I recently picked up Ryan Holiday’s book, “The Obstacle is The Way,” for the second time in my life.
I first started reading this book in 2015 when I was in the middle of chemotherapy for the first time and looking for advice to help me cope with the tremendous strain of my illness and treatment and the rippling effects it had on my life.
The approach of the book is based on Stoic philosophy, which can be misunderstood to mean that one should suppress their emotions, but is actually about cultivating a more mindful, less reactive way of seeing the world where one’s internal stability can be separated from the chaos of external circumstances.
My first time around, though, I only made it through the first couple of pages until I came across this quote,
“Let’s be honest. Most of the time we don’t find ourselves in horrible situations we must simply endure…”
I closed the book and took a deep breath, because I realized in that moment I actually was in a situation that could not be fought, but only endured (although enduring it would not be simple, nor static). I had no control over my diagnosis or how my body was responding to treatment, and so with as much resilience as I could, I endured.
Recently I came back to this book as a different person and at a different place in my life. I made it past the introduction this time, and found some other lines later on that resonated with me more:
“We can see opportunity in every disaster, and transform that negative situation into an education, a skill set, or a fortune.”
“A mistake becomes training.”
My cancer treatment and recovery taught me that I don’t have the luxury of waiting for a time in my life when I won’t have any problems or obstacles. They are an inevitable part of life. Reframing these obstacles as opportunities for growth and learning has helped me cope with them better.
And looking back to the first time I had started leafing through these pages years earlier, I think I was wrong to think that enduring was my only option. Yes, I had to endure it. But even the idea of “enduring” has many layers to it, and what I did to get through cancer round #1 was so much more than just endure. Even then I knew I had to play the hand I was dealt as best as I could, believing and hoping I would someday come out on the other side with something worthwhile t show for it.
Instead of letting a horrible situation consume your life, consider being open to looking at this situation with a different lens.
What is this moment teaching you?
How is this situation making you more resilient?
How will this help you see things differently a year from now, or 5 years from now?
How could it help you serve others at some point in the future?