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‘The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Book Notes – Turning Adversity to Advantage’ By Ryan Holiday

What Is The Main Point Of This Book?

Using stoic philosophy, you can triumph obstacles and use them to your advantage through your perception, action, and will.

Think of an obstacle in the context of a fire metaphor. If you try to put a big tree or log in the way of a fire to stop it, that obstacle actually ends up getting burned by the fire and turning it into fuel, allowing the fire to spread even further. That’s the way you need to think about obstacles: as fuel for growth.

What Does This Book Share That Similar Books Do Not?

In this book, Ryan Holiday is clearly influenced in large by Marcus Aurelius, as well as Robert Greene. This book is heavily researched. There’s great anecdotes and stories in this text from the American Civil War and Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, Seneca, famous boxers, so on and so forth. However, Holiday shows you how to draw upon this information and strategize it into your own life.

Who Should Read This Book?

  • Individuals dealing with challenges.
  • Those who have a tendency to constantly think about the future, rather than focus accomplishing the task at hand.
  • Readers of stoic authors like Aurelius. You’ll get something useful in here, if only for all the really interesting anecdotes from history, which give you a lot of different perspectives and examples. This book also comes with some great bibliography and a reading list of book recommendations.

Who Should NOT Read This Book?

  • Those looking for a long read. It’s a pretty short book—about 200 pages long—and the chapters are only 2-6 pages long. It’s the kind of book you can dip in and out of.
  • People who already use the obstacles they face for success.

What Skills Will This Book Help You Develop?

How to strategically use the obstacles you face to your advantage. This is done through the following three avenues:

  • Perception. How to view obstacles in a positive light. There’s a great quote, I believe it’s from Seneca, which goes, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” You can perceive any obstacle to be a negative thing. However, you can positively shift your perspective: you now have a chance to deal with a challenge and through it become better, stronger, and more resilient.
  • Action. Holiday discusses the discipline of action and the importance of being persistent and continuing on in the face of adversity.
  • Will. If you’re placed in a situation that is negative and unchangeable, you can either complain about it, or you can turn it into a humble learning experience. That’s a skill and an ability that needs to be cultivated over time. A quote from the book reads, “True will is quiet humility, resilience, and flexibility. The other kind of will is weakness disguised by bluster and ambition. See which lasts longer under the hardest of obstacles.”

What Part Of The Book Was Most Illustrative Or Memorable?

  • “Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens, at that exposing moment, the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you’re sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or bullshit?” I think that’s really, really interesting.

If You Only Have 10 Minutes, Which Part Should You Read?

I personally leave this book on my desk or on my bedside table, and read an excerpt from it every day or two. The section that I make sure to re-read every now and then is “Do your job, do it right.” Holiday talks about Andrew Johnson and James Garfield, two ex-presidents. Johnson was a tailor before he went into politics. Garfield, as a college student, managed to persuade the administration to let him be the janitor in exchange for tuition.

Holiday explained about how neither of them were ashamed to do the job that was in front of them and do it well. Instead of always thinking about the things that may or may not happen in the future, you should focus on working hard, being honest, helping others, and literally just sitting down and doing the job in front of you.