The Obstacle Is the Way

The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

by Ryan Holiday

Number of pages: 224

Publisher: Portfolio

BBB Library: Psychology and Strengths, Personal Success

ISBN: 9781591846352

About the Author

He is a media strategist and prominent writer on strategy and business. After dropping out of college at nineteen to apprentice under Robert Greene, author of 48 Laws of Power, he went to advise many bestselling authors and multiplatinum musicians. He is currently an editor at large for the New York Observer and contributes to Thought Catalog from his home in Austin, Taxes.


Editorial Review

In the year 170, at night in his tent on the front lines of the war in Germania, Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of the Roman Empire, sat down to write to himself, for himself. He wrote only one paragraph, but it is more than enough for us: Our actions may be impeded… but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purpose the obstacle to our acting. And then he concluded with powerful words: The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. In Marcus's words is the secret to an art known as turning obstacles upside down. To act with a reverse clause, so there is always a way out or another route to get where you need to go. So that setbacks or problems are always expected and never permanent. Making certain that what impedes us can empower us.

Book Reviews

"“The Obstacle is the Way” shows with its philosophical anecdotes and historical references that there is a right way to approach the inevitable adversity that comes our way." Traverse City Business News

"What makes this relatively short book so engaging is that it is packed with stories. Each brief chapter focuses on a principle, usually illustrated with at least one example of a leader who employed that principle to overcome adversity." Forbes

"We live in a world where success is possible but not guaranteed; a world where we can achieve our dreams, but only if we direct our thought and effort toward them. Difficulties, roadblocks, obstacles are a part of life, and this book is a great resource for learning how to turn these obstacles into opportunities." The Objective Standard

"Throughout the book, in explicit and implicit terms, Holiday writes that this is not a philosophy book for people who just want to think. It’s a philosophy book for people who want to act. If you want a shift in perspective, then The Obstacle is The Way is well worth the read." Productivityist

"Ryan Holiday's The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph doesn't provide step-by-step instructions on accomplishing your goals, but it does offer a mantra and mindset that everyone can pursue."

"In his latest book, The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday suggests that our response to obstacles is what actually defines us. Specifically, we can choose to treat obstacles as a nuisance, but in order to live up to our potential, we must treat them as a gift." UnCollege Blog

"In each chapter of the book, Holiday shares many, many examples from the great people in history and the world. In fact, what I found most inspiring in the book is his reminder that these “great ones” or great examples of people that he stresses that it wasn’t their intelligence, luck or particular gifts that made it possible for them to succeed, but rather their focus on these principles and this process." Small Business Trends LLC.

Books on Related Topics

Wisdom to Share

When you have a goal, obstacles are actually teaching you how to get where you want to go—carving your path. "The things which hurt," Benjamin Franklin wrote, "instruct."

Perception is how we see and understand what occurs around us—and what we decide those events will mean.

It takes skill and discipline to bat away the pests of bad perceptions, to separate reliable signals from deceptive ones, to filter out prejudice, expectations, and fear. But it’s worth it, for what's left is the truth.

Discipline in perception lets you clearly see the advantage and the proper course of action in every situation—without the pestilence of panic or fear.

Through your perception of events, you are complicit in the creation—as well as the destruction—of every one of our obstacles.

There is no good or bad without you, there is only perception.

Just because your mind tells you that something is awful or evil or unplanned or otherwise negative doesn't mean you have to agree.

You decide what you will make of each and every situation: whether you'll break or whether you'll resist.

You must possess "tranquil courage in the midst of tumult and serenity of soul in danger."

Regardless of how much danger you're in, stress puts you at the potential whim of your baser-fearful-instinctual reactions.

Obstacles make us emotional, but the only way we'll survive or overcome them is by keeping those emotions in check—if we can keep steady no matter what happens, no matter how much external events may fluctuate.

Don't let negativity in, don't let these emotions even get started. Just say: No, thank you. I can't afford to panic. Real strength lies in the control of one's emotion, not in pretending they don't exist.

Remember that where the head goes, the heart follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.

Focusing exclusively on what is in your power magnifies and enhances your power.

Every ounce of energy directed at things which you can't actually influence is wasted—self-indulgent and self-destructive.

To see an obstacle as a challenge, to make the best of it anyway, that is also a choice—a choice that is up to you.

Remember that this moment is not your life; it's just a moment in your life. Focus on what's in front of you, right now. Ignore what it "represents" or it "means" or "why it happened to you."

Despite the fact that you don't control reality, your perceptions do influence it.

When given an unfair task, some rightly see it as a chance to test what they're made of—to give it all they've got, knowing full well how difficult it will be to win.

Our best ideas come from there, where obstacles illuminate new options.

It's our preconceptions that are the problem. They tell us that things should or need to be a certain way, so when they're not, we naturally assume that we are at a disadvantage or that we'd be wasting our time to pursue an alternate course.

Focus on the poorly wrapped and initially impulsive present you've been handed in every seemingly disadvantageous situation. Because beneath the packaging is what we need—often something of real value: a gift of great benefit.

Boldness is acting anyway, even though you understand the negative and the reality of your obstacle.

In life, it doesn't matter what happens to you or where you come from. What matters is what you do with what happens and what you've been given.

The process is about finishing. Don't think about the end, think about surviving: making it from meal to meal, checkpoint to checkpoint, paycheck to paycheck, one day at a time.

Failure shows you the way by showing you what isn't the way.

The world is telling you something with each and every failure and action: it's feedback—giving you precise instructions on how to improve.

We wrongly assume that moving forward is the only way to progress, the only way to win. Sometimes, staying put, going sideways, or moving backward is actually the best way to eliminate what blocks or impedes your path.

Sometimes you overcome obstacles not by attacking them, but by withdrawing and letting them attack you.

Using obstacles against themselves is very different from doing nothing. Passive resistance is, in fact, incredibly active.

Think water. When dammed by a man-made obstacle, it doesn't simply sit stagnant. Instead, its energy is stored and deployed, fueling the power plants that run entire cities.

The will is the one thing we can control completely, always. Whereas I can try to mitigate harmful perceptions and give 100% of my energy to action, those attempts can be thwarted or inhibited. My will is different, because it's within me.

With anticipation, you have time to raise defenses, or even avoid them entirely. You are ready to be driven off course because you've plotted a way back. You are prepared for failure and ready for success.

After you have distinguished between the things that are up to you and the things that aren't, and the break comes down to something you don't control, you've got only one option: acceptance.

We don't get to choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we feel about it.

Persistence is an action. Perseverance is a matter of will. One is energy, the other is endurance.

Whatever you're going through, whatever is holding you back or standing in your way, can be turned into a source of strength—by thinking of people rather than yourself.

Lend a hand to others. Be strong for them, and it will make you stronger.

Reminding ourselves each day that we will die helps us tear our time as a gift.

"The Obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition."