The book, structured around a series of 23 letters between Greitens and one of his former SEAL comrades, explores the importance of confronting life’s hardships intentionally and deliberately in order to develop the inner strength needed to turn adversity into success and despair into happiness.
In describing some of his own experiences on the frontlines of battle, Greitens observes, “It’s often in those battles that we are most alive; it’s on the frontlines of our lives that we earn wisdom, create joy, forge friendships, discover happiness, find love, and do purposeful work. If you want to win any meaningful kind of victory, you’ll have to fight for it.”
One of the most poignant sections of the book centers around Greitens’s discussion of the great Stoic philosophers, Epictetus and Seneca. These Stoics, in particular, were known for their belief that to be truly free one must be emotionally resilient to misfortune. As Epictetus puts it, “Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.”
And for Seneca it was even simpler, “Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”
Greitens notes that during his time in the military, especially on the frontlines, he often came to a psychological place where he could move beyond difficulties and find promise in an uncertain future. Through experience of hardship and despair, he grew wise and ultimately found joy.
In reading the book, I found myself repeatedly thinking about Stoicism and resilience in the context of my own life experience as a long-distance runner. Certainly, running is nothing near as scary or life threatening as the frontlines of battle, but some of the challenges and resulting scars that can be borne out of the endurance runner’s experience cannot help but make us stronger and perhaps, ultimately, more happy.
It’s a common cliche today that we ‘learn more from our failures than from our successes’ and in running we find opportunities for both every time we lace up our shoes. For me, it is not so much that I have these daily opportunities, but rather how I confront those opportunities and become better for them. As Greitens and the Stoics clearly assert, finding a way through to a better and more purposeful life takes hard work, patience, and discipline.
In my experience, running long distances provides a particularly valuable and meaningful space for resilient growth to occur not just from bouncing back, but from progressing ever forward, day in and day out, to a better and more fulfilling state of being.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- What does resiliency mean to you in running?
- And how about in life?