Higher Standards

Recently, I’ve been re-listening to one of the most important audiobooks of my adult life, The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. I originally came to this book desperate for something solid to hold on to. At the time I was a little over eight months sober, and in a rollercoaster of a relationship. I was in love for what felt like the first time, and a grenade had just been thrown on that paradise. Within stoicism I found the way through. This title is a manual of techniques taught by the ancients, ways of thinking that make a difference. It teaches you how to turn obstacles upside down.

On the AT, it’s easy to understand that the obstacle is the way. The trail is literally a series of obstacles. In solving them, one mile at a time, the path is driven a little harder into the dirt. This “way” now becomes a trail for the hikers to come. In relationships though, the path is more difficult to define. Even the obstacles themselves can be elusive.

In that relationship I was determined to use that upset as a means to grow closer to my Love, and build an even stronger foundation with her. It was hell, and it took a lot of effort, but we got through it. We processed things more thoroughly than I could have possibly imagined. A wound not only mended, it calloused. What impeded the path became a path of its own, just as Marcus Aurelius said it would.

I’ve been thinking a lot on past teachers, and where I’ve failed them. Where they demanded growth, and I failed to meet that challenge.

A bizarre thing happened on Katahdin. I felt with overwhelming certainty that I hadn’t earned it. I didn’t have 2192 miles on my legs, so I had no business standing on that sign. It was curious thing. This is exactly how I felt when I made black belt. I didn’t feel conversant enough to deserve it. If anything, my skill had atrophied. In both of these cases I failed to reach my own standards, which I do not need to justify or defend to anyone. It’s a “me” problem.

Where I’ve failed my teachers most though, have been the times when instead of listening, I was telling them what I know.  Ego is the Enemy is another Ryan Holiday book, perhaps it’s time I read it?

You cannot fake sincerity, nor can you “act” mature. Both of these things are exterior facets of far deeper intentions. Your teacher, any good teacher, can see those intentions years before you do. When the years do pass, and you are forced to reorient to reality, the truth is humbling. You think you’ve made progress, and yet you’ve just barely nudged past the starting line.

That is exactly the reality I had to face when I got sober. A decade’s worth of perceived progress was rendered null.

There are other areas of my life where this tension still exists. It’s the reason why I never sold my swords, why I am still walking south, and why I can’t shake the idea of going back to college.

The completion of this trail required a higher version of myself. Someone I couldn’t have even imagined myself to be three years ago. To accomplish the other nagging mountains ever calling, I’ll have to continue to grow into another impossible person. New obstacle, new way.


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