This is the second in my continuing series of reflections on the chapters in The Obstacle is the Way. Fun follow-up on post one: the day after that, I buckled down and took on the goals I bullet-listed in that post and felt much more productive for it. Let’s hope the reflections continue to help.
Choose not to be harmed–and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed–and you haven’t been.
That quote from Marcus Aurelius opens the chapter and basically sums it up: we can choose what things mean to us, and how we react to them.
The chapter includes several ‘inspiring’ stories of adversity, people either unjustly imprisoned or, in the case of Laura Ingalls Wilder, in Kansas… And the point that Ryan Holiday makes is that they all chose what the experience meant to them, and how they were going to react to it.
This is one of the lines I liked a lot, because it made the person in question (Rubin “Hurricane” Carter) seem more… well, more like a person I could emulate:
Was he angry about what happened? Of course. He was furious. But understanding that anger was not constructive, he refused to rage.
I like it for the differentiation between ‘anger’ and ‘rage,’ and because of the acknowledgement that it’s okay to be angry, but not okay to lose control of yourself. Until I read that, I saw Rubin Carter as some titan who was able to be unjustly imprisoned and be unaffected by it. That line suggests that he was affected, but he chose the effect. And that is what it’s about.
That idea is summarized by a few lines towards the end of the (very short) chapter:
…As for us, we face things that are not nearly as intimidating, and then we promptly decide we’re screwed.
This is how obstacles become obstacles.
In other words, through our perception of events, we are complicit in the creation–as well as the destruction–of every one of our obstacles.
The point: you get to choose if you’re getting screwed, or if your education took an unexpected turn.
In my life…
I’m not going to lie, I was eager to return to this exercise because reflecting on the first chapter seemed so helpful to me. It seemed immediately applicable to my life.
This chapter didn’t seem that way, at first.
I’m not facing some insurmountable obstacle in my coding or teaching. There’s work to do, and I need to buckle down and do it, but I feel like I’m on track to getting it done the way I want to. (You know what that means.)
However, I realized that I often choose to feel the victim in my private life. There’s another family event in my in-law’s family, we’re ‘required’ to go. My wife has chosen to repaint various rooms and I’m ‘harangued’ into helping her.
(No joke, I can get pretty self-pitying about these breaches of my own sovereignty.)
But, I don’t refuse to attend the family event, I don’t refuse to help my wife, I just feel sorry for myself, expend a lot of negative psychic energy, and reduce the quality of the day I’m having.
And I can do better.
After all, that’s my power.