Book Summaries Philosophy

The Discipline of the Will (The Obstacle is the Way)


Abraham Lincoln battled with depression his whole life. It was known as melancholy at the time, it nearly drove him to suicide. Though he had a penchant for jokes and vulgar humor, he suffered periods of intense isolation and pain.

His life was defined by enduring and overcoming great difficulty. He grew up in poverty, lost his mother when he was a child, lost the woman he loved as a young man, and experienced many defeats in politics.

But these were impediments that Lincoln reduced with a gracious ambition, and smiling, tender endurance. He didn’t lose time in petty disputes and he found purpose in a cause bigger than himself and his personal struggles.

His real strength was not only his craftiness and intelligence, it was his will, the way he could resign himself to a task without giving in. His favorite saying was, “This too shall pass.”

When we are desperate for something, we become our own worst enemy. Our eagerness strips us the very screw we want to turn. Sometimes, it is better to stand still or to even go backward.

Build Your Inner Citadel

By age 12, Roosevelt had spent almost every day of his life struggling with asthma. He was frail, tall, and skinny.

One day his father told him something that would transform his life, “Theodore, you have the mind but haven’t got the body. I’m giving you the tools to make your body. It’s going to be hard drudgery and I think you have the determination to go through with it.”

You may think that this advice would go nowhere, especially on a child that was fragile and born into great wealth. But it wasn’t, he responded with determination, “I’ll make my body.” He spent his time at the gym his father had built at home and worked out every day for the next 5 years, slowly building muscle and strengthening his upper body against his lungs.

By his early twenties, he had overcome the battle against asthma. The gym work prepared him for what he would call “the Strenuous Life.”

The Art of Acquiescence

Thomas Jefferson was born quiet and reserved, with a speech impediment. He wanted to get into politics. He could either fight against his impediment or accept it. He chose the latter. Instead, he turned to writing, and it was there that he found his medium. He could express himself clearly, writing was his strength. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, one of the most important documents in history, in a single draft.

Behind mountains are more mountains, there is no Elysium. This makes life a marathon, not a sprint. The goal is to never be frantic or rattled, but to always persevere.

But stoicism is not showing no emotions, it is, as Nassim Taleb put it, the domestication of one’s emotions, not in pretending they are not there.

And it is not possible to be ready from the start to implement what you have learned, but expect that you will gather strength as you go.

Full Text

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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