The Obstacle is the Way Summary

Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle is the Way

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The Obstacle is the Way Summary

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The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs (2014), a personal development book by Ryan Holiday, centers on Roman principles of Stoicism and turning adversity into opportunity. It was also published as The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity into Advantage. The book has been nominated for awards and praised by critics for applying ancient wisdom to contemporary life. Holiday worked as a media strategist before taking on the role of Director of Marketing at American Apparel. He is the author of a handful of nonfiction books.

The Obstacle is the Way was inspired by an anecdote from the notorious Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Holiday believes that behind every successful person is the ability to overcome obstacles. High achievers see setbacks as opportunities. In the book, Holiday looks at how we can apply these principles to our everyday lives.

Holiday divides his book into three primary sections: “Perception,” “Action,” and “Will.” In “Perception,” Holiday examines how important it is to remain objective when we evaluate our own problems. “Action” covers how hard we should work to achieve our goals and overcome setbacks, and “Will” reminds us that time is precious, and it’s up to us what we use it for. Holiday’s central thesis is that, with the right perspective, hard work, and determination, we can endure life and all its hardships.

Holiday applies ancient philosophies to the personal stories of contemporary figures, such as celebrities and CEOs, showing us how they have all succeeded based on Stoicism. Holiday derived his own three-point framework for endurance and success from Stoicism. Although The Obstacle is the Way does not examine ancient Stoicism in detail, it will appeal to readers looking for a general introduction to this philosophy.

Holiday explains that we all face obstacles, whether these are emotional, physical, mental, or merely perceived problems. Obstacles are a part of life. What separates those who succeed in life from those who fail is the ability to make the best of a given situation. Heroes suffer adversity and succeed against all the odds. By following Holiday’s framework, we can all be the heroes of our own stories, however great or small our obstacles are.

The first thing we must do, according to Holiday, is to control our emotions. When we face setbacks, we often let our emotions cloud our judgment. This irrationality is why we can’t see solutions to our own problems, and yet we can so clearly see solutions to other people’s problems. It is up to us to remain objective and separate ourselves from our issues.

It is also important to keep things in perspective. It is easy to blow things out of proportion, especially when they disappoint or aggrieve us. Our problems are not the end of the world. We simply choose to think that they are. Holiday suggests we pretend we’re listening to our best friend tell us their problems, and then imagine what we’d say to them. We should follow the same advice we would give them.

The next step in the framework we should master is action. We must believe in ourselves and work hard toward our desired goals. Holiday uses the example of Alexander the Great, who mastered the most dangerous horse in Greece and made it his own. With a clear vision, enthusiasm, and resilience, we can decide what is possible—just as Alexander believed he could tame the horse.

Obstacles seem terrifying, but most of them have a weak spot. Our job is to find this weakness. For example, Alexander chased the horse for hours until it was too exhausted to fight him any longer. In most cases, if we look hard enough, our own problems have weaknesses we can exploit. Most of us give up before we have tried to overcome the obstacle.

The final challenge for us is to stay determined even in the face of adversity. We all face situations that we can’t change, no matter how hard we work. What we can control is whether we let this setback defeat us, or whether we accept that there are some things we can’t change and that such obstacles don’t define us.

Holiday explains that the Romans believed that, since life is short, time is a gift. Wasting time, then, is a crime against ourselves. Instead of giving up, we should spend time reflecting on setbacks, identify what we can learn from them, and find ways to move forward. After all, we all face one obstacle that’s impossible to overcome—time.

The Obstacle is the Way reminds readers to live life to the fullest and keep their problems in perspective. Time keeps on moving forward, whether we are ready for it or not. We must all accept that we cannot control everything that happens to us in life, but we can choose whether to keep going or let setbacks defeat us.