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Marcus Aurelius on Why it Should be Difficult

Marcus Aurelius on Why it Should be Difficult

“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. " - Marcus Aurelius, Book V, p. XX.

So there’s a dumb old lightbulb joke that goes like this: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

Recently, I had a lightbulb moment of realizing… I’m the lightbulb.

I suppose we’re all the lightbulb from time to time, and some days the punchline to boot. But today, I want to reframe my relationship to the whole struggle thing. I’m kind of fed up. Life over the past 5-or-so years may not have dampened my efforts, but it has definitely worn down my enthusiasm for taking on big, exciting, difficult goals. Psychologically, I have been playing defense, and that bums me out. I know some of you can relate, and that to some extent it’s just the times we’re living through: political strife, economic uncertainty, pandemic, inflation, war, and not for nothing the cost of college. But man, some days don’t you feel like your goals are receding faster than that bedroom door in Poltergeist?

Much of the time I am fortunate enough to find myself thinking in Dickinson and Shakespeare. But on days like this, an Aurelius line can pick me up and get me back in it. What would he say about the hard stuff? He would say hard is good. Hard is what makes it worth it. Having died in 180 AD, he’d also probably remark on some of the advantages I am currently enjoying, like electricity and plumbing and penicillin. The extraordinary contrast in the way a Roman citizen lived compared to me now is so humbling as to lighten the load all by itself. In fact, the relative comfort and ease with which we live our lives probably dampens our resilience in the face of adversity.

So what would Aurelius do? He would have reminded himself that he is lucky to be alive and capable and given a task worthy of conquering. He would recognize that your purpose is to do the hard work of making things better. He would point to their biggest obstacle in the room and say, “Thank you. That’s my path.”

I’m curious, how are you all doing? Am I the only one giving myself a little pep talk these days? Hope you’re all thriving and looking forward to a glorious fall.

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