Seen vs Unseen

January 24, 2013

We are most often held back by obstacles we aren’t even aware of–bad habits, flaws, ego, neuroses, self-destructiveness, aversions and fears we hardly know we have.

The world doesn’t usually take the time to plead, argue and convince us of our errors. Feedback is usually whispered, in the form of small failures, small problems, little trends. But we’re too thickheaded and resistent to hear it. We’re soft bodied but hard headed. We have too much armor to fail well.

So when you bump up against something that is clearly an obstacle and hindering your progress–from an a business deal gone wrong to your car getting stolen–you’d do well to say: “Hey at least I know about this. It’s an exposed issue that either has a solution or it doesn’t. Now I can try to solve it.” Don’t complain. Be thankful. Celebrate the fact that at least you’re not fighting yourself on this one.

And try to do a better job listening in those other types of situations. Because it’s time you understand that the world is telling you something with each and every event. Things about you, things about others, things about life. It’s all feedback–easily translated into precise instructions. It’s trying to wake you up from your cluelessness. It’s trying to teach you something.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

17 responses to Seen vs Unseen

  1. I like the frame shift there. Seeing it all as a learning process not only helps us to improve in the future, but helps us be happier in the present. Thanks for this – wise words as always.

  2. Amen. Finding the beauty and elegance in what you describe has been impactful for me lately. Thanks for the post.

  3. Yes, and how does one see what is invisible?

    • External feedback is one way…life coaches, mentors, therapists. Also, better self-evaluation…being open to feedback, evaluating feedback over the long-term. What to change and what to accept is the art.

  4. An idea which has existed since Psalm 19:12. Some pray that every day.

  5. This is something I’ve been thinking about. Say you have a difficult longterm goal. And in pursuit of it, you bump against things — becoming aware of neuroses, habits, and ego walls that you didn’t know were there, or thought you dissolved. But by circumstance you’re too busy, so you push all that feedback aside, focusing on the goal. After a while you realize you can’t push all those whispers aside. They stay, and your mind naturally incorporates them — like weeds in the garden that you have to work around. What can you do? Change the longterm goal and make sure it allows for time to confront the weeds? Or accept the weeds like an existential burden? I’m thinking the first option is right.

    • It’s very unlikely that your long term goal precludes you from dealing with your own issue. If you have a goal that wouldn’t be improved by also improving yourself–it might be a bad goal.

      In other words, the whole point of the post is to not push that feedback aside.

  6. We’re most often held back by randomness, which include things we aren’t aware of. I love Nassim Nicholad Taleb for just this reason, especially his book Fooled By Randomness. When we learn from randomness, or when we prepare for things only to be fooled by randomness, it is a very important lesson.

  7. typo in last paragraph, “think” instead of “things”

  8. “It is easy to crush an enemy outside oneself but impossible to defeat an enemy within.”
    Just happened to read that in Musashi.

  9. We are soft bodied but hard headed. I agree. We deny our mistakes most of the time. I like this too “the world is telling you something with each and every event”. I realize lots of things from your post. Thanks for sharing.

  10. It’s really impossible to know whether a failure is a blessing or a hindrance. Your hard headedness could be keeping you from potentially crappy outcomes or good ones, you never know. If you succeed, it might lead to a bigger fall. If my behaviour alienates people, I try not to let it bother me, because I have been accepted by organizations in the past that have bored me to tears. I have got jobs and thought I was successful, only to find the accomplishment was a curse, that wasted my time. The people who are so goal orientated and think they know what’s good for them not only make boring company, but are believing in a future destination that is in their mind and may not exist in reality. So, if you view everything as feedback to help you get to your desired destination and keep changing yourself, you may end up a very tense individual. Rather than mould yourself to be an entitiy that succeeds in this particular economy, focus on having a good time and if you get to some nice place, then it’s all gravy.

  11. You mean to say that we should “learn from our mistakes?”

    Is that what I’m getting from this?

    If so, what do you know about learning from mistakes? You’re a twenty year old baby. A mistake to your generation is making a spelling mistake in your Twitter post. Get real Holiday. Who do you think you are? Jim Rohn? Brian Tracy? Zig Ziglar? You are about as qualified to talk about “self help” as a gorilla is to teach calculus.

    Stick to what you’re good at, which is manipulating people into buying overpriced T-shirts, made by a CEO whose rap sheet is robust with sexual harassment suits.

  12. First of all, great post! In NLP, reframing is a key technique, helping to keep your emotional state healthy. This helps think much more clearly about problem solving. Less complaints, more solutions!

    BTW, your book is awesome, very useful (even in pt_BR).


  13. Girl Passing By March 29, 2013 at 2:00 am

    Today a problem that had seemed insurmountable, terrible and cruel evaporated into thin air. How? I sought feedback from someone with a lot of wisdom who was not interested in bull shitting me and propping up my ego. Now this problem, this flesh and blood enemy has lost all of its power and I’ve turned a corner in self awareness and strength by facing up to my weaknesses. It took a major crisis but I’m incredibly thankful for it.

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