When Life Kicks You to the Curb

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There have been times in my life when I felt completely beat up by life. I’d close myself in a room, curl up in the fetal position, feel sorry for myself, and hope life would stop kicking my *ss.

I learned the hard way that hope is not a strategy, but taking action is.

The problem comes when life’s adversity is so overwhelming that it paralyzes us from taking reasonable action. This is a terribly dangerous place to be because when you’re in a crisis, often doing anything is better than doing nothing.

That’s because even if you do the wrong thing, you will quickly figure it out and make an adjustment. But if you’re frozen with inaction, you don’t make progress from taking the right course of action and you don’t get the feedback that comes taking the wrong course of action either.

Thus a paradox is born. The time when action is needed most is precisely when you’re least able to act.

What causes otherwise logical people to freeze with inaction? In a word: FEAR.

This is especially true for people with high IQs who are typically highly analytical and logical. Here’s why:

No matter how logical you are, you are still human.

Human beings, regardless of their outward demeanors, are emotional creatures. In short, whether you think you do or not, you have feelings and those feelings can be intense.

For a long time, I did not think that last sentence applied to me. I’m a logical person. But I learned the hard way that logical people are still... well... people.

The problem with fear, especially for the logical person, is that when it sets in, they don’t know what to do with it. They can usually analytically see what the right course of action is, but the fear prevents them from taking it. Of course, such a person notices that he’s not taking the logical course of action and then he freaks out — because he’s acting (heaven forbid) illogically.

Now they aren’t just having a primary fear reaction, but a secondary one too. They are afraid of the original thing, and now they're afraid of their response (or lack thereof) to the original stimulus. This “double whammy” can really shake up someone who is normally pretty logical.

So what’s the solution?

The secret is to redefine the role that fear and adversity play in your life — by learning to embrace them both.

No I’m not crazy, though I totally understand that it sounds crazy.

So you got rejected from every company you applied to, you have no money, and you’re scared to death that you’re going to be homeless. If ever there was a legitimate reason to feel fear, this would be it.

What’s the alternative?

To see this adversity not as a bad thing, but a good thing.

Huh?

Yes, I’m totally serious.

Yes, all your career aspirations have been wiped out, you’re broke, and somehow that is a good thing?

Yes.

Here’s why.

Imagine the kind of person you will become when you’ve overcome what seems like an “impossible” situation. What skills and mental strength must you develop to overcome such a challenge? You now have the opportunity to become that person.

If life were great, no such opportunity would present itself.

A colleague of mine said something I think is a profoundly important (but inconvenient) truth:

There is no growth without pain.

When you were an infant first learning to walk, no doubt you fell down a lot. Yet eventually you did it. You grew, and the process was indeed painful.

Remember back when you were a teenager going through those awkward years? Your body was changing faster than your understanding of it, you were adjusting to new hormones that totally changed your outlook on life, and you were navigating in new social situations that were totally different than when you were a kid.

Do you know anyone who didn’t struggle through those awkward years?

I don’t.

Yet, we all grew immensely from those times. Yes, we grew into adults from those experiences, and it’s precisely the awkwardness of those times that allowed us to grow.

Think about it.

In my work with entrepreneurs, a number of my clients are or seek to be “millionaires.” It’s a nice, easy, socially acceptable goal. I can’t remember who said it (it might have been Anthony Robbins), but someone had a great quote about this:

“Don’t become a millionaire for the money. Become one for the person it forces you to grow into to become one.”

Although most strive for such a goal for the money, the real “asset” is the person you become in the process. As an example, for someone who has reached this goal, you can take away all of their financial resources and they will still be incredibly “wealthy” (not to mention they could probably earn all the money back in a short period of time anyway).

In short, the value of becoming a millionaire is in the incredible challenges, headaches and adversity that you’re forced to deal with along the way.

The mindset shift in all of this is to not fear obstacles and adversity, but rather to embrace them as an opportunity to grow.

The hard part is that sometimes the opportunity to grow that life is presenting isn’t the one you were looking for, and appears at a terribly inconvenient time. But that’s how life often works.

My thinking on all of this changed as I became increasingly familiar with the Greek philosophy known as stoicism.

Of the five people I respect most, four of them are fans of stoicism. I tried picking up some of the original texts translated into English, but I just couldn’t get through it. I knew from my deeply respected colleagues that there must be something incredibly useful to learn, but I just couldn’t force myself to read the historical text, phrasing and examples.

What I was looking for was an 80/20 shortcut (of course I was!), I just wanted the “so what?” of stoicism, with modern day examples, and clear actions on what I should do differently in my life because of it.

For years, stoicism has been on my list of things to learn more about, but I never found a great vehicle for learning. I was looking for something that was easily accessible and digestible for someone who is normally allergic to literature and philosophy’s great works, but couldn’t find it... until now.

My friend, colleague and teacher Ryan Holiday has done exactly what I was hoping someone would do — distill the essence of stoicism into something easy to read and apply it to modern day life.

I highly recommend getting a copy of his book, The Obstacle is the Way.

It’s an easy read and profoundly useful. To get a copy, Click Here.

 

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1 comment… add one
  • Paul Ostaff May 20, 2014, 11:41 pm

    An excellent article, and one particularly suited to the changing times here in Australia.

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