The Obstacle is the Way–Ryan Holiday

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” — Marcus Aurelius


I just reread Ryan Holiday’s nonfiction piece about Stoicism in today’s day and age. Basically, the idea is to turn everything into an advantage. Failed relationship? Rejection from a publisher? Ripped pants on your wedding night? Stoicism–as explained by Holiday (who is only thirty)–is the applied philosophical idea that through three steps, everything can be turned to an advantage.

Image result for ryan holiday

(Above: Ryan Holiday)

Here’s how:

  • Perception
  • Action
  • Will

Using examples like Earhart, Churchill, and others, he shows how terrible events are not “terrible” until we label them as such.

Example: My novel is not selling like hotcakes. I could bitch, whine, and blame this and that. Instead, Holiday explains I need to step back. Chill. View is objectively.

Why isn’t it selling? Do I have a target audience? Do I have a platform? Do I know enough about website-building, blogging, networking, SEO, etc.? 

No. I don’t. Therefore, this failure is just a chance to improve.


Holiday repeatedly uses the example of the serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Perception must be controlled, because I can control that. And a failure–like low sales–that can provide me a chance for growth.

BUT . . .

Then it’s time for action.

Regular, consistent action with an end-goal in mind. Daily, regularly, always “sharpening the saw,” as Stephen Covey said.

Holiday gives this example: Steve Jobs gave a deadline to his engineers. They said, We can’t. We need another week. Jobs said, What’s the diff between one week and two weeks? Just get it done.

And the engineers did.

Holiday explains: The engineers could’ve bitched. Instead, they spent that energy proactively. Jobs did nothing, but the engineers took his glib order and turned it into a positive.

Action. Deliberate, directed, timed, measured, and optimistic (although, not delusional).

FInally, Holiday explained the final step.


Sticking to it. Holiday explains that perception is mental. Action is physical. Then will returns to mental–and “spirit” or “soul,” if you want to sound like Tony Robbins.

This is discipline, showing up each day. Small steps in the right direction.

Holiday mentions an idea worth remembering:

Marathon, not a sprint.

He finishes the book with the idea of mortality. Embrace mortality–the fact that it is all limited, so do it now. Move on now. Don’t bitch. Spend the energy on what can be controlled. What can’t be controlled? Take that and learn from it. Make it into a strength.




If you’ve never read the slim book, it’s worth the time. It’s an annual read for me.

Now I better learn more about building a platform and networking and all that non-writing stuff . . .


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The Obstacle is the Way–Ryan Holiday