Obstacles Are Opportunities

How You Deal With Obstacles Depends on Your Perception

The world is in the midst of a pandemic. All but essential services are closing, many are losing their jobs, and the world is facing an economic slowdown unprecedented in our times.

For many, this means panic, anxiety, fear, denial, and the resulting rash action.

Look no further than the fights in stores over toilet paper, or those who continue to deny that this virus is serious, despite hundreds dying in countries with first-rate medical care.

But is panic necessary? Is fear necessary?

These obstacles, and the opportunities they present, are the core focus of Ryan Holiday’s modern application of Stoicism, The Obstacle is the Way:

“Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness—these reactions are functions of our perceptions. You must realize: Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give in to such feelings.”  - Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way

We Choose Our Perspective

Panic and fear are not requirements. Unexpected events happen, but we determine how we react to them.

“How we interpret the events in our lives, our perspective, is the framework for our forthcoming response—whether there will even be one or whether we’ll just lie there and take it.”

The events around us are often out of our control. We can do our part–but there is much we can’t control.

"When it comes to perception, this is the crucial distinction to make: the difference between the things that are in our power and the things that aren’t.”

We must learn to accept those things which we cannot control, and instead focus on those we can.

Do What is Required

Crises often require us to do things we don’t like. 

They may require us to stay inside for long periods of time, avoiding social contact.

They may require us to cook more than we are used to, instead of dining out.

They may force us to adapt our work environment, or find new ways of being productive.

“Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do...To whatever we face, our job is to respond with: hard work, honesty, and helping others as best we can.”

We may not like what we have to do. It may go on longer than we think. Prepare yourself and do what needs to be done. Do it for the sake of others, for those you know at risk, and because the crisis demands it.

Do it because that is your job, and you must do it well.

Find the Opportunities

Positive contraints are liberating. 

In the face of many things we cannot do, we are suddenly free to do other things that we never find time to do.

Take the time to:

  • Go for a walk
  • Start a meditation practice
  • Journal
  • Learn to play that instrument
  • Take that course
  • Read that book
  • Daydream
  • Cook that meal
  • Call those people
  • Write those letters
  • Think about your goals
  • Plan your future

There are an infinite number of ways to make use of free time. 

Is this dead time or alive time? Are you using your time wisely?

Get Started

In the face of new opportunities, we are often paralyzed by the enormity of the task in front of us.

The first thing is always to get started.

Reduce your goal to the simplest possible first step. And take that step. 

“We’ve all done it. Said: ‘I am so [overwhelmed, tired, stressed, busy, blocked, outmatched].’
And then what do we do about it? Go out and party. Or treat ourselves. Or sleep in. Or wait. It feels better to ignore or pretend. But you know deep down that that isn’t going to truly make it any better. You’ve got to act. And you’ve got to start now.”

Learning that language requires learning the first word.

Writing that book requires writing the first sentence.

Running a marathon requires the first step.

What are you waiting for? If you don’t have time now, when will you?

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