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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6 Most Useful Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

Starting a business – and being successful at it – requires the right amount of talent, knowledge and skills. You must have the knowledge about your industry, about general business principles, as well as about the laws and regulations that affect your operation.

Additionally, you must have nerves of steel and a heavy dose of patience to take chances and navigate the ups and downs that come with any new venture.

Although success often requires you to have ambition and clear goals, it also requires a certain set of personal skills. Here you will read about six useful skills that entrepreneurs need on their way to success.

1. Ability to listen

Great communicators make great businesspeople. In the business world, you must establish rapport with partners and suppliers. You also need to be there for your employees.

Of course, in order to succeed, you need to commit to customer service excellence, which involves hearing what your customers have to say. All these types of interaction involve one common skill – the ability to listen.

Without the capacity to interact with other people, you will have difficulty getting your new business off the ground. If you have little practice with interpersonal relationships, don’t lose hope.

By learning how to listen, you take one of the best shortcuts available on the path to becoming a great communicator.

When people have something to say, never interrupt them. People often have feelings, opinions, and interests that differ from yours, but if you learn to hear them out, you can quickly win people over.

As you listen attentively, notice the non-verbal cues that contribute to the conversation. When you intentionally communicate with customers and other people through listening, you gain their trust, loyalty, and admiration.

2. Assertiveness and confidence

Though listening skills are undeniably important, that doesn’t mean you have to keep quiet. Quite the contrary, being a good businessperson implies believing in yourself and being able to speak your mind with confidence. After all, communication goes two ways.

As an aspiring entrepreneur, you will often find yourself in situations that require assertiveness. Whether you are dealing with a pushy business partner or a demanding employee, you should never let others dictate your actions.

So, when you need to express your opinion – even if it includes disagreeing with the other party – try to do it assertively and confidently.

Take a deep breath, and articulate your thoughts. Sometimes it might seem overwhelming, as if you are on the verge of a conflict, but eventually you will learn to relax and project self-assurance. You will also gain the trust and respect of those around you.

3. Willingness to Learn

Being a businessperson requires an ongoing willingness to learn. Even after building a successful business, you have not finished your job. In fact, when it comes to learning and improving, you are never quite finished.

Continuous learning will help you evolve both personally and professionally. An insatiable appetite for learning through the Internet, books, documentaries, and seminars will deepen your knowledge and help you maintain your creative edge.

You should also remember to stay up-to-date with all the relevant development in your industry. Pay attention to trends and issues that affect your line of business and learn from the people who have already succeeded in businesses similar to yours.

Talk to industry leaders to get their advice, and apply their insight to your own business. Whatever you do, make learning an ongoing process both in your personal and professional life.

4. Creativity 

When it comes to keeping your business fresh and competitive, creativity is an essential skill. To innovate, you need to be creative. Being creative means doing things differently and thinking not only outside the box but also without that box!

This goes for both your personal life and business. In fact, those two are interconnected – when you spark creativity in your personal life, it will inevitably reflect on your business. So, what can you do?

What you can do is shake up your routine by trying new ways of doing things. Even small changes such as rearranging your office, driving home via a new route, ordering an unusual meal and talking to strangers can help you develop habits that can lead to innovation.

You should also attempt to think about things from new perspectives and apply new ways of solving problems. A little bit of creativity can go a long way in terms of your business growth, so do everything you can not to stifle it with convention and routine.

5. Courage and risk taking 

Entrepreneurs take risks, and you will surely find yourself in situations that require quick and risky decision making. You should never act recklessly, but you should always have the courage to try new ideas and to take little risks. If you don’t try, you will not succeed – it is that simple.

People are often held back by the fear of failure. Rather than fearing failure, embrace it. Sometimes the best experiences in business come from ideas that didn’t work.

Follow your creativity by implementing new ideas and making bold decisions even when you lack clear direction. As an entrepreneur, you should have the guts to take chances and have faith. As John Burroughs once said, “Leap, and the net will appear.”

6. Perseverance 

Last but not least, entrepreneurs must never give up. Remember this – never give up! There will be numerous obstacles and challenges along your way, but if you persevere in spite of them, you will reap success.

Sometimes this means having to accept failure. Even when your failures are expensive and embarrassing, they can still lead to success. Forgive yourself when you make mistakes and look for lessons you can learn from every seemingly negative experience.

As a business owner, you must also develop patience. Success usually does not come overnight, and setbacks do not magically resolve themselves. In the face of adversity, maintain optimism. When you believe in yourself and persevere, you become a prime candidate for success.

Difficulties along the road to entrepreneurial success can seem discouraging. However, if you regard every situation as a learning experience, you can develop the much needed personal skills that will help you build a successful business when you combine them with your expert knowledge.

Begin with the six useful skills listed here, and look for other tips for personal and professional growth along your pathway to success. Most importantly, remember to always improve and challenge yourself – there is no success for those who stand still.

Author bio: Natalie Smith, a freelance writer from Seattle, follows topics related to entrepreneurship, leadership, marketing, social media, and business in general. You can reach her @Natalie Smith

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