Dr. Drew Pinsky changed my life. I asked him one simple question, and his answer put me on a path that saved me from a very dark place. But more than that, it ultimately helped me achieve success, made me a published author, saved my relationships, and made me happy.

I’m sure this is true for a lot of people. He is after all, a practicing medical specialist of many years and now the host of a major television show, Dr. Drew On Call. But these circumstances were a little different. You see, I am not and have never been an addict. I don’t have an eating disorder or a sexual or medical issue. I have never called into Loveline (though I was a fan). It happened because I walked up to him at 19 years old and asked him if he had any books he could recommend.

I was in college in the mid-aughts and I was invited to a small, private summit of college journalists that Dr. Drew, then the host of Loveline, was hosting. After it ended, he was standing in the corner and I cautiously made my way over to nervously ask a question I thought might be worth taking a shot with: “I heard you read a lot. What should I read?” He said he’d been studying a stoic philosopher named Epictetus and that I should check it out. He also recommended a biography of Theodore Roosevelt that remains one of my favorites (TR it turns out was also a fan of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius).

Dr. Drew — the sex doctor from MTV and KROQ — introduced me to classic philosophy. That night I emailed my friend Tucker Max (who would later go on to be a frequent guest on Loveline) to see if he’d read it. He told me it was amazing and that I should also read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius, translated by Gregory Hays, arrived first. My life has not been the same since.

I had just gone through a breakup of a long relationship (from sophomore year in high school to sophomore year in college) and was wrecked. In fact, I’d spent most of the conference despondent in my hotel room. I was depressed. I was miserable. I been prescribed sleeping pills by a college therapist because I wasn’t sleeping.

So the words of Marcus Aurelius — a Roman emperor writing admonishments and reassurances to himself amidst the stresses of imperial life — hit me in the face. The words of Epictetus, a lowly slave teaching at the outskirts of Rome had the same effect.

“Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.” — Marcus Aurelius

“It’s not about you, but how you react that matters.” — Epictetus

Anyone who remembers me from that time probably laughs at what a ridiculous convert to stoicism I became. “Have you read this?” I would ask people. “It’s SO good.” You know how young people are when they read Ayn Rand for the first time? I was like that. Enthralled! I was just amazed that something like this existed, something that wasn’t pretentious or impractical. Something that was real and solved my problems.

But unlike some silly Ayn Rand phase, this revelation has only grown for me over time. My understanding of stoicism is no longer so naive and simple, but it is equally fervent. It’s made me a better person, not a harder, less empathetic one.

I saw Dr. Drew again at another college conference a few months later (I guess he was speaking to a lot of college journalists at the time). I was a little late but I snuck up to a seat at the front. After it ended, I waited for everyone to ask their questions and I walked up to him and he remembered me: “You look so much better,” he said. There was a reason, I replied: “It’s because I read Epictetus.”

“I’m so glad,” he said, and then politely corrected my pronunciation. It’s “Epic-teat-us” not “Epic-tey-tus”— though to this day the incorrect one is imprinted on my mind. I said it so many times the wrong way during that period that I’ll never get it right. I think it was this moment that I realized not only the true power of books, but also that it didn’t matter whether I was a college student or a teenager — I could talk to and connect with just about anyone.  It didn’t matter if they were a celebrity or rich or powerful — we all had the same problems and needs.

A few years later, Tucker was invited on as a guest on Loveline and I came with him to the taping studio. Of course, Dr. Drew no longer remembered me and I was much too shy to bring it up. But as I sat in that green room, all I could think about was how grateful I was, how lucky I’d been to have an opportunity to ask such a question, and how sometimes the fates align and you’re given exactly what you need.

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” — Marcus Aurelius

This man (and the philosopher he introduced me to) changed my life and in a very significant way contributed to the person I ended up becoming.

And now, over seven years later, I have the opportunity to introduce stoicism to even more people. My book The Obstacle is The Way (Portfolio/Penguin) is about a single exercise that both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius lived by: “The impediment to actions advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” We think that the terrible things that happen to us are obstacles — as I did with my breakup — but they are in fact great opportunities. For me, those dark moments contributed to a great awakening. They exposed me, they motivated me to take a risk (to ask a question of an important, busy man) and I was rewarded for it.

The obstacle became the way. And Dr. Drew showed me that.

Ryan’s latest book, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph was released by Penguin on May 1st, 2014. He is also the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying and Growth Hacker Marketing. He is currently an editor at large for the New York Observer and contributes to Thought Catalog from his home in Austin, Texas.

 

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Don’t Invest In a Career. Here Is Everything You Can Do To Build a Life

The world is changing rapidly. The way we live has already changed. The way we work keeps changing. Entire industries are crumbling. Robots are eating jobs. People are scared of losing their jobs. Nobody is safe.

But people are empowered to express themselves more than ever. The opportunities to create, to become a part of a global conversation and transformation are now more than you can ever imagine. There are now more free online resources to help you start and pursue your life’s work.

You can take your idea, business, or career, and turn it into something truly successful and amazing. It’s easier to transform your passion into your job than finding a job that matches your what you love to do.

What will you do with that?

What will your place be in this new, interesting world? Will you have a voice? Will you be a creator, or just a consumer?

You can do something.

Do something interesting, meaningful, different, amazing and truly remarkable. You have a choice. Choose to show your most amazing work to the world.

Inappropriate attention to detail is the reason why you have not launched your work. By all means, get it right but don’t aim for perfection.

Constantly push to evolve your ideas, even if you are not ready to launch your life’s work yet. Don’t get stuck!

“Whatever you dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”  Goethe

Be a part of the conversation, and say something remarkable. Create something unique, new, beautiful. Build upon the works of others and transform it into your own.

Don’t be subject to the tyranny of “how things have always been done”. Find your true north and push past the default.

Here is everything you can choose to do to build a life that matters to you

Start a blog, write at least a little each day. Write a book. Or an ebook. Share your tips with others online or through a free ebook. Write poetry and publish it on the web. Create interesting, lovely or funny videos, put them on You Tube.

Create an app that will solve a problem in people’s lives. Become a watchdog to replace the faltering newspapers. Explore the world, and blog about it.

Try something you’ve always been afraid to try, and put it on video. Be yourself, loudly. Start a new company, doing only one thing, but doing it very well.

Start a business that does a service you’ve always wanted, or that you are frustrated with in other companies because the service sucks. Put your heart into something.

Say something that no one else dares to say. Do something others are afraid to do. Help someone no one else cares to help. Make the lives of others better.

Make music that makes others want to weep, to laugh, to create. Inspire others by being inspiring. Teach young people to do amazing things. Write a play, get others to act in it, record it. Empower others to do things they’ve never been able to do before.

Read, and read, and then write. Love, and love, and then help others to love. Do something good and ask others to pass it on. Be profound. Find focus in a world without it.

Become minimalist in a world of dizzying complexity. Reach out to those who are frustrated, depressed, angry, confused, sad, hurt. Be the voice for those without one. Learn, do, then teach.

Meet new people, become fast friends. Dare to be wrong. Take lots and lots of pictures. Explore new cultures. Be different. Paint a huge mural. Create a web comic. Be a dork, but do it boldly.

Interview people. Observe people. Create new clothes. Take old stuff and make new stuff from it. Read weird stuff. Study the greats, and emulate them.

Be interested in others. Surprise people. Cook great food, and share it. Be open-minded. Help someone else start a small business. Focus on less but do it better.

Give people a ride in your car. Use Uber to your advantage. Start an online shop on Shopify. Create and sell stuff on Etsy.

Help others achieve their dreams. Put a smile on someone’s face, every day. Start an open-source project. Make a podcast. Start a movement. Be brave. Be honest. Be hilarious. Get really, really good at something. Practice a lot. A lot. Start now. Try.

If you’re willing to take the risk of sharing yourself and your ideas with the world, you can create value you will be proud of.

Show up everyday and work on your most important life work. Whether the outcome is magnificent or eternal, whether it changes people’s lives, changes the world, changes you or groundbreaking, it matters that you show up.

By focusing on doing the one thing that excites you, you not only give yourself a shot at putting in the effort to become amazingly great at something, but you also make it easier for potential customers or employers to see you as “the guy who’s really great at that thing.”

If you pursue your dreams long enough, compounding takes effect. Momentum will surge. Don’t give up just yet.  Action begets outcome. Outcome begets action. Rinse, lather and repeat and you have momentum. You’ll become unstoppable.

Start. Move, make, create, ship, do. Just start. That’s what entrepreneurs do. They start. They start something. Sometimes it is something big. Sometimes it is a big failure. Either way, they got stuff done.

Don’t invest in a career. Build a life. Take your dreams seriously.

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