We’re going to open today with a story of Amelia Earheart. This is an excerpt from the book The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holliday which I highly recommend. I’ve about it a little on the podcast, but we’re going to talk about it more later.
Amelia Earhart wanted to be a great aviator, but it was the 1920s. People still thought that women were frail, and weak, and didn’t have the stuff. Women’s suffrage was not even a decade old. She couldn’t make her living as a pilot, so she took a job as a social worker. Then, one day her phone rang. The man on the line had a pretty offensive offer, along the lines of: “We have someone willing to fund the first female Trans-Atlantic flight. Our first choice has already backed out. You won’t get to actually fly the plan. And we’re going to send two men along as chaperones. And guess what? We’ll pay them a lot of money, and you won’t get anything. Oh, and you very well might die while doing it.” You know what she said to that offer? She said yes. Less than five years later, she was the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic, and became, rightly, one of the most respected people in the world.
This episode in many ways are going to serve as a bridge between the conversation we had before about the reality of perception, and the podcast about dealing with setbacks. I wanted to open with that story, I think it’s a really powerful story about acceptance. Really, what this episode is about is about acceptance, accepting things not because they’re right or because they’re fair, but because it’s the best thing you can do at the time. I want to share one more quick quote from Ryan Holiday.
“There is no good or bad without us. There is only perception. There is the event itself, and the story we tell ourselves about what it means. Through our perception of events, we are responsible for the creation as well as the destruction of every one of our obstacles. “
And so there’s a couple key points to really understanding why Amelia Earhart’s story is so important, and why acceptance is so important. The first is that events are external to us. Events are not good or bad. Events simply are. They’re simply things that happen. They don’t have anything to do with us. They’re not happening because of something we did, in many instances. They’re not happening because we’re being punished for something. They just are. They just happened to have taken place. It’s our perception of events that creates meaning. We assign a meaning to something that’s completely external to us. We say, “This happened and it’s good. This happened, and it’s bad.” But those events don’t actually have any meaning outside of us assigning us and saying “this is good because it helps me, or it hurts me, or I like that, or I don’t like that.” The reality is these events are so completely unassociated with us until we insert ourselves and we say that it’s good or we say that it’s bad. That’s a process called personalization. What that really is is the ego inserting itself into a situation and saying “This isn’t really external, this is about me. It’s about me because it’s — it’s fair, or it’s right, or it’s just. Or it’s unfair, or it’s not right, or it’s not just.” And there’s an amazing quote, and I would recommend this book actually as well especially if you’re in the financial world. What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul. This is an excerpt from that book where he talks about the process of personalization, and what happens when you assign your ego, and when you tie your ego to events that are outside of your control. And by the way, this book, What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars, is a story of how Jim Paul built a million dollar fortune and then lost all of it, largely because he personalized external events. So this is one of the most important passages in the book, and I’ll share it with you now.
“If you say “I’m right”, or “I’m not wrong”, you have implicated your ego. Which invariable you will try to protect. Taking either successes or failures personally means by definition that your ego has become involved and you are in jeopardy of incurring losses due to psychological factors. Edison didn’t take the failures or losses personally and he succeeded brilliantly. If, unlike Edison, you take the failures personally. Or like Henry Ford, you take the successes personally, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Having tied your self-worth to the vicissitudes of factors beyond your control, you will be primarily concerned with protecting your ego, rather than trying to determine the appropriate course of action.”
That’s an incredible and powerful statement. It goes back to the story about Amelia Earhart. When she accepted that offer, that offensive, insulting, rude offer - that demeaning offer, was her ego involved in that decision? I think it definitely wasn’t. She knew that despite the fact that that offer was insulting, rude, sexist, whatever it might have bene. She said, “You know what? This is my chance. This is the opportunity that I’ve been waiting for. This is the time that I can say yes, and I can seize this chance, and I can take the first step. I can get the same toe-hold in the journey that I want to take.” She let go of her ego, she let go of the personalization of “what’s this going to say about me? These people are telling me that I’m inferior, that I can’t do it by myself, that I need babysitters, that I’m not going to get paid.” All of these things. If she had let her ego rule that decision, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation because none of us would know who Amelia Earhart was. This is an incredibly powerful thing that you can apply to your every day life.
When external events take place, you absolutely have to take your ego out of your perception of reality. And I think where people really get tied up in this is when they get caught up in why things are the way that they are. The most damaging perceptions that people have, the most damaging personalizations of external events are when people say things like “Why is this happening to me?” “This isn’t fair.” “This is unjust.” “This is bullshit.” “I shouldn’t have to deal with this.” “I shouldn’t have to go through this.” “It’s unfair that I’m the one who this always happens to.” Those are watchwords, those are trigger phrases. If you ever hear yourself saying anything like that, you need to be incredibly vigilant because you are personalizing an external event, and you are putting yourself in serious jeopardy of being able to achieve what you want to achieve, being able to accomplish the goals that you want to accomplish.
The key, the answer, the way to approach this in a much more thoughtful way - the way to approach this is like a Buddhist Monk. Is like a stoic. You need to approach it with an acceptance. Let go of your ego, let go of trying to assign meaning to what happens externally to you. And accept what happens. Accept the external event. Whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, whether it’s fair, whether it’s right, whether it’s just. It doesn’t matter, it already happened. You getting caught up in why it happened, why it happened to you, why it has to be this way, is not going to change what has already happened. All it’s going to do is cause you a bunch of emotional anguish. It’s going to waste a bunch of your time, it’s going to waste a bunch of your energy, and you’re going to end up frustrated and angry. This goes back to the conversation we had about dealing with set-backs. It’s the same thing. If you’re dealing with a set-back, and you personalized it, you’re going to feel a lot of frustration, you’re going to feel a lot of anger, you’re going to be really mad. This is unfair, why is this happening to me? You have to pull the ego out of that. It doesn’t matter why it’s happening. It doesn’t matter why it’s happening to you. It doesn’t matter why it’s fair. Did Amelia Earhart care if it was fair, or if it was just, or if it was an insulting offer? No. She took it, because she knew that was the next step. She knew that that was the thing that was going to leapfrog her into the history books forever.
So, in your everyday life, when things happen, don’t personalize them. Don’t say “Why is this happening to me?” The sooner you can cultivate the ability to accept things as they are, not as you want them to be, doesn’t matter if you’re right, doesn’t matter if you’re wrong, all that matters is the way things really are. The way things have happened. What is really taking place? The sooner you can recognize how things are, and not get caught up, not bring your ego into the perception of how you think they should be. The sooner you can take the right action, the sooner you can take meaningful steps to really getting what you want. To really going where you want to go. And that’s critically important.