How Obstacles Help Us

Marcus Aurelius did not see obstacles in life as barriers that limited opportunity or prevented us from progressing forward to reach out goals. What Aurelius saw in the challenges and roadblocks that we face along our journey were aids and tools to help us reach higher places and to lift or propel us in the direction that best aligned with who we are.  In Meditations the Roman Emperor writes,


“In one respect man is the nearest thing to me, so far as I must do good to men and endure them, but so far as some men make themselves obstacles to my proper acts, man becomes to me one of the things which are indifferent, no less than the sun or wind or a wild beast. Now it is true that these may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my affects and disposition, which have the power of acting conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes every hindrance to its activity into an aid; and so that which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act; and that which is an obstacle on the road helps us on the this road.”


In this quote the obstacle that Aurelius primarily focuses on is other people, which is often the obstacle that we face in life.  We are able to overcome physical obstacles and challenges resulting from time or money because the obstacle is in our head, but an obstacle created by another person seems so far out of our control that it becomes an even greater barrier to progress.  What Aurelius states in his writing is that other people cannot change our attitude, and that it is our own decisions in how we relate and react to others that changes our disposition.  If we decide that we will not allow our attitude to change and if we decide that we will not allow the actions of another to be limiting factors for us, then we will find a way to proceed in our wishes.


What Aurelius also shows is that we can take the challenges presented to us and use them to grow in ways that we don’t always predict.  We often don’t have straight paths to our goals, and facing struggles and suffering to some extent can help us reach better places than if our journey had no obstacles. Learning more about ourselves, seeing the world from new perspectives, and connecting the dots between everything in our lives will help us surmount our impediments, and building those skills will propel us even further toward success. In this way when we face roadblocks we do not stop or turn around, but rather we face our challenge and surge even further forward.

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