How Stoicism can Change Adversity to Opportunity

I bought myself a Christmas present on Amazon, the book “The Obstacle is The Way” by Ryan Holiday. It arrived on Friday, I finished it yesterday. It is a small book 5″ x 7″, only 200 pages. Easy to read.

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The author includes many quotes from ancient Stoic philosophers, including Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca. He includes many references to more recent examples of Stoicism and enduring great hardship, overcoming huge adversity and becoming successful. Examples from more recent times, from the lives of John D Rockefeller, Ulysses Grant, Amelia Earhart and James Stockdale.

He argues that we should welcome obstacles because by overcoming them we launch ourselves on the path to success. That surmounting obstacles and learning from the process is the formula for success.

One of the most valuable reminders for me was to accept that a situation is neither good nor bad until we choose to make it so.

  • Page 165 – “Whatever trouble you are having – no matter how difficult – is not some unique misfortune picked out especially for you. It just is what it is”

We choose whether to let it destroy us or drive us to action that will transform our lives.

Another great point in the book distinguishes between Persistence and Perseverance:

  • Page 157 -“Persistence is an action. Perseverance is a matter of will. One is energy. The other endurance.

It is a book that I would urge you to read, I know that I will read it again, many times. It has inspired me to return to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations which I have on my eReader but have neglected in favour of “real” books over the holiday season.

Reading the book reminded me that the motivation for me to run marathons was partly driven by the knowledge that I was a pitifully slow runner at school, but I had above average stamina for sports requiring endurance, like rugby and equine sports. The way around the obstacle of being too slow as a sprinter was to train for the longer distances. I found that the longer the race, the higher up the finishing order I would come.

James Altucher wrote about the cycle to getting good at anything in his newsletter yesterday. He believes that the cycle ends with success or getting good at whatever you set out to do, then starts again with the repeat stage.

His words: The “Repeat” stage always happens and sometimes destroys people. Get through that and you enter the magic kingdom.

That was a good follow-up to the book.

Some of his newsletter articles are published later on his blog. To get all of them you have to visit the site and subscribe.

After reading the book I have looked at some of my obstacles through a different lens, from a different perspective.

What obstacles do you have in your life that you can view as the way to becoming better or more successful?

Leave a comment.


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  2 comments for “How Stoicism can Change Adversity to Opportunity

  1. Roberta
    January 14, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    WOW! What an open ended question. How can I count the ways.
    1. Having two alcoholic parents was a challenge growing up. Not easy to deal with. Taught me how to deal with adversity.
    2. Lost a high paying job and had to find a new career in my 50’s and learned to live with less money.

    Both obstacles taught me I could deal with more adversity than I thought I could. And both taught me nothing lasts forever.

    • January 22, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      Your comments always add something extra Roberta. The “…nothing lasts for ever” lesson is one that so many of us forget, whether in good times or bad.

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