Dreams and aspirations—we all have them, whether you want to be a world-famous writer, a doctor, a captain of industry, or an international playboy. You set off on a journey to fulfill your dreams because you’re a fucking Billy Badass and nothing is going to stand in your way.
Then reality decides to be a dick and stands in your way. Your submission to XoJane gets rejected because it wasn’t angry enough and only mentioned rape culture twice…or you fail your Intro to Biology class…or you can’t even work up the courage to talk to that cute Latina chick. You sit there deflated, wondering how the gods could be so cruel to little special snowflake you.
Luckily for you, Ryan Holiday’s new book The Obstacle Is the Way provides a time-tested formula inspired by the great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It teaches you to not just overcome your obstacles, but to leverage them to your advantage. Drawing from historical examples of people who were way more important than you or I, he separates the book into a series of characteristics, philosophies, and values that a person must have to hopefully join their ranks or at least give it the good ol’ junior-college try. Here are three that stuck out to me.
1. Follow the Process
You’ve got to do something very difficult. Don’t focus on that. Instead break it down into pieces. Simply do what you need to do right now. And do it well. And then move on to the next thing. Follow the process and not the prize.
When we read an enriching novel or an article that makes us think and see things from a new perspective, we are experiencing the fruits of the writer’s extensive labor. We don’t see the process. We don’t see the writer as he reads book after book, learning from his mentors who may have long passed. We don’t see his first attempts of forming an original thought or sentence that is totally unreadable. We don’t see him as he learns the difference between the overreaching of vocabulary and using it in a seamless fashion. We don’t see him as he struggles, staring at the blank screen to formulate his next witty phrase.
By focusing on the little things, the fine details, the nitty-gritty aspects of what you’re trying to accomplish, you make the task much more manageable and feasible. Those little mundane parts—when done right and compounded together over the course of time and constant repetition—will create a road to the grand success of which you dream.
2. Do Your Job, Do It Right
Everything we do matters—whether it’s making smoothies while you save up money or studying for the bar—even after you already achieved that success you sought. Everything is a chance to do and be your best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.
When I was in 2nd Ranger Battalion, there was the Ranger standard that must always be met or you would be kicked out and sent to the big Army. It governed our lives: how we conducted and trained for combat, physical fitness, appearance, and acceptable behavior. In every aspect of being a Ranger, you were expected to do your job with a high level of motivation, competence, attention to detail, and eagerness to improve. It didn’t matter if you were going on a direct-action raid, doing a live-fire exercise, jumping out of an airplane, cleaning the barracks, policing up brass, mowing the quad’s lawn, fast-roping out of a helicopter, or doing your morning physical training session. Your ass better be giving it your all, or you were going to get your balls crushed.
I was a mediocre Ranger who barely survived being in battalion; nothing exceptional compared to some of the no-shit legendary men with whom I got to serve. But it instilled a strong work ethic in me. Taking pride in doing even the simplest jobs right—however trivial, mundane, and unglamorous they are—prepares you to take on the larger and more glamorous tasks when they are set before you.
3. Build Your Inner Citadel
No one is born a gladiator. No one is born with an Inner Citadel. If we’re going to succeed in achieving our goals despite the obstacles that may come, the strength in will must be built.
The world doesn’t give a fuck if you succeed or not. In fact, the world wants you to fail. If you want to attempt anything grand and not live a life of quiet desperation like so many poor souls, it will require you to be physically and mentally tough. Neither one of these attributes is built overnight.
Physical strength and toughness will better prepare you to deal with the obstacles life places in front of you than if you are scrawny or fat. Many “intellectual” douchebags who look down on the physically fit fail to see that the discipline needed to get to that point helps strengthen the mind and will.
Mental toughness will let you handle and overcome any obstacles that seek to wage psychological warfare on you. It gives you the capacity to think through them and find solutions. It gives you the ability to face down the naysayers, the haters, and the nonbelievers. It will help you say, “Fuck you” to them and drive on.
You need to change your mindset in how you view obstacles. They aren’t always negative; they can bring opportunity if you’re bright enough. This book will help you forge a mind that not only can power through them but can also squeeze out every drop of benefit from them.
You can read more of my articles on Thought Catalog