1: Thomas Jefferson’s heart was set on politics.

The problem? He was “born quiet, contemplative, and reserved—purportedly with a speech impediment,” writes Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. “Compared to the great orators of his time—Patrick Henry, John Wesley, Edmund Burke—he was a terrible public speaker.”

Thomas had two options: he could fight this reality. Or, he could accept it.  

He chose the second option. Instead of putting his energy into speaking, he focused on writing. There he found his gift. As a result, he was selected to write the Declaration of Independence.

“He wrote one of the most important documents in history, in a single draft,” writes Ryan.

Many of the world’s most accomplished people had significant challenges to overcome. Thomas Edison was almost entirely deaf. Helen Keller 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,” Ryan writes.

2: We don’t see our constraints or weaknesses as gifts. But they can be. “Especially if we can accept them and let them direct us,” Ryan writes. “They push us to places and to develop skills that we’d otherwise never have pursued.”

Do we want everything? Ah. . . , yes.  

But that’s not how the world works!

“If someone we knew took traffic signals personally, we would judge them insane,” Ryan observes. “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.”

We don’t have to like our diagnosis. We don’t have to enjoy it. But if we are smart, we accept it. And get on with it.

Some things in life we control. Many things we do not. For those things, there is only one option: acceptance.

“The shot didn’t go in. The stock went to zero. The weather disrupted the shipment,” writes Ryan. “All external events can be equally beneficial to us because we can turn them all upside down and make use of them.”

In 2006, legendary Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson suffered a hip injury requiring surgery. Afterward, he was confined to a unique captain’s-style chair. He could no longer pace the sideline or interact with his players as he was accustomed to. Phil was concerned this inability would impact his coaching.

“In fact, sitting back on the sideline above the rest of the bench increased his authority,” Ryan writes. “He learned how to assert himself without ever being overbearing the way he’d been in the past.”

We resist learning these lessons. “We instinctively think about how much better we’d like any situation to be. We start thinking about what we’d rather have. Rarely do we consider how much worse things could have been.  

“And things can always be worse,” Ryan notes. “Lose money? Remember, you could have lost a friend. Lost that job? What if you’d lost a limb? Lost your house? You could have lost everything.”

3: History’s greatest leaders often demonstrated they understood fate’s role in their lives.  

George Washington wrote, “The event is in the hand of God.”  

On the eve of the Allied invasion of Sicily, General Dwight Eisenhower sent a letter to his wife: “Everything we could think of has been done, the troops are fit, everybody is doing his best. The answer is in the lap of the gods.”

Ryan writes: “These were not guys prone to settling or leaving the details up to other people—but they understood ultimately that what happened would happen. And they’d go from there.”

The answer? There are many things we don’t control.  

And we are robust and resilient enough to handle whatever happens.  


Reflection: What is bothering me over which I cannot control?

Action: Accept it. Move on.

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