The Obstacle is the Way

I’ve mentioned being a fan of Stoic philosophy. The idea of focusing effort on what is within your control and not wasting time and energy on what is not is very important for business leaders and strategic decision makers. Another major Stoic idea is seeing impediments as opportunities.

The author Ryan Holiday popularized this idea with a book by the same name. The actual quote, by 2ndcentury Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (from his personal journal, no less), is, “For the mind adapts and converts any obstacle to its action into a means of achieving it. That which is an impediment to action is turned to advance action. The obstacle on the path becomes the way.”

This is a powerful quote that applies in so many situations.

A meeting cancels. You now have time free to work on that lengthy to-do list that was stressing you out a few days ago.

You get a speeding ticket. A reminder to slow down, more generally, so you don’t miss life.

You get mildly sick. Prioritizing caring for yourself, resting, exercising, sleeping, and eating well, are essential to personal and professional success.

The power or Internet connection goes out. You have time to read that book you’ve been putting off starting.

The list could go on forever. The underlying idea, though, is one of perception.

Business success, strategy success, and personal success all hinge on perception. Obstacles perceived as obstacles will be treated with the emotional reactions and challenges that come with obstacles. Obstacles perceived as blessings in disguise or unexpected opportunities will be treated with the optimism that the change adds value.

Marcus’ point is quite simple: the mind controls perception, perception controls reaction, reaction is all that is within your control. That is the essence of Stoic philosophy. And it is the key to a successful strategy.

As David Allen would say, “simple, but not easy.”


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Craig A. Escamilla
Craig A. Escamilla
Craig Escamilla helps you find solutions before problems exist. With fifteen years of consulting, teaching, and senior management experience, Craig brings a wealth of practical expertise to helping others work on rather than in their businesses.

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