Book Review: The Obstacle is the Way

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday is a simple book which explains the most useful aspects of stoicism and how you can apply them to modern life.

The central idea is that we should seek out and relish challenging situations as these are also opportunities for growth

For me the book solidified many ideas I had been mulling over the last year.

One of which was the importance of perseverance – Holiday actually says it’s probably the most important ingredient to success. It’s something I’ve noticed in the successful people around me: they’re not necessarily the most talented but the ones who have held on the longest.

This book has a lot to give anyone looking to become more resilient. I particularly liked the idea that the right way to do something is often just the way that works. Perfection is rarely attained, so instead focus on making progress.

As Holiday says, there’s always an alternative path around an obstacle. It’s something I constantly need to remind myself if I get discouraged when the original plan doesn’t work out. I’ve noticed many of the coworkers I admire are able to bounce from plan A through to Z depending on what doesn’t work.

The book is split into three sections which corresponds with the three key areas stoicism seeks to address. This makes it easy to digest and remember.

The first section is devoted to perception. We need to be able to see things as they objectively are rather than with our own biases or fears layered over them.

One of my favourite ways to do this from the book is from X who used to reduce exotic or sought-after items to what they actually are. Using this method a BMW is actually a motorised metal wagon, and that expensive pair of Dolce & Gabbana glasses are just plain old plastic-framed spectacles.

The middle of the book was devoted to action. This was my favourite because of the volume of practical tips I could apply to my own thinking.

The worst thing we can do when presented with an obstacle is nothing. The stoics of old knew this and so had different methods to channel their energy in the right way.

As I mentioned above, my favourite part of this section and the entire book was the reiteration that persistence is one of the key differentiators in those who are successful. As Holiday says we must persist at our tasks all the while resisting distraction and discouragement.

The final part of the book focuses around having the will to accept things not in your control. This portion of the book centers around how to accept this and grow from it.

There are many nuggets of gold in this portion of the book.

One of them again centers around perseverance and how staying power is by far one of the most important aspects of a successful individual.

As Holiday explains, there’s a difference between persistence- pushing through a single obstacle – and perseverance – pushing on through all of life’s ups and downs.

I would recommend The Obstacle is The Way to all seeking to build their resilience or improve their view on the difficulties of life.

While Holiday uses famous real life figures from history to explain the concepts, it’s not designed to be a page turner. What you will find instead is a great introduction to stoicism and a call to relish challenge.

Central Idea: Obstacles, challenge and difficult situations create opportunities for growth. Welcome them.

Score: 9/10

The good:

  • Those looking for a concise explanation of key stoic ideas
  • People who don’t want to trawl through translations of Seneca or other stoic thinkers
  • Seeing real life historical examples of the ideas in practice

The not-so-good:

  • Those looking for a light bedtime read – you need to take notes to get the full value from this book

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