I just finished Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way; The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph” and enjoyed much of the perspective.
Several passages stuck out from the book and made me think of the past few years in education and my personal life. Holiday’s focus on the idea that things can be really tough, but we can see that as an opportunity to reshape our perspective, as well as redefine our actions moving forward, is something in which I genuinely believe.
“Always be prepared for disruption, always working that disruption into our plans. Fitted, as they say, for defeat or victory. And let’s be honest, a pleasant surprise is a lot better than an unpleasant one.
Then I will…
Instead, I’ll just.
No problem, we can always.
And in the case where nothing could be done, the Stoics would use it as an important practice to do something the rest of us too often fail to do: manage expectations.
Because sometimes the only answer to “What if?” is, It will suck but we’ll be okay.”
Much of the book is embodied in the following quote from Marcus Aurelius.
This quote stuck out because I started to think about times in my life when things that I perceived to be negative eventually shaped my thinking and actions into positive ways.
For example, I often say that leaving a job was sometimes the best thing that happened to me. At the time, it didn’t feel that way, but from that experience, I thought about what I was passionate about and what outstanding leadership could look like to inspire action in others.
Another example could be having setbacks in relationships. We can look at some of those experiences as wasted time, but we can also see them as a learning lesson of what we were no longer willing to accept in a relationship and what we expect from ourselves moving forward.
I recently shared with a group that in 2020, some students that went to remote learning for the first time felt successful in school because they were encouraged to use devices they weren’t allowed access to weeks earlier. I have often said that if you have a child that thrives with paper and pencil and we take that away from them, I would be just as bothered if we took away a device. We need to help students to find success in a way that works for them.
The school experience over the past few years has shaped a lot of what we do moving forward, good or bad. I have asked the question, “Are we desperately trying to get back to 2019 or creating something new and better with what we have learned over the past couple of years?” I guess part of the answer to this question is, was school truly working in 2019 in a way which we were satisfied?
Sometimes the most challenging experiences can shape us in a way that can be optimistic moving forward. In some ways, without these negative experiences, we can become stagnant and accept things as they are, whether they work or not. In many ways, I truly believe that the past couple of years have made me a better dad because I realized how short life is and that who I spend my time with is as important as how I spend it. But I had to open myself up to that realization. I also started to take better care of myself to better care for others. I am not sure this would have happened without the last couple of years.
I love how Holiday frames this thinking:
“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.
That’s a thought that changes everything, doesn’t it?”
In my own interpretation of these words, I believe that truly negative and unimaginable things can happen, and I will never want them to be “learning experiences.” I get that.
But I can also look at some of the experiences I have had in the past that I perceived as “bad” and how they shaped me for the better. That will better prepare me for how I deal with things in the future.
Learning can include “downs,” but the hope is they always lead to “ups” in the long run.