I love this book. And I’m not receiving anything in return for saying it.
The three volume set of which ‘The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph’ by Ryan Holiday is a part was given to me for Christmas by my mother-in-law and I absolutely love this book. I read excerpts out to my husband. I love it because it is practical, it is useful, it is applicable to everyone from the age of seven up, it has no religious precepts that would stand in the way to conflict with someone’s deeply held beliefs or lack thereof, and it is true.
Which is a funny thing from the author, perhaps, or perhaps not. He’s been a media manipulator and I’m really looking forward to reading his autobiography, ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions Of A Media Manipulator’, but then again, reformed liars can be the most illuminating of people, I find. :)
The reason this book is so powerful are three-fold, I think.
First, it’s very well written. If it weren’t, if the thoughts he tried to present were muddy and obscured, if he weren’t so eloquent, it wouldn’t really matter how true and useful the content was. But it is well written, and so the writing itself is like a finely constructed and organized greenhouse with clear, clean windows that allow you to see everything within beautifully laid out. Kudos to Holiday.
Second, these are clearly principles the author lives his own life by. His own conviction and inspiration and what he takes inspiration in, his own mastery of the concepts presented are obvious and, well, inspirational. And it’s not just about principles, it’s about how to put them into play, how to break them down to their smallest fundamental part and apply them to our own lives, which he clearly does with his own.
Third, he didn’t actually come up with any of this. The author is very clear that this is ancient Greek Stoic Philosophy we’re dealing with here, which is fantastic because the more I learn about stoic thought, the more I realize this is the philosophy for me. (It also is clearly present in some of the teachings of Jesus, as well as the letters of Paul and James in the Christian New Testament, to name two, for all y’all Christians out there.)
And if you want to know more about stoic philosophy, and you want to read a book, read the book: ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius. Yes, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It’s an old book but you can find it at any bookseller and it’s been in print in the western world since about 1200 CE. (Ah, the scholastic period. I’ll rant about this later.) (Also, take that, New York Times Bestseller List.) And if you prefer to take in your learning in a lecture or documentary format, I’d recommend you check out Wondrium, the streaming service of The Great Courses, because they have a kickass lecture series on Stoicism. It’s beautiful and easy to follow.
But back to the book.
The Obstacle Is The Way really does lead you by the hand through a revolution in thinking, feeling, reacting, and thus all action to the deep and painful truth of our lives: we fall into potholes. We trip over barriers. There are rocks in the road, and fallen trees, and both metaphorical and literal cows blocking the highway. (Cuidado: Ganados en el rodaje.) And whether those obstacles we face are perhaps objectively smaller or objectively ginormous, systemic, generational, brutal, and horrific, there is a way. And the way is not avoidance. The way is not giving up. The way is not saying, well I’m just fucked, I’ll go stream Netflix instead. The way IS the obstacle because properly seen every obstacle provides it’s own solution, if you look well enough.
If that seems like total bullshit, then maybe this is the book for you. And if it seems too good to be true, this is definitely the book for you. And if you are cautiously intrigued, run don’t walk to your nearest library or bookstore and go read it this week.