Practical Philosophy

The Obstacle is the Way

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

There is a strange idea repeated by Stoics: “the obstacle is the way.” The more I think about it, the more I think it is true. Here is why:

We must confront that which is difficult

It is hard to achieve that which is worth striving for. It can require years, sometimes a lifetime of hard work. To do so requires us to deliberately confront difficulty and face obstacles along our journey. There is no avoiding it. The alternative is to live in fear, or in a double life that we do not wish to live.

Obstacles form our identity

Many successful people tasted defeat in their early days. Henry Ford created two different car companies before creating the Ford Motor Company. Ulysses S. Grant was kicked out of the army for alcoholism before rejoining, and eventually helping the Union win the civil war.

We could say that early defeat can forge our identity. It can make us hungrier, more resilient, and give us a gratefulness when we achieve success.

We do it because it is difficult

“We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

John F. Kennedy

Sometimes, we do things because they are difficult. We like a challenge – we need a challenge. We play the game because the game is difficult.

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