I will freely admit that I have recently hopped on the Ryan Holiday bandwagon. I only “discovered” him this past year, but he has quickly become one of the more influential people in my life even though I have never met him. The fact that he is only twenty-seven years old as well is not lost on me either. He is wizened beyond his years and has become more well-read in those twenty-seven years than most people become in their lifetime. However, what Holiday has done to inspire me most is not his list of career accomplishments, nor is it his gargantuan reading list and writing credits. It is the way he views the world. So, when I found out he was releasing a book detailing the simple, but not easy process to learn how to view the world the same way he does. I bought it immediately, put whatever else I was reading on hold and devoured The Obstacle Is the Way in about a week.
I am not going to (nor would I ever attempt to) summarize or paraphrase The Obstacle Is the Way. You have to read it. You have to experience the stories and the examples. It simply cannot be summarized. What I want you to take away from this article is what I got out of the book, and understand the impact it had on my life.
Did you ever get some news that pissed you off? Or have your plans fall apart without any warning? Or, even worse, suffer through some personal or family tragedy? In The Obstacle Is The Way, Holiday translates the two thousand year old wisdom of the Stoics, using modern examples and stories, into a completely relate-able and realistic way of living in the twenty-first century. Holiday taught me that no matter how “bad” some event is, the fact that I have judged it as “bad” is only a result of my personal bias. In reality events aren't “good” or “bad”; they just are. The skill (and it is a skill requiring practice and patience to develop) is to remove our judgments and biases from our view of external events and look for the opportunities contained within every event. Right now, I bet everyone reading this is thinking of some terrible time from their life and thinking cynically that there’s no way anything positive could have come from that. Take just an extra minute or two and honestly look back and think if there was any opportunity that you could have taken from that event. The opportunity could have been the chance to bring your family closer together, or show some leadership or develop some empathy.
I try to use this every day and in every situation, big or small. When my wife is upset and I see an argument looming, it’s an opportunity to show some empathy for her or at least to have a night free to read or watch a movie. When my kids are having trouble sleeping, I try not to get exasperated. Instead I view it as an opportunity to spend some time with them showing them how much I love them.
The real secret to The Obstacle Is the Way is learning the ability to “flip” every situation you face, view it completely objectively and find a way to better yourself (physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, etc.) through the opportunity given you. I can’t explain how. You have to read the book. It changed the way I live, and that’s saying a lot for one book. Hopefully it will change you too.