The Obstacle Becomes The Way
The Stoics had an exercise called Turning the Obstacle Upside Down. What they meant to do was make it impossible to ever not practice the art of philosophy. Because if you can properly turn a problem upside down, bad is constantly a new source of good.
Suppose for a second that you are trying to help someone and they respond by being surly or unwilling to cooperate. Instead of making your life more difficult, the exercise says, they’re actually directing you towards new virtues; for example, patience or understanding. Or, if something important is stolen or lost; a chance to be less dependent on material things. Marcus Aurelius described it like this: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Does this sound familiar? It should because it is the same thinking behind Obama’s “teachable moments.” Right before the election, Joe Klein asked Obama how he’d made his decision to respond to the Reverend Wright scandal. He said something like ‘when the story broke I realized the best thing to do wasn’t damage control, it was to speak to Americans like adults.’ And he what he ended up doing was turning a negative situation into the perfect platform for his landmark speech about race.
Remember that the common refrain about entrepreneurs is that they take advantage of opportunities. Well, this is something much different. The Reverend Wright scandal, the Special Olympics gaffe, a frustrating case where your help goes unappreciated, none of those are “opportunities” in the normal sense of the word. In fact, they are the opposite. They are obstacles. What a hustler does, or what a Stoic does is turn the obstacle into an opportunity.