
Overcoming procrastination and laziness can feel like an impossible mountain to climb. Let's confer with the Stoics about how to deal with this proclivity.
“This is the mark of perfection of character – to spend each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, laziness, or any pretending.” – Marcus Aurelius
One of the main goals of Stoic philosophy is to help people lead a virtuous life. In the eyes of the ancient Stoics, living a virtuous life is the only path to a happy life. Marcus Aurelius is here to remind us to stay genuine, stop being lazy, calm down, and grasp the momentous opportunity in each day.
“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” – Seneca
According to Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D, about 20% of American adults are "chronic procrastinators." If you suffer from constant procrastination, this Seneca quote is something you might want to hang somewhere that you'll see it frequently throughout the day. When you stop putting things off, your life can radically change for the better.
“Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them. At some point you have to recognize what the world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.” – Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius also has a thing or two to say about procrastination. He argues that you should, instead of putting things off, tap into both your potential and the reality that your time on earth is finite in order to overcome this issue.
“In your actions, don't procrastinate. In your conversations, don't confuse. In your thoughts, don't wander. In your soul, don't be passive or aggressive. In your life, don't be all about business.” – Marcus Aurelius
Note that there is a difference between "hard work" and "business." Hard work can refer to the hard work of improving yourself and becoming a good person. Focusing solely on business is how you become a lopsided, incomplete person.
“Whatever can happen at any time can happen today.” – Seneca
Have you been wanting to start a business but are waiting for the right time? How about today?
“Let us prepare our minds as if we'd come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life's books each day... The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” – Seneca
The Stoics love to remind us that we're going to die, and they have a good reason for doing so. When you treat each day like your last, you won't be putting things off until tomorrow. At the same time, you won't waste your time doing things that don't matter to you.
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’
— But it’s nicer in here…
So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
— But we have to sleep sometime …
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that — as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.” – Marcus Aurelius
This hefty Marcus Aurelius quote on hard work is a wonderful internal dialogue that can help you find the motivation to get up and get going in the morning. You are here on earth for a reason. It's possible to wake up with joy and exuberance at the task of doing the work you were brought into the world to do.
“Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you. While you’re alive and able—be good.” — Marcus Aurelius
Lots of people put off fully living to some future date. The years go by faster than you expect, though, and death can arrive at any moment. If you're putting off your dreams and goals, consider what it would mean to make them a reality in the present.
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested… So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.” — Seneca
We're all guilty of complaining that there "just isn't enough time." In reality, though, all we have is time, until we don't anymore. If you can learn how to use your time better and not let hours slip away to the dim glow of neverending Netflix, you'd be amazed how much you can get done.
“How long will you wait before you demand the best of yourself? … If you remain careless and lazy, making excuse after excuse, fixing one day after another when you will finally take yourself in hand, your lack of progress will go unnoticed, and in the end you will have lived and died unenlightened. Finally decide that you are an adult who is going to devote the rest of your life to making progress.” — Epictetus
BAM. Is it just me or is Epictetus hitting us right where it hurts? If you keep putting off being your best self, you'll never get where you're trying to go.
"I don't pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being." — Theodore Roosevelt
The point of life isn't to make so much money that you don't have to do anything. Even though that sounds really nice, it typically destroys people.
"Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task." — William James
Have you ever put something off for a really long time, only to eventually do the task? Were you ashamed about how easy it actually was, and how much energy you had burned worrying about it needlessly? Yeah, me too.
Hard work can help you improve yourself immensely. That being said, work isn't just your day job.
“You will hear many people saying: ‘When I am fifty I shall retire into leisure; when I am sixty I shall give up public duties.’ And what guarantee do you have of a longer life? Who will allow your course to proceed as you arrange it? Aren’t you ashamed to keep for yourself just the remnants of your life, and to devote to wisdom only that time which cannot be spent on any business? How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end!” – Seneca
The point was made earlier by Marcus Aurelius but it's worth making again. The type of work we're talking about isn't just about making money or running a business. While the hard work of your life can definitely involve business matters, it's important to not let them overshadow everything else.
Picking a career path can feel overwhelming and ultimately arbitrary. Here, the Stoics (and other friends) offer their advice on what type of work to do.
“Our motto, as you know, is live according to nature.” – Seneca the Younger
The Stoics believed that a good life is one that is lived in accordance with nature. If you're picking a career path or starting a business, this is a useful quote to chew on. It doesn't mean you have to be a farmer, but you might want to consider whether what you are doing is meaningful, good, and in rhythm with the laws of the natural world.
“The best livelihood (particularly for the strong) is earning a living from the soil, whether you own your land or not. Many can support their families by farming land owned by the state or private landowners. Some even get rich through hard work with their own hands. The earth repays those who cultivate her, both justly and well, multiplying what she received – endowing in abundance all the necessities of life to anyone willing to work-and all this without violating your dignity or self-respect!” – Musonius Rufus
Musonius Rufus loves the idea of being a philosopher farmer, and, frankly, who doesn't? While this isn't necessarily career advice that translates well to the modern era, it's worth mulling over the quality of life he is describing and considering how you might attain something similar for yourself.
“Generally speaking, if you devote yourself to the life of philosophy, whilst tilling the land at the same time, I couldn’t compare it to any other way of life, nor would I prefer any other livelihood. It is living more in accord with nature-drawing your sustenance directly from the earth-the nurse and mother of us all-rather than from another source.” – Musonius Rufus
Again, Musonius Rufus paints a beautiful picture of being an agrarian Roman. Can you speak so highly of your chosen career path? If not, should you change your path or the mindset you bring to your work?
“The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.” – Marcus Aurelius
What you do is what really matters. Are you following a career path because it's what others expect of you, or what you think they expect of you? Are you doing something that isn't meaningful to you for the social affirmation? If so, you might not feel so psyched about how you used your time when you're looking back on your life years from now.
“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” – Epictetus
Who do you want to be? Epictetus offers no-nonsense advice here: figure that out, and then do what it takes.
"The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it." — William James
Meaningful work is going to mean different things to different people. It's a good idea, though, to find work that you feel has a positive, enduring impact.
"Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of." — Benjamin Franklin
If you love life, don't waste what life is: time. If you don't love life, you have some soul-searching to do. (Maybe a good place to start would be these Stoic quotes on anxiety and worry.)
Wealth is often what we think of when we think of the benefits of work. However, it's not all it's cracked up to be.
“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.” – Musonius Rufus
If you are working just for wealth, you are robbing yourself of some of the greatest joys of life.
“No man is crushed by misfortune unless he has first been deceived by prosperity.” – Seneca
It's easy to dream of striking it rich, and maybe you will. However, the further you get from the ground in terms of dreaming of lottery-like winnings, the farther you have to fall.
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” – Henry David Thoreau
If you are successful in your money-making endeavors, will you buy expensive houses, cars, and trips? Or will you buy yourself the freedom to not worry about things you don't have to worry about?
Life and work are both full of distractions. If you can improve your focus, you'll find you have a lot more time than you thought you did.
“Stick to what’s in front of you — idea, action, utterance.” — Marcus Aurelius
If you have a hard time focusing, this is a great little quote that packs a big punch for your bulletin board.
“Stop letting yourself be distracted. That is not allowed. Instead, as if you were dying right now…Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.” — Marcus Aurelius
What if you didn't allow yourself to be distracted? You'd probably find you have a lot more free time at the end of the day and a lot less stress overall.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days." — Zig Ziglar
How come some people seem to be so prolific while others struggle to get anything done? Industrious people have a purpose they are working towards.
"What you stay focused on will grow." — Roy T. Bennett
Many things in life require a little effort every day. If you have a goal, stay focused on it rather than getting distracted or bouncing from idea to idea. Before you know it, you'll have gotten to where you were trying to go.
It can be easy to just start doing something when you don't know what to do. However, the idea of giving each task the right amount of attention and time comes up quite a bit in Stoic though.
“It is essential for you to remember that the attention you give to any action should be in due proportion to its worth, for then you won’t tire and give up, if you aren’t busying yourself with lesser things beyond what should be allowed.” — Marcus Aurelius
Working hard for the sake of it isn't much better than not working at all. The goal is to put precisely the right amount of time and attention to each task, no more and no less.
"Nothing worth having comes easy." — Theodore Roosevelt
That get-rich-quick scheme your buddy at work was telling you about? It's probably too good to be true.
"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." — William James
If you can learn to put your attention on the things that matter and not on things that don't, your productivity will skyrocket.
Finally, let's look at what the Stoics and some Stoic-minded thinkers have to say about success.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca
When you hear about a business that "made it overnight," there's probably at least a decade of hard work preceding it.
“Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.” – Epictetus
If you want to be successful, you will need to put in the hard work of improving yourself.
"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail." — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Success isn't about avoiding failure. It's about learning from it and persevering.
"It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome." — William James
Do you want to be successful? The Stoics (and William James) would argue that your mindset is absolutely essential.
"Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out." — Benjamin Franklin
It's easy to be afraid of failure. However, having this fear can keep us from truly thriving in life. You have to keep trying even when you get knocked down over and over again.
"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it." — Thomas Jefferson
The more energy you put towards the work you find meaningful, the more luck you might just find you have. Chances are, you will be rewarded for your hard work in ways that you can't even imagine now.
There is a lot of material to explore when it comes to the Stoic perspective on hard work. From avoiding laziness and procrastination to ensuring that you're putting the right amount of energy into each task, there is tons of wisdom to be gleaned from our favorite ancient philosophers. The ultimate goal, though, is for the hard work that you're doing to be work that you feel is meaningful and in accordance with nature.
Are you searching for more Stoic quotes to help you become the best person you can be? If so, check out our ever-growing library at StoicQuotes.com.