I am currently reading The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, by Ryan Holiday. I am a fan of his thoughts and analysis on Stoicism. I get his daily emails, and oftentimes, there is one that is perfect for what I am dealing with that day, or sometimes, it takes my thoughts back to something I experienced. It makes me reflect on how I can improve my reaction or behavior the next time I am faced by something or someone similar, or more important still, how I can be the person that I want to be.
When I started the book, one of the initial reflections is about perception. It tells us that Marcus Aurelius “truly saw each and every one of these obstacles as an opportunity to practice some virtue: patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, reason, justice, and creativity.”
It tells the story of a boxer who was erroneously charged and imprisoned for a triple homicide. This man was exonerated, and later took no money or damages because he felt that if he accepted damages, it acknowledged that the city had taken something from him, and according to him, it hadn’t. “He had made his choice: This can’t harm me– I might not have wanted it to happen, but I decide how it will affect me. No one has that right.”
Holiday explains that, “They can throw us in jail, label us, deprive us of our possessions, but they’ll never control our thoughts, our beliefs, our reactions.” This passage reminded me of Mandela’s Conversations with Myself, and the strength he had, even in prison. Make no mistake– while Mandela was in chains, he was free.
This book has been a reminder of how important perception really is. I think I was much better at this in high school. Maybe that was my peak? Kidding. I was just a girl in corduroy pants, sitting in the sunshine with my mini green Bible, monkette in training. I feel that back then, I was more in peace and in tune with myself and my reactions. Or maybe that’s a delusional retrospect. I had my frazzled moments, as many as a teenage girl who entered emotional adulthood a couple years too early is allowed to have– but still. And it wasn’t like I was carefree, so that isn’t the difference.
I have lived in NYC, now, 7 years. Here I am. JD in-hand and with a soul that wants to be as healthy now as Elle Macpherson is at 55 (serious middle-age goals). My profession, learning on-the-go (and sometimes with people and events that want to sabotage your very soul) and changes, plus the natural consequences and difficulties that arise from dealing with people– well, it has left me in a frazzled state, before. That doesn’t include the factors of living in such a chaotic, dirty, dysfunctional city that drains your finances. (All right, that wasn’t the most positive description. KEEPING. IT.REAL.)
I think of this and compare it to the past. I often look back at some bleak times in my personal history, and how even in the midst of those, I found a lot of genuine joy. I have fond memories. I don’t think my life was traumatizing, though there were certainly things I could have done with or without– things that have affected me (I am a work in progress– or as Bob Goff says, “We are all rough drafts of the people we are becoming”). But I had peace back then. And even in the midst of chaos here, I often find peace. (A train is delayed = extra reading time; broken escalator = more steps for my Fitbit; someone dumps coffee on me = I don’t care about my pants or material goods as much– how is that for positivity? All of this happened in the last two days.)
My point is that I need to work on perception. It’s ridiculous how many of us (including myself) choose despair, passivity, negativity, lack of resilience and defeat–. This is a reminder to each one of us to not get sucked in. I feel I get very sucked in, especially when it’s that PMS time.
I just finished Everyday Chic, by Molly Sims, and there is a section that reminds us how language frames so much of our world. She reminds us that rather than saying things like, “I have to go to the gym,” we can say, “I get to go to the gym.” “You have to go to school,” can be turned into, “You get to go to school!”
This is especially important when we speak to our children. Anyway. Reading all of this was such a reminder. (Yup, from Ryan Holiday to Nelson Mandela to Molly Sims). Frazzling events are never lacking. It seems life is always happening, but we aren’t powerless. There are things no one or nothing can take from us, unless we surrender them.
This reminds me of a line from The Wedding Date, with Debra Messing and the handsome Durmot Mulroney. “Every woman has the exact love life she wants.” Meaning, we end up with what we choose. This applies to so much in life. We are constantly making choices, including who we give power to, to make their own choices that will affect our lives. We have choices even within our circumstances that are out of our control.
So, may we always choose to react in the way that brings us the most peace, integrity and honor. May we guard the sacred in our lives, which belongs to us and only us. And may we be bold and courageous, as we forge our path out of the obstacles this world plants along our way. May we be insulated by the glow of growth that comes from accepting a challenge and by the hope that the present and tomorrow should bring.
4 thoughts on “Obstacle Brain Dump”
Very nicely written, Gabriela. I was recently talking to a former intern who was anger about how some student co-workers in the financial aid office treated her. She talked about how bad the hours went with them, how she left feeling exhausted, couldn’t sleep worrying about the next day, etc. I told her I was surprised that she had decided to give these two people complete control of her emotional state. and repeated the line that you can’t control how people act or what they say, but you can choose whether or not to respond to them. A few days later she reported that a weight had been lifted from her once she decided to take control of her reactions – she reported a few slips, but thought she was making progress.
Another law student was upset because she had made a small, easily correctable error. I asked if she was a perfectionist, and she give me a vigorous yes. “What have you ever been perfect at?” Again, a few days later she said that she felt free by not categorizing in a way that it was impossible to achieve.
You always inspire my thoughts, and you inspire me to always try and be a better person.
Thank you, Bob. It’s important to have mentors and people, such as yourself, there to offer perspective in those moments of brain fog and frustration. I am so glad that all of your paths crossed, and you were able to offer them that much needed perspective adjustment. The mind is an amazing thing, and how the body responds to our stress and thoughts is an entirely different topic! But it’s important to be able to recenter ourselves and find peace, in the midst of it all. I am grateful for your continuous support and mentorship. I am here, working on my own adjustments 🙂
Elle is 55?! Say what? Wow. I can hardly believe it. And I believe in the “I get to” hack–changes your frame of reference . . . .