1: “This issue. This obstacle—this frustrating, unfortunate, problematic, unexpected problem preventing [us] from doing what [we] want to do,” writes Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle is the Way.
“What if embedded inside it or inherent in it were certain benefits—benefits only for [us]?”
What would we do? What would most people do?
“Let’s be honest: Most of us are paralyzed,” Ryan writes. “Whatever our individual goals, most of us sit frozen before the many obstacles that lie ahead of us.
“We wish it weren’t true, but it is.
“Every obstacle is unique to each of us. But the responses they elicit are the same: Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Depression. Anger.”
The invisible enemy has us boxed in. We try to make progress, but something invariably blocks our path, “following and thwarting each move” we make, writes Ryan.
Many among us do nothing. Instead, we blame. “We blame our bosses, the economy, our politicians, other people, or we write ourselves off as failures or our goals as impossible,” Ryan observes.
2: And yet, not everyone is paralyzed. “We watch in awe as some seem to turn those very obstacles, which stymie us, into launching pads for themselves,” writes Ryan.
“Even more perplexing, earlier generations faced worse problems with fewer safety nets and fewer tools. . . Some of these men and women faced unimaginable horrors, from imprisonment to debilitating illnesses, in addition to day-to-day frustrations that were no different from ours. They dealt with the same rivalries, political headwinds, drama, resistance, conservatism, breakups, stresses, and economic calamities. Or worse.”
Against the backdrop of these challenges, they not only survived. They were transformed. As Andy Grove, former Intel CEO said about what happens to businesses during turbulent times: ‘Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.'”
The ability that all the great men and women of history have in common? “Like oxygen to a fire, obstacles became fuel for the blaze that was their ambition. Nothing could stop them, they were (and continue to be) impossible to discourage or contain,” Ryan writes.
The reality is, “most of the time, we don’t find ourselves in horrible situations we must simply endure. Rather, we face some minor disadvantage or get stuck with some less-than-favorable conditions. Or we’re trying to do something really hard and find ourselves outmatched, overstretched, or out of ideas,” he observes.
3: “There have been countless lessons (and books) about achieving success, but no one ever taught us how to overcome failure, how to think about obstacles, how to treat and triumph over them,” Ryan believes.
What do we need to do? “Turn it around. Find some benefit. Use it as fuel. It’s simple. Simple but, of course, not easy.”
In The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan outlines a framework to understand, appreciate and overcome the challenges in our lives. His work is based upon the writings of the ancient Stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus. “I have done my best to collect, understand, and now publish their lessons and tricks.”
It’s not about the power of positive thinking. It’s not about learning to think: “This isn’t so bad.”
Instead, we see obstacles as “an opportunity to gain a new foothold, move forward, or go in a better direction. Not ‘be positive’ but learn to be ceaselessly creative and opportunistic.
Reflection: What is the biggest obstacle I am facing right now? What am I going to do about it?
Action: Journal about it.