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.