500 Words On: The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday

Words: 498. Reading time: 3 minutes, out loud.

“First, see clearly. Next, act correctly. Finally, endure and accept the world as it is.”

I could not personally come up with a more succinct summary of this small but powerful book. The book that in recent years, has become the talk of places like Fortune 500 boardrooms and NFL locker rooms.

From Epictetus to Edison, Holiday uses histories’s most impactful stories to convey practical pieces of stoic wisdom.  Below I briefly examine each of the three parts of the book.

See Clearly.

“Problems are rarely as bad as we think- or rather, they are precisely as bad as we think.”

Holiday reminds us that there is the event- and then there is our story about it. The path to which I aspire, and, one can sense, Holiday aspires, is that path on which we simply observe events objectively, rather than needlessly bend perception with our often harrowing biases.

Act, Correctly.

“If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it yourself, right now, by getting up and getting started.”

Holiday makes the point that too often we get caught up at the overwhelmingness of the current landscape; the pain, the immensity. But, he advises, after we have a clear and true view of reality, we’d be wise to merely start, rather than further dreaming up these distractions.  As blogger Tim Urban has urged: no one builds a house day one; people lay bricks on top of each other.  Eventually, sometimes, a house emerges.

If you’re busy looking for some magic silver-bullet, Holiday sobers you with a seraphic reality-check, sucking you back down to earth: “stop looking for angels and start looking for angles.

Endure and Accept The World As is

“Too many people think that great victories like Grant’s and Edisons’s came from a flash of insight. That they cracked the problem with pure genius. In fact, it was the slow pressure, repeated from many different angles, the elimination of so many other more promising options, that slowly and surely churned the solution to the top of the pile. Their genius was unity of purpose, deafness to doubt, and the desire to stay at it.”

I’ve not seen a clearer call for hard work over pure genius since I read and reviewed Originals by Wharton’s Adam Grant.  I’m not sure there are 75 words that are, at once, so inspiring and kick-in-the-ass worthy as those.

Holiday concludes emphasizing the necessary acceptance of what we must face: our fate.  But not merely face it. Not merely endure it.  But to love it. “Amor Fati.” Love of fate.

“…that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it.”  Niche

Manageable because of its enjoyable writing-style, inspiring because of its thoughtful biographical stories, and indispensable due to the obvious truths it professes, and by which, one thinks, with a recognizing smile, the author aspires to act.

Giver ‘er a read.  Probably more than once.




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