1: “Amelia Earhart wanted to be a great aviator,” writes Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle Is the Way. “But it was the 1920s, and people still thought that women were frail and weak and didn’t have the stuff. Woman suffrage was not even a decade old.”
Being a pilot wasn’t an option for Amelia. So, she found a job as a social worker.
“Then one day the phone rang,” writes Ryan. “The man on the line had a pretty offensive proposition, along the lines of: We have someone willing to fund the first female transatlantic flight. Our first choice has already backed out. You won’t get to actually fly the plane, and we’re going to send two men along as chaperones and guess what, we’ll pay them a lot of money and you won’t get anything. Oh, and you very well might die while doing it.”
So what did Amelia do? She said yes.
“Because that’s what people who defy the odds do. That’s how people who become great at things—whether it’s flying or blowing through gender stereotypes—do. They start. Anywhere. Anyhow,” Ryan observes. “They don’t care if the conditions are perfect or if they’re being slighted. Because they know that once they get started, if they can just get some momentum, they can make it work.”
Which is precisely what Amelia Earhart did. Within five years, she would become the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic.
And this act of bravery wouldn’t have happened if she had said no to the offensive offer. It would never have happened if she had sat around and felt sorry for herself.
“None of it could have happened if she’d stopped after that first accomplishment either,” notes Ryan. “What mattered was that she took the opening and then pressed ahead. That was the reason for her success.”
2: Sure, life is hard. There’s always something to be frustrated about. “Oftentimes,” writes Ryan, “we know what our problems are. We may even know what to do about them. But we fear that taking action is too risky, that we don’t have the experience or that it’s not how we pictured it or because it’s too expensive, because it’s too soon, because we think something better might come along, because it might not work.”
So what do we do? Nothing. We pause. We wait. We do nothing.
“We often assume that the world moves at our leisure,” observes Ryan. “We delay when we should initiate. We jog when we should be running or, better yet, sprinting. And then we’re shocked—shocked!—when nothing big ever happens, when opportunities never show up, when new obstacles begin to pile up, or the enemies finally get their act together.
“Of course they did, we gave them room to breathe. We gave them the chance,” writes Ryan.
Step one: Get in the game. Take the bat off our shoulder. Swing it.
But that’s just the start. Now it’s time to ask: Could we be doing even more? The likely answer? Yes! We probably could. “That’s the next step: ramming your feet into the stirrups and really going for it,” Ryan tells us.
3: We talk a lot about courage, Ryan observes. “But we forget that at its most basic level it’s really just taking action—whether that’s approaching someone [we] ‘re intimidated by or deciding to finally crack a book on a subject [we] need to learn.”
That’s what Amelia did. Along with all the other greats we admire. They said, “Yes, let’s go. And they usually did it in less desirable circumstances than we’ll ever suffer,” Ryan observes.
On the side of her plane, Amelia painted the phrase, “Always think with your stick forward.”
Be deliberate. Of course. But always keep moving forward.
Reflection: What obstacles am I facing in my life right now? What do I need to do to overcome these challenges?
Action: Take action. Today.