There’s no way to tell exactly what ancient Stoics would say about anything, let alone artificial intelligence, but what we can do is take timeless quotes from the Stoics and apply them to what’s happening today.
Also, check out the visual book summary version of this article:
AI Work Anxiety & Knowledge Workers
For many knowledge workers (marketers, lawyers, etc.), the rise of AI is causing existential work anxiety.
With intelligent machines taking over tasks and even making decisions, it’s natural to worry about your job getting automated away. This pervasive career angst can leave you feeling powerless.
What’s a modern professional to do?
In times like these, I find wisdom and solace in the ancient Stoic philosophers. The Stoics have relevant insights on handling work anxiety in an era of uncertainty. As we grapple with disruption from thinking machines, here are a few Stoic approaches to coping:
Focus on what you can control
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” – Epictetus
With AI transforming entire industries seemingly overnight, it’s tempting to obsess over external factors like automation, economic forces, emerging tech, etc. But Stoics advise directing your precious time and energy solely into what is within your power.
Rather than worrying about machines taking your job, focus on self-improvement. Sharpen your skills, expand your network, take on new projects, get certified in the latest tools – work on what you can control.
For examples of brands leveraging AI in their marketing, see my article “How Big Brands are Leveraging AI in Their Marketing Strategies.”
See change as natural
“It is not things that upset us but our opinions about things.” – Epictetus
The Stoics saw constant change as simply part of nature. They would likely characterize the disruption from AI as inevitable societal and technological change, not a catastrophe.
Work has been repeatedly transformed by technology since the Industrial Revolution, yet new kinds of meaningful work also emerge. Adopt a mindset of flexibility to adapt to the workplace’s shifting dynamics.
Reflect on your values
“The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth you have given away.” – Marcus Aurelius
In our career-centric culture, it’s easy to overemphasize professional status and lose sight of what really matters. The Stoics recommend reflection on your true values and priorities beyond work. What gives your life meaning and purpose?
Stoics found meaning in cultivating virtues like wisdom, justice, courage and pursuing noble purposes greater than oneself. Discovering work aligned with your values provides fulfillment no algorithm can replace.
Don’t struggle against the inevitable
“Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil life.” – Epictetus
Stoics believed we all have a personal destiny. Struggling against forces beyond your control, like technological change, only breeds anxiety and turmoil. Wishing to bend reality to your will is futile.
Instead, they advised making the best of circumstances. Practicing acceptance – amor fati, loving your fate – and focusing on finding the good. Happiness comes from within, not external conditions.
“Keep yourself simple, good, pure, serious, free from affectation, a friend of justice, a worshiper of the gods, kind, affectionate, strenuous in all proper acts.” – Marcus Aurelius
Stoics prescribed practicing mindfulness and self-discipline to manage destructive emotions like anxiety. When you notice rising panic about AI, pause and just observe those thoughts non-judgmentally.
Don’t let abstract worries and catastrophic thinking overwhelm reason. Practice focusing on the present moment. Anxiety about hypothetical futures wastes energy better directed on meaningful action here and now.
The Stoics teach transcending anxiety by training our mindset. While we can’t prevent technological disruption, we have agency over our response. With wisdom and practice, professionals can overcome AI work anxiety.
What other lessons from Stoicism help you cope with change?