Obstacles as Opportunities
In Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms, we read, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” This strengthening, however, is not something that is much recognized these days, is it? We are all more familiar with the negative after-effects of trauma than the positive ones. Yet, there are definitely positive outcomes from overcoming adversity and trauma.
In his book Upside, veteran journalist Jim Rendon discusses post-traumatic growth. Psychologist Richard Tedeschi, for instance, uses the metaphor of an earthquake (trauma) destroying a building (person): “Growth is a rethinking, a reassessment of yourself and the world…if the building suffers damage, it has to be rebuilt and the rebuilding is the growth” (18).
Another concept that informs this discussion is amor fati, or love of fate. This concept can be found as far back as the writings of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, but the term was not coined until Friedrich Nietzsche wrote on the topic. With this stoic concept, we do not get hung up on asking, ‘Why me?’ Rather we accept the circumstances, viewing the obstacles as opportunities. In Ryan Holiday’s the Daily Stoic, he explains, “Stoicism calls this the ‘art of acquiescence’—to accept rather than fight every little thing” (526). And Stoicism indeed promotes the view that every obstacle is an opportunity.
In conclusion, there is definitely an upside to trauma and adversity in general. Imagine you are a novelist, wanting your protagonist to develop character. What do you do? You throw challenges--and perhaps even tragedy—her way. She will not develop sitting in the couch enjoying conflict-free days. So always be prepared to convert the negative into positive in some way. As rapper 50 Cent puts it, “Every negative is a positive. The bad things that happen to me, I somehow make them good. That means you can’t do anything to hurt me.”
"When you are distresed by an external thing, it's not the thing itself that troubles you, but only your judgment of it. And you can wipe this out at a moment's notice."
All this knowledge, of course, must be put to use. To do so, we must develop a strategic mind-set. That is, we resist the natural urge to take the easiest route. We must seek out challenges, developing and learning from them. There will be failures, but these are the battles; we are looking to win the war, or overall campaign. This is grand strategy. Everything we do must bring us closer to our overall objective.
For instance, if we are taking classes, an assignment may get a poor grade, marked up with suggested improvements. There are two ways we might view this: The first is with disappointment. The second way, however, is the opportunity to improve our writing.
We, lastly, must remember that strategic thought is something we must cultivate. On the one hand, if we trace the topic to its roots we will read up on military strategy. On the other hand, a great start is reading the books of Robert Greene and Ryan Holiday. After each reading, we can write about the topic, specifically how we can apply it to our lives.
In conclusion, we must program ourselves to think strategically; it does not come naturally. And to do this, we must always keep our overall objectives in mind. In school the assignments are part of our class. And the class is part of our education. And finally, our education is part of our overarching career path. We, thus, ought to constantly be taking actions that serve our overall purposes. 2 years from now, we will not wish we watched more television, right? We will, however, wish we took positive action (e.g., read, exercised).
"Grand strategy is the art of looking beyond the present battle and calculating ahead. Focus on your ultimate goal and plot to reach it.” (Strategy 12)
--Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War