We give up too easily. In The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage, Ryan Holiday tells that with a simple change of attitude, what seem like insurmountable obstacles become once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
The discipline of perception
You will come across obstacles in life–fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. You will learn that this reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming–or possibly thriving because of–them.
Where one person sees a crisis, another can see an opportunity. Where one is blinded by success, another sees reality with ruthless objectivity. When one loses control of emotions, another can remain calm. Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness–these reactions are functions or our perceptions. You must realize: Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give in to such feelings.
The discipline of action
Born with nothing, into poverty, strife, or the chaos of decades past, certain types of people were freed from modern notions of fairness or good or bad. Because none of it applied to them. What was in front of them was all they knew–all they had. And instead of complaining, they worked with it. They made the best of it. Because they had to, because they didn’t have a choice.
No one wants to be born weak or to be victimized. No one wants to be down to their last dollar. No one wants to be stuck behind an obstacle, blocked from where they need to go. Such circumstances are not impressed by perception, but they are not indifferent–or rather immune–from action. In fact, that’s the only thing these situations will respond to.
No one is saying that you can’t take a minute to think, Dammit, this sucks. By all means, vent. Exhale. Take stoke. Just don’t take too long. Because you have to get back to work. Because each obstacle we overcome makes us stronger for the next one.
No. No excuses. No exceptions. No way around it: It’s on you.
We don’t have the luxury of running away. Of hiding. Because we have something very specific we’re trying to do. We have an obstacle we have to lean into and transform.
No one is coming to save you. And if we’d like to go where we claim we want to go–to accomplish what we claim are our goals–there is only one way. And that’s to meet our problems with the right action.
Are you ready to get to work?
The discipline of the will
Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens–at that exposing moment–the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you’re sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or bullshit?
As such, the will is the critical third discipline. We can think, act, and finally adjust to a world that is inherently unpredictable. The will is what prepares us for this, protects us against it, and allows us to thrive and be happy in spite of it. It is also the most difficult of all disciplines. It’s what allows us to stand undisturbed while others wilt and give in to disorder. Confident, calm, ready to work regardless of the conditions. Willing and able to continue, even during the unthinkable, even when our worst nightmares have come true.
It’s much easier to control our perceptions and emotions than it is to give up our desire to control other people and events. It’s easier to persist in our efforts and actions than to endure the uncomfortable or the painful. It’s easier to think and act than it is to practice wisdom.
These lessons come harder but are, in the end, the most critical to wresting advantage from adversity. In every situation, we can:
- Always prepare ourselves for more difficult times.
- Always accept what we’re unable to change.
- Always manage our expectations.
- Always persevere.
- Always learn to love our fate and what happens to us.
- Always protect our inner self, retreat into ourselves.
- Always submit to a greater, larger cause.
- Always remind ourselves of our own mortality.
And, of course, prepare to start the cycle once more.