The Obstacle Is The Way Book Club

Beginning about two weeks ago, I was asked to run point on a book club at work for my team. Essentially, I volunteered to do so because I suggested the book The Obstacle Is The Way. Apparently, I’ve been out of the Army long enough to have forgotten the first rule of workplace interaction: Never volunteer suggestions for anything.

In any case, I’m trying to do some interesting things here. It’s a bit of an exercise in getting buy-in, non-positional authority, and generating enthusiasm. The book club is mandatory, and there are plenty of folks who I don’t think are super-enthused about it.

Additionally, I knew I’d have a tough time getting people to show up for a book discussion that either: a) occurred over lunch, or b) after work. So, I created a Slack group for asynchronous discussion. I post a question or a comment there a couple times a week and see if anyone has anything to say about it. So far, not much. But there has been some, which is encouraging.

In any case, I’m gonna insert part of the email I sent out to introduce everyone to the book club, and maybe summarize what I’m doing as I go along.

I’ve always viewed Philosophy as an examination of what we humans think and why. Each of us has a personal philosophy (even though we may not phrase it that way); it’s our motivation for the way we interact with the world around us.

Personally, I’ve found Stoicism to be a very helpful lens through which to view the world. It allows me to understand that I’m often powerless to influence the circumstances I find myself in. I’m sure many of you have felt the same way, whether it’s your covered patio’s roof collapsing under the weight of accumulated snow or how we just can’t seem to figure out how our competition hits those gross margin targets when we as a company seem to be busting our tails and not getting the same results.

Stoicism helps me understand that while I can’t always choose what happens, I CAN always choose how I react. I can allow the challenges I face to spur me on to find a novel way to attack an issue. As Marcus Aurelius (a Roman emperor and practitioner of Stoic thought) wrote in his Meditations, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Our challenges refine and define us.

The book itself, after the Introduction, is split into three parts. Perception (how we view challenges), Action (how we attack challenges and overcome them), and Will (how we motivate ourselves to keep going in the face of adversity).

Each of these sections contains examples of traits that people in history (from ancient to recent) have exhibited, in order that they might face their issues head-on. In my opinion, it’s a very relatable way to see how this school of philosophy can change how you view and overcome roadblocks in your professional (and personal!) life.

I’m spending two weeks on each section. The first section (“Perception”) should be completed by tomorrow, so I need to work on a summary, and also a quick introduction of the second section. I’ll keep this updated from a “lessons learned” standpoint, so that I can improve it all in the event I run another one of these things.

First Thing, Every Morning

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and I have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Marcus is saying to prepare yourself for the ugliness of situations and people you meet every day by reminding yourself that YOU just as often act and are perceived this way by others. So cut them some slack, Jason.