We're soft, entitled, and scared of conflict. Great times are great softeners. Abundance can be its own obstacle.
Obstacles are not only to be expected but embraced. Embraced? Yes, because these obstacles are actually opportunities to test ourselves, to try new things, and, ultimately, to triumph. The Obstacle Is the Way.
Control Your Emotions
Uncertainty and fear are relieved by authority. Training is authority. It's a release valve. With enough exposure, you can adapt out those perfectly ordinary, even innate, fears that are bred mostly from unfamiliarity. Fortunately, unfamiliarity is simple to fix (again, not easy), which makes it possible to increase our tolerance for stress and uncertainty.
As Gavin de Becker writes in The Gift of Fear, "When you worry, ask yourself, ‘What am I choosing to not see right now?' What important things are you missing because you chose worry over introspection, alertness or wisdom?"
You can always remind yourself: I am in control, not my emotions. I see what's really going on here. I'm not going to get excited or upset. We defeat emotions with logic, or at least that's the idea. Logic is questions and statements. With enough of them, we get to root causes (which are always easier to deal with).
No one is saying you can't take a minute to think, Dammit, this sucks. By all means, vent. Exhale. Take stock. 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. But… No. No excuses. No exceptions. No way around it: It's on you.
That's what people who defy the odds do. That's how people who become great at things--whether it's flying or blowing through gender stereotypes--do. They start. Anywhere. Anyhow. They don't care if the conditions are perfect or if they're being slighted. Because they know that once they get started, if they can just get some momentum, they can make it work.
Life can be frustrating. Oftentimes we know what our problems are. We may even know what to do about them. But we fear that taking action is too risky, that we don't have the experience or that it's not how we pictured it or because it's too expensive, because it's too soon, because we think something better might come along, because it might not work. And you know what happens as a result? Nothing. We do nothing. Tell yourself: The time for that has passed. The wind is rising. The bell's been rung. Get started, get moving.
While you're sleeping, traveling, attending meetings, or messing around online, you're going soft. You're not aggressive enough. You're not pressing ahead. You've got a million reasons why you can't move at a faster pace. This all makes the obstacles in your life loom very large.
The thing standing in your way isn't going anywhere. You're not going to outthink it or outcreate it with some world-changing epiphany. Remember and remind yourself of a phrase favored by Epictetus: "persist and resist." Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distraction, discouragement, or disorder. There's no need to sweat this or feel rushed. No need to get upset or despair. You're not going anywhere--you're not going to be counted out. You're in this for the long haul.
Failure really can be an asset if what you're trying to do is improve, learn, or do something new. It's the preceding feature of nearly all successes. There's nothing shameful about being wrong, about changing course. Each time it happens we have new options. Problems become opportunities. When failure does come, ask: What went wrong here? What can be improved? What am I missing? This helps birth alternative ways of doing what needs to be done, ways that are often much better than what we started with. Failure puts you in corners you have to think your way out of. It is a source of breakthroughs.
It's time you understand that the world is telling you something with each and every failure and action. It's feedback--giving you precise instructions on how to improve, it's trying to wake you up from your cluelessness. It's trying to teach you something. Listen.
Follow The Process
The process is about finishing. Finishing games. Finishing workouts. Finishing film sessions. Finishing drives. Finishing reps. Finishing plays. Finishing blocks. Finishing the smallest task you have right in front of you and finishing it well. The process is about doing the right things, right now. Not worrying about what might happen later, or the results, or the whole picture.
Do Your Job, Do It Right
How you do anything is how you can do everything. We can always act right.
Think progress, not perfection.
Use Obstacles Against Themselves
Sometimes you overcome obstacles not by attacking them but by withdrawing and letting them attack you. You can use the actions of others against themselves instead of acting yourself.
Channel Your Energy
You always planned to do something. Write a screenplay. Travel. Start a business. Approach a possible mentor. Launch a movement. Well, now something has happened--some disruptive event like a failure or an accident or a tragedy. Use it. Perhaps you're stuck in bed recovering. Well, now you have time to write. Perhaps your emotions are overwhelming and painful, turn it into material. You lost your job or a relationship? That's awful, but now you can travel unencumbered. You're having a problem? Now you know exactly what to approach that mentor about. Seize this moment to deploy the plan that has long sat dormant in your head. Every chemical reaction requires a catalyst. Let this be yours.
Build Your Inner Citadel
We craft our spiritual strength through physical exercise, and our physical hardiness through mental practice (mens sana in corpore sano--sound mind in a strong body). what the Stoics called the Inner Citadel, that fortress inside of us that no external adversity can ever break down. An important caveat is that we are not born with such a structure; it must be built and actively reinforced. During the good times, we strengthen ourselves and our bodies so that during the difficult times, we can depend on it. We protect our inner fortress so it may protect us.
Anticipation (Thinking Negatively)
Always prepared for disruption, always working that disruption into our plans. Fitted, as they say, for defeat or victory. And let's be honest, a pleasant surprise is a lot better than an unpleasant one. What if… Then I will… What if… Instead I'll just… What if… No problem, we can always…
The Art of Acquiescence
When the cause of our problem lies outside of us, we are better for accepting it and moving on. For ceasing to kick and fight against it, and coming to terms with it. We instinctively think about how much better we'd like any given situation to be. We start thinking about what we'd rather have. Rarely do we consider how much worse things could have been. And things can always be worse. Not to be glib, but the next time you: Lose money? Remember, you could have lost a friend. Lost that job? What if you'd lost a limb? Lost your house? You could have lost everything. Yet we squirm and complain about what was taken from us. We still can't appreciate what we have.
The way life is gives you plenty to work with, plenty to leave your imprint on. Taking people and events as they are is quite enough material already. Follow where the events take you, like water rolling down a hill--it always gets to the bottom eventually, doesn't it? Because (a) you're robust and resilient enough to handle whatever occurs, (b) you can't do anything about it anyway, and (c) you're looking at a big-enough picture and long-enough time line that whatever you have to accept is still only a negligible blip on the way to your goal. We're indifferent and that's not a weakness. As Francis Bacon once said, nature, in order to be commanded, must be obeyed.
Love Everything That Happens: Amor Fati
We've got to love what we do and all that it entails, good and bad. We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens. We will tell ourselves: This is what I've got to do or put up with? Well, I might as well be happy about it.
The goal is:
Not: I'm okay with this.
Not: I think I feel good about this.
But: I feel great about it. Because if it happened, then it was meant to happen, and I am glad that it did when it did. I am meant to make the best of it. And proceed to do exactly that.
The Germans have a word for it: Sitzfleisch. Staying power. Winning by sticking your ass to the seat and not leaving until after it's over. Life is not about one obstacle, but many. What's required of us is not some shortsighted focus on a single facet of a problem, but simply a determination that we will get to where we need to go, somehow, someway, and nothing will stop us.
Something Bigger Than Yourself
Stop making it harder on yourself by thinking about I, I, I. Stop putting that dangerous "I" in front of events. I did this. I was so smart. I had that. I deserve better than this. No wonder you take losses personally, no wonder you feel so alone. You've inflated your own role and importance. Start thinking: Unity over Self. We're in this together. Even if we can't carry the load all the way, we're going to take our crack at picking up the heavy end. We're going to be of service to others. Help ourselves by helping them. Becoming better because of it, drawing purpose from it.
Stop pretending that what you're going through is somehow special or unfair. Whatever trouble you're having--no matter how difficult--is not some unique misfortune picked out especially for you. It just is what it is.
Meditate on Your Mortality
Embracing the precariousness of our own existence can be exhilarating and empowering. Reminding ourselves each day that we will die helps us treat our time as a gift.
Prepare to Start Again
There is no end. Just when you think you've successfully navigated one obstacle, another emerges. Life is a process of breaking through these impediments--a series of fortified lines that we must break through. Each time, you'll learn something. Each time, you'll develop strength, wisdom, and perspective. Each time, a little more of the competition falls away. Until all that is left is you: the best version of you.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb defined a Stoic as someone who "transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking." It's a loop that becomes easier over time.
There's a saying in Latin: Vires acquirit eundo (We gather strength as we go). That's how it works. That's our motto.
See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must. What blocked the path now is a path. What once impeded action advances action. The Obstacle is the Way.