Get Moving

Continuing the ‘Action’ section in The Obstacle is the Way, this chapter is a call to action, and to a lot of it. It starts with a quote from my favorite President, Theodore Roosevelt:

We must all either wear out or rust out, every one of us. My choice is to wear out.

And continues with an anecdote of Aemilia Earhart receiving an offer to be the ‘token woman’ on a flight across the Atlantic. Though she wouldn’t be able to actually fly the plane and would be treated as ‘less than’ the men who did the flying, she swallowed her pride and accepted the offer.

The lesson is simple: she knew what she wanted to do, and making any kind of start at all was more important than her pride. We need to do more than swallow our pride: we need to say that, once we’ve identified the action to take, it’s time to get moving, even if it’s only an attempt or a symbolic gesture. Doing something is always preferable to doing nothing.

(I don’t know if I need to say this, but Ryan Holiday makes it clear in the text that “waiting for the perfect opportunity” is the same as doing nothing.)

Moving on to the story of the WWII German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the next lesson is that, once you’re doing something, anything at all, it’s time to do more.

Here, I don’t know how I feel about this. Sure, if you have Elon Musk’s overarching life mission, you need to be doing all you can to achieve it. But, if you’re balancing several projects with a family and a full-time job (I’m thinking of myself here), I don’t know that I can approach each project with an attitude of “how can I be doing more?” It’s a recipe for burnout.

So, for me, I think I’m going to be adapting this second lesson to be: don’t let any time in your life be wasted, know what you’re doing with it. If you need to recharge, recharge. But, if you’re just scrolling through Twitter because you don’t feel like writing a worksheet, it’s time to get started on that worksheet.

It seems as though my traditional closing to a post like this is to quote something from the end of the chapter, so let me do that here. I really enjoyed this (the beginning of the second-to-last paragraph):

We talk a lot about courage as a society, but we forget that at its most basic level it’s really just taking action–whether that’s approaching someone you’re intimidated by or deciding to finally crack a book on a subject you need to learn.

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The Discipline of Action

We’re finally getting to the action section of the book. The perception section did seem as though it were getting repetitive, didn’t it?

This chapter starts with the story of Demosthenes, an ancient Greek orator who was orphaned young, had his inheritance stolen, was sickly… and went on to become a great orator. The story runs over a bit more than a page and is well told, but this paragraph sums it up:

Sure, Demosthenes lost the inheritance he’d been born with, and that was unfortunate. But in the process of dealing with this reality, he creted a far better one–one that could never be taken from him.

The first part of the chapter seems to be dedicated to one lesson: don’t feel sorry for yourself, get busy.

The second part of the chapter is less narrative (not as many stories) and more an inspirational speech for action, and, as the chapter draws to an end, for right action. (After all, action for action’s sake will most likely not work.)

[Fun aside, as I’m writing this, I’m waiting for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to launch. It’s been postponed, and in the meantime, I watched this video on the 5-year delay on the Falcon Heavy. One of the lessons I took from that video was the idea that SpaceX was wise to postpone the Falcon Heavy in order to take advantage of design improvements in the Falcon 9. It makes sense, and it’s the first thing that popped into my head when talking about right action.]

At the end of the chapter, right action is defined a bit more narrowly, and a rhetorical question is asked:

Therefore, we can always (and only) greet our obstacles

  • with energy
  • with peristence
  • with a coherent and deliberate process
  • with iteration and resilience
  • with pragmatism
  • with strategic vision
  • with craftiness and savvy
  • and an eye for opportunity and pivotal moments

Are you ready to get to work?

Isn’t that a great way to end a chapter? Why did I make the mistake of tagging a bit more on at the end?

An over-abundance of action, I suppose.

Prepare to act

It’s a bit funny that this is a ‘chapter’ in the book. And a whole page and a half, it’s more a segue from discussing perception to action. Because it’s so short, long excerpts would mean basically writing the whole chapter up.

Here’s the core message:

The demand on you is this: once you see the world as it is, for what it is, you must act. The proper perception–objective, rational, ambitious, clean–isolates the obstacle and exposes it for what it is.

And, that makes sense. After all, what good is seeing things for how they are if it just makes you apathetic.

I think what I like about Stoicism is that it requires action. We (I mean ‘I’) imagine a stoic person as a person who just sits there and takes whatever life dishes out, uncomplainingly. But, who needs a philosophy that reduces to “shut up and take it”?

Instead, a philosophy of “accept things for how they are, and then look at what you can do and do it.

When I’m rationalizing it in my own head, it’s like sitting down to card game every day and saying “what can I do to improve the cards I get tomorrow? Is it worth it? How can I play these cards to make the most out of today?” And then figuring out what needs to be done and doing it.