Hat tip to Ryan Holiday for his book The Obstacle is the Way, which served as inspiration for this discussion. This post was co-authored with Nina Ho, a student entrepreneur and writer at the University of Texas.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” — Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor and philosopher of Stoicism – a practical philosophy that helps one deal with the complexity and randomness of life. Stoicism does this by promoting the power of perspective as a means for transcending negative emotions and the consequences of those emotions. The powerful takeaway from Aurelius’ quote is that “misfortune” is ultimately a relative concept. The labels of “good” and “bad” attributed to an event largely lie in the mind’s interpretation of the event. Thus, difficulties, trials, and challenges – “what stands in the way” – is the way to move forward in life.
Essentially, Aurelius is speaking about “reframing” – an idea found in Stoicism, Buddhism, and positive psychology. Reframing is a cognitive tool that helps individuals reinterpret a situation, find the value in that situation, and develop logical action steps to maximize the outcomes.
This lesson of reframing obstacles is valuable to college students because college and life are fraught with challenges and misfortune. This holds even truer for the entrepreneurial journey. By embracing and reframing these obstacles, individuals can create opportunities from events that may be out of their control. Here are some reasons why student “obstacles” are actually unrecognized advantages, especially for entrepreneurial pursuits.
1. You possess the student card.
As a general rule of thumb, the majority of people want to help college students. They rememberthe personal and professional exploration that came with their time in school. Many professionals will respond positively if you can effectively communicate your “ask”, respect their time, and follow through. Upon graduating, however, the world is less likely to open doors for you, so take advantage of your student status now.
[As a meta-example, I’m co-authoring this post with Cam because I reached out to him sophomore year using the student card. This relationship provided the foundation for me to pitch him on the idea of a summer internship position with 3DS. As a result, I got the chance to work alongside the 3DS Global Team and spent the summer writing about student entrepreneurship, performing international outreach, and helping shape 3DS’ corporate brand identity.]
An added bonus of leveraging the student card is that people like you more when they help you, not necessarily the other way around. (Psychologists called this phenomenon the Ben Franklin effect.) That means that asking for help early on, non-invasively of course, is a great way to build rapport with industry professionals before you even graduate.
Beyond student status, using your student card is about extracting as much value from your university experience as possible. Whether that means finding scholarship money to study abroad or taking a difficult class for the skill it offers and not the grade, college is an optimal time and place to seek out personal growth through life-affirming experiences.
2. The world expects little out of you.
Secondly, similar to the theme of college exploration, at no other time in your life will youth and inexperience have such low repercussions. In other words, college is the starting line of your professional career, and your “job” at this point is simply to make decent grades. While low expectations and being nameless may sound like barriers, they are actually marks of freedom. As a college student, you have the ability to risk big without fear of jeopardizing social or professional status. You’re allowed to make less-than-perfect decisions, learn from those mistakes, and adjust your course.
Furthermore, a lack of awareness about limits, not knowing what can and cannot be accomplished, can represent an asset for creative problem-solving. Creativity and innovation are byproducts of being open-minded, and young people tend to be more open-minded since “habits and prejudices” have yet to solidify.  The connection between youth and innovation is supporting evidence of why the Facebooks and Googles of the world had founders in their early twenties. This goes to show that naïveté and ignorance may not always deserve their negative connotations.
3. Grades matter less than you think.
We’re not saying that grades are unimportant – GPA definitely matters for professional tracks including law, medicine, or consulting. Grades also teach the value of self-discipline and a strong work ethic. Most careers, however, care more about the skill sets you bring to an organization than the grades you made in college, especially those that are entrepreneurial in nature.
Here’s how we see it. Grades function as the currency of universities. This is how students “keep score” and maneuver within the system. Skill sets and abilities, however, function as the currency of the professional world. Successful individuals are those who can transfer the lessons learned from the pursuit of high marks to the pursuit of real-world skills. Awareness of this reality gives you an open lane to get a head start on acquiring and fine-tuning your craft. While your peers are chasing an expiring currency, you have the opportunity to invest in yourself and your future.
 The Wall Street Journal’s Fleeting Youth, Fading Creativity