The Obstacle is the Way

The sun will rise

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”
― Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage – One of Craig’s favorite books of all time.

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
― Thomas Paine, in The American Crisis, 1776

These are two quotes that I came across this past week that really resonated with me. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we face one of the biggest obstacles on a global scale of the last 100 years. Each generation in modern history seems to have faced a trying time that exceeded imagination. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, The Spanish Flu, The Great Depression, World War I and World War II, the Vietnam War, The Great Recession. As you read throughout history we can realize really how lucky we have had it the past few decades.

COVID-19 seems to be our recent un-immaginable obstacle to adapt and overcome. Humans will adapt and either get knocked down from it or grow stronger from it. I encourage you to use this challenging time to look for ways that you can adapt and grow in positive way.

We recently made the tough decision to close the clinic for the next 3 weeks. We were not told to by any government agency – health care is exempt from stay at home orders – it simply felt like the right thing to do for the health of our community. So, for the first time in 11 years, I will have more than a week off of not doing direct in-clinic patient care. We still will do patient visits using online video platforms. Realistically, though, I will have more free time available to me than I have ever had in my adult life.

I plan to use this time to grow in different ways, and I encourage you to as well. Look at this as an opportunity to challenge yourself in different ways and learn new things. Time is the most valuable non-renewable resource out there. In a few months you will be back to your daily routine and will look back on this period of “time abundance” with a sense of longing. Try not to waste this time away, rather, challenge yourself regularly and come out the other side of this a better person.

Yes, this is a stressful time. I may not have a steady paycheck for the foreseeable future. The economy is tanking. My retirement savings (I haven’t even looked) is dwindling. I can’t hang out with my buddies at a brewery.

Biking isn’t canceled!

However, I do have my health. I can still get outside to run and bike. And when and if we are encouraged to stay inside and not go out and bike, we have an amazing indoor workout set up (plus The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings on blue ray thanks to my friends John and Jeanne!). Best of all, I have an appreciation of and plan to make the most of our most valuable resource: Time.

Below are my tips to come out the other side of this better off and make the best use of this time of physical distancing.

Recent “physical distance” run with two of the strongest, smartest women people in my life.

Do different stuff. I love being a physical therapist. I have been doing it for 11 years and plan to practice my entire career. However, this is a great opportunity to do something totally different. A bit of a sabbatical. Yes, future paychecks are uncertain. That stinks. But an opportunity did rise to be hired as a bit of a “jack of all trades”. So far I have installed blinds in two houses and installed a garage door opener. Future plans include landscaping, re-finishing a kitchen table, installing sump pumps, staining a pergola, and many other random projects that can be done without other people around. I love doing different stuff and challenging my brain and body in totally different ways. I will need to problem solve in ways that are out of my expertise of biomechanics. From this, I will be a more well rounded individual.

Subie is now a work truck

Learn something new. I love learning. There is so much in the world to learn and appreciate. I have a harmonica in my drawer that I have been meaning to learn (gift from head singer of the rock band Glass Cases, go check out their sweet music! – thanks Alex!). Abby and I plan to practice table tennis 30 minutes per day. I have two books about movement I am excited to tackle. My plan is to commit 1-2 hours a day of learning something in the realm of PT and coaching.

Table tennis set up in the basement

Do you have that something you have been waiting to do? Just need more time? That musical instrument or blanket to quilt? Well, a global pandemic where we should all be physically distancing and staying home is a great time to start!

I will be a hit at the campfire this summer

Work on your weaknesses. We all have weaknesses. Physically, mentally, socially, none of us are perfect. For most runners we really emphasize strengthening glutes, hamstrings, and abs. Well, this potential abundance of time leaves you time to work on those areas. You don’t need fancy equipment to work on those areas. Lunges, dead lifts, exercise ball pull backs, planks, etc. do not require fancy equipment or a gym.

One of my weaknesses in triathlon is the bike. This year (even before the pandemic) I committed to improving my cycling. My indoor set up is such that I can do really focused workouts while watching my power output. As the weather gets nicer I can get out on some long rides with the sun out, a time I usually would be in the clinic. Since cycling takes up much more time than running and swimming, I usually don’t have the time I would like to to put in to it. No more…April will be the month of the bike for me!

Getting after it on the bike!

Balance the bad news with the good news. I can be somewhat of a news junkie. How could you not during this time? It is as if you are currently in the middle of the unraveling of a dystopian novel. Scary news, yet somehow remarkably addictive.

Remember, the internet industry is in mining our attention. There are massive incentives to create click-bate headlines. The more you click, the more money that particular website makes from their advertisers. The smartest minds in the world are working to make websites, social media platforms, and headlines as addictive and attention-grabing as possible.

Going down the route of reading attention-grabbing headlines is a quick way to spiral into anxiety and depression. To offset this, I have two rules for media consumption: 1) Only read from reputable websites (Washington Post, New York Times, Denver Post, etc.) Avoid websites that you don’t recognize the name, even if your BFF posted it on Facebook. 2) One-to-one balance of consumption. One doom and gloom article needs to be balanced with a positive article. Economy is tanking. But pollution is way down. People cannot go to breweries and restaurants and movie theaters. But more and more people are discovering the power of going for a run, a good walk, and a bike ride. We have to be hyper-aware of washing our hands and not touching our face. But people are washing their hands now!

Want to stay updated on news and stay sane? Check out this New York Times Article.

J.P. Morgan. Andrew Carnegie. Howard Hughes. Joe Kennedy, SR., John William Marriott. Warren Buffett. Carl Icahn. Those are just a few people who amassed exceptional wealth during a major economic down turn. Yes, many more people lost a lot of money. But with every economic downturn, there are people that will make a lot of money. I am not saying the goal should be to be a billionaire here, but perhaps look at the stock market now as a time when a lot of industries are on sale. Are you going to spend that $1200 in stimulus money on a new TV, or perhaps can you invest it in a low-cost index fund or a company you have faith in (Apple, Southwest, Bank of America and more are all companies with stocks listed very low from their peak) to make a little more than $1200?

It’s not all about money, and most people will not come out of this as millionaries. But undoubtedly we will read stories in a few years about individuals who saw this period as an opportunity and came out the other side much better off. The point is, how are you looking at this situation as a time of opportunity?

Fill ‘yer buckets! This one came from Jesse Itzler (I like to think of him as a bit of a celebrity mentor of mine). He encourages people to address three buckets in life every day during this time: 1) Family bucket, 2) Wellness bucket, and 3) Business bucket. See his website and social media for more information, this is my spin on it.

  1. Family (and friends) bucket. What are you doing each day to make sure a family member or friend is doing well? Give them a call and have a good chat, or get on a video call platform and see their pretty face. Jesse Itzler had a great idea: interview your parents or grandparents and save the interview.
  2. Wellness bucket. What are you doing today to take care of yourself? Did you get outside? Are you eating well and avoiding the boredom eating spiral? Make sure you are consciously addressing your wellness every day.
  3. Business bucket. If you are not working right now, what are you doing to enhance your career? Like I mentioned earlier, I am targeting 1-2 hours a day in “PT learning”. This may be watching videos, reading books, and discovering new research articles. I am also doing telehealth visits to keep in touch with patients and help them during this time of physical distancing. If you are in between careers, or don’t yet have one, how are you building your “personal brand”? Can you work on your website or social media presence?
Careful about all the Corona in your bucket

Being mindful of these buckets can give you a purpose each day. By putting your focus outside yourself, you will avoid the anxiety animal within you that your negative thoughts and media consumption feed. A little in each bucket every day will add up to a giant reservoir of impact over the next few weeks.

This is a challenging time, one that for sure will have its own chapter in history books of the future. Yes many will be sick, many will loose money and their jobs, and many may die. Our actions during this time will shape us during the next chapter of our own history. Attitude is everything and putting this precious time to positive, productive use will help us get through to the other side as better people.

I leave you with a quote from another one of my favorite books:

“Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.


One thought on “The Obstacle is the Way

  1. Craig, this is such a great article! I love how you are so transparent, honest, and of course how you have promoted a Postive Mental Attitude. I actually like being at home, and I like running – two things I can still do. I can also continue to to my Physical therapy and other excercises to keep on top of reoccurring injuries. My bucket is full: working on two new quilts, caring for new chicks, running and training, and playing with Riley. Are my races being cancelled? Yes, four already, and 1 postponed, but I will continue to train for the next one. Thanks for this article – you’re awesome!


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