The Obstacle Is The Way

Author: Ryan Holiday

Published: 2014 (187 pages)

Started reading: 30.August.2016

Finished reading: 2. September.2016


Brief description

Ryan Holiday, marketing genius and college drop-out, draws on stoic philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Seneca to create an aphoristic modern manual for getting shit done.

In a nutshell, Stoicism is the (in my opinion) beautiful philosophy that “yes, life is tough, but you’re stronger than you think“.

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph pays homage to this approach in its section on Will. It also includes powerful chapters on Perception and Action, to demonstrate the importance of seeing every situation optimistically and taking right action.

Holiday’s core exhortation is to view opportunity in every setback. Sometimes reality is unfavourable, and the only thing we have control of is our response to it. We can choose to learn and grow, or we can resign ourselves to bitterness and stasis. The former is more productive, and the choice is yours.

This is a book that anyone, but especially zero-to-one types like athletes and entrepreneurs, will find deeply inspiring, even if academic psychologists may find parts of it incomplete. What’s more, the range and aptness of historical examples will genuinely impress you.

The Obstacle Is The Way reminds us that true philosophy should not be a plaything for the ivory tower but an operating system for life down on the ground.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

-Marcus Aurelius


Actionable insights

> If you’re seeking to learn about a new area, why not read the source documents? The Obstacle Is The Way is a great example of this. If you’re studying up on evolution, read Darwin; if you’re teaching yourself economics, why not start with Adam Smith or Keynes; if you’re majoring in political science, you’d be silly not to read Mill; and if you’re learning Stoicism, pick up Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus. Original sources are often cleaner and clearer than all the ensuing commentary.

> Practice viewing opportunities for growth in every obstacle. This advice risks sounding unspecific, but it’s too powerful and central to the book to let slip. While it’s simple advice, it’s hard to do. Got a bad boss? Treat it as a baptism of fire for developing negotiation skills. Stricken with the flu? Great, a chance to get tonnes of reading done while bed-ridden. Pranged your car? Fantastic, an impetus to become a better driver without any physical injuries. None of these circumstances is pleasant, but if the choice is between whinging about them or turning them into opportunities for growth, who wouldn’t go for the latter?

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