Thoughts on resilience/overcoming obstacles


It is inevitable that no matter who we are or what we have accomplished, we will face challenges, obstacles, set-backs or even catastrophes at some point.

I am fortunate enough that I’m not currently experiencing these circumstances to any great degree. This is possibly down to my age, experience and lessons previously learned the hard way, but it is also at least partly down to luck – circumstances beyond my control.

I am fully aware that these tricky situations are bound to appear at some point in my future and when they do, I hope to be able to deal with them gracefully. I came across an African proverb last year that expressed very well the attitude I try and take towards obstacles:

“Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.”

The attitude I try to take is that each challenge we face contains within it the chance to improve ourselves, to learn and to grow. In finding solutions to the problems we face we often stretch beyond our comfort zones and develop ourselves in the process.

I have learned many useful lessons over the years by reading about Buddhism and Stoicism. One of the key lessons that I try to incorporate into my day to day life is this:

We have more control over our responses to the world than we do over the world itself.

Put simply – focus on what you can control.

Stephen Covey touches on this in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when he describes the circle of influence and the circle of concern. Covey urges the reader to be proactive, to recognise what he or she can control and to take action. In time we may find that our circle of influence expands, but time spent talking about or worrying about things beyond our control is time wasted.

For those who want to learn more about this attitude, there are some great classic texts. Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are both highly recommended.

I have also created an “in case of emergency” reading list for myself drawing on some more modern (and perhaps more accessible) texts:

And finally this youtube clip of former Navy Seal Jocko Willink, which depending on my mood either makes me nod in agreement, smile or laugh out loud. Check it out!