April 23, 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. To mark the occasion, we’ll be seeing a sensational collection of cultural and creative events in London and beyond, all set to celebrate his enduring legacy. But Shakespeare isn’t just about inspiring us at school, at the theatre or in the cinema, he can inspire us in our working lives too.
OK so business acumen probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you consider the tomes of Shakespeare, but there is no doubt – the Bard was bold, took risks and built a viable career around his passion, living and breathing a creative life that still inspires entrepreneurs today. Moreover, Shakespeare’s timeless wisdom cuts across sectors and remains relevant to the past, to the now, and to the future of work. So how is he inspiring us, and what lessons can we learn from the larger than life 400 year old characters we know and love?
- Roll like Will, and feel the fear
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt” (Measure For Measure).
Shakespeare was one of the first to inspire us to feel the fear and do it anyway. Why shouldn’t we, with so much to gain and often so little to lose?
If we can muster the strength to take on challenges and commit to hard work then our ambition and potential for growth is limitless. In the words of Hamlet “…we know what we are but know not what we may be.”
2. The importance of loving your work
“To business that we love we rise betimes, and go to’t with delight” (Anthony and Cleopatra)
Of course Shakespeare understood the importance of our emotional connection to work and ambition. Finding enjoyment in our daily work is key to both our personal and professional growth. It also helps us give our best to a culture that consumes ever-increasing amounts of our time.
After all, ‘Pleasure and action make the hours seem short’ (Othello), and “he that makes it to the pub early on a Friday shall look favourably on the Jagermeister shots” (Sorry) *wriggles with mirth*.
3. Chill, take it easy.
“Go wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast” (Romeo and Juliet)
Isn’t this one particularly resonant in the context of our 24/7 digital culture?
Whilst there are numerous positives about a modern workplace shaped by globalisation, digitisation, and non-stop ‘plugged-in’ connectedness, there are also negatives. Constant activity with no downtime can damage our health, erode our sense of community as well as our personal and political expression. All of this can kill our creativity and damage the fabric of our everyday life. This is serious stuff.
Faster isn’t always better, and taking time to focus on one thing at a time can improve productivity – and keep your blood pressure stable while you do it.
4. Stop and smell the roses
“How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” (Othello)
The ability to step outside the prism of our own experience and truly listen and respond to others with patience and emotional intelligence is a valuable trait both in work and life.
The only way to grow is to learn new things from others and practise them with humility. Whilst the understanding that the more we learn the less we know can, at times, feel overwhelming, it more importantly opens us up to the exciting and inexhaustible world of possibility that exists beyond ourselves.
5. Be quick to laugh
Laughter. It combats stress, forges relationships, breaks down barriers and encourages harmony. If we can (individually and collectively) recognise and laugh at our own folly, lovingly accepting “what fools these mortals be” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) – we can survive anything, can’t we?
“Frame your mind to mirth and merriment, which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life” (The Taming of the Shrew).
Let’s face it, even in the darkest moments there are moments of comedy, something you know only too well if you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s tragedies or comedies. So since life is simultaneously tragic and comic, why not look towards the light rather than the dark?
6. Be accountable for your actions
“Wise men ne’er sit and wail their loss, but cheerily seek how to redress their harms” (King Henry VI, Part III)
In order to compete, grow and enjoy success we must learn resilience. A crucial aspect of this is the ability to learn from our mistakes, but first we have to acknowledge and take responsibility for them. It is excuses and blame, and not the mistakes themselves, that are weak.
7. Be true to yourself
What is Shakespeare all about? It’s about our human struggle to be wise, to transcend (but not judge) pettiness and limitation in order to attain the kind of insight that makes for ultimate human happiness. This is why, despite being undeniably difficult to read, Shakespeare’s work appears to be impervious to the passing of time.
Like every great sage, mystic, spiritual leader or modern day insightful dude, Shakespeare speaks more from the heart than the head, resonating across divides and classifications, time and space. And one final great piece of advice to stir into your coffee? “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” (Hamlet).
Happy Deathday Will, you’re the man.