The Obstacle is the Way (San Francisco: Tim Ferriss, 2014)

Note: This is the second installment of a new monthly feature where I review books that I think would be great reads for students.

What do Abraham Lincoln, John D. Rockefeller, and Steve Jobs have in common?  Stoicism. Each of these men achieved greatness while enduring immense hardships. And they did it without complaining. Each made decisions based on deep-rooted principles, removing any tendency to be emotive in their processes.

The admirable trait of stoicism was written about by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was the last of the Five Good Emperors. Aurelius was not the first to write about this notion, but he is perhaps best known Stoic philosopher. Meditations is still viewed as a literary testament to his philosophical thinking.

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Stoicism is exemplified in having the intestinal fortitude to persist through the obstacles in our way.  It’s about clear thinking. The practice of stoicism has allowed men like Steve Jobs to recognize that the very obstacle was the path to the solution to a problem.  The stoic recognizes that the best solution to a problem is often found in going through the “messy middle.”  Reaching goals is hard, otherwise they wouldn’t be worth achieving. No one aspires to mediocrity, right?

What does this have to do with students? The solution to their problems often lies in confronting the very obstacle that they are trying to avoid. Suppose you hate a subject. Math seems to be a favorite subject to dislike. If you absolutely hate math, the best way to cope is to analyze and confront your difficulties. (Sorry, the teacher doesn’t teach it right does not count.) Unfortunately, trying to remove the obstacle is a leftist model that many university students are all too familiar with these days.

The points is, if you struggle in a particular subject, your struggle is most certainly not with the content provider; it is with the hard work of learning the content. School is hard work. One of the reasons that having an education is so coveted is because it tells the rest of the world that you did something challenging, that you have faced obstacles and comes through a success. And an education is the one thing you own that no one can take.

Author Ryan Holiday delivers a compelling indictment of societal expectations on our youth. I am reminded of the student who thinks that hating something enough will make it go away and not be true. Of course, the truth is undefeated, and no amount of commiserating is ever going to alter truth.

What obstacles have you overcome? What achievement to you attribute to the your staying the course and facing down a tough obstacle?

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