The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art Of Turning Adversity To Advantage by Ryan Holiday is an enlightening and motivating read on the best practices of Stoicism and how those who embody and practice this philosophy are people of action, and how you can be one too. Full of real life examples, this text illustrates how to apply teachings of those like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus.
The Obstacle Is The Way is an easy book to read, with 34 short chapters divided between three main parts: Perception, Action, and Will. Each chapter is a short essay on an important concept. These include topics such as Control Your Emotions, Live In The Present Moment, Prepare To Act, Practice Persistence, Channel Your Energy, Seize The Offensive, The Art Of Acquiescence, and Meditate On Your Mortality. The topics are illustrated with stories of people who overcame obstacles and in fact, made those obstacles the way. People like Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Edison, Margaret Thatcher, Erwin Rommel, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jack Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, James Stockdale, Laura Ingals Wilder and many more.
The wisdom contained in these pages can help each of us form or own personal philosophy for living, and thus succeed in the face of the many obstacles that we will have to surpass. Each lesson, while short, contains a powerful example of how we can live and act. And in fact, action is a key to this book. Becoming not only a philosopher, but a person of action, is the goal the author has for each reader.
As someone who has studied martial arts and warrior traditions for many years, and who now teaches the same, I found the passages in this book to be refreshing reminders of how warriors should think and act. Maybe this is why we cheer the stoic warrior, or stoic hero, in books and films. We recognize that Stoicism teaches the development of self-control, and that is a power warriors possess. We too want this fortitude as a means of overcoming our destructive emotions to thus live life more to the fullest, and to overcome the challenges and obstacles we face in our daily battles, with only the size of each challenge being different.
Those unfamiliar with Stoicism will find this to be an excellent starter text for the philosophy, which will most likely send you looking for the classics by those authors I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Others, familiar with Stoic teachings have another book that examines and teaches the philosophy as applied to real live people as examples. Regardless, I find this an excellent little guide in the art of turning adversity to advantage. Recommended to anyone wanting to triumph over challenging situations.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
— Marcus Aurelius
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