Medium 9781626563469

You, Unstuck

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All of us feel trapped, stuck, or unable to move forward in life at some point. What is it that's holding us back? According to Seth Adam Smith, it's who, not what. Ultimately, the greatest obstacle to achieving your full potential is you.

But you are also the solution to your greatest problem.
This book combats a destructive mind-set that we all sometimes fall into: I can't change. I am the victim of my circumstances, and I am confined by my personal limitations. This philosophy, though intangible, destroys more dreams and limits more lives than any actual, physical obstacle. To show us how to overcome this philosophy of fear, Smith draws on literature, history, and his personal experiences with chronic depression, as well as on encounters with remarkable “ordinary” people who've embraced a different philosophy: the belief that we possess the power to lift ourselves out of the abyss and into the light.

Smith inspires us to see that no matter how dire our circumstances may be, there is always a positive step you can take, however small it might be. He doesn't sugarcoat the difficulties or offer promises of overnight success. But he does promise that if you continue to see yourself as a victim you'll remain frozen and fearful. We may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can always control how we react.

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1 By the Beating of Our Own Wings

ePub

Over seven hundred years ago, an Italian poet by the name of Dante Alighieri wrote an epic poem entitled Divine Comedy—an allegorical representation of the soul’s journey to (or away from) God.

The first part of the poem contains a chilling description of the nine circles of hell. As Dante figuratively descends these nine levels, he details the torture and agony of the souls he witnesses along the way.

In the ninth circle, the very depth and center of hell, Dante encounters Satan: a massive, terrifying beast with six wings and three nightmarish faces of different colors. Upon his back rests the entire vestibule of hell—and surrounding him is an element that we all fear and dread.

Hellfire?

No, there is no fire in Satan’s level of torment.

According to Dante, instead of standing in the midst of fire, Satan is standing waist deep in a lake of solid ice.

If you think that’s strange, wait until you read this:

The emperor of the realm of grief protruded
From mid-breast up above the surrounding ice…
.

 

2 Focus on What You Can Do

ePub

Now, after discussing all that, we probably need to talk about our “yeah, buts.” You might have read all that Dante/damnation stuff and said to yourself, “Yeah, but I really can’t do that thing because [insert convincing reason as to why you can’t do that thing].”

You might say, “Yeah, but I physically can’t do that.” Or you might say, “Yeah, but I just don’t have enough education.” Or you could say, “Yeah, but I’ve made too many mistakes.” Or “Yeah, but I’m mentally and emotionally broken—I’m damaged goods.”

Admit it, you have a “yeah, but.”

It’s OK—everyone has a “yeah, but.”

Well, here’s my “yeah, but.”

I struggle with chronic, genetic depression, which can often be debilitating and heart-wrenching. Depression runs in my family, and it would be easy for me to use that factor as a means to push away from others and blame my circumstances. And for many years, that’s exactly what I did.

But to be perfectly honest, those were the most difficult times of my life. It wasn’t until I felt a moment of empathy in the wilderness that I began to see my way forward.

 

3 Can’t vs. Can

ePub

One of the most important steps to overcoming obstacles is changing one’s language. Out of a desire to help other people move forward, I’ve often written about my struggles with depression on my blog. Because of this willingness to be open, I get a lot of emails from people asking for help, and I give advice whenever possible. Every now and then, I’ll get pushback emails splattered with one of my least favorite words in the English language—can’t.

I can’t do that. I just can’t. I’ve already tried and failed.
I can’t. I can’t talk to anybody. I can’t overcome this.
I can’t believe that things will ever get better. I can’t.
I can’t. I can’t. I CAN’T!

And in the end, I have to agree with them. They can’t do it. But it’s probably not because they’re physically unable to do it; instead, it’s because their disbelief prevents them from seeing any alternative.

They might put forth some minimal effort to convince other people that they’re trying, but inside they’ve already decided that whatever they can do will not work. Whatever their doctor, their therapist, their friend, or a book says simply isn’t going to work, because they’ve already decided that it won’t work.

 

4 The Leningrad Symphony

ePub

It was the summer of 1941, and the Nazis were tearing through Russia, destroying everything in their path. Adolf Hitler pompously declared that by August 9, 1942, he and the Nazis would celebrate the taking of Leningrad (the present-day St. Petersburg) in the city’s Hotel Astoria.

By early September, the Nazis had surrounded Leningrad, blockading the city and cutting off its main arteries for food, supplies, communication, and reinforcements. But the city’s three million inhabitants (which included roughly four hundred thousand children) refused to surrender. Thus began an 872-day siege of catastrophic death and famine. By the war’s end, the number of deaths in Leningrad outnumbered those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, combined.

In the midst of such hellish conditions, the orchestra of Leningrad planned a counteroffensive. Instead of focusing on what they couldn’t do, they focused on what they could do. And what could they do? They could make music.

 

5 Transforming a Curse into a Blessing

ePub

The first thing you must realize is that your biggest problems can actually be your greatest blessings. The sooner you understand and embrace that truth, the sooner you will gain strength to overcome your challenges.

In his book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck uses the Greek myth of Orestes and the Furies to demonstrate how some of our greatest struggles can become some of our greatest blessings.

Orestes was the grandson of Atreus, a man who had viciously attempted to prove himself more powerful than the gods. Because of his crime against them, the gods punished Atreus by placing a curse upon all his descendants. As part of the enactment of this curse upon the House of Atreus, Orestes’ mother, Clytemnestra, murdered his father and her husband, Agamemnon. This crime in turn brought down the curse upon Orestes’ head, because by the Greek code of honor a son was obliged, above all else, to slay his father’s murderer. Yet the greatest sin a Greek could commit was the sin of matricide. Orestes agonized over his dilemma. Finally, he did what he seemingly had to do and killed his mother. For this sin the gods then punished Orestes by visiting upon him the Furies, three ghastly harpies who could be seen and heard only by him and who tormented him night and day with their cackling criticism and frightening appearance.

 

Part 2 Unstuck

ePub

In his famous 1875 poem “Invictus,” William Ernest Henley penned these immortal lines: “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul.”

I wholeheartedly agree. You are the master of your life. You, not your past or your circumstances, are the author of your life. At any given moment, you have the ability to decide, “This is not how my story is going to end.”

But there’s more: in addition to being able to control your future, you have the ability to rewrite your past.

Sound a bit far-fetched? Read on.

Some of the most remarkable individuals in history are those who have used their difficult circumstances to their advantage. Instead of seeing their circumstances as insurmountable challenges, they’ve used them as stepping-stones to move forward. Instead of believing in the problems of their past, they’ve “rewritten” those problems to guide others.

In his Inferno, the poet Dante was guided through the nine circles of hell by Virgil, a fellow poet and one of Rome’s greatest authors. The need of a guide is crucial to our success in life.

 

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