Challenges Coffee Break Fate

154 – The Paradox of Change

The Paradox of Change


The only way is through!

One of the weirdest things about being a human is how we get comfortable with our habits, and resist change, while at the same time we get bored when things stay the same. In this weeks episode, we’ll talk about how to deal with the paradox of change.

When one day is pretty much the same as the next, we crave variety. If something is too easy, we get bored and quickly lose interest in it. But when life throws a challenge our way we often complain and whine about how life isn’t fair.

So how do we deal with the challenges that life throws our way? How can we learn to cultivate and attitude of gratefulness for the hard things in our lives, and use them to grow and become better people?

“A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.”

— Seneca

I want you to think about the last movie you watched or book that you read. Can you remember the challenges the hero had to face? The obstacles they had to overcome? Maybe the hero got knocked down and had to struggle over and over to get back on her feet, and eventually through hard work and determination, overcame a great challenge. This is something that we as humans crave in our stories. I mean how interesting would it be if the story started with, “Our hero had everything her heart desired, and lived happily ever after”? Not much of a story, and certainly not one I would be interested in.

So why do we love this in our stories, yet complain about it in our lives? This is what I call the paradox of change. Life is continually changing and bringing new challenges our way, but we get comfortable and feel distressed when our comfort is disturbed, forgetting it’s the challenges that make us who we are, that help strengthen us into being the kind of people we want to be.

Say that you wanted to start your own company. If you want to succeed, then you have to learn how to deal with difficult people and situations. Because it is impossible to never face a tough situation or to have everyone you deal with simply follow and agree with everything you say. You have to expect setbacks and failures because you are going to have to learn how to navigate difficult situations if you want to succeed. In fact, the more you can anticipate and plan for setbacks, the better off you will be. If you only plan for rosy scenarios, then you will have a much harder time when challenges come your way.

“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. ”

― Epictetus

When challenges come our way, one of the most important things that we can do it learn how to face them, and not shy away. If we make a habit of turning away from difficult situations and challenges, we’ll never get stronger. We’ll never reach our full potential. When we make a habit of leaning into the hard things, even if it scares us, then open the door to greater growth and opportunities. If we only take on the easy challenges, then our skills will never improve. If a pilot only sails their ship on the calmest of waters, they’ll never leave port because they can’t count on always having great weather. If a singer only sticks to nursery rhymes, they’ll never develop the skills to tackle the aria they want to master.

How can we look at something in a way that helps us see it as a tool for growth? I think the biggest thing, and this is something that I struggle with, is to let go of the outcome. When we get so tied to the desired outcome, we often just want to skip the hard stuff and get to the end result. When we’re stuck thinking that we want a situation to be a certain way, we can begin to feel like that’s what we’re entitled to. The problem with this kind of thinking is that we can’t control the outcome of any situation. Life has too many random things that happen that are simply out of our control.

When we develop a love of change, an acceptance that everything and everyone is always in a constant state of change. No one in life is static. Too often we get stuck thinking of ourselves as being a certain way, and what our lives should be. When something comes along and disturbs that, we often resist those changes and ignore the reality of the situation. We do this with other people as well. We decide that a person is a certain way and hold to our judgment of them, we find it difficult to accept that they may have changed.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

― Marcus Aurelius

When we can look at a challenge, we need to see it as a teacher, as the thing that will actually train us how to overcome it. We need to look at something and ask, “What can I learn? What skills do I need to develop to over this?” When a musician starts a new piece, she doesn’t simply try to play it start to finish and then give up when she can’t play it perfectly. She starts working at a very basic level. She’ll break it down into smaller workable parts. Each passage presenting its own challenges. She will probably run into things that she’s never done before or isn’t very good at. Working on these passages are the very things that will help her to become better. Maybe she struggles with triplets, and rather than wishing they weren’t in there, she doubles her practice on them. Working on the challenges of the piece is the very thing that trains her in the skills to be able to master it.

“Win or learn, then you never lose.”

— Anonymous

It’s been said that those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. And while this was said more as a critique of society, I think that it’s very true for each of us individually, as well as the places we work. If we label our failures as such rather than as something to learn from, we risk repeating them. A client of mine once made a mistake that brought down some of his companies computer systems. The company fired him missing an opportunity to work with that him to figure out how to prevent it in the future, as well as improving their employee training.

When we can learn to be grateful for the challenges that we face, we can approach them more readily, and humbly. We don’t try to avoid them, but rather welcome the challenge and become excited for the skills and the growth that they will bring. Then when things don’t go as planned, we are able to quickly regroup and learn what we can from the experience, and push forward and do better the next time.

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Challenges Coffee Break Fate stoicism

138 – The Greatest Obstacle to Living

The Greatest Obstacle to Living


“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow, and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

– Seneca

Show Notes:

– Do you think too much about the future that you are not living in today?
– This quote from Seneca hits two really great points of the Stoics.
– Momento Mori, remember you will die, and because we could die at any moment, there really is no other time than now. There is now and not now.
– Amor Fati, love your fate. Because we have so little control over what happens to us in life, worrying about the future is worrying about something that may never happen.
– So when you think about it, the only thing you have control over is your choices at this moment.
– Many of the great philosophies and religions focus on mindfulness, of being in the present moment.
– What does mindfulness mean exactly? What does it mean to live in the now?
– To me it mean bringing my focus, my attention, my awareness to the present moment. To be fully engaged in my life, and not stuck thinking about how great things are going to be in the future, but to be present and involved with what’s going on around me and the work that I am engaged in.
– To be honest, I do get very stuck in the future. I think about all these great things that I want to do and create, or how much better it’s going to be….tomorrow or the next day or next week, and pretty soon, it’s next week and I didn’t get done what I wanted and I didn’t enjoy the things that happened.
– It takes effort to keep myself in the present and not get stuck thinking about the future. It’s a lifelong habit that I’ve built up and it’s not easy to break. But I have found that being more present and more focused on the moment, things seem more vivid and intense, it a good way. It’s like I’m more awake to the world. For example when I go on a walk in the wood near my house, if I’m making an effort to notice more of the world around me, the woods seem more colorful and the smells more sharp. It’s the difference between being half asleep and fully awake.
– Growing up, we’re often too focused on what life will be like in the future. When we’re in grade school we want to be in middle school. Middle school we want high school. Then off to college, career, family.
– And the thing is, whatever our future holds, it’s all going to happen anyway, so why not focus on enjoying today?
– Have you ever seen the painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat? For those of your who’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it’s the painting that they stare at in the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s an amazing work of art that is made up of tiny points of unmixed paint. By doing so, your eye fuses the colors together to create the end color. So to create purple, Seurat would paint red dots next to blue dots until the eye saw purple. Seurat focused daily, deliberately putting each individual brushstroke to canvas, focusing on each small section to bring out the colors he wanted, until 2 years later the 10 foot painting was complete.
– Creating a life is the same way. If we take the time to lovingly and deliberately focus on and live in each day, in this present moment, then we have a great life each and every day. We never have a bad day.
– There’s a great quote by Steven Chandler in his book The Time Warrior. “Don’t create your year, create your day. Figure out the perfect day and then live it. The year will take care of itself. So will your life.”
– What can you do to create your perfect day?
– I think choosing what are the most important things for today, and then doing them with care, and focus. Let go of what you’ll do tomorrow. Tomorrow doesn’t yet exist, so is not real. Now is real, and now is the only time that you can do anything with.
– Don’t be busy, be effective. Are you doing something that matters or are you wasting time?
– Do it well. Don’t half-ass your way through something. Do it with care and focus and in a way that makes you proud.
– What can you do to keep yourself in the present moment?
– Slow down. This is one of the hardest things for me to do. But it takes time to live deliberately. We get too caught up in finishing, that we forget to enjoy the creating or the doing.
– Stop. Sometimes just stop and breath from time to time and look around and see the world, to be thankful. I know some people set reminders so they take time to re-center themselves.
– Write it down. For me, one of the most effective things I do is to get all the things in the future out of my head. I write them down so they don’t spin around in my head. I take care of it now, or I choose a time in the future to take care of it. When I do that, when I get it off my mind, it frees up brain cycles for more important things. When I don’t do that simple exercise, I spend time trying to hold onto all these ideas, and appointments and such, and half the time I forget them anyway.
– Living immediately helps you to worry less about the future, because your focus, your attention is on the present. This also helps you not feel overwhelmed because the future is not your focus. Now is the focus, so you only deal with the now, and ignore everything that is not now.
– Like Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash


Challenges Circumstances Coffee Break Fate stoicism

132 – Anything Can Happen

Anything Can Happen


“How ridiculous and unrealistic is the man who is astonished at anything that happens in life.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Book 12

Show Notes:

– How often do we think that something in life shouldn’t happen to us?
– As if we are somehow immune to the things that happen to anyone else in life.
– How often do we think that we are owed something?
– As if we are somehow privileged above others, that we deserve something
– We may think it’s unfair when something we worked hard for fails to materialize.
– We may think it’s unfair that someone we love gets cancer, that they didn’t deserve it.
– We may think we deserve a perfect partner because go to the gym workout and wear nice clothes.
– The world is full of all kinds of stories about people getting hit with the unexpected and didn’t get what they wanted.
– Who determines what is fair and unfair?
– So much in our lives that is simply up to chance, where we have no control over it.
– We never deserve anything.
– Now this doesn’t mean that all is lost.
– Let go of trying to control the things that we can’t control, and focus on what we can.
– We cannot control the circumstances that happen to us.
– We cannot control the outcome.
– What we can control is how we respond to the things that happen to us.
– If we are diagnosed with an serious illness, we can’t control that it happened to us.
– We can’t control whether we’ll recover from it.
– If we follow the prescriptions of our doctor, we increase our probability of a positive outcome.
– We may not get the job we think we deserve. But we can increase the probability that we’ll get a good job if we put the work in.
– We can also choose our attitude towards towards our situation. We can be angry, we can be sad, we can react in many different ways.
– We’re going to have deal with it anyway, so if we can approach it in the most helpful way we can, we reduce our overall suffering.
– I think that most suffering in the world happens when we try to control the things that we can’t and fail to control what we can.
– Life is full of surprises, but it shouldn’t be.

Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

Circumstances Coffee Break Fate stoicism

130 – Suffering Before It’s Time

Suffering Before It’s Time


“He suffers more than necessary, who suffers before it is necessary.”

― Seneca

Show Notes:

  • How often have you stressed over something or worried yourself sick, only to have the scenario you were so worried about never happen?
  • When you worry about something, and you let your imagination run with something, then you suffer many times before you even get to the event that might happen.
  • Unless you can know the future, worrying about something is inventing problems that may never happen.
  • And that kind of suffering is something that we can all probably do without.
  • I’ve talked about this topic on the show before, but I think it’s important to go over these principles many times because we always need a reminder.
  • And the Stoics understood that we as humans have wild imaginations and that we can come with all possible things that can go wrong.
  • And while at times this can be useful with the idea of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, we need to be sure that when we do imagine the worst that we aren’t wed to the outcome.
  • Because it’s worrying too much about the outcome that we want that causes us to suffer.
  • As the Buddhists would say, we’re suffering because of our attachment to something outside of our control.
  • And because the role of chance and randomness on our lives that can influence the outcome to most things, we have little control over the outcome.
  • What we do have control over is ourselves.
  • We have control over our thinking.
  • Our actions.
  • We can focus on making good decisions.
  • We can focus on doing good work.
  • We can focus on the process.
  • We do what we can do, and learn to be okay with whatever happens, knowing that we put effort into the things that we could influence.
  • When we do these things, we let the chips fall where they may, continue on.
  • The next time you find yourself worrying about something, ask yourself, “Am I focusing on the outcome, or am I working on the process?”

Photo by Jaclyn Moy on Unsplash

Challenges Circumstances Coffee Break Fate stoicism

128 – Good Luck, Bad Luck, Who Knows?

Good Luck, Bad Luck, Who Knows?



“Man is affected, not by events, but by the view he takes of them.”

— Epictetus

Show Notes:

• Human beings are creatures that love good stories. Stories are the things that we use to make sense of the things in the world.
• Myths, such as the Greek and Roman or even Norse gods were used to explain why things happen in the world.
• Human beings like to give meaning to the things in their lives.
• It’s part of what makes us human. We give meaning to the expressions on other peoples faces. We give meanings to the words they speak.
• We attribute feelings and thoughts to animals even when we have no real idea of what their thoughts really are.
• One of the core tenets of Stoicism, is the understanding that events and circumstances are simply neutral. They have no meaning other than what we give to them.
• Things happen in life without any reason, which is hard because we as humans want to give meanings to events. We crave a reason. We crave a why. We want to believe that the hard things we go through have some greater purpose. Otherwise we feel that we suffer for nothing.
• For example, if we’re struggling with something, we can look at it as a struggle.
• But if we treat our challenges as opportunities to grow, then we haven’t suffered. We’ve grown stronger. It’s all about perspective.
• Years ago, I heard a great parable that illustrates well.
• A farmer finds a wild horse in his field. He’s able to lead the horse home and puts him in his stable.
• The neighbors upon hearing about the horse, congratulate him on his good luck.
• The farmer simply replies, “Good luck or bad luck, who knows?”
• The next day his son, while trying to train the horse, ends up being thrown, and breaks his leg.
• The neighbors upon hearing about the son, console the farmer on his bad luck.
• The farmer simply replies, “Good luck or bad luck, who knows?”
• The next day while the son is in the hospital, the representative from the emperor comes into town to draft conscripts for the army to fight on the border. His son is released from his obligation because of his broken leg.
• The neighbors upon hearing about his son missing the draft, congratulate him on his good luck.
• The farmer simply replies, “Good luck or bad luck, who knows?”
• After a week, the son comes home to finish recovering. While at the hospital he met a nurse and fell in love, and decided to get engaged.
• The neighbors upon hearing about the engagement, congratulate him on his good luck.
• The farmer simply replies, “Well, when it comes to marriage…good luck or bad luck, who knows?”
• Events and circumstances of life are neutral. It’s up to you to decide if you have bad, or good luck.

Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash

Challenges Coffee Break Control Fate

120 – Are You Lucky?

Are You Lucky?

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

― Seneca

Show Notes:

– Are you a lucky person?
– The Stoics understood that most things in life are out of our control.
– The reason that they stress that ideas so much, that we try so hard to control things around us.
– Trying to control things outside yourself causes yourself and others a lot of suffering.
– Other people, events, and circumstances are certainly outside of our control.
– So much of our life is simply up to chance.
– The people we meet and become friends with and fall in love with.
– The jobs that we get because of being the right place at the right time.
– So many things that just happened by chance, and all of them outside of our control.
– In the Drunkard’s Walk, a book about the role of randomness and chance in our lives, Leonard Mlodinow, after showing example after example about how poorly we as humans misjudge the role of chance in our lives goes on to say, “…ability does not guarantee achievement, nor is achievement proportional to ability. And so it is important to always keep in mind the other term in the equation—the role of chance…What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized.”
– If we want to meet a great partner it’s not going to happen if we stay at home playing video games or watching Netflix. We need to go on a lot of dates. We need to be able to carry on a conversation.
– If we want to be a musician or an actor, but we never practice, even if we hustle to get a coveted gig, if we aren’t prepared and we don’t have the skill to pull it off, then we’ve wasted an opportunity.
– I find that there is a lot of dedication on the internet for shortcuts to success. As if success is a bunch of hacks that you can do so you don’t have to put actual work in. But the thing is, taking shortcuts can cheat us of the opportunities for growth. We should become masters of our craft, not only because it prepares us to take those opportunities, but mastering our craft is part of the journey, it makes us who we are.
– And the more we become masters of our craft, the less we need “shortcuts”.
– We also need to be careful to never think think that we “deserve” something.
-Sometimes we think we are entitled to a certain way of life because who we are.
– Entitled to a certain job because of where we went to school.
– We are never entitled to anything.
– As Steven Pressfield said about creative endeavors, “We are entitled to our labors, but not the fruits of our labors.” Meaning we entitled to work our butts off and but we may still never find the success we think we deserve.
– As much as we all want a lucky silver bullet, because luck/chance/fate are all outside of our control, what we can control is consistently putting in the work.
– Fortune favors the bold, but she also favors the prepared.

Photo by Sergi Viladesau on Unsplash