The Obstacle is the Way
by Ryan Holiday
Published by Penguin Group
In this amazingly concise narrative, Ryan Holiday lays out what we know to be the secrets of a positive and commanding approach to living. The title “The Obstacle is the Way’ is taken from one of the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor that articulates the art of turning obstacles upside down. The book represents ideas of stoicism which were founded in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. This school of thought is predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics informed by a system of logic and views on natural laws.
Within this context Mr. Holiday weaves an understanding of how to accept and deal with circumstances that seem to keep us from accomplishing our goals. The powerful premise he presents is that the obstacle is not an impediment but rather an opportunity to use our uniquely human attributes to address obstaacles.
The material that follows is a series of short essays organized around three guiding principles he refers to as disciplines;
1) Perception: a function of the mind,
2) Action: a function of the body, and
3) Will: a function of the heart.
Perception is used to define how we see things. We train our perception to see solutions, not problems. We use our intellect to control our emotions to better address difficulties with reason. We prepare to act by developing a plan and assessing the contingencies that may need to be employed. Without these developed skills we are likely to give up before we start. Without objectivity we are likely to be consumed by fear and confusion. Without a plan we waste time and energy that leaves us discouraged and exhausted.
In my book, A Process; Developing a New Approach to Living, I point out that our difficulties stem from an incorrect perception about who we are and our place in the world. This misperception is at the root of our difficulty in adopting a positive approach. If we only see problems it is likely because we consider ourselves to be incapable, flawed in some way, or afraid of failure. Until we discover, examine and address our erroneous core beliefs about ourselves, applying the positive aspects of perception are less ineffective.
Action, the second discipline, is the aspect of addressing obstacles with strength. Action implies moving forward. Action is synonymous with not stopping. When one thing is not working, action means redirecting the efforts. In my view, the most notable element of action is “trust the process” which Ryan uses to emphasize that action is applied in the here and now. There is an immediacy and unambiguity about action.
Why would we have prepared a plan with the first discipline if we were not going to use it. The plan is the process to be followed laying out the sequential steps to keep on task. This guiding tool is the essence of what is laid out in my book for positive change. One stage leads to the next but there is no point in jumping forward until the current stage is complete. There is no short cut to the end. What I really like about Ryan’s approach is his detailing the positive elements of action that can be used to execute the plan.
I was not expecting the aspect of will to deal with obstacle, but as I read the third section it became clear that will is equally as necessary as perception and action. Will is the impulse to “not give up”. The examples provided include; the fortitude to find more strength after all energy appears to be completely depleted, calling on a vision or purpose makes the effort worthwhile or using these tools to address difficulties in order to transform day-to-day tasks into character defining moments. Without a challenge, the victory would be hollow. Without resistance we would not build strength. But remember, not all problems are solvable and life does not last forever.
In Mr. Holiday’s book the objective is to refine how we see ourselves in relation to impediments we find in our way and in so doing be the fully functioning person we are capable of being. In my book the objective is to discover the impediments we put up in our own way, address them and change them and in so doing be the fully functioning person we are capable of being.
I enthusiastically recommend you read this and the other books Ryan has written. Find them at RyanHoliday.net Their clarity in presenting the most basic of human strengths is an invaluable addition to anyone’s tool-box in living a meaningful and productive life.
For more information on the concepts and methods of self-examination, please visit our web site reinventionentperprises.com