A few years ago I published a review of Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday. It’s still a must-read for anyone involved in media relations. Much of what he wrote about was prophetic – the democratization of media, lazy journalism, and the hard choices we as flacks have to make.
Reading the book and seeing the battles ahead is part of what encouraged me to step back and reassess where I was headed professionally. This was around the time I stopped being a flack and shifted more into the content marketing phase.
PR is still a big part of what I do, except I rarely pitch. As Ryan foresaw, a lot of what I write is picked up by other, hyper-focused news outlets. Sometimes word for word.
On occasion, bigger media outlets grab from the medium outlet, and my spin moves up the chain.
I can’t decide if a series of progressively larger fish would be a more appropriate piece of imagery, or if the Human Centipede would be more apt.
Regardless, I retreated into a personal shell around the time, and just focused on fixing some broken things about me, preparing for a more writing-centric career.
Ironically, Holiday was on the same trajectory, although his was sharply accelerated.
I didn’t keep up with his work (or really, anyone’s) for the last few years. So I was surprised to hear so much about his efforts in the past few years.
Having discovered a natural alignment with stoicism in the past year, it made sense that I should read Holiday’s books. And even though Ego is the newest, I started with Obstacle.
“God, grant me the serenity…”
Obstacles are coming. Some of us got them early, some are in the midst right now, and others are yet to come.
How will you respond? What will you learn?
Stoicism’s basic tenets are expressed closely in the serenity prayer. We have a very limited capacity to change reality, but response is completely, 100% malleable.
Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor who kept copious journals full of stoic wisdom. Holiday quotes him in the book, and it hit me so hard I took a picture of it in my darkened room:
Willing acceptance of all external events. Crap. That’s a hard pill to swallow. But it’s true.
Right now is what matters. The next step is yours. Steady your nerves, control your emotions.
One thing to be clear on: stoicism doesn’t encourage one to whitewash everything and pump sunshine where it ain’t.
It’s about recognizing the obstacle, seeing it (whatever it may be) for what it is, and using perseverance and will power to extract the good.
Or, as Holiday summarizes:
See things for what they are.
Do what we can.
Endure and Bear What we Must.
What blocked the path is now a path.
What once impeded action advances action.
The Obstacle is the Way.
Problems are opportunities to do something new, better. Use each moment to forge yourself into what you want to be. Don’t let the badness lower you or turn you into something less than you’re worthy of.
Why This Book Worked for Me
I realized a year or so ago that I was a natural fit for stoicism. I identify with focusing energy on myself and those around me and not worrying what fate may hold. I don’t weigh in on a lot of hot topics because it’s just not a valuable use of my energy. My passions are best directed in strategic directions.
And I can’t say I would be who and where I am today without speed bumps in life. My mother’s suicide, my father’s paralysis, my marriage, the births of my children, being fat and miserable in my 20s, the good, the bad – all of these are part of my journey.
I am my path.
For me this book wasn’t so much self-help or even a philosophical treatise as it was a playbook. Holiday gives a ton of examples of how people like Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson used these principles to weather incredible challenges and create greatness.
He talks about how Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Nelson Mandela each used unjustified imprisonment as growth opportunities. How Arthur Ashe channeled his energy into a ferocious tennis game, then left that tenacity on the court. How James Stockdale endured torture during the Korean War and even forgave American soldiers who gave up secret info under torture.
Intimidated by something? Check out this passage in this hastily-shot photo I snapped:
There’s something in this book you can use. Because the obstacles are coming, big and small. Most of them we can’t change, and we don’t have to welcome them. But we can get better because of them.
Pick up a copy of The Obstacle is the Way.