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The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph Hardcover – May 1, 2014
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The Obstacle is the Way has become a cult classic, beloved by men and women around the world who apply its wisdom to become more successful at whatever they do.
Its many fans include a former governor and movie star (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a hip hop icon (LL Cool J), an Irish tennis pro (James McGee), an NBC sportscaster (Michele Tafoya), and the coaches and players of winning teams like the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Cubs, and University of Texas men’s basketball team.
The book draws its inspiration from stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy of enduring pain or adversity with perseverance and resilience. Stoics focus on the things they can control, let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, tougher. As Marcus Aurelius put it nearly 2000 years ago: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Ryan Holiday shows us how some of the most successful people in history—from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs—have applied stoicism to overcome difficult or even impossible situations. Their embrace of these principles ultimately mattered more than their natural intelligence, talents, or luck.
If you’re feeling frustrated, demoralized, or stuck in a rut, this book can help you turn your problems into your biggest advantages. And along the way it will inspire you with dozens of true stories of the greats from every age and era.
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"The best one I've read. Ryan Holiday is brilliant. If I had read The Obstacle Is the Way sooner, a few things might have been different."
- Rory McIlroy, 2x PGA Champion
“Follow these precepts and you will revolutionize your life. Read this book!”
—Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art and Gates of Fire
“A book for the bedside of every future—and current—leader in the world.”
—Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power and Mastery
“First came Marcus Aurelius, then Frederick the Great . . . and now there’s you. This surprising book shows you how to craft a life of wonder by embracing obstacles and challenges.”
—Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup
"A very, very good book with lots of examples about people who had to overcome great obstacles to have success."
—Nick Saban, head football coach at the University of Alabama
“In this tight, engaging book, Ryan Holiday shines a bright, powerful light on the path to living and leading well. Read it, learn from it, and get cracking!”
—Nancy F. Koehn, historian and leadership expert, Harvard Business School
“My life has been beset with obstacles. It takes practice (and pain) to surmount them and achieve success. Ryan’s book is a how-to guide for just that.”
—James Altucher, investor and author of Choose Yourself
“Ryan Holiday has written a brilliant and engaging book, well beyond his years. . . . It is invaluable.”
—Honorable Frederic Block, Judge, U.S. District Court
“Even though I was familiar with the basis for this book — the ancient philosophy of stoicism: overcoming obstacles through the practice of wisdom, courage, self-control, and mindfulness — it felt like a revelation when I read it.”
—Allison K. Hill, Los Angeles Daily News
“Tremendous! Go buy every book that Ryan Holiday has written."
—John Tesh, host of national radio show Intelligence for Your Life
About the Author
- Publisher : Portfolio; 1st edition (May 1, 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1591846358
- ISBN-13 : 978-1591846352
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.22 x 0.84 x 7.27 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Storytelling has been around since the beginning of time, but actual mass communication has been around for a very short time (relatively). It looks as if the "paper book" business will become a specialty- if surviving at all. I know that Ryan knows this as he has always been quick to lend an idea, do some digging and most important- analyze and decide. As he uses as an example in his book, he pulls an Amelia Earhart and ACTS. He can talk about Tesla in the same sentence as popular games on the meat markets in early Chicago. He has read (studied) Marshall McLuhan to Malcolm Gladwell. This rabid quest to find out and face his own soul searching path- has delivered a perfect book for the RIGHT PERSON. This is not Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Ryan has done WAY more and influenced WAY more decisions than he would ever talk about, but has helped untangle talent and communication complications (i.e- market properly) using many of his methods he developed under Robert Greene and even 50 Cent and Tucker Max. He helped in stealth, but in critical ways, to launch, maintain and capitalize on #1 Films, TV Shows, YouTube and MANY multi platinum musical artists. I can vouch for it myself.
It is always amazing to read a review somewhere when that person has never faced down rejection and fear and can criticize anyone for at least putting their thoughts and ideas out there for judgment. To do that, when the WORLD is telling you that finishing college is the only way to go and you have the same people close to you saying that you will fail- it truly was an Obstacle to overcome. It only got more intense for Ryan, but his lessons are earned. He was led to the water, but unlike most people, he drank. How can you question the message, integrity and courage of that? Steven Pressfield, one of our generations best and most diverse authors, has called it "The Resistance". Even he endorsees the book on the dust jacket.
The reason that I preface the review this way is to show you Ryan's true accomplishment here- articulating what he has learned, applying it to clear examples people can remember and also help people. There have been big choices in Ryan's life- not the least of which was whether to go in house for a safe "job" or "bet on himself". He DID what he talks about here. It is the true reflection on a part of his life and the methods HE used to combat them. This is especially important for a generation who "has ADD" and can't relate to the past. At 22- I think it would be silly to not monitor this refreshing voice and mind as he progress'. He actually went and spent time with Dr. Drew after reading his not so best selling books.
Marcus Aurelius is the clear hero in this book, being compared to boxer "Hurricane" Carter (among others), while dealing with your internal power. The ideas and themes of the book seem to come from some Herman Hesse and Tom Wolfe as much as out of print magazines and long dead historical stars of their time. That is what is so attractive. Anyone should find a part of this to relate to. This is especially helpful to someone who wants a quick boost of intellect instead of trying to muscle through a biography (but he def refers to a lot of interesting people I need to read more about). Ryan does not rely on the same tired stereotyped figures from the past, but finds new, more relatable, characters and situations. Athletes, Entrepreneurs, Parents and CEO's, and those looking to look at life in a certain lens, will benefit greatly.
Think you are having a bad day? Open your eyes and you will find out that another historical leader (other than Churchill) suffered severe depression while running the country that may or may not exist depending on his choices- Abraham Lincoln (didn't see a lot of that in the movie). Grant, Nietzsche and Edison all make a story about fortitude and acceptance. A much different approach than looking in a window and imaging you will get the new purse that is in there and moving on. Again- this is intended for action and not philosophy.
Self Help crap would be fine if it worked, but that means there would only be one book- and it would work. Awareness. Dealing with fear and uncertainty. Mindful and deliberate. Shame and guilt. Accountability and results. How did other people deal with this? Only through careful research do these stories become just as powerful to the man who believes that history is a verb as they are to someone just trying to make it through their day.
The point is- you are not alone. In fact, you are not even close to being the first person today to experience multiple obstacles. It is comforting to see how adversity has been confronted in the past. This is a book for those who believe in Realpolitik and seeing life for what it is. I would say it is the actual back up action plan to what a mystical book like the Mayan based best seller, "The 4 Agreements", is. Although the book is very much based on stoic principles it makes no judgements about your belief system in a macro way.
I can see how this book can have some legs for people try to cope with a new world where you have too much or think you have too little- information to ingest. It is a reference book that can be returned to over and over.
Ryan Holiday is an important voice in the book space these days. Mostly because he is willing to actually commit to writing good books as well as growing his digital presence quickly. Non fiction at that age in 2014 is pretty impressive and patient. He can deal w Dov Charney, 50 Cent, Tucker Max and many others- due to his diversity. His "Read to Lead" mentality is refreshing and way more valuable than any class. He has a Best Seller in "Growth Hacking" at the same time, so holding his own with decades older armchair authors, while understanding the generation gap in communication is not such a bad way to describe this book.
And finally...yes- he uses the bible as reference at times..
Highly inspiring, highly motivating, and highly recommended. Be careful, your entire book might turn yellow from over-highlighting.
This book has a fascinating take on ‘being stuck’ – it is a primer on how to turn adversity to advantage, as the subtitle explains.
Let me state upfront – I am bored by motivational talks and books. I find very little about them interesting or useful twelve hours later. This book is not a motivational text, though it is motivating as many good books are.
The “Ancient Art” of the subtitle is referring to the wisdom and insight of the Stoic philosophers. These writings or thoughts influenced all the people Holiday uses as examples of this approach to obstacles of life. The circumstances of these people would leave most disoriented, reactive, torn and even paralyzed. As Holiday shows “some seem to turn those very obstacles, which stymie us, into launching pads for themselves.”
Knowing that there are heroes doesn’t help us to become heroes, but knowing how they became heroes, does. The value of this book is that it offers an ancient and profound method and framework for understanding, appreciating, and acting in the face of the obstacles life throws at us.
Turning obstacles into the way forward takes many forms. For the great Athenian orator, Demosthenes, it was a relentless drive to improve himself through action and practice. For Abraham Lincoln it was humility, endurance, and compassionate will. In each case, all the people cited in this book were not born with the attributes it took to succeed, and many faced unimaginable horrors, from imprisonment to debilitating illnesses, and of course the day-to-day frustrations we all endure.
So, what did they do? “They had the ability to see obstacles for what they were, the ingenuity to tackle them, and the will to endure a world mostly beyond their comprehension and control,” Holiday explains.
The perspective is not a self-delusional, positive and happy one, ‘this is not so bad’, but rather, ‘I can make this good’.
The starting point is maintaining a state of mind that one of Holiday’s examples, the extraordinary businessman, John D. Rockefeller, had perfected: cool headedness and self-discipline.
When America send the first astronauts into space, they trained them in one skill more than in any other: the art of not panicking. When people panic, they make mistakes. They just react, but not to what they need to react to, but to their survival hormones. At 150 miles above Earth, panic is suicide. Panic had to be trained out of the astronauts and it does not go easily. It must be trained away, through persistent, repeated attempts at not panicking, until you don’t.
Talent isn’t the most important characteristic for success, grace and poise are, because these precede the opportunity to deploy your talent.
The action after the panic allows for a change of perception that is a prerequisite for right action. George Clooney spent his first years in Hollywood getting rejected at every audition. He desperately wanted the producers and directors to like him, and they didn’t. He blamed them for not seeing how good he was. His life changed when he changed perspective, from self-centredness to that of other-centeredness, not possible in panic mode.
Producers need to find the right actor to cast in their film, and they all hope that the next person to walk into the room is the right actor. When Clooney realized that he was the answer to their prayers, not the other way around, his performance improved and so did his career.
Consider the refusal to fund your company. I could be an obstacle, or a call for a change of action. Getting the person to fund you this isn’t up to you, but the decision to refine and improve your presentation is.
Consider the number of exceptional businesses started during depressions or economic crises.
Fortune magazine was founded soon after the crash of 1929. Hewlett-Packard, and Revlon in the Great Depression. General Motors in the panic of 1907. Microsoft in the recession in 1973-75. LinkedIn during the burst of the dot-com bubble. Half the companies in the Fortune 500 were started under adverse conditions.
Rather than focus on the difficulties of an economy in free-fall, they focused on what they needed to do to succeed, and that produced the difference. This difference requires presence of mind.
Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, said “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.” In like fashion, great individuals find a way to transform weakness into strength.
This is essentially a very practical book which will introduce you to a wealth of important ideas beyond what I have introduced in this column. They will be of extraordinary value as you try to facedown business crises.
Readability Light --+- Serious
Insights High +---- Low
Practical High -+--- Low
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of the soon to be released ‘Executive Update’.
Top reviews from other countries
He does explain the basics, so it's not a bad book to read if you have never encountered Stoic ideas before, but he doesn't seem to cover the subject in any depth. I'm waiting for him to introduce concepts like Eudaimonia and Apatheia, but this book reads too much like a self-help book for my taste. He's constantly offering military insights, not all of them accurate (The German attack on Poland in 1939 was a series of Kesselslachen, not Blitzkrieg). Lots of them are about American generals, quite a rich field where you can find many good examples, but after a quick introduction of Sherman (for example), he briefly discusses his personal qualities and he then moves on. Sherman wasn't a stoic (He was a Catholic as an adult), it's as if the author is trying to find things that can be used to support his views. Sherman was mired in controversy several times in his life and had a nervous breakdown in 1861. He was an effective general but not a good choice to support the book's narrative. This book is more like a magazine article or an essay written by someone who knows nothing about the subject but has researched it well on-line.
There are a lot of better books to read on the subject that offer more depth and better insights. I'd not recommend this book to anyone who showed any interest in the subject.
The man is a tv marketer by background - he knows how to fool the masses. And he has somehow managed to get his online badly written life changing course printed.
He basically takes a few basic stoic concepts - don’t worry about what you can’t control, work hard, remain positive etc - and spin a book out of it. Throw in the names of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca along with some modern anecdotes and you are deemed a genius, according to a few people on the back (who clearly haven’t read the book or are part of the self help pyramid scheme)
The anecdotes themselves are horribly cliché. Just name drops people that everyone will know such as Edison, Lincol, Eisenhower, the Lakers (marketing 101 - don’t lose your audience). The bits and bobs of history are so basic and sometimes just wrong - I’m not sure he even bothered to google some of it.
The attempts at motivation amount to little other than “are you ready to go to work? Let’s get to work!”
The writing is blatantly dreadful and nauseating “Lincoln possessed an inner mental fortress that girdered him” Jesus.
It might seem like a good book if you are under 20 and haven't read any self help books before but if you’ve ever read any few before this, you will be quite disappointed with this.
The book is then subsequently sectioned into 3 parts on (i) perspective, (ii) action and (iii) will/perseverance. Each part is divided into roughly 8-10 sub sections. Each sub section is several pages long and offers one key insight. e.g. perspective can be objective/subjective or perspectives create opportunities etc etc.
The book uses anecdotes of successful historical figures to validate ideas which includes the use of Politicians (Lincoln, Roosevelt), Athletes (Hurricane Carter), George Clooney to name a few. There is also many references to Stoic philosophers (Epictetus, Demosthenes, Marcus etc).
Overall I agreed mostly with the proposition of the book. I didn't however believe that the anecdotes supply sufficient reasoning to argue these points. It felt that the author cherry-picked case-studies to fit his narrative.
I also tended to find the writing style was slightly awkward and a lot of sentences were of this nature: "leadership requires determination, energy and courage" which by itself often seemed irrelevant. The author also feels the need to use 2 descriptive words at all instances, e.g. "It's easier to persist in our efforts and actions than to endure the uncomfortable or the painful"
Furthermore, if the reader has read about Stoicism before (e.g. The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by Irvine) then much of the Stoic ideas are recycled. For an introduction to Stoicism with logical arguments I would recommend Irvine (5* read).
To conclude I feel the overall idea is good. This book will be useful for anyone who has to deal with adverse circumstances. It will appeal to people who prefer anecdotes over reasoning.
He also says we should ignore our feelings and perceptions. While I agree that we should be skeptical of our feelings as they can be unhelpful, we should from time to time at least try to understand where they come from. His approach seems to be to bury our heads in the sand, this seems like the road to toxic masculinity. He likes a bit of good old fashioned male bravado, life is a race and you have to win.
He doesn't take into account simple bad luck and other variables and simply repeats page after page that we need to tackle our problems. We do, but there are other things at play.
For example if our boss asks something unfeasible at work we shouldn't question it, just put our head down and work harder. Working harder seems to be his main tip for a better life, making him sound like Boxer from Animal Farm. Don't question authority or the status quo, just shut up and get on with it. I can imagine what he thinks of protests like BLM.
There are some useful tips however, such as approach obstacles as an opportunity to practice a virtue, such as patience, forgiveness or courage and that we are in control of how we react to our problems. Also we are all guilty of procrastination at times and could benefit from more action. I agree that life is hard and often things contradict themselves. (I'm doing it in this review)
I agree that a degree of anxiety is required in every life but Holiday's approach will have people slitting their wrists and having sky high blood pressure all over the place. He's reinforcing a dog eat dog world where there has to winners and losers. If you're not the next Steve Jobs, cunningly defeating your enemies and taking all the credit, you're a failure and should be ashamed for not working harder. Something Seneca will help us come to terms with a million times better than Holiday.