Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor and a Stoic philosopher. On the throne from 161 to 180, he was the last of the rulers knows as the Five Good Emperors and the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire.
Marcus acquired the reputation of a philosopher king within his lifetime, and the title would remain after his death. Between 170 and 180, he wrote what would become Meditations, a series of personal writings that recorded private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy. It is unlikely that Marcus ever intended the writings to be published. However, Meditations is a classic compilation that has been studied and revered by heads of state, business moguls and military leaders for centuries.
Why would we reference works from nearly 2,000 years ago? No matter your role or how long you have been in it, we all have situations we would rather avoid. Meditations provides timeless wisdom and insights that can help to understand the process of breaking through obstacles (and coaching others to do the same). One passage stands out above the rest:
“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Let’s convert this from 2nd Century to 21st Century vernacular. As we move through life in pursuit of our goals, we occasionally get “impeded”. We find ourselves stalled, slowed down, or stopped in our tracks. But there’s no reason for that hinder our commitment, our attitude, our energy, or our effort. Why? Because we have been gifted with the intellectual capacity to gather information, assess the situation, and make changes. If you want something in life that you have never had, you will likely have to do something that you have never done. However, knowing what needs to be done and understanding what is holding you back from doing it are two different tasks.
Next: “The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.” This simply means that our job is to domesticate the obstacle. We make the obstacle serve us on our journey to achieve the goal. We all have the right to live our best life; anything else is mediocre – and none of us were put in the roles we are in to simply be mediocre.
This leads us to Marcus’ conclusion. The impediment to action has been transformed from standing in the way to becoming the way.
Daily, we observe people attempting to avoid obstacles. Every obstacle is unique to each of us. But the responses they elicit are very similar: Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Depression. Anger. Change shifts our comfort zones, where we find security and stability, so these emotions are naturally occurring reactions.
In some cases, avoiding an obstacle is wise. Ever step on a Lego? Marcus isn’t