A Stoic Friday The Thirteenth (It’s Just A Number)

Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Friday the 13th movies are scary. Buildings often omit to name the 13th floor and instead skip straight to 14 from 12. The end of the Mayan calendar’s 13th Baktun was feared to be the end of the world (in 2012… spoiler alert: it wasn’t).

13 can also be lucky. In Italy, it’s synonymous with hitting the jackpot. Colgate University was founded by 13 men with $13 dollars, 13 prayers, and 13 articles. They love 13. A baker’s dozen is 13 of something instead of just 12. That’s a bonus freebie – who doesn’t love that?

Epictetus said, “it’s not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters.” This is the problem with calling 13 lucky or unlucky. The number itself is just a number. Mitch Hedberg points out, “people on the 14th floor, you know what floor you’re really on.” If we can fake something by name that a child could count, a name is just the label we picked.

Friday the 13th is a reminder of how we, and our clients, are all susceptible to our feelings about events. Epictetus, the rest of the Stoics (and even Hedberg) were onto something: we can’t change the events – isn’t the future OR the past, but we can change how we feel about it. Helping people to cope, characterize, create anew – anything that includes the act of redefining events in our mind’s eye – is as important as it is valuable. All of us providing professional services work in this framing and reframing business.

Take a positive spin on a historically unlucky day – give people the option to see things in a different light. 13 is just a number, how we label it matters.

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