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The Path of Mettle: from fragility to antifragility

“All that exists is the seed of what will emerge from it. You think the only seeds are the ones that make plants or children? Go deeper.” ~Marcus Aurelius

Where do we find the spirit for grit, determination, and courage? We’re all told that it resides inside us somewhere. But how do we get to it? Where do we start “digging?” How do we begin? When do we begin? More importantly, why should we begin?

Let’s start with that least question and work our way backward. Why should we begin the search for grit, determination, and courage? We should at least begin the search because the alternative is fragility, weakness, ignorance, dullness, and worst of all, cowardice. Nobody wants that, but everybody must begin somewhere.

In fact: fragility, weakness, ignorance, dullness, and fear are always the beginning of personal development. It’s the cumulative clump of rock that we must somehow mold into a beautiful thing, a robust character, or maybe even an antifragile force of nature. But in order to discover our inner David, we must first chisel away what’s unnecessary.

When should we begin the search for grit, determination, and courage? The answer is always now. Begin as soon as possible. As William James put it, “To change one’s life: 1. Start immediately, 2. Do it flamboyantly, 3. No exceptions.”

How do we begin? We begin with curiosity. We begin with “what if?” What if I transformed my weakness into strength, my ignorance into knowledge, my dullness into sharpness, my cowardice into courage, my fragility into antifragility? What if?

Where do we begin? Where do we start digging for our golden character? We take all the answers to our whys and whens and hows, and we step onto the Path of Mettle. The first step is seeing the path: Self-discipline creates competence; competence creates confidence; confidence creates courage.

Self-discipline creates competence:

“We organize our worlds by first organizing ourselves.” ~Jean Piaget

Self-organization (self-discipline) is the first step on the Path of Mettle. You must know where you stand in the world. You must be brutally honest with yourself. Where you begin is concrete. If you’re beginning from a state of ignorance, weakness, and dullness, admit it. Own it. Dissect it. Dig deep. Get all your ugly ducklings in a row. Then figure out what is in your control and what’s not.

Once you’ve figured that out, only focus on improving upon what you can control while adapting to what you cannot. Self-discipline is an art in itself. It’s a subtle recipe of temperance, patience, and steadfastness.

As Andy Andrews said, “Discipline is the ability to make yourself do something you don’t want to do in order to get a result you really want to get.” This requires restraint from laziness, patience with results, and the determination to see it through.

Your enemy is self-preservation. It’s a blind adherence to the undisciplined routine that has led to your fragile, ignorant, and dull character. Get ahead of the enemy by developing a healthy routine.

Your potential antifragility craves self-discipline despite your fragility. It yearns for it with a primal thirst. Honor it. Give it direction. Fragility is a failed state. Self-preservation is stagnation. Self-improvement always comes at the expense of self-preservation.

Self-preservation is overrated. Too much self-preservation is just as much a trap as safety, security, and comfort. While most people merely preserve the self through the same unhealthy routine, the Path of Mettle will give you the discipline to break away from unhealthy routines and reroute them into new, healthier routines.

What you will discover is competency. Honoring an attitude of self-discipline despite your fragility will give you an aptitude for achievement, and it gets you one step closer to becoming antifragile.

Competence creates confidence:

“The question is whether or not you choose to disturb the world around you, or if you choose to let it go on as if you had never arrived.” ~Ann Patchett

With the foundation of self-discipline in place, it is now time for some backbone. This is all about iteration. Practice, practice, practice. Competency builds the backbone. Self-improvement leads to self-esteem leads to prestige.

Having a backbone is having grounded confidence despite the safety and security of your comfort zone. The comfort zone is all about the wishbone. It’s a place for pampering and healing, a place to lick wounds, reflect, and hope. But too many people have their wishbone where their backbone should be. Too many people are stuck in their comfort zone. Especially the weak, the ignorant, the fragile, and the dull.

Backbone first, wishbone second. That’s a must. Having a backbone is leading by healthy example despite the weak and unhealthy crowd. Then it’s going one step further and teaching the crowd how and why to stop wearing their wishbone where their backbone should be.

Decide you are a leader. Own it. Honor the cultivation of your mettle. Take control of the narrative by creating the narrative through your competence and then have the confidence to declare to all authorities that you own yourself.

Real leaders don’t follow power; they learn how to turn the tables on power, even their own, so that power does not corrupt.

Having a sense of mastery and commitment to a worthy endeavor will increase your self-esteem and sense of well-being. This will give you confidence and power. Which leads to prestige and the trust of others.

With your oxygen mask secure, your confidence will flourish, and you will have the wherewithal to engage the world with strength and vitality. You will be a force to be reckoned with. Such a force can bring balance to an otherwise imbalanced world. Such a force can transform sheep into lions.

Confidence creates courage:

“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.” ~Seneca

You’ve learned determination and grit. Now it’s time to put it into action. Your mettle has gotten sharper. Now it’s time to cut! The pebble of your pain has been polished into a pearl. The coal of your demons has been pressurized into diamonds. The dullness of your fragility has been sharpened into robustness—a mighty sword. Now it’s time to reveal them all to the world.

With great confidence comes great courage. With it you are lionhearted, fearless, brave. All challengers are put on blast. Nothing is off the hook for feeling the full force of your fierceness. From ideas to ideologies. From the anti-authority of rebels to the authority of God. Everything is measured by the confidence you gained on the Path of Mettle.

With the sharpness of your mettle, you are able to cut through golden calves, superficial hierarchies, and delusions of grandeur. You’re able to cut through all so-called authorities. Indeed, the only authority is to cut. The only answer is to question. Everything is a building block. Everything is an abstraction of an abstraction. Everything is a whetstone. The way is never clear. The obstacle is always the path.

Metaphorically, you are a terrible explosive in the presence of which everything is in danger.

Your courage has you turning tables, flipping scripts, pushing envelopes, kicking open third eyes, flattening boxes, and stretching comfort zones. Nothing is off limits. Even fear itself becomes food for the animal of your courage.

Because true courage is being afraid but getting the job done anyway. It is the leveraging tool that leads to all social leveling mechanisms. It doesn’t take courage to blindly follow the chain of command (manmade laws), but it does take courage to question it (using universal laws). True leadership is founded upon it.

The Path of Mettle will give you the courage needed to come face-to-face with your death anxiety and your existential angst. The jagged little pill of fear is swallowed, and fear becomes fuel for the fire of fearlessness.

Leaps of courage become second nature. You free yourself to take strategic risks, thus compounding more and more freedom. You rise. You ascend. Self-propelled. Courage-compelled. The future is wide open and the dream of a new way of being human in the world manifests itself with you as its spearhead.

As Sun Tzu said, “Being unconquerable lies with yourself.”

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About the Author:

Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.

This article (The Path of Mettle: from fragility to antifragility) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.


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