1: Don’t just stand there. Do something.
Really? Not always, Ryan Holiday writes in The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph.
Certain situations call for a different approach.
As in: Don’t just do something. Stand there.
“Sometimes, staying put, going sideways, or moving backward is actually the best way to eliminate what blocks or impedes our path,” Ryan writes.
Yesterday, we looked at our inclination to rush in. To attack the problem head-on. We are often better served by asking: Is there a way to go around this problem? It’s a matter of choosing to change our perspective. To see things differently.
“Remember, a castle can be an intimidating, impenetrable fortress,” Ryan writes, “or it can be turned into a prison when surrounded.”
2: Example #1: Gandhi. He “didn’t fight for independence for India,” Ryan notes. “The British Empire did all of the fighting—and, as it happens, all of the losing. That was deliberate, of course. Gandhi’s extensive satyagraha campaign and civil disobedience show that action has many definitions.”
Gandhi’s example shows we can use obstacles against themselves. He didn’t just lean into his relative weakness. He exaggerated it. “He said to the most powerful occupying military in the world, I’m marching to the ocean to collect salt in direct violation of your laws,” Ryan writes.
Gandhi provoked the British. “What are you going to do about it? There is nothing wrong with what we’re doing—knowing that it placed authorities in an impossible dilemma: Enforce a bankrupt policy or abdicate. Within that framework, the military’s enormous strength is neutralized. Its very usage is counterproductive.”
Which is, of course, “very different from doing nothing,” Ryan observes. “Passive resistance is, in fact, incredibly active. But those actions come in the form of discipline, self-control, fearlessness, determination, and grand strategy.”
Martin Luther King Jr. used similar tactics during the struggle for Civil Rights. He told his followers we will meet “physical force with soul force.” He, too, used the “power of opposites,” Ryan notes. “In the face of violence they would be peaceful, to hate they would answer with love—and in the process, they would expose those attributes as indefensible and evil.”
We can intentionally absorb the power of others. And transform it into our power. The obstacle does the work for us.
“Just ask the Russians, who defeated Napoléon and the Nazis not by rigidly protecting their borders but by retreating into the interior and leaving the winter to do their work on the enemy, bogged down in battles far from home.”
3: But what about us? What about the obstacles we face? We’re not Gandhi. Or, Martin Luther King Jr. We aren’t fighting the Nazis, we say.
Yes, but “when we want things too badly we can be our own worst enemy,” Ryan observes. “We spin our tires in the snow or mud and dig a deeper rut—one that we’ll never get out of.” Or, “we push and push—to get a raise, a new client, to prevent some exigency from happening.”
Perhaps we would benefit from pausing and reflecting: Is this what I really want? We may choose to pursue something else entirely. We “use the impediment as an opportunity to explore a new direction,” Ryan suggests. “Or we rethink that disaster we feared (along with everyone else) and come up with a way to profit from it when and if it happens.”
Because moving forward isn’t the only path to progress or victory. This approach often requires a bit of humility. Because “it means accepting that the way we originally wanted to do things is not possible,” he writes.
“But so what? What matters is whether a certain approach gets us to where we want to go,” Ryan observes.
Reflection: What is an obstacle I am currently facing? What choices do I have in how I respond?
Action: Experiment. Take note of what happens. What did I learn?