Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
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on May 8, 2014
There are two groups of people who this book will be helpful for:

Those who have never heard of Stoicism and have an intractable problem in their lives they're trying to deal with (who the hell doesn't have that?).

And those who've head of / practice stoicism in their lives.

To the former this book is quick, punchy and doesn't fluff around. Ryan Holiday jabs you with advice inspired by Stoicism in particular two of Marcus Aurelius' aphorisms:

"The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the becomes the way." (Book V:20)

And

"Objective judgement, now, at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now, at this very moment.
Willing acceptance - now, at this very moment - of all external events.
That's all you need." (Book IX: 6)

If you're familiar with Pierre Hadot, then you'll be familiar with the argument that ancient philosophy wasn't so much an exploration of metaphysics, but more an exploration on how to live the good life. A study on how to live. People studied Philosophy so that they could handle life.

Ryan Holiday explores this and offers anecdotes and short simple advice on how to deal with an obstacle in life. In summary:

Alter your perception
Take action
Discipline your will

You can tell at the back that the bibliography from whence Ryan got his anecdotes is vast (it covers more than 3 pages), yet he summarises the stories succinctly in each of his chapters. Lesser writers would have made this book 3 times it's size.

Also Ryan's writing style is simple and actionable. One can't help but see the influence of his mentor Robert Greene in his writing, yet also the short and punchy style of Steven Pressfield (Seth Godin also borrows Steven's style).

For those who know of Stoicism and who practice Stoicism this book is even more damn helpful. Here finally we have a treasure trove of anecdotes of people in history who demonstrate certain Stoic traits. We can acquire certain ideas that we can use to improve our lives.

In conclusion this is a book on philosophy, but on how philosophy was supposed to be. A practice to help us live our lives better, and deal with our problems. Burn all your self help books and read this. You'll never look back.
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on May 7, 2014
Before starting it, I was a bit concerned. Having read many of the works Ryan leaned on to write the book, thanks to being on his reading list for a few years now, perhaps there would be repetition of concepts I have already covered?

It turned out to be a fresh perspective. It centers on actionable lessons and tactics from stoicism.

"It’s simple: a method and a framework for understanding, appreciating, and acting upon the obstacles life throws at us. "

Telling someone to "keep your cool" and "control your emotions" isn't bad advice. Yet, without context, it is hard to act upon. Ryan elaborates on the concept, providing examples of success stories throughout history.

He also points out that, when faced with a slight/setback, getting mad and taking the "why me" mindset is counterproductive.
The idea, no matter how unjust or tragic the situation, is to calm down and to push your way through it. Examples from history, including Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison, show that our 21st century problems are usually minuscule in comparison:

"... s*** that’s a lot worse than whatever we’re dealing with. I’m talking physical disabilities, racial discrimination, battles against overwhelmingly superior armies. But those people didn’t quit. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They didn’t delude themselves with fantasies about easy solutions. They focused on the one thing that mattered: applying themselves with gusto and creativity"

When it comes to battle, most of us believe confrontations to be direct and head-on, yet this almost always isn't the case:

"a study of some 30 conflicts comprising more than 280 campaigns from ancient to modern history, the brilliant strategist and historian B. H. Liddell Hart came to a stunning conclusion: In only 6 of the 280 campaigns was the decisive victory a result of a direct attack on the enemy’s main army. Only six. That’s 2 percent."

We can all agree that having a lot of will (willpower) is a good thing. Yet, Ryan proposes that we may not understand what it really means:

"Too often people think that will is how bad we want something. In actuality, the will has a lot more to do with surrender than with strength. Try “God willing” over “the will to win” or “willing it into existence,” for even those attributes can be broken. True will is quiet humility, resilience, and flexibility."

Two other desirable traits to have are persistence and perseverance. What is the difference? Persistence is oriented to a short term obstacle and perseverance is about the mindset for the long haul:

"But a ten-year voyage of trials and tribulations. Of disappointment and mistakes without giving in. Of checking your bearings each day and trying to inch a little closer to home—where you’ll face a whole other host of problems once you arrive. Ironhearted and ready to endure whatever punishment the Gods decide you must, and to do it with courage and tenacity in order to make it back to Ithaca? That’s more than persistence, that’s perseverance."

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

In conclusion, every obstacle is an opportunity. Turn "s*** into sugar". Ryan does a fantastic job showing "philosophy’s true use: as an operating system for the difficulties and hardships of life ..."​

I am already applying learnings from this book against my own obstacles.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
I love to read books, but after awhile any genre can get stagnant -- for me this is especially true of the business, self-help books. Most of them repeat the same things over and over, and nothing is offered that's new or inspiring. Books that are exceptions to this are ones that are outside of the box or that serve as starting points for reading even more books.

One of the reasons I like this book so much is that its obvious how much Ryan reads. The book has plenty of depth, but the breadth that he covers is impressive. I usually average a couple of books a week, and I've already put a few more on my wish list after reading The Obstacle Is The Way.

Books like this are the best kind of book for me because they lead to other books. This book is organized into very short chapters focused around one core idea and usually one example. After only a few pages, the author makes his point effectively and moves to the next point. It really reads like a timeless book, but is also very clean and modern.

Ryan was/is the researcher for Robert Greene's books as well, which are great but are almost too dense to recommend to many people. This strikes the right balance between actionable advice, intelligence and readability -- will definitely be buying extra copies to give away.

If you love reading, have any interest in stoicism, or just love a book that will actually motivate you -- get this one. Highly Recommended.
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on November 16, 2014
If you're unfamiliar with stoicism, then join the club. I didn't know what it was before reading this book, but Ryan Holiday has certainly opened my eyes. I think, more often than not, most of us look at obstacles as hardships that may or may not be surmountable. In my case, obstacles have always represented a negative part of a journey. But, I think what this book taught me is that obstacles don't have to be these laborious hardships on the way to a final goal. In fact, many times, obstacles can be great learning experiences. They can teach us exactly how to get things done and we can gain knowledge along the way. It's all a matter of how you tackle those obstacles. Do you go into it assuming failure or are you primed to triumph?

I know that triumphs can seem like they're few and far between, and I've used many other books to help me along the way, including 21 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy. This is a simpler, but ultimately deep book on a variety of things that we need to let go in order to achieve overall happiness. It's all about changing your perceptions and understanding that you alone have the power to let go and find what truly makes you happy. In many cases, letting go of your preconceived notions will help you better be able to tackle the obstacles within your life. Clearly, if you're default mindset toward obstacles is one that treats them as insurmountable, then you are likely not going to achieve many of your goals. If you let go of that preconceived notion, then you will be better able to make an actionable difference in your life.

Holiday's book is a lesson in stoicism that I think most people need. It talks about philosophies of ancient leaders and rulers, including Marcus Aurelius. Holiday is clearly well-read and he uses that knowledge well. He is able to synthesize his points while still offering a fresh perspective which is certainly refreshing. 21 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy also works as a good companion to The Obstacle Is The Way.
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on July 22, 2015
 "Whatever we face, we have a choice: Will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them?

We might not be emperors, but the world is still constantly testing us. It asks: Are you worthy? Can you get past the things that inevitably fall in your way? Will you stand up and show us what you're made of?

Plenty of people have answered this question in the affirmative. And a rarer breed still has shown that they not only have what it takes, but they thrive and rally at every such challenge. That the challenge makes them better than if they'd never faced the adversity at all.

Now it's your turn to see if you're one of them, if you'll join their company.

This book shows you the way." ~ Ryan Holiday from The Obstacle Is the Way

Learning to turn our biggest challenges into our biggest opportunities is what this book is all about--"The timeless art of turning trials into triumph."

Marcus Aurelius tells: "The impediment to action advances the action. What stands in the way becomes the way." In short, the obstacle is the way.

Ryan Holiday is a brilliant writer (and guy) and this book is a *really* smart, lucid, compelling, inspiring manual on the art of living invincibly.

Ryan masterfully integrates ancient Stoic wisdom from Marcus Aurelius + Seneca + Epictetus and brings that wisdom to life via inspiring stories featuring everyone from John D. Rockefeller, Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt to Amelia Earhart and Steve Jobs.

My book is all marked up and peppered with "wow"s and "YES!"s. If you're enjoying this Note, I think you'll really dig it.

The book has three parts: Perception + Action + Will.

Some Big Ideas from this book:

1. Perception - Key #1: Think clearly.
2. Action - Key #2: Act correctly.
3. Will - Key #3: Accept + endure reality.
4. Panic Button - Don't hit it.
5. Post-Traumatic Growth - Is much better than PTSD.

To find 250+ more reviews visit http://bit.ly/BrianReviews
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on November 16, 2014
The premise of this book is great: instead of trying to avoid obstacles or complaining about them, embrace adversity and learn to thrive in spite of it. The first few pages were like an inspiring halftime talk from a football coach, and they had me excited and ready to take on the world. As I delved further into the book, I found that the principles of Stoicism are incorporated in a smooth, teachable manner (so I didn't feel like I was being lectured incessantly about Stoic philosophy) and each chapter starts out with a thought-provoking quote. The author's writing style is direct and easy to understand, and multiple times I found myself highlighting a phrase I found impactful.

In spite of these assets, I ultimately felt that the book fell short. Like his mentor Robert Greene, the author weaves in stories of famous historical figures to illustrate each lesson. Unlike Greene's books, however, I found this book's analysis to be quite superficial. For example, in the chapter titled "Channel Your Energy" the author brings up Toussaint Louverture, the fascinating individual who led the only successful slave insurrection in history that led to the creation of a nation. I was expecting an exciting tale from Louverture's life, yet the author simply referenced him for one paragraph to say that his name meant "the opening" because he was "fluid" and "uncontainable." That's it? Why even bother to bring him up? Many, many times the author would bring up a figure from the past only to mention a brief, shallow connection to the chapter's topic before re-engaging in his own pontification, which for the most part revolved around challenging the reader to stop "playing video games" and get off the couch. This might be good advice for some, but not every reader is sitting in front of a PlayStation wondering where life went wrong and awaiting a tongue-lashing from the author.

Although the writer has a good voice and I enjoyed his style, there were times where I thought the book could have benefitted from much better editing to tease out some of the fluff. When I read the phrase, "whatever you're doing, it's going to be harder if your plan includes defying physics or logic" I found myself thinking, "no kidding? I'm glad I paid money to read this."

Some of the stories were a little less than factual. Was Antietam a huge victory for the Union in the Civil War? It's been a while since I've taken a history course, but it was my understanding that Antietam is considered by most to have been a bloody stalemate. Also, the author made a good point about Obama handling the Reverend Wright fiasco pretty well with a great speech, but I think it's a stretch to say this "propelled" Obama into the White House.

I even found some of the author's statements to be contradictory. When describing Jack Johnson's boxing match against the Great White Hope, he said Johnson was "smiling, joking, playing the whole fight" in response to the racial tension of the crowd because "there's no value in any other reaction." Really? Well then why did you praise Joe Louis just a few chapters before for making a point to show no emotion at all during his boxing matches, also in regard to racial tension? Selectively choosing people or instances from history to back up your beliefs leads to inconsistencies, of which the book has many. Demosthenes is praised for not giving up and becoming a great orator, but Jefferson is praised for giving up on becoming a great orator and instead focusing on writing. Well, which is correct? If you want to succeed in politics and aren't a great orator, should you practice and never give up until you succeed, or acknowledge your weakness and focus on becoming a better writer? The truth is, there are many paths to success and ways around obstacles, so many of these so-called principles or rules make sense in one context and are valueless in another.

Even so, the author deserves credit for putting together a considerable list of great quotes, providing an overarching yet flawed framework for applying Stoicism to your daily life, and occasionally saying something inspiring that prompts the reader to action and inspires the belief that obstacles are not to be cursed but embraced and overcome.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I wanted to like media innovator Ryan Holiday's brief introduction to Stoic philosophy. He eschews Philosophy 101 jargon, focusing instead on lived experiences by people who embody Stoic principles. By apprenticing ourselves to life's rolling hardships, Holiday promises, we overcome momentary setbacks and make apparent obstacles into lasting triumphs. And Holiday promises to distinguish true capital-S Stoicism from pop images of stone-faced impassivity.

Then I got past the introduction and read the chapters. Holy schnikes.

Historian James Loewen writes that the process he calls "heroification" turns "flesh-and-blood individuals into pious, perfect creatures without conflicts, pain, credibility, or human interest." Holiday uses object lessons from people who willfully or coincidentally lived Stoic lives. But he engages in rank heroification, not only contrasting our tumultuous lives to immobile hagiographies, but turning his exemplars' lives into the exact opposite of what their actions really accomplished.

Yes, John D. Rockefeller pulled fortunes from extreme economic turmoil. He also dumped so much industrial filth, including gasoline, into the Cuyahoga River that the water itself caught fire. Holiday praises Rockefeller's refusal to crack for federal prosecutors. But Rockefeller got prosecuted because he ignored laws, using his monopoly to manipulate markets. Adjusted for inflation, Rockefeller was probably the richest man ever; but he was also a criminal and profiteer.

Yes, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter emerged from prison triumphant. But he was never exonerated; prosecutors simply declined a third trial, because after twenty-two years, too many witnesses had died or moved away. During his second trial, Carter beat bail bondswoman Carolyn Kelly so severely, she required hospitalization, and he's never explained why. Despite intermittent celebrity endorsements, Carter's case remains far more ambiguous than Norman Jewison's starry-eyed 1999 biopic would admit.

One could continue. Holiday's blatant heroification tactics freeze complex humans in moments so abstract, it's downright dehumanizing. Sure, Ulysses S. Grant fought admirably in war, but war's rigors shaped his goals. In civilian life, his business ventures folded, he was a chronic drunk, and historians consider his Presidency a failure. Holiday repeatedly discusses entire groups of people, like astronauts, Allied soldiers in Europe, and "the Greeks," like great faceless masses.

Nobody requires deeper explication in Holiday's telling. But this isn't just about Holiday's narration. His human examples, basically mere anecdotes, exemplify his entire technique. Where Stoic pioneers like Seneca, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius slowly unpacked principles as modes of lifelong training, Holiday gallops quickly through strings of bromides ("you're probably not going to die from any of this," "outward appearances are deceptive") that never much occupy his time.

But Holiday hides the solution to his problems in his text. It's hidden so deeply, he perhaps misses it himself. But quoting Epictetus, Holiday tells readers to imagine supposed sages having sex: "See them in your mind, grunting, groaning, and awkward in their private life--just like the rest of us." Bloody good advice. Holiday could apply it to the heroes he unthinkingly extols throughout this frustratingly underexamined book.

Marcus Aurelius spent decades discovering and refining the thoughts comprising his Meditations. Life, for him, was an ongoing philosophical boot camp. He never stopped asking himself important questions: what opportunity does this challenge present? Does this worry really merit my time? What did this defeat teach me? Hardly some proverbial to-do list, Stoicism was, for Marcus Aurelius, a never-ending process of discovery and re-invention.

One could apply this same tactic to Holiday's various heroes. Pericles became an accomplished general, in part, to overcome embarrassment for his father's ostracism and his own weirdly misshapen head. Gandhi arrived at his nonviolent philosophy only after struggling with the morality of two world wars. No wonder Catholic activist Dorothy Day's dying wish was to never be canonized: sanctification freezes humans in amber.

Admittedly, while he cherry-picks his facts, Holiday never says anything philosophically wrong. He adroitly encapsulates Stoic principles in memorable sayings and concise (if self-serving) contexts. But nothing, evidently, merits much of Holiday's time. He takes Stoicism, a complex and multifaceted approach to the well-lived life, and reduces it to a checklist of platitudes. That sells books, but probably doesn't change lives.

And that's a crying shame. If any philosophy's time has come `round again, surely it's Stoicism. Its steely-eyed, objective approach to life contrasts with today's highly emotive "culture of psychotherapy." (I know, that totally misrepresents psychotherapy. Bear with me.) As frustrated as Holiday's bullet-point approach leaves me, his energetic but ultimately unrealized thesis inspires me to reread the source materials:

Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings
Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Best-selling author Ryan Holiday has written a very clever book about facing challenges that life serves up. His solution focuses ten strategies which have proven successful in turning obstacles into opportunities.

These the 10 historical strategies have been practiced by great men and women throughout the centuries. He draws his material and stories from great thinkers and philosophers, the lives of famous people who overcame great obstacles and great warriors who achieved great victories, and many others. These include Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Viktor Frankle, Ruben Carter, Ulysses S Grant, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Churchill, Steve Jobs, and 73 others.

Holiday's 10 strategies for achieving victory are:
1. Alter your perspective
2. Flip the obstacle on its head
3. Stay moving, always
4. Iterate - fail cheaply and quickly
5. Follow the process
6. What's right is what works
7. Use the flank attack
8. Use the obstacle against itself
9. Sieze the offensive
10. Focus on something bigger than yourself

It would be a mistake to read this review and walk away thinking you have a full grasp of the book's content. This is a book loaded with wisdom and the headings only scratch the surface.

Several gems to whet your appetite include:
* Perceptions are a problem - they give us information we do not need.
* When faced with an obstacle, we are faced with a test of character; Do you run towards it? Or do you run away from it? Or worse, are you paralyzed and do nothing?
* Don't focus on the obstacle. Simply do what you need to do right now. Follow the process. The process is about finishing. Don't think about the end.
* Don't let your mind become distracted. A distracted mind loses track of what matters.
* Being trapped is just a position, not fate.
* When we believe in the obstacle more than the goal, which will inevitably triumph?
* Lean into your weakness, exaggerate it, and expose yourself as Gandhi did.
* Use the energy of adversity to help yourself.
* Learn to press forward precisely when everyone around you sees disaster.
* And one of the best of the best is "Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens - at that exposing moment - the world gets a glimpse of what's truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you're sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or BS?"

Each of these pearls, with the many others in "The Obstacle is the Way," makes this a fascinating and worthwhile read. All are supported with a story, an example, or observation. Holiday's book will be a useful well beyond the initial read. It will serve as a great reference book whenever you are facing what may seem to an insurmountable obstacle in your life.
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on May 12, 2014
This book covers stoicism, but puts a modern flavor on it by using applications found in heroes in a context closer to the present. There are three main sections: focusing on the approach to a problem, strategies to overcoming that problem, and dealing with the emotional "head-space" that one can find themselves in while contending with the problem. The examples used for each principle were appropriate enough, even though a couple of times Holiday seemed to guild over the person in question. I've seen this done poorly in other works, letting the person's worth be self-evident of the success of the method, but Holiday chose relevant people (and backed up his assertions that those he listed were, in fact, Stoic followers or philosophy enthusiasts).

I knocked off a star because the book gets a bit abrasive at points. These moments were brief, but noteworthy and clashing against the rest of the encouraging and contemplative tone that the book presents. One area, in particular, asked how common people would deal with a problem, then suggested they would medicate to eliminate their problems (among other possible responses) as an example of handling it against the philosophy of the book. While he later gives Abraham Lincoln, a depression sufferer, as a tenacious follower of Stoic thought, the first passage came across as dismissive of an appropriate response to the obstacle of mental illness - an option that Lincoln never had. I'm sure Holiday didn't intend for it to come across that way, but there are moments like that where I do a double-take and wonder if he spilled something as he was writing and a flash of anger ended up on the page.

This shouldn't discourage anyone from getting the book, though. Overall, this is great, and I will be looking further into Stoic philosophy as a direct result of my reading this.
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on June 10, 2014
I love Ryan Holiday, and I'm a huge fan of Trust Me, I'm Lying. But this book is just re-hashed Stoic philosophy. Instead of buying, you could read this sentence: "When bad things happen, it's OK - it's an opportunity for you to learn!" Honestly - that's all you'll get from this book. He's a great writer, so his prose pulls you through a bit, but I have no idea why this book is getting such rave reviews - it's been done before countless times. If you need a good pick-me-up, and you're totally unfamiliar with Stoic philosophy - go for it. Otherwise, it's not really worth your time.
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