I have “AMOR FATI” tattooed on the inside of my right forearm. When I went to have it done, after a full year of consideration, the tattoo artist asked me which direction I’d like to have it face.
“Toward me,” I answered.
“Upside down?” he responded looking at me with that face my puppy makes when he hears something unfamiliar.
“Yes, I said. It’s just a reminder to myself and really isn’t meant for anybody other than me.”
“Great choice,” he replied with a knowing smile.
Writing about stoicism is complex. The principles are so simple, but so difficult. It is always the doing that makes them more complicated than the learning.
In, The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday proposes we develop the discipline of perception. He describes perception as “how we see and understand what occurs around us – and what we decide those events will mean.”
Through a process of multiple struggles and adverse situations, you can discipline yourself to see that you truly control my thoughts and actions.
This process took on the same three steps that Holiday outlines in The Obstacle is the Way:
These three steps provide us a roadmap for dealing with adversity. As with any important lesson, it is best to learn, practice, and rehearse before you absolutely need it. Before it counts.
When it counts is when you find out your infant son might have an illness that will debilitate him and ultimately kill him before he sees his twentieth birthday.
Like I did.
It is then when you have to look at your forearm, be reminded that you have a choice in how to perceive this event, and look in the mirror through tears and consider something: Maybe, just maybe, if he wasn’t sick I would have taken him for granted. Now I won’t. Now I’ll make every second count. I can choose to be grateful for twenty years fully-lived with my son versus sixty years mostly wasted.
Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, was a renowned psychologist focused on suicide prevention. In 1938, while living in Austria during the Nazi takeover, Frankl was prevented from treating “Aryan” patients due to his Jewish heritage. Four years later he, along with his wife and parents, was deported to a Nazi ghetto and later to Auschwitz and Dachau (two of the deadliest Nazi concentration camps).
Frankl was the only member of his family to survive the war (with the sole exception of his sister).
With his wife and parents dead at the hands of their Nazi oppressors, one might expect Frankl to be bitter or defeated. Yet this was not so.
Frankl urges us to understand, “You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
This was his secret to surviving the camps when so few others did: he took control over his perception.
So often we want “The Secret.”
Despite what the film of the same name may have told us, the “secret” is not mood boards, visualization, or the law of attraction.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Author Robert Greene tells us to “stop wishing for something else to happen, for a different fate. That is to live a false life.” Often the wishing halts the doing. Simply visualizing a better state distracts us from taking the necessary steps to addressing our current fate.
As Friedrich Nietzsche describes it:
“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.”
Green continues, “Through Nietzsche, I discovered amor fati. I just fell in love with the concept because the power that you can have in life of accepting your fate is so immense that it’s almost hard to fathom. You feel that everything happens for a purpose, and that it is up to you to make this purpose something positive and active.”
We can choose Amor Fati, to love our fate by first taking control over our perceptions, and then by turning our new paradigm into action. Holiday writes, “Once you see the world as it is, for what it is, you must act.”
Actions indicate priorities.
No matter what, we always have a choice in perception and action.
We haven’t been raised this way, however. We’re told to listen to others, follow the path, stay in our seats and be quiet. It’s no wonder that we look to others for direction and hope when we find ourselves victims of a terrible fate.
When really, it is we who must make the choice to take action.
Easier said than done, you say.
Reading blogs and thinking these things doesn’t compare to actually doing it when it counts.
If that’s what you’re saying, you’re right.
You’re absolutely right.
The story above, is about my son, and is true.
We found out a few brutal weeks later that he is not sick, as we first thought. And yet, there was no relief. If his potential illness was neither good nor bad, and I could choose to love my fate, then I could still do the same now. I am grateful for it as a lesson on how savage this world can be.
“You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it.” – Cheryl Strayed
Will is the ability to choose our perception and take what action we can even when the odds seem insurmountable.
I’ve learned this will myself through repeated meditations, which lead to repeated choice of perception and that lead to repeated action in the face of obstacles.
I’ve also learned it from the stories of those who came before me.
Thomas Edison, at an age at which most of us would wish to retire, came home one late evening to eat dinner. A man burst into his home, interrupting him. He had dire news: there was a fire at his research facility.
At age sixty-seven, Edison arrived on the scene to see his campus ablaze.
One would imagine this is the point when Edison drops to his knees and screams out “Why me?” or some other exclamation.
However, Edison searched out his son and requested he go get his mother. Edison excitedly told his son, “They’ll never see a fire like this again.”
Naturally, Edison’s son thought he had lost his mind, and rightfully so. All of his experiments, things that could likely never be replicated, were burning to the ground.
“Don’t worry. It’s all right,” Edison said with calm, “We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”
In this, Edison revealed the true nature of amor fati – choosing to love your fate, no matter what.
Not only was he not broken-hearted, he was revitalized.
So revitalized, in fact, that despite losing over $23 million (in today’s dollars, $1 million at the time), he was able to persevere and make over $200 million ($10 million, then).
Maybe you lost your job and your obstacle may appear to be easier than those mentioned above.
Maybe your candidate lost an important election and your obstacle is far off and terrifying.
Maybe you live in Aleppo and your obstacle may be far more grave and serious.
No matter what your obstacle is, it is considerable, inescapable, and totally outside your control.
And yet you’re given the choice to greet it with a smile.
I’m writing this article for Daily Stoic and I hope that the editor receives it well and allows me to share it with you. It could also be met with a “no,” or seemingly worse: it could be totally ignored.
And to most writers, the story would end there. But should it bomb, the obstacle becomes the way. When I choose to see myself as fated to write this and submit it, I can love that fate. I can take action and love the process of writing and the clarity it provides. This article can also still be revised and submitted again, or elsewhere. It can be shared in my newsletter for entrepreneur dads.
The goal of this article is not to teach you to be a cow standing in the rain, simply enduring and hoping to survive your fate. It is not to make you feel “okay” or even “good” when terrible things happen.
It’s to make you feel GREAT because, as Holiday writes, “If it happened, then it was meant to happen, and I am glad that it did when it did. I am meant to make the best of it.”
It is unnatural, I know, to feel gratitude for my son’s terminal illness.
But I chose to love it because it was fuel for me to push harder for financial independence. It was fuel for me to work harder when I wanted to quit, to spend time with him when I wanted to check my email, and to love him with all that I have.
This is not free, but it is my choice. It can be yours as well.
Amor Fati, friend.
By Brendan Hufford / Daily Stoic