I’ve just finished reading The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday. He writes about perception, perspective, choice, change, focus, action, courage, reality, process, success and failure. Obstacle gives concise organized words to my self-discovered principles. At the end of the book I was hoping to find a form to annotate both failure and success paths on a project. Alas, it wasn’t there. I have to do my own work and find my own way, to know for myself what will cause my project to fail. By doing that, I will know how to create success. Holiday reminded me, once again, to put my butt in the chair and do the work.
His most helpful words were about perception.
- Our perceptions are the thing that we’re in complete control of.
- Through our perception of events, we are complicit in the creation — as well as the destruction — of every one of our obstacles.
I came to understand that our perceptions are stories we create, stories we tell ourselves. We give or create meaning to objects and events that transcend reality. For example:
- Grandmother’s china: I remember as a child sitting at her table, using these dishes. When I see her dishes in my cabinet I am back at her table, eating mashed potatoes and gravy. . . and happy.
- Big Ben souvenir: I remember my first trip to London, good times with my daughter, riding the tube, and eating fish and chips. When I look at my tiny gold-paint-peeling Big Ben I am back in London.
The Bishop talked this week of being at Coventry Cathedral, seeing both the ruins and the new cathedral, in the same locale. He told the stories of war and rebuilding, why the ruins were left, and the movements and actions and ministries that have arisen from that site. He explained the theology of all that is there. Then he told of his conversation with a barista about why he was at Coventry. “Coventry?” she said. “It’s just a pile of rocks.”
Perception is everything. It’s the difference between deep meaning and reality. The difference between sacred and rocks. The difference between special china and old chipped, cracked dishes. The difference between great times and a cheap plastic trinket.
The same principles apply to our relationships. I can believe (the story I create) that my child is misbehaving just to make my life difficult. Words I spew will reflect my perception. If I check the situation, I may discover what is really wrong. The child wasn’t setting out to ruin my day; there was something else happening that I hadn’t been aware of. Perception changes everything. My words will be different.
Perception is everything. And it’s the one thing we totally control, according to Ryan Holiday.
It’s worth thinking about. Even pondering. Perhaps we need to change some of our stories.
Until next Tuesday . . .