This piece is an adaption from The Obstacle Is The Way.

When coach Shaka Smart was interviewed after his team beat North Carolina in a surprise upset last week, what did he say? He didn’t focus on the buzzer beater. Or the strategy. He said his team won because “they followed the process.

Tony Wroten, a guard for the 76ers, got the same advice from his coaches. “They tell us every game, every day, ‘trust the process.’” John Fox, the coach trying to turn around the Chicago Bears, asked his team the same thing.

But what the hell is it? What is the process?

It can be traced to Nick Saban, the famous coach of LSU and Alabama—perhaps the most dominant dynasty in the history of college football. But he got it from a psychiatry professor named Lionel Rosen during his time at Michigan State.

Rosen’s big insight was this: sports—especially football—are complex. Nobody has enough brainpower or motivation to consistently manage all the variables going on in the course of a season, let alone a game. They think they do—but realistically, they don’t.

There are too many plays, too many players, too many statistics, countermoves, unpredictables, distractions. Over the course of a long playoff season, this adds up into a cognitively impossible load. Meanwhile, as Monte Burke writes in his book Saban, Rosen discovered that the average play in football lasts just seven seconds. Seven seconds—that’s very manageable.

Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

So he posed a question: What if a team concentrated only on what they could manage? What if they took things step by step—not focusing on anything but what was right in front of them and on doing it well?

As a result, Nick Saban doesn’t focus on what every other coach focuses on, or at least not the way they do. He tells them:

“Don’t think about winning the SEC Championship. Don’t think about the national championship. Think about what you needed to do in this drill, on this play, in this moment. That’s the process: Let’s think about what we can do today, the task at hand.”

It’s this message that’s been internalized by his players and his teams—which together have four national championships in an eight-year span, one Mid-American Conference championship, have been crowned SEC champions 15 times and Saban has received multiple coaching awards.

In the chaos of sport, as in life, process provides a way. A way to turn something very complex into something simple. Not that simple is easy.

But it is easier. Let’s say you’ve got to do something difficult. Don’t focus on that. Instead break it down into pieces. Simply do what you need to do right now. And do it well. And then move on to the next thing. Follow the process and not the prize. As Bill Belichick famously put it, just do your job.

The road to back-to-back championships, or being a writer or a successful entrepreneur is just that, a road. And you travel along a road in steps. Excellence is a matter of steps. Excelling at this one, then that one and then the one after that. Saban’s process is exclusively this—existing in the present, taking it one step at a time, not getting distracted by anything else. Not the other team, not the scoreboard, or the crowd.

The process is about finishing. Finishing games. Finishing workouts. Finishing film sessions. Finishing drives. Finishing reps. Finishing plays. Finishing blocks. Finishing the smallest task you have right in front of you and finishing it well.

Whether it’s pursuing the pinnacle of success in your field, or simply surviving some awful or trying ordeal, the same approach works. Don’t think about the end—think about surviving. Getting it right from meal to meal, meeting to meeting, project to project, paycheck to paycheck, one day at a time.

And when you really get it right, even the hardest things become manageable. As Heraclitus observed, “under the comb, the tangle and the straight path are the same.” That’s what the process is. Under its influence, we needn’t panic. Even mammoth tasks become just a series of component parts.

This was what the great 19th-century pioneer of meteorology, James Pollard Espy, had shown to him in a chance encounter as a young man. Unable to read and write until he was 18, Espy attended a rousing speech by the famous orator Henry Clay. After the talk, a spellbound Espy tried to make his way toward Clay, but he couldn’t form the words to speak to his idol. One of his friends shouted out for him: “He wants to be like you, even though he can’t read.”

Clay grabbed one of his posters, which had the word CLAY written in big letters. He looked at Espy and said, “You see that, boy?” pointing to a letter. “That’s an A. Now, you’ve only got 25 more letters to go.”

Espy had just been gifted The Process. Within a year, he started college.

What Rosen, what Espy, what these coaches are practicing is a central tenet of stoic philosophy—one which I’ve tried to pass along in The Obstacle is The Way. It’s just a modern take on Marcus Aurelius when he advised:

“Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?”

Equestrian Statue of emperor of the Roman empire Marcus Aurelius (Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Equestrian Statue of emperor of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. (Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Seven seconds. Sticking to the situation at hand. Focusing on what’s immediately in front of you. No strain, no struggling. So relaxed. No exertion or worry. Just one simple movement after another. That’s the power of process.

We can channel this, too. We needn’t scramble like we’re so often inclined to do when some difficult task sits in front of us. Instead, we can take a breath, do the immediate, composite part in front of us—and follow its thread into the next action. Everything in order, everything connected.

When it comes to our actions, disorder and distraction are death. The unordered mind loses track of what’s in front of it—what matters—and gets distracted by thoughts of the future. The process is order, it keeps our perceptions in check and our actions in sync.

It seems obvious, but we forget this when it matters most.

Right now, if I knocked you down and pinned you to ground, how would you respond? You’d probably panic. And then you’d push with all your strength to get me off you. It wouldn’t work; just using my body weight, I would be able to keep your shoulders against the ground with little effort—and you’d grow exhausted fighting it.

That’s the opposite of the process.

The process is much easier. First, you don’t panic, you conserve your energy. You don’t do anything stupid like get yourself choked out by acting without thinking. You focus on not letting it get worse. Then you get your arms up, to brace and create some breathing room, some space. Now work to get on your side.  From there you can start to break down my hold on you: grab an arm, trap a leg, buck with your hips, slide in a knee.

It’ll take some time, but you’ll get yourself out. At each step, the person on top is forced to give a little up, until there’s nothing left. Then you’re free.

Being trapped is just a position, not a fate. You get out of it by addressing and eliminating each part of that position through small, deliberate action—not by trying (and failing) to push it away with superhuman strength.

With our business rivals, we rack our brains to think of some mind-blowing new product that will make them irrelevant, and, in the process, we take our eye off the ball. We shy away from writing a book or making a film even though it’s our dream because it’s so much work—we can’t imagine how we get from here to there.

How often do we compromise or settle because we feel that the real solution is too ambitious or outside our grasp? How often do we assume that change is impossible because it’s too big? Involves too many different groups? Or worse, how many people are paralyzed by all their ideas and inspirations? They chase them all and go nowhere, distracting themselves and never making headway. They’re brilliant, sure, but they rarely execute. They rarely get where they want and need to go.

All these issues are solvable. Each would collapse beneath the process. We’ve just wrongly assumed that it has to happen all at once, and we give up at the thought of it. We are A-to-Z thinkers, fretting about A, obsessing over Z, yet forgetting all about B through Y.

We want to have goals, yes, so everything we do can be in service of something purposeful. When we know what we’re really setting out to do, the obstacles that arise tend to seem smaller, more manageable. When we don’t, each one looms larger and seems impossible. Goals help put the blips and bumps in proper proportion.

When we get distracted, when we start caring about something other than our own progress and efforts, the process is the helpful, if occasionally bossy, voice in our head. It is the bark of the wise, older leader who knows exactly who he is and what he’s got to do. Shut up. Go back to your stations and try to think about what we are going to do ourselves, instead of worrying about what’s going on out there. You know what your job is, stop jawing and get to work.

The process is the voice that demands we take responsibility and ownership. That prompts us to act even if only in a small way.

Like a relentless machine, subjugating resistance each and every way it exists, little by little. Moving forward, one step at a time. Subordinate strength to the process. Replace fear with the process. Depend on it. Lean on it. Trust in it.

Take your time, don’t rush. Some problems are harder than others. Deal with the ones right in front of you first. Come back to the others later. You’ll get there.

The process is about doing the right things, right now. Not worrying about what might happen later, or the results, or the whole picture.

This post appeared originally on the New York Observer



asylum-cover-post

Buried in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Crack Up, a collection of the great writer’s essays and diary entries written during his sad decline, is a quick mention of a fellow alcoholic writer and a book about his struggles.

He doesn’t mention the title. He doesn’t explain anything about the author, William Seabrook, besides his name. Probably because at the time he wrote the essay, both things were self-evident. William Seabrook was, at least then, much more famous than Fitzgerald.

I remember coming across this mention and making a note of it. I looked for the book on Amazon a few days later. The only copy available was a Bantam paperback from 1947. It cost $13.98 with shipping. (Today it starts at $75.00.)

Little did I know, the book that would arrive would become one of my all-time favorites and that I would play some role in not just helping it find a new audience, but bringing it back into print after decades in obscurity.

That book? Asylum (An Alcoholic Takes the Cure)the very true story of the journalist William Seabrook who, in December 1933, as one of the most successful travel writers in the world, committed himself voluntarily into an insane asylum to treat a crippling addiction to alcohol. In a time before 12-step programs, support groups and rehab centers, there were no other options. What emerged was not just quite possibly one of the first modern addiction/recovery memoirs, but perhaps the most honest and haunting accounts of the struggle for mental health in literature.

A travel book where the journey is inward instead of outward? You can write like that? You can look at your own problems and your own role in them like that?

You cannot turn a page in the book without watching him bump, unknowingly, into the basic principles of 12-step groups and the patterns of behavior we now associate with depression and addiction. Trapped behind the walls of the institution, Seabrook wrote:

I was forced to see sober a panorama that had been nothing but a miserable series of “runnings away from myself” since earliest childhood, and in which I now fully realized for the first time, neither whiskey nor the particular trade I had adopted were anything more than incidental. I took sober stock and saw that dissatisfaction, a sense of my own inability to arrive at a harmonious adjustment in any environment—sporadically dotted with flights and attempted escapes—had been the whole pattern of my life. I had run away ineffectually at 6 to be a pirate as all children do, and instead of getting maturer powers of adjustment as I grew older, I had been running away ever since… Now I knew that all the time I had been running away from something, and that the thing had always been myself.

Like many busy, successful people, Seabrook’s busy-ness and success were as much aresult of his addiction as his addiction inhibited them. Addiction doesn’t immediately drive us to rock bottom, sometimes it takes a detour to top of the mountain first. In fact, it was only when Seabrook had his fame and career and many bestselling works—a writer with enough money in the bank can be a dangerous thing—that the toll of his behavior finally began to make itself known. Only then did the impostor syndrome begin to creep in (and in shame, he began to drink heavily to pretend it wasn’t true).

Always ahead of the curve, he was a modern man right before modern times. Which is what makes this book so powerful, so timeless, so provocative then, as now. And yet, despite the splash this book made at the time, the book was eventually forgotten and lost to history. Seabrook was too, despite his significant contributions to American culture. This was the man, after all, who gave us the world “Zombie” and was notorious for having eaten human flesh and writing about it. How could he have been forgotten while the works of other lesser writers remain? I’m not sure.

All I know is that when I read the book, I was blown away by its vulnerability and honesty. A travel book where the journey is inward instead of outward? You can write like that? You can look at your own problems and your own role in them like that? In retrospect, a lot of the most insightful observations went over my head—but in the way that the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson is so powerful to college freshman, so was the writing of William Seabrook to me.

A few months after reading it, I decided I would start a newsletter specifically to recommend obscure or forgotten books like this. About 100 people signed up. The works of William Seabrook were the first books I recommended. My recommendation read:

From the perspective of a travel writer, [Seabrook] described his own journey through this strange and foreign place. On a regular basis, he says things so clear, so self-aware that you’re stunned an addict could have written it—shocked that this book isn’t a classic American text.

I think I sold about 5 copies.

But over the years that list grew. Where the first group of subscribers nearly seven years ago was small enough to drop into the bcc field in Gmail, last month’s listwent out to more than 50,000 people. A few years ago, I wrote an article for Thought Catalog titled “24 Books You’ve Probably Never Heard Of That Will Change Your Life.” Number 14 was Asylum. The piece was read by about 100,000 people and then more when I reposted it on my own site. It was turned into a SlideShare (200,000 views) and a Business Insider piece (640,000 views) a while later. I once brought the book with me when a client was appearing on Dr. Drew’s show Loveline, but couldn’t bear to part with my only (note-filled) copy.

In any case, over the last few years, Asylum started to get some of the attention it deserved. I’ve heard from hundreds of readers who loved the book. I would see it pop up on Amazon in the recommended books on the pages of some of my favorite authors. Now, when you look at Asylum on Amazon, the “You Might Also Like” section is entirely filled with other books from my list of “24.”

(Photo: Ryan Holiday)

(Photo: Ryan Holiday)

Still, last month I was surprised to get an email from an acquisitions editor at Dover, a publisher that specializes in out-of-print and public domain books. With the help of Seabrook’s son, they were bringing Asylum back. And not just Asylum either—they were going to put multiple editions of his books “into the hands of a new generation of readers.”

A few days later, the book arrived. It has a new cover designed by the illustrator Joe Ollman and a comic that serves as its introduction. I re-read the book and fell in love all over again. It was exactly as I remembered. Insightful, vulnerable, funny. And in the years since my first reading—with my own struggles with forms of addiction and my own personal issues—I took more out of it than I had before.

As a reader and a lover of books, in many ways this is the dream. That one could stumble upon a book randomly, advocate for it and take pride in having paid it forward enough that the book is given a second life. It’s what Bukowski did for Fante and or Walker Percy did for John Kennedy Toole.

I was even able to spend some time on the phone with Seabrook’s son, Bill. Bill told me about the book’s unique path to re-publication, which began with his mother’s smart decision to maintain the book’s copyrights over the years, and continued with the work of the literary agency Watkins/Loomis, which itself is over 100 years old(and also represents writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates). He and I talked about what his father must have been looking for as he traveled to the far corners of the Earth and to the bottom of a bottle on his way to the darkest depths of his own psyche. We spoke about how that same wanderlust—though perhaps without the darkness—was passed from father to son, as it so often seems to be.

The whole thing was almost too perfect.

It’s that sense…that if some people had just had their act together a little more, it could have all turned out even better, even bigger.

I don’t want to say it is perfect because from a publishing perspective the new edition leaves something to be desired. I do wish that Dover could have taken the time to give the book a full introduction that explains to modern readers just who this great man was and why his writing deserves to be known. Having purchased a handful of Dover Thrift editions of books over the years (which Amazon tends to recommend due to their price), I’m familiar with their—let’s just say “economical”—approach to re-publishing famous works. If Penguin Classics or Library of America are the Whole Foods of book publishing, handcrafted, lovingly produced and expertly marketed, then Dover can sometimes feel like the bargain bin at Walmart.

The new cover is cool—but I can’t help but think the book would have been better served by something more subdued. Somehow they lost the book’s helpful subtitle/logline and on the back, gave even less description than the cheap pulp paperback of the mid-20th century. Just compare The Crack Up (published by New Directions) and Asylum and tell me which one you’d rather read.

As one of the book’s biggest and most public fans, I was sad to hear about it onlyafter it was out. The things I would have done for free to help this book! Nor can I be the only one. It’s that sense—common in interactions with the publishing industry—that if some people had just had their act together a little more, it could have all turned out even better, even bigger.

But as anyone who knows the arc of Seabrook’s story can tell you,“almost too perfect” is probably fitting. Because his time at the insane asylum ended in 1934 with a diagnosis that he’d been “cured” of alcoholism. His doctors’ only post-treatment plan? They asked him to promise not to drink for six months.

Seabrook lasted a little longer than that, published his book, moved on with his life and, of course, had his only son. Though eventually, with the approval of the naive medical opinion at the time, he began to drink again. And then moved on to drugs and increasingly dark sexual behavior.

He died in 1945 of an overdose in Rhinebeck, N.Y.

His perfect work and his perfect story disappeared with him.

Until now.

This post appeared originally on the New York Observer



I can no longer remember the first heavy metal song I ever listened to, but I assume it was something by Metallica. I can tell you the first album I fell in love with: Brave New World by Iron Maiden.

For metal purists, this is a strange choice. The album came out in May 2000, not exactly the heyday of the genre. In fact, this was actually the perfect introduction for me. The album was just new enough that it sounded modern and fresh, but being that it was the band’s first reunited collaboration in nearly a decade, it had just enough of their classic sound that I was hooked. It’s a damn good album too—one of the singles even got a Grammy nod.

From there, it was down the rabbit hole. The exposure had been accidental—all because in those days illegal downloads from sites like Audiogalaxy were constantly mislabeled. But it also meant that I had access to the vast back catalogs of artists that I’d have never heard on the radio.

I went through all of it. Priest. Megadeth. Dio. Sabbath. Ozzy. Blind Guardian. Dream Theater.

It’s probably every parent’s worst nightmare, especially parents of the generation mine came from. This was dumb people music to them. It was ridiculous, ugly, and only a few short steps from tattoos, drugs, long hair and dropping out of school (only a few of those things actually happened to me!)

But really, heavy metal put me on the path I am on today—in every positive sense.

A few years ago a study found that kids with the highest IQs are disproportionatelyattracted to heavy metal. The reason is that the themes of alienation, frustration, and even pain, match the experience of a smart young person struggling to fit in and make sense of the world.

So yes, most parents might think that metal songs are about drugs, violence, suicide, the devil and whatever other ridiculous stereotypes scared people project onto it. More directly, the assumption is that they somehow advocate these things to impressionable young people. Of course, the opposite is true. In fact, the music is often about coping with the complicated and dark feelings that come along with a serious intellect at an early age.

The result is often surprising. I remember that one of the first open minded and thoughtful things I heard about gay people was from a Rush song called Nobody’s Hero (the sexuality of Rob Halford, the lead singer of Judas Priest, was an open secret in heavy metal for a long time). Metallica has songs that deal with suicidedrugs and addiction in smart and moving ways and their song One is based on the anti-war novel, Johnny Get Your Gun. Metallica is not the only band to address these issues as Megadeth, Slayer, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to name a few have tackled the subject. Who else were we going to process it with?

From Iron Maiden, I fell in love with history in a new way. In fact, several studies have examined the multitude of historical themes explored by the band, ranging from Pre-History to current events, from Genghis Khan to the battle of Passchendaele. The first time I heard audio of a Winston Churchill speech wasn’t in school, it was in the intro of Iron Maiden’s 1984 music video for “Aces High”—which I downloaded off another file sharing network. It’s not as if MTV was playing it. They have a song inspired by Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade and another based on an epic poem from Coleridge.

I’m not saying it was a straight line from here to studying ancient philosophy and history, but it did start the process.

It’s not just what the music is about. There is an artistry that far too many people fail to see. There’s a line in Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls (based on Hemingway’s book, by the way) that goes:

“Crack of dawn, all is gone
except the will to be”

Even now, every time I hear it, I think: that is so good. It’s poetry in a different context, sure, and damn good writing. When what we had to read and study in school bored me out of my mind, it was music that stimulated me–that inspired me to think about how words could be used, what was worth studying and just what the human experience really was.

I remember reading a lot about Metallica and specifically its guitarist Kirk Hammett. After the band had kicked out its original guitarist (Dave Mustaine who would go on to form Megadeth), they invited Kirk to join the group. You know what the first thing he did was? Even though he was an accomplished player, he started taking lessons from a guy named Joe Satriani (who went on to be one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived). That is, even though he landed his dream job, he continued to learn and stay a student. I remember thinking how different that was than the notion that geniuses are just naturally that way. No, it actually takes practice and work to be good at something—even a thing that many don’t respect as real “art.”

I’m not saying this is what made me a writer, but it helped. Something you notice really quickly about the genre is that it’s more than just music. Heavy metal album covers are some of the best in the history of music. Because the bands understood that they weren’t just recording songs, but creating brands. Metallica’s cover forMaster of Puppets is spectacular. Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,Somewhere in Time, Powerslave and The Number of the Beast are all ridiculously cool(mostly because of Eddie their mascot). Megadeth’s Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? is spectacular. Judas Priest’s British Steel is badass too.

Heavy metal has always been the clearest proof of Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 True Fans” concept. These are acts that rarely got on the radio or on television. How did they survive? How did they keep going? How do they currently sell out stadiums—literally stadiums—when most people assumed they’ve broken up? Because they know who their fans are and exist exclusively for them. They were also smart enough businessmen to figure out earlier than the rest of the industry that the money was never in record sales. One of the common dismissals of bands like Anthrax or Maiden or Megadeth is that they sold more t-shirts than albums. Yeah, that’s brilliant. Because nobody takes a cut of your merchandise sales.

Like I said, the first Iron Maiden songs I heard were pirated, but since then I’ve probably spent close to a thousand dollars on a various related products the band sold from tickets to box sets to DVDs. This is what made Metallica’s attack on Napster so ridiculous. They’d gotten popular as a band because of bootleg tapes. Their own balance sheet should have made it clear where the profit centers of the industry were. In any case, to see these bands continue to thrive when the economics of music have supposedly collapsed is a testament to the power of a loyal fan base and a universe of products.

Of course, I’m not saying that this is what got me into marketing or even that it was responsible for my time in the music industry, but it did give me a lot of good ideas.

The most important lesson I learned from heavy metal came from the band (and the singer) that caught me first. From Bruce Dickinson, I learned that you really can be good at more than one thing. And that stereotypes are total bullshit. In Dickinson, we have a man who wasn’t content to just be the lead singer in a band that sold 85 million records. He also wanted to have an acclaimed career as a solo artist, a professional airline pilot, a bestselling novelist, Olympic-level fencer and then in his spare time, have a show on BBC radio. The guy flies the band and its equipment to Iron Maiden’s sold-out shows in a custom 757. Fuuuck…was all I could think when I was 15. It’s what I think still.

If there’s one model that I’ve used to justify my peripatetic career, it’s been Bruce. Why shouldn’t I try new things? Why wouldn’t it be possible to get really good at this thing? If he can do all he’s done, I can do a fraction of it.

I know to my parents my love of heavy metal probably seemed like the beginning of a bad dream. Where will this go, they must have thought? Is he going to end up like those losers?

Of course, the entire time it was making me smarter, introducing me to new ideas, teaching me about the business of art, and inspiring me to pick a unique career.

Plus it was fun.

I don’t listen to great music as much anymore. Honestly, my taste has atrophied intowhatever will help me tune out distractions while I work. But every once in a while, a Maiden track will come on and it takes me right back. I love it.

Heavy metal changed my life. Up the Irons.

This post appeared originally on the New York Observer



Dr. Drew Pinsky changed my life. I asked him one simple question, and his answer put me on a path that saved me from a very dark place. But more than that it ultimately helped me achieve success, made me a published author, saved my relationships, and made me happy.

I’m sure this is true for a lot of people. He is after all, a practicing medical specialist of many years and now the host of a major television show, Dr. Drew On Call. But these circumstances were a little different. You see, I am not and have never been an addict. I don’t have an eating disorder or a sexual or medical issue. I have never called into Loveline (though I was a fan). It happened because I walked up to him at 19 years old and asked him if he had any books he could recommend.

I was in college in the mid-aughts and I was invited to a small, private summit of college journalists that Dr. Drew, then the host of Loveline, was hosting. After it ended, he was standing in the corner and I cautiously made my way over to nervously ask a question I thought might be worth taking a shot with: “I heard you read a lot. What should I read?” He said he’d been studying a stoic philosopher named Epictetus and that I should check it out. He also recommended a biography of Theodore Roosevelt that remains one of my favorites (TR it turns out was also a fan of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius).

Dr. Drew—the sex doctor from MTV and KROQ—introduced me to classic philosophy. That night I emailed my friend Tucker Max (who would later go on to be a frequent guest on Loveline) to see if he’d read it. He told me it was amazing and that I should also read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius, translated by Gregory Hays, arrived first. My life has not been the same since.

2014-04-30-ScreenShot20140430at10.41.39AM.png

I had just gone through a breakup of a long relationship (from sophomore year in high school to sophomore year in college) and was wrecked. In fact, I’d spent most of the conference despondent in my hotel room. I was depressed. I was miserable. I been prescribed sleeping pills by a college therapist because I wasn’t sleeping.

So the words of Marcus Aurelius — a Roman emperor writing admonishments and reassurances to himself amidst the stresses of imperial life hit me in the face. The words of Epictetus, a lowly slave teaching at the outskirts of Rome had the same effect.

Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.” — Marcus Aurelius

It’s not about you, but how you react that matters.” — Epictetus

Anyone who remembers me from that time probably laughs at what a ridiculous convert to stoicism I became. “Have you read this?” I would ask people. “It’s SO good.” You know how young people are when they read Ayn Rand for the first time? I was like that. Enthralled! I was just amazed that something like this existed, something that wasn’t pretentious or impractical. Something that was real and solved my problems.

But unlike some silly Ayn Rand phase, this revelation has only grown for me over time. My understanding of stoicism is no longer so naive and simple, but it is equally fervent. It’s made me a better person, not a harder, less empathetic one.

I saw Dr. Drew again at another college conference a few months later (I guess he was speaking to a lot of college journalists at the time). I was a little late but I snuck up to a seat at the front. After it ended, I waited for everyone to ask their questions and I walked up to him and he remembered me: “You look so much better,” he said. There was a reason, I replied: “It’s because I read Epictetus.”

“I’m so glad,” he said, and then politely corrected my pronunciation. It’s “Epic-teat-us” not “Epic-tey-tus”—though to this day the incorrect one is imprinted on my mind. I said it so many times the wrong way during that period that I’ll never get it right. I think it was this moment that I realized not only the true power of books, but also that it didn’t matter whether I was a college student or a teenager but I could talk to and connect with just about anyone. It didn’t matter if they were a celebrity or rich or powerful — we all had the same problems and needs.

A few years later, Tucker was invited on as a guest on Loveline and I came with him to the taping studio. Of course, Dr. Drew no longer remembered me and I was much too shy to bring it up. But as I sat in that green room, all I could think about was how grateful I was, how lucky I’d been to have an opportunity to ask such a question, and how sometimes the fates align and you’re given exactly what you need.

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” — Marcus Aurelius

This man (and the philosopher he introduced me to) changed my life and in a very significant way contributed to the person I ended up becoming.

And now, over seven years later, I have the opportunity to introduce stoicism to even more people. My book The Obstacle is The Way (Portfolio/Penguin) is about a single exercise that both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius lived by: “The impediment to actions advances action What stands in the way becomes the way.” We think that the terrible things that happen to us are obstacles — as I did with my breakup — but they are in fact great opportunities. For me, those dark moments contributed to a great awakening. They exposed me, they motivated me to take a risk (to ask a question of an important, busy man) and I was rewarded for it.

The obstacle became the way. And Dr. Drew showed me that.

This post appeared originally on The Huffington Post.



This post appeared originally on the New York Observer in January 2014. Two years later I have three goats and live on a farm. A proposition that appeared “nightmarish” at the time.

I own a goat. Her name is Bucket.

Less than a year ago, I had an apartment in Manhattan, convinced I was ready to live the dream. I was a published author. I had high profile PR and marketing clients. I wasn’t sure exactly which dream I was living but I was pretty sure New York City was the place you came to celebrate it.

Twice today–once while on a conference call and then again while writing this article–I heard scratching at the door. It’s usually the dog asking to go outside. But this was my goat, and she wanted to come inside.

“No, Bucket,” I told her. “We can’t let livestock in the house.”

She scampered off to eat some leaves.

But soon enough she’d be back, like a good-natured amnesiac, to make the same request.

This is life in Austin, Texas. I have a pet goat.

Bucket is a three month old Nigerian Dwarf goat from a small farm in Seguin, Texas. She has blue eyes, a pink collar, and comes when you call her. She also enjoys being picked up and giving kisses. Currently she weighs about 20 lbs. and won’t get much bigger than a medium-sized dog. The only major change we’re expecting are her horns, which already grow a little every day.

When we first started talking about buying a goat, the veneer of utility still existed. Goats are Mother Nature’s little lawnmowers, after all, and I hate cutting the grass. Then we learned that goats do not eat grass. This fact came as a relatively late surprise in the decision making process, and eliminated the half-hearted justification my girlfriend and I had for our $350 impulse buy. She does eat weeds, clover, leaves and other such undesirables, but that doesn’t really matter anymore.

And that is because I find great peace and pleasure in sitting in my office/library and watching her out the window. She doesn’t know I can see her, but I can. I watch her bother the chickens (which have slightly more practical benefits for our fridge). On occasion I will catch her laying down in their coop for some reason. I watch her prance, and every so often, stop and make goat noises to no one in particular.

When I am on the phone, I will walk around the ground floor of the house and track her as she makes her migration around the yard. It’s a game that makes boring calls bearable, though it has required me to stifle a laugh a few times.

Only recently did my girlfriend–who I’ve been with for several years–finally come forward with her dream of living on a farm. Of course, she did this after I bought a house that is not anything like a farm, so we’re doing the best we can.

Is this my first step on the path carved by Susan Orlean? I hope not–though secretly I also hope so. The landscape she painted in her short book, Animalish, of a menagerie of unusual-but-not-exotic animals seems like a writer’s haven and just generally an interesting place to live.

Having animals is soothing (especially if your pretty farm girlfriend takes care of the details). I just get to look at them and pretend they are my friends. I get to project personalities onto them and have ridiculous conversations purely for my amusement.

My favorite is to pretend that my miniature dachshund is horribly betrayed by these new additions to the households and is constantly trying to inform on their behavior to get them in trouble. Or after hearing her dart up the stairs, that she’s breathlessly alerting me to the news that someone has let a goat into the yard.

In reality, she just wants to play. Unfortunately, Bucket does not understand fetch and feigns a headbutt if the dog gets too excited. Dachshunds are great at flushing out badgers; they are not great at taking a horned skull to the face.

When I am out of town my girlfriend sends me photos of their antics–including one recently that had both the goat and the dog wrapped up inside the coat she was wearing. There was also the infamous shot of the goat wearing an American Apparel dog hoodie.

But I also found out somewhat accidentally that my girlfriend and I have slightly different relationships and boundaries with the animal. Back in New York for meetings this week, I got a motion alert from my Dropcam, which monitors my living room and inside doorway. Usually the update is wind related, so I certainly wasn’t expecting to see the goat, the dog and Samantha all playing on the floor together. I guess that explains why Bucket always seems to expect me to open the door and let her in.

Sitting between meetings, watching this interspecies cuddlefest 1500 miles away, I realized the life I had envisioned for myself here in New York allowed for none of this. It was expensive, and it was restrictive. No question it afforded certain business opportunities, but they are purchased at a high cost. Not just in rent and cost of living, but in options–especially ridiculous options.

I’m not saying to run away and live small town life. That sounds equally nightmarish to me–that wasn’t my intention with Austin anyway. Work hard, take it seriously, embrace your ambition. And when you’re not doing that, do something–whatever it happens to be–that taps into the part of you that makes you forget about all the rest of it.

Buy a goat.