Readings #2: The Obstacle is the Way – The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

Continuing with a previous post about failure and how it can lead to successes, I want to discuss a book I am reading. For Christmas, I received Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Are of Turning Trials into Triumph.” I have been a follower of Holiday’s blog, The Daily Stoic, and I’ve used his books The Daily Stoic Journal and The Daily Stoic to introduce myself (and others) to the wonderful world of Stoicism.

In this book, Holiday begins with the quote that initiates the thesis:

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

Using this quote as a springboard, Holiday breaks down three elements of overcoming obstacles and using them to grow and prospers. These essentials are Perception, Action, and Will. By mastering these items, “What impedes us can empower us.”

Our perceptions of an obstacle are often bigger than the hurdle itself. We place too much emphasis on the “what ifs” instead of the realities of situations. Seneca wrote that we often “suffer more from imagination than from reality.” Holiday echoes this sentiment when he writes:

We face things that are not nearly as intimidating and then we promptly decide we’re screwed. This is how obstacles become obstacles. In other words, through our perceptions of events, we are complicit in the creation––as well as the destruction––of every one of our obstacles. There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.

Holiday believes that when faced with obstacles, the worst thing we can do is stop moving. Action is paramount to progress. “External factors influence the path, but not the direction: forward,” writes Holiday.

With the countless attempts and endless energies spent in moving forward, there are inevitable roadblocks at worst, speed bumps at the least. These aren’t meant to derail you. Holiday cites Silicon Valley and its process of discovering customer wants and wishes. Regarding their trial-and-error procedure, he states, “Failure is a feature. Failure really can be an asset if what you’re trying to do is improve, learn, or do something new. It’s the preceding feature of nearly all successes. Problems become opportunities.” I cannot agree more.

Lastly, a person’s Will is key to progress. In many ways, it tethers us to a deeper part of our humanity. “If Perception and Action were the disciplines of the mind and the body, then Will is the discipline of the heart and soul,” writes Holiday. This section harkens back to much of what Epictetus discussed. Control what we have the power to control. Of the three elements, the Will is the most within our power.

I highly recommend “The Obstacle is the Way” to anyone who needs a dose of reality or a foundation in Stoic values. It’s full of practical applications and mini-biographies of men and women who embody the virtues discussed, including Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, and Amelia Earhart. It’s easy to read and enjoyable. You can’t go wrong.

 

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