The Obstacle Is The Way Book Club

Beginning about two weeks ago, I was asked to run point on a book club at work for my team. Essentially, I volunteered to do so because I suggested the book The Obstacle Is The Way. Apparently, I’ve been out of the Army long enough to have forgotten the first rule of workplace interaction: Never volunteer suggestions for anything.

In any case, I’m trying to do some interesting things here. It’s a bit of an exercise in getting buy-in, non-positional authority, and generating enthusiasm. The book club is mandatory, and there are plenty of folks who I don’t think are super-enthused about it.

Additionally, I knew I’d have a tough time getting people to show up for a book discussion that either: a) occurred over lunch, or b) after work. So, I created a Slack group for asynchronous discussion. I post a question or a comment there a couple times a week and see if anyone has anything to say about it. So far, not much. But there has been some, which is encouraging.

In any case, I’m gonna insert part of the email I sent out to introduce everyone to the book club, and maybe summarize what I’m doing as I go along.

I’ve always viewed Philosophy as an examination of what we humans think and why. Each of us has a personal philosophy (even though we may not phrase it that way); it’s our motivation for the way we interact with the world around us.

Personally, I’ve found Stoicism to be a very helpful lens through which to view the world. It allows me to understand that I’m often powerless to influence the circumstances I find myself in. I’m sure many of you have felt the same way, whether it’s your covered patio’s roof collapsing under the weight of accumulated snow or how we just can’t seem to figure out how our competition hits those gross margin targets when we as a company seem to be busting our tails and not getting the same results.

Stoicism helps me understand that while I can’t always choose what happens, I CAN always choose how I react. I can allow the challenges I face to spur me on to find a novel way to attack an issue. As Marcus Aurelius (a Roman emperor and practitioner of Stoic thought) wrote in his Meditations, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Our challenges refine and define us.

The book itself, after the Introduction, is split into three parts. Perception (how we view challenges), Action (how we attack challenges and overcome them), and Will (how we motivate ourselves to keep going in the face of adversity).

Each of these sections contains examples of traits that people in history (from ancient to recent) have exhibited, in order that they might face their issues head-on. In my opinion, it’s a very relatable way to see how this school of philosophy can change how you view and overcome roadblocks in your professional (and personal!) life.

I’m spending two weeks on each section. The first section (“Perception”) should be completed by tomorrow, so I need to work on a summary, and also a quick introduction of the second section. I’ll keep this updated from a “lessons learned” standpoint, so that I can improve it all in the event I run another one of these things.

13 Years Ago

It’s been 13 years since I went to work on a Tuesday morning in Boise, ID and spent the next three days watching the news. I, like many of you, experienced a life-changing event that day. It wasn’t changed nearly as much as those whose lives and families were impacted first-hand by loss, but it was changed. 9/11/2001 set me on a path that I never anticipated, but for which I will be forever grateful. Because of the circumstances of that day, I ended up in the Army, which lead me to meet my wife, which lead to our son. I have my family today because of the events of 13 years ago.

Out of great tragedy can and does come great triumph. We simply have to make it so. Experiences are formative and changing, but they don’t have to define you. I don’t pretend to know the loss that others experienced that day, but I do know that life moves on, and so must we. No matter what you’re facing, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, you have a choice to continue to be defined by them, or you can re-define them yourself.

Be who you’re supposed to become. Take what you’ve experienced and allow it to make you better. Allow it to make you be your best.