It didn't take long for me to finish The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday.
Before starting it, I was concerned. Having read many of the works Ryan leaned on to write the book, thanks to being on his reading list for a few years now, perhaps there would be repetition of concepts I have already covered?
It turned out to be a fresh perspective. It centers on actionable lessons and tactics from stoicism.
"It’s simple: a method and a framework for understanding, appreciating, and acting upon the obstacles life throws at us. "
Telling someone to "keep your cool" and "control your emotions" isn't bad advice. Yet, without context, it is hard to act upon. Ryan elaborates on the concept, providing examples of success stories throughout history.
He also points out that, when faced with a slight/setback, getting mad and taking the "why me" mindset is counterproductive.
The idea, no matter how unjust or tragic the situation, is to calm down and to push your way through it. Examples from history, including Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison, show that our 21st century problems are usually minuscule in comparison:
"... shit that’s a lot worse than whatever we’re dealing with. I’m talking physical disabilities, racial discrimination, battles against overwhelmingly superior armies. But those people didn’t quit. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They didn’t delude themselves with fantasies about easy solutions. They focused on the one thing that mattered: applying themselves with gusto and creativity"
When it comes to battle, most of us believe confrontations to be direct and head-on. This almost always isn't the case:
"a study of some 30 conflicts comprising more than 280 campaigns from ancient to modern history, the brilliant strategist and historian B. H. Liddell Hart came to a stunning conclusion: In only 6 of the 280 campaigns was the decisive victory a result of a direct attack on the enemy’s main army. Only six. That’s 2 percent."
We can all agree that having a lot of will (willpower) is a good thing. Yet, Ryan proposes that we may not understand what it really means:
"Too often people think that will is how bad we want something. In actuality, the will has a lot more to do with surrender than with strength. Try “God willing” over “the will to win” or “willing it into existence,” for even those attributes can be broken. True will is quiet humility, resilience, and flexibility."
Two other desirable traits to have are persistence and perseverance. What is the difference? Persistence is oriented to a short term obstacle and perseverance is about the mindset for the long haul:
"But a ten-year voyage of trials and tribulations. Of disappointment and mistakes without giving in. Of checking your bearings each day and trying to inch a little closer to home—where you’ll face a whole other host of problems once you arrive. Ironhearted and ready to endure whatever punishment the Gods decide you must, and to do it with courage and tenacity in order to make it back to Ithaca? That’s more than persistence, that’s perseverance."
"Persistence is an action. Perseverance is a matter of will. One is energy. The other, endurance."
In conclusion, every obstacle is an opportunity. Turn "shit into sugar". Ryan does a fantastic job showing "philosophy’s true use: as an operating system for the difficulties and hardships of life ..."
I am already applying learnings from this book against my own obstacles.