Ancient Self Help from “Meditations”

Art work by David Higbee

What can I say about “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius that hasn’t been said a million times already? While I might not say something new or revolutionary about it, I can share how it’s changing my life. I’ll list out what Meditations is, why you might be interested in it, and some passages with why they have stuck with me. In this article, I’ll cover what Marcus Aurelius has to say about self help from ancient times and how it still applies today.

What is Meditations?

For those of you who do not know Meditations or The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, it is the translated personal journal of Emperor Marcus Aurelius of Rome. He lived and ruled over a turbulent period of Roman History filled with wars and plagues. Aurelius was also a Stoic and he practiced the art of journaling, where he collected his thoughts, reflected on teachings, and practiced gratitude. These were his personal thoughts, his journal and he didn’t expect them to be made public. Nonetheless, his journal has been read by world leaders, generals, captains of industry, and regular citizens for over a thousand years.

Since this is his personal thoughts, you see a very honest and straightforward writing. Notes to himself to remember. Reflections on how to deal with people, especially the more surly of them. You see an actual diary of a Stoic who was the most powerful man in the Roman Empire.

Why should I care about his Meditations?

Taking out the fact that it’s one of the most read books by successful people. That it could be seen as the world’s first self-help book or that it is the insights to the last ‘Philosopher King’ of the Roman Empire. It is a foundational book for anyone looking to improve their lives with a practical philosophy for living.

Stoicism is about living a better life here and now.

Before we go any further on the topic, I want to warn you if you are new to Stoicism, that there is a lot of talk about death. Momento Mori is a phrase that Marcus Aurelius wrote which breaks down to: Remember you will die. It’s not meant to be scary or discouraging. Instead it is meant to rally you, to remind you to act because you won’t live forever. To encourage you to doing tasks that won’t improve yourself, your family, your community, and the world. It is about freeing yourself.

Ancient Self Help

Like I mentioned above, Meditations could be viewed as the first best selling self-help book published. Within Marcus Aurelius’ writings he reminds himself about dealing with others, dealing with yourself, and pushing forward. These were reminders to himself, the emperor of Rome. Even he had to remind himself to be mentally strong.

Respecting yourself

“Everyone gets one life. Yours is almost used up, and instead of treating yourself with respect, you have entrusted your own happiness to the souls of others.”

“Meditations” Marcus Aurelius 2.6 page 19

It’s easy to take the praise of others to increase your self-esteem. It’s equally easy to take someone’s complaints or insults to heart and lower your self-esteem. But, your value and self worth are yours, that is why it starts with ‘self’. Much of the teachings from the Stoic masters is around the “self”. How you view the actions of others, what you can control, and how you view the world. When you allow others to dictate your happiness, you will never find true happiness. This is very true in today’s social media, instant gratification society.

It is not always the immediate people around you that you should be concerned about influencing your happiness. Influencers on social media have too much influence into what people think they should have or want or look like. They spend hours to stage photos and videos that last a few seconds. They paint an unreal reality that too many fall for. To quote Admiral Akbar from Star Wars, “It’s a trap!”. One that you can avoid.

Feeling wronged

“Choose not to feel harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.”

“Meditations” Marcus Aurelius 4.7 page 39

Have you ever witnessed a toddler take a fall and immediately look around for their parent? The toddler is looking for an adult to help them understand how to react. Should they cry or continue playing? I learned two things early on with my kids. First, if they are not immediately crying, they’re not hurt. Second, if you rush to them with a concerned face, they will start crying. Instead, smile and tell them that everything is ok, and they will be.

The same is true for us when it comes to feeling harmed as adults. There are plenty of times when someone else’s impression of events paint our feelings. The Stoics talk a lot about how we view the world. We control how we see what is happening to us and we control how we respond. You don’t have to feel harmed by someone’s attitude, you can ignore it and continue on. Once you get into the practice of controlling how you see the world, you will feel more at peace.

Don’t talk about it, just do it

“To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.”

“Meditations” Marcus Aurelius 10.16 page 137

It is easy to put off doing something when you have tomorrow. The same is true about doing what is right for yourself, your family, and community. Don’t talk about doing or being someone, do it. Be the best person you can be. Stop to help someone at store reach or lift an item. Be the person that is kind, happy, helpful, and trustworthy. Be who you it is you were meant to me.

More to come

This book is extremely influential and there is so much more to talk about. This could easily become a 20 page book report! So I’ve decided to break this report up and make it a series. This article covered Ancient Self-Help, and in the next one, we’ll look into Working and Endurance.

This year, I’m taking a Stoic journey and seeing if and how it will help me in life. Take a look at my first post about it this year. I’ll be covering this topic more as the year progresses.

The Book Report, “Remote Not Distant”

“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” By Gustavo Razzetti

The Book Report is not sponsored. They are my honest take on a book and helpful notes and / or findings from them.

One promise that I made myself in both 2021 and 2022 was that I was going to read more. To be honest, in 2021, it really was more of a ‘hope’ than a goal, but in 2022 I did find a way to make that hope feel more like a goal. One of the books I read last year was “Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti. Today, I am going to offer you my book report on it.

I want to begin by saying, this was a good book overall and provided a lot of great examples and references to interviews and studies done with lots of cited sources. I would recommend it to anyone interested in how to develop the company and team culture. It is targeted for hybrid and remote companies. Razzetti starts his book off with the reality that many companies faced in early 2020, followed by the second shock of 2022. The first shock was how to work from the home during the pandemic and the second one was that not everyone wanted to rush back.

I took notes while reading and have selected five quotes to share. My intention is not to bypass your reading of this book, but to share why you should consider reading this book for yourself.

It’s about Communication

“Asynchronous communication requires more intentionality and effort. Your teams need to be obsessed about documentation which can slow down communication soon sometimes. However, when people are thinking deeply, writing down their ideas, and presenting them, better collaboration and work result — no meetings required.”

“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti page 34

For many of us, our work lives feel spent hoping from meeting to meeting, discussing problems and solutions, what’s coming next, and timelines. From a software perspective we can sum these up as Grooming, Planning, Retrospectives, and “Go Live” meetings. If you support multiple teams, then you might feel like attending these meetings is all you do.

I have begun to rely on asynchronous communication for follow up with my team, more than scheduled calls. It has been helpful when being on a Grooming call with members of my team to ping them and ask how complicated the testing effort really is, if they’ve thought about scenario A or problem B. In that respect, it’s very helpful to poke them so that a ticket is story pointed appropriately. The bigger fish in the statement being “obsessed about documentation”.

The dreaded “D word” in my industry. I haven’t found many people in my time testing software that enjoy writing documentation. Usually the arguments are:
The user story should be all of the documentation that you need.
The code is self explanatory.
I’ll remember how I test it in the future.

All of these sounds like great reasons to avoid writing documentation. If they were true. Customers Ops has to questions to ask a customer that doesn’t remember the step they did before the app broke. Product doesn’t always understand the full technical requirements of what needs to be done. Code written 6 months ago, might as well be ancient history to both the developer and tester. And that doesn’t even cover onboarding someone to the team. So you need documentation.

Documentation improves your team’s ability to work fast and return to parts of the application that they haven’t looked at for a while. It improves the onboarding experience for new hires and cross training of existing team members. All in all, documentation is not just a good thing, it’s a necessity!

Schedule Your Work Time

“Block time for focus work and invite other to do the same. Respect your own and other’s calendars. Avoid responding to emails or Slack messages immediately —- respect the agreements. Use and respect away messages, whether it’s a ‘busy’ status on Slack or a ‘out of office’ auto-response email. Be mindful of time zone differences.”

“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti page 281

This falls under revolutionary and common sense at the same time. I’m sure we’ve all heard some variation of, “Prepare your schedule or someone else will do it for you”, at some point in our life. And if you haven’t, you can immediately relate to it, because it’s true. When we don’t make time for our work, then someone else will make time for us to do their work.

But what does this have to do with working remotely?

A great deal actually. When we’re all in the office, it’s easy to see when someone is heads down doing deep work. They might have their headphones on, their body posture is different, you can see them. When we’re online, the visual cues are missing. And on a large enough team, the meeting schedules are different for everyone. This is where calendar blocking and status messages come into play.

Since reading this book, I’ve taken to sending a message to my team when I am going into ‘deep work’ and then set my status to “Do Not Disturb” with a status message of, “In deep work until” and add a time. This allows everyone messaging me to know that I might not respond until said time. This is another level of communication and an extremely helpful one that I encourage my team to follow. Calendar blocking is an excellent way to ensure that you have that time to go into deep work.

You will still need to be flexible and negotiate with people on timing and communications. Urgent matters still come up. So be reasonable when you go into deep focus. The plus side of scheduling is you reserve the same time regularly, people will begin to realize your schedule and respect it.

Keep it Positive

How often have you read a message or series of messages that had a ‘tone’ about them. You read them and thought, “Wow! Why are they so angry?”, or “Are they sad about something?”. Communication is one part verbal, one part sound/intonation, and one part visual. In the absence of body language or the voice of a colleague it is easy to supplement what is missing with your own feelings. This is very much an easy problem to overcome when working remotely.

Razzetti talks about the leaders at GitLabs, a remote company, they approached the problem this way.

“Employees are encouraged to assume positive intent. If people say something that might feel uncomfortable don’t make it about yourself. Understand that they want what’s best for the company.”

“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti page 46

Remembering that we’re all on the same team, regardless of role, goes a long way towards making sure everyone acts as a team. The quickest easiest way to do that is to default towards everyone having “positive intent” to make great software.

Get A Little Global in Your Perspective

If you’ve only only worked in small, close knit teams and companies, you probably had a harder time during the pandemic than others. This is especially true if you were a manager that managed your team by who was present. You expected your team culture to come down through your personality and charm. But that doesn’t work when your team can be anywhere and working at anytime.

“Leaders of Hybrid teams will have to do what regional and global leaders have always done: work hard to create connections between on-site and remote employees.”

“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti page 41

Your team is probably still spread out geographically and that’s a great thing! It does however, require you to change how you lead them. Like having regular one-on-ones, we need to encourage our teams to have coffee breaks with each other. Encourage your direct reports to schedule a 10 minute to get to know you with other members on their project team.

I have a team on-shore and an off-shore team of brilliant testers. We meet as a team once a month for an update on what’s working, what’s coming down the line, and my favorite part, question time. I send one “get to know you” question ahead of the call. We all take turns answering the question. This simple but powerful activity brings us all closer together. We learn something new about each other and sometimes find people with similar past, wishes, or goals. Activities like this build a team culture in an amazing and powerful way.

If You’re Looking for it, You’ll Miss it

Many people think that culture is top down and can be managed like a person. After all, people make up a culture, so it’s something you can clearly manage, right? Sadly, and thankfully, it is not.

“Your true company culture happens when no one is watching — it is the result of what gets rewarded or punished.”

“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti page 89

Your actions as a Leader have a huge impact on how your team will view what needs to get done and how it is done. When you encourage timeline over quality, you will likely get rushed, under tested code. If you encourage people to jump and get things done, you will reap that same reward. As much as I would like to say we can avoid timelines, we can’t. We all still work for a business with commitments and deadlines. How we communicate to and our expectations of our team make a huge difference! Your team will take your lead. If you want a respectful and productive team, that is for you to take the lead on.


I enjoyed this book and found myself recommending it to colleagues while reading it. There are very insightful moments as well and many common sense moments that get glossed over in real practice. I’ve definitely incorporated many of the lessons that I took away from the book. These were only 5 of index cards that I captured from my notes. This book is also loaded with exercises and additional downloads to help guide you and your team in search of an improved culture.

On the whole, this book was about company culture in the Remote / Hybrid workplace. At first glance you might think to yourself, “This isn’t relevant to me, I’m not a company leader”. If you are part of a team in a company, it is relevant to you. A company culture is made up of everyone in the company, working on a team, working to get something done. We spend a lot of time working, more since the pandemic started, on average, so the culture of your company and team is important. We all have a role to play in that.

This is the first in a series of posts that I am doing this year. “The Book Report” has a goal of introducing you to books that you might not have read yet covering Leadership, Management, Productivity, and Philosophy. I hope you enjoyed it!

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