The Obstacle is the Way
Marcus Aurelius the Roman Emperor wrote the Meditations which was an excellent primer on Stoicism. Ryan Holiday wrote “The Obstacle is the Way” based on his quote which says “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
This is an excellent book on how to overcome obstacles. The books draws examples from history like John D. Rockefeller who had cool headedness and self-discipline, Demosthenes the great orator had a relentless drive to improve himself through action and practice. Abraham Lincoln displayed humility, endurance, and compassionate will.
The first principle is perception which is how we see and understand what occurs around us. Basically it is the meaning we give to every event that determines how we will deal with it. For example the greater the chaos the calmer Rockefeller would become. His quote on this is awesome "Oh how blessed young men are who have to struggle for a foundation and beginning in life."
We should learn to perceive things differently and color it with a perspective that will help us in the long run. Don’t react emotionally to any event. If you are upset immediately acknowledge and don’t take any action. Allow your mind to become calm before making any decisions.
The author says few things that can help us in this regard are the following when facing an obstacle.
· Be Objective
· Keep an even keel on emotions
· See the good in every situation
· Steady your nerves
· Focus only on things that you can control
Another example provided is Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who at the height of his boxing career was accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Apparently he told the jail warden the following “I know you had nothing to do with the injustice that brought me to this jail, so I am willing to stay here until I get out. But I will not under any circumstances be treated like a prisoner – because I am not and never will be powerless.” This is the highest display of self-worth.
The second principle is the one of Action. Dismantle obstacles by one action after another. Here the example of Demosthenes the great Greek orator is provided. He was born sickly and frail with a big speech impediment. To conquer this he devised some great exercises. He would fill his mouth with pebbles and practice speaking. He rehearsed full speeches into the wind or while running up steep inclines. He learned to give entire speeches with a single breath. Amazing display of what action can do to overcome obstacles.
The author advises that we should always encounter obstacles with
· High Energy
· Keeping an eye for opportunity
The final principle is that of having an indomitable Will. It is our internal power to overcome anything thrown at us. Here the example of Abraham Lincoln is provided. He battled crippling depression his entire life. He was always patient. He found a cause larger than himself. His biggest quality was his will power.
The author suggests the following things we can do to overcome adversity
· Always prepare yourself for more difficult times
· Always accept what cannot be changed
· Always manage your expectations
· Always persevere
· Always have a larger cause you are fighting for
Here the example of Theodore Roosevelt is provided. By age twelve he was struggling with horrible asthma. Apparently his father told the following which changed his life “Theodore, you have the mind but don’t have the body. I am giving you the tools to make your body. It is going to be hard drudgery and I think you have the determination to go through with it.” From that point on he decided that he will make his body with indomitable will and training.
I found this book to be very illuminating with rich examples and food for thought. The practices recommended are easy to understand but of course applying them is the key to get results.