“We face dire challenge and chance… Yet I smile.” – Ezekiel, “The Walking Dead”
If you’re a fan of “The Walking Dead,” then you are likely familiar with the character Ezekiel (also known as “The King”). In a recent episode, he was preparing his people for a battle with the antagonist group, reassuring them that even though they faced insurmountable odds he was confident in their ability to win—and that is why he continues to smile.
This speech carries a lot of significance, and I believe it can be applied to our everyday lives. Life pulls no punches—it has a way of reminding you that it owes you no debt. During times of hardship and struggle we have to be able to carry on, despite the challenges. We have to be able to push through the hard times without letting it break us.
As it turns out, this is the mindset that allows individuals to achieve seemingly impossible things in their lives.
If you want this type of success in your life, be it in your career, your health, or any other domain, you will need to cultivate this mentality. Truthfully, you aren’t guaranteed success, a comfortable living, or even a healthy life. Everything could go to sh*t in a single moment.
On August 8, 2017, the night before my birthday, I returned home to my new apartment after a long day of work excited for the events taking place the following day. I was looking forward to a day off, where I wouldn’t have to spend a single moment on anything work related. (Wishful thinking! Spoiler: it didn’t happen).
Upon my arrival I noticed four giant men in my apartment.
Me: “Ummm, can I help you?”
Giant Man #1: “You’re swimming, bro.”
Me: [Insert explicit language here].
Giant Man #2: “Yep, this is probably the worst I’ve seen.”
In case the dialogue was too vague to piece together, I came home to my entire, brand-new apartment flooded due to a faulty toilet in my bathroom. These four men were part of the crew sent to soak up the water and treat the carpets the best they could. To give you a sense of how bad the flood really was, the only reason they were notified was because both of my neighbors started to flood as a result, so they called it in.
The Art of Suffering
I came home to all of my possessions in a pile in the middle of my living room.
My initial thoughts were, all of my stuff could very well be ruined and I don’t have renter’s insurance yet. (Stupid, I know, but like I said I had literally just moved in and hadn’t gotten around to it). I’m unbelievably screwed.
My birthday celebration was brought to a screeching halt before it even began. I also began to think about my new financial crisis—I simply didn’t have the capital to replace an entire apartment of furniture. I thought I was going to be sleeping on the floor with no belongings except my mattress (which was saved by my boxspring).
It is just this kind of moment, a moment when your life seems like it’s on the verge of falling apart, that can cause you to break at the seams. Life swept in with a chilling reminder—“I don’t owe you anything.”
But, you know what? It was also a reminder of another very real, equally powerful fact.
I may not be the strongest, fastest, or smartest person in the room, but I will work the hardest and suffer the most to get to my goal. (Adapted from the original quote by Amelia Boone)
Every person has grand desires: dreams of the ideal life they imagine. Sadly, not many people are willing to do what’s actually necessary to make that ideal life a reality.
Best-selling author Tim Ferriss echoes this sentiment when he says, “Instead of asking yourself what you want, ask yourself what are you willing to suffer for?”
These questions and ideas stem from a philosophical school of thought called stoicism. There are many aspects to this way of thinking, but an important component is not allowing oneself to be controlled by the fear of pain or suffering.
Ferriss uses this style of thinking to create an exercise he calls “fear-setting.” (Think “goal-setting,” but for your fears). In this written exercise, when faced with a tough decision—one that all too often encourages doubt—make three lists:
- Every possible worst-case scenario that could happen as a result of your decision.
- All the ways to reduce the possibility of those fears occurring.
- All the ways you could resolve the situation in the event that any of those fears from List One were realized.
My biggest fear upon hearing the news about my apartment was that I would lose everything. My response? I have my computer and I have the internet. If needed I will work 20 hours a day, sleeping on the floor at night, until I have enough capital to replace my belongings, move into a nicer apartment, and leave this moment in the past as a distant memory.
Intuitively, I was following a stoic philosophy and completing my own internal dialogue of fear-setting.
- My worst fear: Losing all of my belongings.
- Ways to reduce the occurrence of this fear: Let the clean-up crew do their thing, also possibly purchase a dehumidifier to help dry the apartment.
- Ways to resolve losing all of my belongings: Kick it into overdrive with work to replace all of my belongings and rectify my living situation.
In short, I was embracing my fears and setbacks. I was recognizing the inconvenience of what had occurred, but I wasn’t letting it stop me. Just the opposite: It made me hungrier to get to work.
For the next 72 hours I would be put up in three different hotel rooms by the apartment complex while they dealt with the situation. Also for the next 72 hours I would be waiting to see if, in fact, all of my belongings were destroyed. Luckily, everything was salvaged, and after those three days I was able to move back into my apartment (with newly purchased renter’s insurance).
While everything worked out for me in this situation, it was still a very real reminder and wake-up call that nothing is owed to you. Everything could be coming along quite nicely, and then taken from you in a blink of an eye.
However, this entire event was also a reminder of something else:
Once you are willing to face your fears, whatever and wherever they may present themselves, you become truly unstoppable.
“No matter what happens, it is within my power to turn it to my advantage.” – Epictetus, famous Greek stoic.
Building An Unstoppable Mentality
By adopting this stoic approach, your fears and any perceived suffering can all be overcome; they cease to hold any power over your choices. The power in this fear-setting approach is that you acknowledge the fears, but you also acknowledge your control over the outcome in spite of them.
How can you use this stoic philosophy to embrace your own fears and develop an unstoppable mentality?
Practice the “fear-setting” exercise discussed earlier. When you are faced with a tough decision, one where fear is creeping its way in, ask yourself three questions:
- What are the worst-case scenarios that could arise, given my decision?
- What can I do to prevent those worst-case scenarios from happening?
- If sh*t hits the fan, what can I do to resolve the problems?
In participating in this practice you will begin to recognize that bad things are going to happen from time to time, and that’s OK—because it is within your control to do something about it.
Lastly, I urge you to ask yourself what you could accomplish if you didn’t listen to your fears? This is precisely the kind of mindset Ezekiel was inspiring within his people during his chilling speech.
“Our way of life hangs in the balance, and yet I smile.” – Ezekiel
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