The Class of 2020 has had it rough. Just look at the last few months here in the United States. Only the third impeachment in the nation’s history. A near war with Iran. Then a global pandemic that canceled all their graduation ceremonies. And now the highest unemployment ever recorded.
Not exactly an encouraging time to go out into the world and try to make it on your own.
Arnold Schwarzenegger faced a number of obstacles when he came into the world. Europe had been ravaged by World War II. There were few opportunities in his home country of Austria. He arrived in America with so little money that he got by laying bricks. He lost his brother and his father by the time he was 25. He had what many would have described as a crippling accent. Yet somehow he made it.
How did he overcome the innumerable obstacles and difficulties? As he told the Class of 2020 in a wonderful commencement address, which quotes Marcus Aurelius’s line about how the “impediment to action advances action,” it’s about vision. You can’t be reactive. You have to have a sense of where you’re going. Because if you don’t, how can you know how to respond to the troubles that pop up along the way?
Marcus Aurelius knew he wanted to be a great emperor. He knew the philosophy he was trying to live up to. He knew the example he was trying to set for history. So when difficulties arose—from ill-health to pandemics to palace coups—he had a framework to rely on. He had a vision that helped him put these obstacles into perspective. He had something to persevere for. Same with Stockdale. His vision was making it out of that North Vietnamese prison camp, and turning his ordeal into the kind of life-changing event that in the end, he would not trade for anything. That was his vision and it got him through unimaginable difficulty.
Whether you’re graduating or you are the parent of a graduate, it doesn’t matter. This advice holds true. You need to have a vision. You have to know where you are going. You have to know what you’re moving towards. Otherwise, you won’t get anywhere. The impediment to action advances action… but only if you know where you are trying to advance and the kind of person you want to be when you get there.
P.S. This was originally sent on June 29, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.