Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities
How Stoicism Helped Me Manage a Real Crisis
5 min read
For many years, I had heard about the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, but I never took the time to dive deeper into its teachings. That is, until the Summer of 2022, when I attended Michael McGill's Practical Stoicism online course. From that moment on, I was captivated by the philosophy's practical approach to life's challenges. I was completely hooked on the Stoic ideas of the dichotomy of control, Amor Fati, and Memento Mori.
As I continued my exploration of Stoicism, I stumbled upon several books by Ryan Holiday, including my favorite so far, The Obstacle Is The Way. This book spoke to me on a deep level and provided me with valuable insights on how to navigate life's challenges.
In this post, I want to share with you my three main takeaways from the book and how each one helped me during a recent crisis.
Recently, during a heavy rainstorm, I experienced a real-life crisis that put my Stoic training to the test. My basement flooded due to a clogged main drain, and I found myself in crisis management mode for hours on end. I had to continuously shop vacuum water into buckets and carry them upstairs and outside to prevent my belongings from being damaged. To make matters worse, I was dealing with a nasty head cold at the same time.
Despite the overwhelming nature of the situation, I tried to remain calm and focused, thinking "how would a Stoic handle this?". I reminded myself that I couldn't control the rain or the drain blockage, but I could control my response to the situation. I also reflected on the Stoic idea of Memento Mori, or the acceptance of our mortality, and realized that this crisis was a reminder that life is fragile and unpredictable.
After calling several emergency plumbing services, I finally found one that could come out to fix the blockage. Although I was taken aback by the cost of the emergency repair, I reminded myself of the Stoic principle of accepting what we cannot change and focusing on what we can control. After several hours, hundreds of dollars, and a lot of hard work, the crisis was finally over.
In the following sections, I will share my three main takeaways from The Obstacle Is The Way and how each one helped me during this crisis.
Develop a different perspective on obstacles
It's very easy to panic during a crisis. We are kind of hard-wired to either fight or flight. It takes a ton of practice and presence to create a bit of space between a thing happening and your reaction to it. I've learned that cultivating a mindset of resilience, optimism, and focus is key to overcoming obstacles. By taking a step back and looking at the situation objectively, we can avoid being consumed by emotions and make more effective decisions.
When my basement flooded, I found myself struggling to keep a positive outlook. But then I remembered that perspective is everything, especially when dealing with obstacles. That's when I had a lightbulb moment: my house is over 100 years old and the basement walls were crumbling with dust and rubble all around. So, instead of feeling defeated, I decided to shift my perspective and see the flood as an opportunity to finally give my basement the cleaning it desperately needed. It's amazing how a small change in perspective can turn a seemingly negative situation into a positive one
Take action and persevere
Ryan Holiday encourages us to set clear and specific goals and make a plan to achieve them. It's important to break down big goals into smaller, manageable steps, and to stay focused on what needs to be done right now instead of getting overwhelmed by the bigger picture. By doing this, we can take action and persist through any challenge. Looking at my situation through this lens presented some interesting things.
First, this was a big obstacle, requiring attention to water removal, finding an expert, and researching the root cause all at the same time. Chunkifying these problems made thinking about them easier. For example, I spent 30 minutes only dealing with the water flowing in. By focusing on something I could immediately control, I was able to get a small win and a little momentum, which helped my outlook on the situation.
Next, after some time to think, it occurred to me that this problem was beyond what I can do and I would need an expert. Now that I had a system in place for water removal, my next problem was finding an emergency plumber late on a Friday night in a rain storm.
Embrace obstacles as opportunities for growth
The Stoics believed that obstacles were not something to be avoided or ignored, but rather embraced as opportunities for growth and development. Ryan Holiday echoes this sentiment in his book, encouraging readers to view obstacles as a means of learning and becoming stronger.
During my basement flood crisis, I realized that this was a chance for me to practice Stoicism in real life. The emergency plumber quoted me $500 to fix the issue. My initial reaction was that this was expensive. But then I tried a different perspective. I looked at this as an opportunity to pay for a real-life lesson. I agreed, and I watched every single thing this plumber did and asked questions along the way. I learned how to snake the main line leaving the house in case this ever were to happen again.
In addition, I learned more about how my house functions and what I can do to prevent similar situations from happening in the future. I also gained a new sense of confidence and self-reliance in dealing with unexpected events. I think changing perspective is exactly what the Stoics meant when they talked about turning obstacles into opportunities.
Ryan Holiday's book, The Obstacle Is The Way, offers practical advice and inspiration for dealing with life's challenges. Through the lens of Stoicism, Holiday encourages readers to develop a different perspective on obstacles, take action and persevere, and embrace obstacles as opportunities for growth.
My experience with the basement flood crisis was a perfect example of how these three takeaways can be applied in real life. By shifting my perspective, taking action, and embracing the obstacle, I was able to turn a negative situation into a positive one and learn valuable lessons along the way.
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