Your Experiences Are Whetstones; How Sharp You Become is Up To You

Use adversity to your advantage

“Avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The avoidance of failure is a failure.” -Mark Manson

For most people, the default reaction towards obstacles and pain is avoidance.

They run, hide, and deflect responsibility.

This is one reason why most people will never be successful — most people would rather complain and avoid pain when life becomes difficult.

But obstacles, problems, and difficulties aren’t “bad” at all.

The individual who chooses to use these experiences to their advantage — to grow, to learn, to evolve…

This is the attitude of success. Rarely do you find a successful person without it.

A Chance to Improve Our Condition

“Within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.” -Ryan Holiday

Do you see obstacles as annoying hinderances?

Or useful opportunities?

Most of the world sees all their problems, difficulties, and obstacles as unfortunate, unlucky roadblocks. Their natural response is annoyance, fear, resentment, and frustration.

But this isn’t what obstacles are.

Obstacles and negative experiences are simply opportunities we can use to become sharper, stronger, and more equipped to succeed.

If we apply this mindset to all our experiences, we become individuals that are able to use any experience to become better — a rare, lethal skill.

You are a knife, and all your experiences are whetstones — you can become as sharp as you want.

How much you improve is up to you.

Many of history’s most influential and successful people recognized this principle.

Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome, universally regarded by his peers as fit for the job, reflected once: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” He saw the usefulness and benefit of obstacles.

Another icon of history, John D. Rockefeller, once wrote, “Oh, how blessed young men are who have to struggle for a foundation and beginning in life!” Rockefeller rejected the notion that money and power were beneficial catalysts for beginners. No — the struggle was more valuable.

These individuals were praising the struggle, and glad for obstacles and problems!

Why? Because they had experienced every conceivable problem along the way to success, and realized these experiences held great promise and teaching — if they were allowed to.

Use Experiences to Propel You Forward

The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of functioning. -Ryan Holiday

A mentor of mine once told me a story about a time when he gave a speech.

It was early on in his career, and he wasn’t the best public speaker. After one of his speeches, he asked a friend for feedback on how it went.

The feedback…wasn’t great. My mentor’s friend pointed out several areas he could work on, like speaking slower and being less stiff in front of the audience.

For many, this feedback would have been a direct blow to their pride. Most individuals with a “fixed mindset” see criticism and failure as a direct measure of their worth, and get defensive or angry.

But my mentor saw this feedback for what it was — simply an opportunity to grow, to become a better speaker.

It’s not personal,” he told me. “I wanted to get better, so I asked how I could.”

Negative experiences are never personal. Like a doctor prescribing medicine to a sick patient, your circumstances are simply “prescriptions” handed to you by your impartial, neutral life.

If you want to get better, you’ll take the medicine. If you don’t, you’ll remain sick.

Instead of lamenting on difficult experiences, use them to propel you forward. As Ryan Holiday explains in his book The Obstacle is the Way, there is always a lesson to be learned in struggle.

Perhaps it’s a chance to practice forgiveness for someone you trusted who betrayed you. Maybe it’s a lesson to make wiser decisions. Maybe it’s just a chance to practice your patience and self-control.

Become better. Choose to use difficulties to become smarter, stronger, and more lethal. Allow yourself to become sharpened rather than complaining.

This is truly the attitude of the world’s most successful people. Everything is fuel, everything is an opportunity to become better.

All your experiences are whetstones. How sharp you become is entirely up to you.

“Bad things are fuel. You don’t just want fuel — you need it. You can’t go anywhere without it.” -Ryan Holiday

Achieving Anything Worthwhile

“Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance.” -Mark Manson

Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the the associated negative experience.

Most people act out instead of act. They allow themselves to act on frustration, anger, and being upset, which always results in more pain — remember, even the avoidance of pain is a form of pain.

Rarely does a person act rightly — doing the right actions in the face of adversity.

Anything worthwhile is on the opposite side of pain. Nothing is free — who you are and who you become is directly related to your ability to embrace and overcome painful experiences.

Imagine your biggest goals. Maybe it’s to own your own business that gives you the freedom to travel the world whenever you want. Maybe it’s to have time to spend with your family every day as you work from home.

You cannot achieve these goals without overcoming significant struggle, both external and internal. So, the natural response to this truth is to make overcoming adversity a skill.

The easiest way to develop this skill is to cultivate a mindset that perceives obstacles as opportunities, negative experiences as fuel to your growth.

Your level of success will rarely exceed your level of personal development, because success is something you attract by the person you become.

In Conclusion

Franklin Roosevelt coined the idea perfectly: “A calm sea never made a strong sailor.

Your wildest dreams of success are dependent entirely on your ability to use negative experiences as lessons that propel you forward.

How do you approach your experiences — both positive and negative?

Are they lessons? Opportunities to grow? Or do you cling onto the good and run away from the bad?

Once you begin to use experiences as opportunities to grow, you can expect to see your personal development skyrocket. Obstacles will become growth opportunities, problems as fuel you use to grow farther and faster than ever before.

Book recommendations on this topic:

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Adversity Into Advantage

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Ready To Level-Up?

If you want to become extraordinary and become 10x more effective than you were before, check out my checklist.

Click here to get the checklist now!

Writer for CNBC, Business Insider, Fast Company, Thought Catalog, Yahoo! Finance, and you. Come say hey.