Steady Nerves

In my continuing series on the individual chapters in “The Obstacle is the Way,” this is the third chapter, “Steady Nerves.”


The third chapter in The Obstacle is the Way is a short one, but it starts with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, and who doesn’t love him?

What such a man needs is not courage but nerve control, cool headedness. This he can get only by practice.

The chapter is about the discipline of keeping your wits about you when it seems as though you should panic. It starts with some pretty impressive stories of General Grant keeping his cool even as things are exploding (or falling) around him.

Initially, I was a bit put-off by this chapter, because I’m going to get under cover if I’m fired upon, and certainly don’t intend to practice being unmoved by exploding artillery.

However, these are the two paragraphs that made it all much more approachable for me:

When we aim high, pressure and stress obligingly come along for the ride. Stuff is going to happen that catches us off guard, threatens or scares us. Surprises (unpleasant ones, mostly) are almot guaranteed. The risk of being overwhelmed is always there.

In these situations, talent is not the most sought-after characteristic. Grace and posie are, because these two attributes precede the opportunity to deploy any other skill.

I like that because I can see developing grace and poise as wise things to do, whether I’m strategizing how to be more effective or simply wondering how to grow as a human. And, there’s a wisdom in saying that, in addition to certain hard skills, you’ll need to be in control of yourself in order to develop them.

Like both the other chapters, it doesn’t take long for me to see where I can apply this lesson in my life:

  • Reading all the parenting books in the world won’t help  if I don’t have the self-control to apply what I’m learning in the heat of an exchange
  • Accepting that the worksheet app requires more administrative tools than actual worksheet-creating tools means I can buckle down to actually writing those tools
  • Learning to recognize when a ten-minute meditation would help me move my day forward is a good first step towards actually doing it

So, I guess I have something to think about in the coming week.

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