Is it up to you

The seventh chapter in my The Obstacle is the Way project is titled “Is it up to you?” and opens with this quote from Epictetus:

In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: external I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.

That is, basically, the entire chapter in a summary. The chapter talks a lot about Tommy John, a pitcher (I find it hard to relate to athletes) who played professional baseball longer than anyone.

The only bit that personally found inspiring was the part where he gets cut from the team and then asks his coaches if he would get a fair chance as a walk on at spring training the next year. They tell him they’d give him a look, and he trains up and (no surprise) makes the team.

Another bit of wisdom that I liked in the story was this:

He understood that as a professional athlete his job was to parse the difference between the unlikely and the impossible. Seeing that miniscule distinction was what made him who he was.

I hope that, someday, they’ll say “Toby was able to parse the difference between the unlikely and the impossible.”

The chapter talks a bit about the serenity prayer and how it’s easier to battle only alcohol than it is to battle alcohol and the fact that your childhood was miserable. I think there’s some truth in that.

Further, after a list of things that are outside of our control, Ryan Holiday includes a list of things that are in our control and I find it rather inspiring:

  • Our emotions
  • Our judgements
  • Our creativity
  • Our attitude
  • Our perspective
  • Our desires
  • Our decisions
  • Our determination

I like thinking that, in the mind of Ryan Holiday, at least, those things are under my control. It makes me think that I have a lot more tools in my toolbox.

Combine that with the overall lesson of the chapter: that there are far fewer situations that call for the use of those tools and it seems almost freeing to think that I have more tools than I thought I did, and need to fix fewer things that I had planned.

Even taking into account the additional time that will be required to wield “my desires” or “my attitude” as a tool, I should be freed up to do so much more of the stuff it takes to be me.

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