Today, I’d like to tell you a story:
Nearly every afternoon for the last six months, I’ve walked the same
narrow quarter-mile path through the woods to the beach, carrying
my nine-foot surfboard so I can enjoy some waves. I’ve walked this
windy, sometimes slippery path so many times that I can move
through it quickly, without thinking.
The other week, however, I was walking the path and suddenly
stopped. The small wooden bridge I usually take over a creek had
been knocked out by a storm. So I had to pick my way across over
boulders and logs.
A little further, what looked like a branch had fanned out across the
path at waist level. I reached to move it, and instantly what felt like an
electric shock traveled through my hand. It was a stinging nettle plant.
A hundred yards later, a huge tree had fallen, its massive trunk
completely blocking the way. As I labored to climb over it with my
surfboard, I realized I was going to have to build a bridge, clear
away toxic plants, and somehow move a tree that weighed over a
ton to continue using this path.
A wave of irritation and anxiety passed over me, as I thought about
the time it would take, the logistics of finding someone to do what
I couldn’t, and the cost of it.
And that’s when I realized the thought I want to share with you
today: there are plans and then there is nature.
Plans are very orderly. They are logical and perfect. Straight as an
arrow. Flawless. As human beings, we like to make plans, and then
follow them to reach a goal or a destination.
Nature, however, is not so orderly. It is chaotic and
unpredictable. Sometimes it is calm; other times it is wild.
Sometimes it’s safe; other times it’s dangerous.
Plans take place in our heads, but nature is the law of the world
outside our thinking.
And so, I realized then, that there is no point in getting upset
when something doesn’t go according to plan. Because for a plan to
unfold, it has to take place in nature. And nature, to twist a familiar
saying, abhors a good plan.
Thus, my lesson that afternoon was to never curse or be frustrated
by obstacles that appear out of nowhere and block my path, but to
expect them. Because the obstacles are part of the journey.
Whatever you do or plan, there will be obstacles that you
won’t be able to predict. And the bigger and more important the
undertaking, the more likely the odds of encountering them will be.
However, every obstacle is not actually an impediment, nuisance,
or disaster: it is an opportunity for success.
Because it is by overcoming those obstacles that you learn and
grow, and even find a sense of meaning and accomplishment. Clearing
the path in front of us, building bridges to get somewhere, moving
the seemingly unmoveable–that is what we’re here for. And rather
than feeling stress or getting anxiety or saying “why me” when
things get in your way or don’t go your way, you can think instead,
“This is great. I’m going to get to learn something and grow from
As Hugh Hefner put it in Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead,
when talking about the sadness and loneliness of his childhood,
“It’s the sand in the oyster that creates the pearl”
Today, after all that work, the path is cleaner, clearer, and safer
than it’s ever been–and I can get to the beach at an even faster
However, I now know that the path isn’t permanently clean, clear,
and safe. Every day, it is changing, and I can’t control it. All I
can do is look forward to the next obstacle standing between me
and where I want to go. And when I encounter it, I will no longer
curse it like an enemy, but treat it like a friend.
Because without the obstacles in our lives, and the challenges
they present for us to overcome, we wouldn’t get grow, learn,
or get anywhere.
P.S. So to revisit the question posed in the headline of this
email: Ultimately, is the universe conspiring against you…
or is it conspiring to help you become a better, stronger,
more capable human being?
P.P.S. As if on cue, just as I was about to send this, I
received a phone call that the roof in the Society office we
just rented had collapsed. The restaurant above us had
a leak, and the whole office now smelled like rotten food.
Now, that may sound like a disaster. But rather than
getting bent out of shape, two hours later, we were all in
that restaurant, eating free sushi, while they had our office
cleaned and repaired.
So if I had to rewrite this email, I suppose the headline
would be: Behind every obstacle, there’s a free negi-toro
roll waiting for you.
P.P.P.S. Happy Valentines Day!