There is Dignity in Struggle
The best book title I have ever heard is Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way. That title just speaks to me.
Sounds like something an oriental martial arts master would say to his pupil.
Sensei, what is the way?
The obstacle is the way, grasshopper. Now fetch my bamboo sandals. I am going to Hunan temple to say hallo to an old friend.
The title draws from a quote by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius was a great Roman Emperor. Have you ever watched the movie Gladiator? Maximus’s mentor in the movie, that old, wise king — that was Marcus Aurelius. Marcus is counted as one of the best emperors the Roman empire ever had. He was a sage king — like Solomon. What he loved most was to study and to improve himself.
Marcus Aurelius said:
“The impediment to action advances action
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
I am not a king. I am not a warrior. But these words speak to me profoundly.
The enemy is Resistance
For me this comes out most acutely when I am struggling to write. I write for a living. It’s a truism that most writers struggle with procrastination. I don’t know why this is so, but it is certainly true for me. These days I am better. Put me in the ring with that old procrastination monster and I will give him a good one-two.
Some days though, I fall. Days when writing a single sentence feels like lifting lead. When just sitting down and staring at the laptop causes you pain. You sit there remembering days when words have gushed out of you and you want to cry. Days when that evil resistance monster in you keeps whispering, “Click that link. Watch that video. Yes, you definitely need to learn more about the Kambas of Paraguay. Go out for a walk. Check your email for the seventy ninth time.” Days when time flies by and you have only gotten down a handful of words. Days when trying to structure the article in your mind fills you with terror.
I wonder if you can relate. I don’t think there is any creative person who hasn’t struggled with the tomorrow disease at some point in their careers.
On the days when I give in to the voice of internal resistance, I feel defeated. I feel hollow, empty, useless, a failure, a loser, terrible, deserving of a flogging, and so forth.
On other days, the good days, I ignore the voice. It comes whispering to me as the serpent whispered to Eve. It whispers to me of wonderful YouTube videos I am yet to watch, wonderful articles on “how to fight procrastination” that I haven’t read, and so forth. But I am resolute. The voice of resistance keeps shouting and I keep working. Even when the writing comes with struggle, I keep at it. The voice shouts itself hoarse, and finally shuts up.
And something beautiful happens. I enter the state of flow. Words begin to gush out of me. Ideas flow. My creativity quadruples. And I feel good, really good. I feel like someone who has just had a full-body massage. I feel healthy, wise, and wealthy. And then I finish the job. That feeling of blessedness lasts for the rest of the day.
And yet in spite of knowing the benefits of struggling until I finish the job, I still fall prey to resistance now and then. Why is this so? Why this obstacle?
I Have a Theory
Tell me if you agree.
Everything that is worth doing is difficult to do. Otherwise, we would all be successful and fulfilled in our lives.
Everything that is profitable is difficult to do. Otherwise, we would all be very rich.
But we are not all successful, rich, or fulfilled. Why? Because not all of us are able to fight the voice of resistance. Not all of us are able to maintain the struggle.
I talked about writing because that is my struggle. For you, it could be your business. You have had this business for five months now. The voice of resistance is whispering to you that this business is a failure, that you should just shut it down and look for a job.
If you are employed, the voice is whispering that your employer doesn’t value you, that you are better than this job, that you should be earning more, that the work is too difficult, that you should just quit and look for another job.
If it’s marriage, the voice whispers to you that your spouse is bad for you, that you are not compatible, that there are too many troubles, that you made a mistake, that you should just get a divorce.
Don’t listen to the voice.
My friend, remember the words of that wise Marcus Aurelius:
“The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Pick Your Struggle
If worthy things are difficult to do; it must then follow that if you are struggling with something in your life, then you are attempting to do a worthy thing.
It must then follow that life is a process of struggle. There will always be something to struggle against. When you were in school, you struggled to get good grades. When you left school, you struggled to get employment or start a business. Then you struggled to support a family. You struggled to educate your children. You struggled to get a promotion or grow your business. You struggled to remain relevant in your field or market. And so forth ad infinitum…
The struggle never ends.
Our instinct when we find ourselves face to face with something terrifying is to run away, to cower, to hide. I’d like to suggest something simple yet difficult, revolutionary yet obvious: the only way you can cross the river is by killing the snake in the middle of the bridge.
Imagine you are walking across a bridge. You are humming. It’s a fresh sunrise. You are in good spirits. Then you see it. Ahead of you is a giant snake. It’s the only thing in your way. On the other side of the bridge is your friend. You are excited to see your friend. You have not seen him or her in ages. You want to run towards your friend and greet them. But there is a snake in your way. What do you do? Do you turn back, tail between your legs, and go back home? Or do you kill the snake and cross the bridge to greet your friend?
The obstacle is the way.
The enemy is resistance.
The enemy is your own mind.
The enemy is mental block.