'The Art of Acquiescence' by Ryan Holiday

Today we feature our final extract from Ryan Holiday‘s new book, The Obstacle is the Way, which draws on Marcus Aurelius’ idea that “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”, and shows how you can turn obstacles into opportunities and how this has been done throughout history, from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs. In this extract, Ryan focusses on the art of acquiescence and the strength one can take from this art….

The Art of Acquiescence

The Fates guide the person who accepts them and hinder the person who resists them. —CLEANTHES

Thomas Jefferson: born quiet, contemplative, and reserved—purportedly with a speech impediment. Compared to the great orators of his time—Patrick Henry, John Wesley, Edmund Burke—he was a terrible public speaker.

His heart set on politics, he had two options: Fight against this sentence, or accept it.

He chose the latter, channeling the energy into his writing, which others put into oratory instead. There he found his medium. He found he could express himself clearly. Writing was his strength. Jefferson was the one the founding fathers turned to when they needed the Declaration of Independence. He wrote one of the most important documents in history, in a single draft.

Jefferson just wasn’t a public speaker—that doesn’t make him less of a man for acknowledging it and acting accordingly. Same goes for Edison, who, as most people have no idea, was almost completely deaf. Or Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind. For both, it was the deprivation of these senses—and acceptance rather than resentment of that fact—that allowed them to develop different, but acutely powerful, senses to adjust to their reality.

It doesn’t always feel that way but constraints in life are a good thing. Especially if we can accept them and let them direct us. They push us to places and to develop skills that we’d otherwise never have pursued. Would we rather have everything? Sure, but that isn’t up to us.

“True genius,” as the infamous Dr. Samuel Johnson once said, “is a mind of large general powers accidentally deter- mined in some particular direction.”

That channeling requires consent. It requires acceptance. We have to allow some accidents to happen.to us.

I can’t just give up! I want to fight!

You know you’re not the only one who has to accept things you don’t necessarily like, right? It’s part of the human con- dition.

If someone we knew took traffic signals personally, we would judge them insane.

Yet this is exactly what life is doing to us. It tells us to come to a stop here. Or that some intersection is blocked or that a particular road has been rerouted through an inconvenient detour. We can’t argue or yell this problem away. We simply accept it.

That is not to say we allow it to prevent us from reaching our ultimate destination. But it does change the way we travel to get there and the duration of the trip.

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'Do Your Job, Do It Right' by Ryan Holiday

Today we feature our second extract from Ryan Holiday‘s new book, The Obstacle is the Way, which draws on Marcus Aurelius’ idea that “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”, and shows how you can turn obstacles into opportunities and how this has been done throughout history, from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs. In this extract, Ryan focusses on giving your job the respect it deserves…

 Do Your Job, Do It Right

Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble. (Quidvis recte factum quamvis humile praeclarum.)—SIR HENRY ROYCE

Long past his humble beginnings, President Andrew Johnson would speak proudly of his career as a tailor before he entered politics. “My garments never ripped or gave way,” he would say.

On the campaign trail, a heckler once tried to embarrass him by shouting about his working-class credentials. John- son replied without breaking stride: “That does not disconcert me in the least; for when I used to be a tailor I had the reputation of being a good one, and making close fits, always punctual with my customers, and always did good work.”

Another president, James Garfield, paid his way through college in 1851 by persuading his school, the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, to let him be the janitor in exchange for tuition. He did the job every day smiling and without a hint of shame. Each morning, he’d ring the university’s bell tower to start the classes—his day already having long begun—and stomp to class with cheer and eagerness.

Within just one year of starting at the school he was a professor—teaching a full course load in addition to his studies. By his twenty-sixth birthday he was the dean.

This is what happens when you do your job—whatever it is—and do it well.

These men went from humble poverty to power by always doing what they were asked to do—and doing it right and with real pride. And doing it better than anyone else. In fact, doing it well because no one else wanted to do it.

Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie famously put it. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn.

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'The Obstacle is the Way', by Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday‘s new book, The Obstacle is the Way is launched today, and you can read an excerpt from Ryan’s book below, which focusses on controlling your emotions, no matter how difficult the circumstances. We’ll feature some more extracts in a couple of weeks (on May 10th and 17th). Ryan’s book draws on Marcus Aurelius’ idea that “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”. The book will show both how you can use this idea to obstacles into opportunities and how this has been done throughout history, from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs.

Control Your Emotions

by Ryan Holiday

Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself. —PUBLIUS SYRUS

When America raced to send the first men into space, they trained the astronauts one skill more than in any other: the art of not panicking.

When people panic, they make mistakes. They override systems. They disregard procedures, ignore rules. They deviate from the plan. They become unresponsive and stop thinking clearly. They just react—not to what they need to react to, but to the survival hormones that are coursing through their veins.

Welcome to the source of most of our problems down here on Earth. Everything is planned down to the letter, then something goes wrong and the first thing we do is trade in our plan for a good ol’ emotional freak-out. Some of us almost crave sounding the alarm, because it’s easier than dealing with whatever is staring us in the face.

At 150 miles above Earth in a spaceship smaller than a VW, this is death. Panic is suicide.

So panic has to be trained out. And it does not go easily.

Before the first launch, NASA re-created the fateful day for the astronauts over and over, step by step, hundreds of times—from what they’d have for breakfast to the ride to the airfield. Slowly, in a graded series of “exposures,” the astronauts were introduced to every sight and sound of the experience of their firing into space. They did it so many times that it became as natural and familiar as breathing. They’d practice all the way through, holding nothing back but the liftoff itself, making sure to solve for every variable and remove all uncertainty.

Uncertainty and fear are relieved by authority. Training is authority. It’s a release valve. With enough exposure, you can adapt out those perfectly ordinary, even innate, fears that are bred mostly from unfamiliarity. Fortunately, unfamiliarity is simple to fix (again, not easy), which makes it possible to increase our tolerance for stress and uncertainty.

John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, spent nearly a day in space still keeping his heart rate under a hundred beats per minute. That’s a man not simply sitting at the controls but in control of his emotions. A man who had properly cultivated, what Tom Wolfe later called, “the Right Stuff.”

But you . . . confront a client or a stranger on the street and your heart is liable to burst out of your chest; or you are called on to address a crowd and your stomach crashes through the floor.

It’s time to realize that this is a luxury, an indulgence of our lesser self. In space, the difference between life and death lies in emotional regulation.

Hitting the wrong button, reading the instrument panels incorrectly, engaging a sequence too early—none of these could have been afforded on a successful Apollo mission— the consequences were too great.

Thus, the question for astronauts was not How skilled a pilot are you, but Can you keep an even strain? Can you fight the urge to panic and instead focus only on what you can change? On the task at hand?

Life is really no different. Obstacles make us emotional, but the only way we’ll survive or overcome them is by keeping those emotions in check—if we can keep steady no matter what happens, no matter how much external events may fluctuate.

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A Modern Stoic Clinic

Epictetus: ‘A philosopher’s school is a clinic’. 

Stephen J. Costello, Ph.D.

The Dublin Philosophy Clinic Logo

In the split second between stimulus and response lies a small space of freedom, which is our power to choose. That is why the philosopher gets off the bus. That is why Diogenes went looking in the city, carrying a lamp in broad daylight, saying ‘I am looking for a human being’. We must get off the merry-go-round and think for ourselves. We are born once only, twice is not permitted us. Because there is no guarantee or safety-net there for us, our lives are precarious and precious. We hunger for things that will give us sense and security, for meaning and purpose. We stockpile wealth and weapons. We feed on mood-altering substances like alcohol, drugs and celebrity. But there is an alternative path from an ancient pedigree: philosophical practice.

Seneca: ‘The point is, not how long you live, but how nobly you live’.

I founded The Philosophy Clinic in order to address and provide answers to the current crisis of meaning. Drawing on the wealth of worldly wisdom in the Western Socratic and, in particular, Stoic tradition, it aims to bring profound and practical philosophy to bear on issues of everyday life. Modern living has placed a great strain and stress on many people who are experiencing fragmentation and frustration, emptiness, existential distress and ethical confusion. There is a longing for guidance and growth, wholeness and healing. The Clinic aims to cater for such a context.

Cicero: ‘Truly philosophy is the medicine of the soul’.

The Greeks conceived of philosophy as a therapy of the soul and the site of spiritual/existential exercises. This understanding and interpretation reflects that of The Philosophy Clinic and infuses all our work. Courses and classes are offered to all those who hear the call and summons of Socrates to ‘Know Thyself’.

Epictetus: ‘Empty is the argument of the philosopher which does not relieve any human suffering’.

Our aim is to form more than to inform. We understand philosophy to be the ancient consolation and a way of life. Particular attention is paid to the practice of Prosoche, or awareness (attention) as the basis of all meditative practice; experiential exercises; group-work; Socratic dialogue; and journaling, are all part of the format and structure of the Clinic.

Marcus Aurelius: ‘Let your every deed and word and thought be those of one who might depart from this life this very moment’.

I offer Socratic therapy in the form of logotherapy and existential analysis to individuals and groups while philosophical counselling and coaching is offered by Barre Fitzpatrick to individuals, corporate clients and groups. Both members of the team consult to the corporate sector, myself through the Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland: School of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (www.logotherapyireland.com) and Barre through Stride (www.stride.ie).

I had invited Jules Evans over to Dublin for a ‘Saturday with Socrates’ day where he spoke on his book, Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations. I gave a paper on a logotherapeutic reading of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy. That was my first contact with the ‘Stoicism Today Team’ in Exeter University. Three Saturday seminars have since followed: both drawing on Stoic philosophy, especially on Marcus Aurelius.

In the first seminar I gave an overview of Stoicism, laying out the core concepts, and introduced the central themes in Marcus’ Meditations. I spent a short time showing some similarities between Stoicism and Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy, which became the basis for a short article on the subject. My co-facilitator led the participants into an experiential exercise of prosoche which became concretised in a philosophy walk later in the day, after which they were introduced to the three disciplines of the soul (desire, judgement and action). The day ended with advice on journaling, a meditation and the Stoic practice of retrospection. The format consisted of group work, a lecture, a walk, and experiential exercises and meditations, as well as writing and questions. We felt the day was a great success and received some incredibly positive feedback.

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A Stoic Christmas Story

Is Marcus being festive in the snow? Not sure really. But one person who has thought about what a ‘Stoic Christmas’ might entail is Paul Bryson,  who blogs at the Stoic Lawyer. There follows his ‘Stoic Christmas Story’. A very merry Christmas to you all.

A Stoic Christmas Story

This is what’s under my Christmas tree as of today. At first glance, you wouldn’t think such a materialistic tradition would deserve mention in a blog about Stoicism. But there is a lesson here that reflects Stoic principles; a lesson I’m glad to be learning from my 5-year-old daughter.

I should mention my wife LOVES Christmas. Even in a 1-bedroom apartment, she used 7 storage boxes of decorations to celebrate the season. I’ve never really cared for Christmas, so I didn’t understand or appreciate my wife’s exuberance. But I went along with my wife’s wish to make the season special for our daughter. It was hard to justify not making Christmas a great season to be a kid. All of the early presents in the picture above are for our daughter to open before Christmas eve.

The funny thing is, almost none of those packages contains something new, and my daughter knows it. The bulk of them are books she already has, many handed down in one side of the family or the other over the years. She gets to open one of those every night between the beginning of December and Christmas Eve. The few packages that do contain something new are little crafts or seasonal knickknacks that my wife bought at post-Christmas clearance sales last year (usually at several for a dollar or two). She gets to open and complete one of those crafts or play with one of those knickknacks a few nights each week in the 25 days leading up to Christmas. She’s always so excited to tear into and read, build, or play with each one.

So what does all this have to do with living a Stoic life?

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Embrace Your Suffering by Zach Obront

 “Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness.” – Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man

The girl working the drive-thru once told me that life is just one long chain of suffering.

But that seems wrong, doesn’t it? I was too hungry to argue with her, but life is beautiful and interesting and playful and amazing. It’s all we’ve got. It can’t be all bad.

I will make one small concession, though: a fulfilling life does require some suffering.

It’s true for everyone, regardless of what your dreams and goals and ambitions are. The jock in the gym and the artist in front of her easel have to face the same reality.

 And that’s the cause of the kind of suffering I’m talking about: the enormous gap between your perception of the world and the world as it really is.

It’s called cognitive dissonance and it isn’t fun.

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See Like a Stoic: An Ancient Technique for Modern Consumers

One of the qualities Stoic Week encourages is adopting a life of material simplicity, and that is today’s Stoic theme in the Handbook. Tim Rayner adopts an ancient technique from Marcus Aurelius to help us in deciding what we really need and what we don’t…

See Like a Stoic: An Ancient Technique for Modern Consumers

by Tim Rayner

undefinedMarcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) grew up surrounded by beautiful things: great art and architecture, sumptuous foods, fine wines, and artfully tailored robes. When he assumed the title of Emperor of Rome, he had everything that he could possibly desire. Marcus, however, was a Stoic philosopher, so he knew that the law of life is change and that one should never let oneself become too attached or invested in material things. To maintain his composure in the midst of plenty, he would seek to transform the way that he saw the things that he desired. This helped him get a grip on his desires and achieve Stoic peace of mind.

Marcus’ approach to consumables and other possessions provides a handy guide for modern consumers who seek to overcome the allure of products that they want but don’t need. Instead of looking at clothes, jewelry, food, and art through the lens of desire, Marcus advises that we view these things as pure material objects and evaluate them accordingly. He outlines this technique in The Meditations as follows:

When we have meat before us and other food, we must say to ourselves: “This is the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of a bird or of a pig, and again, this Falernian [wine] is only a little grape juice, and this purple robe some sheep’s wool died with the blood of a shellfish” … so that we see what kinds of things they are. This is how we should act throughout life: where there are things that seem worthy of great estimation, we ought to lay them bare and look at their worthlessness and strip them of all the words by which they are exalted. For the outward show [of things] is a wonderful perverter of reason, and when we are certain the things we are dealing with are worth the trouble, that is when it cheats us most (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.13).

The best way to follow Marcus’ approach is to treat it as a practical exercise. This is the approach that I take to philosophical concepts in Life Changing: A Philosophical Guide.

STEP 1. Think of some item that you have coveted or continue to covet, such as an expensive house, a car, or some fashionable item of clothing or jewellery. Give this item a name and write it on a sheet of paper. This is your item of desire.

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Features: Stoicism for Modern Stresses: Five Lessons from Cato

In preparation for Stoic Week, which starts next Monday, here is a special guest article which explores the example of Cato, and the five lessons which we can take from his character today….

NB. If you are new to Stoic Week 2013, please click here to read more about it and to download this year’s day by day Handbook. 

Stoicism for Modern Stresses: Five Lessons from Cato

Rob Goodman & Jimmy Soni 

Julius Caesar wanted to end him. George Washington wanted to be him. And for two thousand years, he was a singular subject of plays, poetry, and paintings, with admirers as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, the poet Dante, and the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Yet, for all that, you’ve probably never heard of him…

We’ve spent the last few years excavating the life, times, and legacy of Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger, better known to the world simply as Cato. He was the senator who led the opposition to Julius Caesar in the last years of the Roman Republic, then killed himself rather than live under a dictator. He brought Stoicism into the mainstream. The Founding Fathers resurrected him as a symbol of resistance to tyranny. George Washington even put on a play about him in the bitter winter at Valley Forge.

Why does he matter today? Because at a time of crisis and calamity in Rome, Cato’s mission was to live life on his own terms, even (and sometimes especially) when those terms put him at odds with everyone around him.

Cato reminds us that there’s a thin line between visionaries and fools — a lesson especially important to entrepreneurs, authors, creative-types, or really anyone doing work that goes against the grain.

He remains both a shining example and a cautionary tale. Here are five lessons he can teach us about reputation, authority, fear, discipline, and legacies:

1) Master the power of gestures.

We talk about our times as the age of information overload, but public figures in all ages have had to compete to be heard. Ancient Rome was saturated with political talk: popular lawyers like Cicero consistently drew huge crowds, and the Roman people could regularly hear all-day parades of political speeches in the Forum. How could someone break through all that noise?

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Street Stoicism IV: 'Reflections on the Stoic Life' by Marcin Fabjanski

This is our final excerpt in the ‘Street Stoicism’ series, in which Marcin offers some short reflections on living the Stoic life in general.

1.

Autumn in Warsaw. Livid sky, wet, almost sticky rain, russet grass. The withering leaves fall off the trees at my sight, as if somebody was directing a one-man audience play called Everything has to die at some point, and by that I mean pretty soon.

I’m walking down the street with the burden of groceries in my bag and the burden of sorrow on my chest. I’ve gained weight again, the project I’d been working on for three years is falling apart and I will probably lose my job, writing the book about the Stoics does seem to be going somewhere, but it’s going the hard way and stumbling on some rocks. And worst of all – I’m turning forty soon.

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Street Stoicism III: 'Missed Opportunities' by Marcin Fabjanski

In our third except from Marcin Fabjanski’s book Street Stoicism (only published in Polish, as Stoicyzm Uliczny) we look at a Stoic response to missed opportunities…

                                            

SITUATION

All is lost. And it was so close. If only I had gone and talked to the boss instead of wondering whether it’s appropriate, I would be the project manager now. But no – I will keep sweating my guts out doing everybody else’s job, and someone else is going to get praised for it. I will never get to a higher position, and I am not getting younger every day. Who knows when this kind of opportunity might happen again. I will probably be so old and burnt out working on my position that they won’t trust me with the project anyway.

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