Lawyers, more than most, need clear thinking to succeed. With the many demands competing for a lawyer’s attention, finding the clarity to make good decisions is a formidable challenge. Ryan Holiday, author of the Daily Stoic Blog and many other books and essays, has written a guidebook that allows us to do so. “Stillness is the Key” is the final volume of his trilogy, which all use ancient wisdom to teach us how to function in a noisy and contentious world.
The premise of the book is that stillness is the starting point for all problem solving and creative thinking. Clarity and focus derive from quiet thought and reflection. Like muddy water shaken in a jar, stillness settles the sediment so that we can see clearly through the container.
In his introduction, Holiday references the Stoic belief that if a person could develop internal peace “the whole world could be at war, and they could still think well, work well, and be well.” The same holds true for adversarial trial work. According to Holiday, stillness is the key…
To thinking clearly.
To seeing the whole chessboard.
To making tough decisions.
To managing our emotions
To identifying the right goals.
To handling high-pressure situations.
To maintaining relationships.
To building good habits.
To being productive.
To physical excellence
To feeling fulfilled.
To capturing moments of laughter and joy.
In other words, stillness is the key to everything and in particular the practice of law.
The book is an instruction manual on achieving stillness in our tumultuous world. Holiday divides the book into three sections: Mind, Spirit, and Body. He uses historical and cultural references to teach timeless wisdom. For example, Holiday references John Kennedy’s use of stillness to prevail in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Or how Lincoln’s quiet persistence won the Civil War. He also illustrates mistakes made by those who didn’t tap into stillness. These include Michael Jordan’s infamous diatribe at his induction to the NBA Hall of Fame or the crash and burn of the career of Tiger Woods. Learning by others’ successes and failures is Holiday’s gift to us.
The first book of his trilogy, “The Obstacle is the Way,” addresses how to turn challenges into successes. His second book, “The Ego is the Enemy,” explains how humility and grace must supplant arrogance and selfishness to live a good life. This final exposition, “Stillness is the Key,” caps off the trilogy. But arguably the principles contained in the other two books depend on stillness. To confront our problems, both external and internal, we must first become still; we must stop and breathe. This philosophical journey thus ends with the beginning.
The Epigram of the book, is a quote by the great Stoic philosopher and teacher Epictetus, “The struggle is great, the task divine–to gain mastery, freedom, happiness, and tranquility.” Start by stopping. Stillness is most certainly the key to being a successful lawyer and more importantly, a successful human being.