Marcus Aurelius and stoic thinking: transforming adversity into advantage through perception, action and will
Every day, we all find ourselves faced with all kinds of obstacles: we may not be satisfied with our work or relationships, we may experience an accident or have a work problem, or something might get in the way of us completing a project. Yet, whatever obstacle we find ourselves up against, from the most serious to the most trivial, we always have a choice: to be blocked by the obstacle or to overcome it. Some people immediately see the obstacles as insurmountable, identify with the role of victims of the situation and do nothing to get out of it. Others, on the other hand, manage to shift their point of view from the negative to the positive, from "everything happens to me" to "I can use this opportunity to". As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius said: “The impediment to action promotes action. What hinders becomes the way,” because inside every obstacle there is an opportunity for improvement. Marcus Aurelius had some experience with life's obstacles, including wars, plagues, attempts to overthrow him and betrayals. Despite a life far more difficult than most of us have today, he never lost patience, grace or courage, which is why he was admired by all as a great man and emperor. Marcus Aurelius’ thinking was part of the philosophical tradition of Stoicism, a pragmatic philosophy with a strong ethical association that has inspired many great leaders throughout history. Stoicism addresses real-life problems on the assumption that we must focus on what is in our control, that is, those internal factors such as emotions, judgments, attitudes, reactions and decisions.
The philosophers of Stoicism - including Zeno, Seneca, Epictetus and others - disseminated this philosophy as a kind of system for coping with life's difficulties. By taking a cue from Stoic philosophy, we too can learn to transform obstacles into opportunities through a discipline consisting of three steps:
- Perception, or the way we see the world, that can be objective or spoilt by prejudice.
- Action, which can be direct, deliberate, bold, creative, flexible and persistent.
- Willpower, over which we have full control even when we have lost everything else.
People often lose faith in their path because they are faced with an obstacle. But instead of avoiding obstacles, we must face them, use them to our advantage and transform them into preparatory conditions for our success. That's what the stoic does: find a way to turn every negative event into a positive, using every situation as an opportunity to give his or her best, because, just as we can't control events, we can always control the way we respond to them. The Stoic also becomes stronger and better with each obstacle they face, but let's be clear: overcoming an obstacle will not allow us to enter some kind of paradise where there are no more obstacles. Let's face it: there will always be obstacles in our life. Our way of dealing with them, however, will allow us not only to overcome them, but also to become better people by virtue of overcoming them.