The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

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The Book in One Paragraph

You can’t always control what obstacles you will face in life. You can, however, control your reaction to them. If you’re willing, you can treat every obstacle as an opportunity to get better, stronger, or tougher.

The Obstacle is the Way Summary

This is my book summary of The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. My notes include quotes, big ideas, and important lessons from the book.

  • Obstacles are inevitable. Every person on earth deals with them. It’s not your job to avoid obstacles, but rather to become the type of person who can use them to become better.
  • The obstacle is not something that stands in your way. The obstacle is the way.
  • “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”.
  • “There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”
  • “Whatever we face, we have a choice: Will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them?”
  • “We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.”
  • “There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try: To be objective. To control emotions and keep an even keel. To choose to see the good in a situation. To steady our nerves. To ignore what disturbs or limits others. To place things in perspective. To revert to the present moment. To focus on what can be controlled.”
  • “Perspective has two definitions. Context: a sense of the larger picture of the world, not just what is immediately in front of us Framing: an individual’s unique way of looking at the world, a way that interprets its events.”
  • “Our actions may be impeded… but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.”
  • “Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.” -Marcus Aurelius
  • “The world is constantly testing us. It asks: Are you worthy? Can you get past the things that inevitably fall in your way? Will you stand up and show us what you’re made of?”
  • “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.” -Andy Grove
  • “Remember and remind yourself of a phrase favored by Epictetus: ‘persist and resist.’ Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distraction, discouragement, or disorder.”
  • “Defiance and acceptance come together well in the following principle: There is always a countermove, always an escape or a way through, so there is no reason to get worked up. No one said it would be easy and, of course, the stakes are high, but the path is there for those ready to take it.”
  • “Great individuals, like great companies, find a way to transform weakness into strength. It’s a rather amazing and even touching feat. They took what should have held them back—what in fact might be holding you back right this very second—and used it to move forward.”
  • “Just because your mind tells you that something is awful or evil or unplanned or otherwise negative doesn’t mean you have to agree. Just because other people say that something is hopeless or crazy or broken to pieces doesn’t mean it is. We decide what story to tell ourselves.”
  • “For all species other than us humans, things just are what they are. Our problem is that we’re always trying to figure out what things mean—why things are the way they are. As though the why matters. Emerson put it best: “We cannot spend the day in explanation.” Don’t waste time on false constructs.”
  • “In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.” —Epictetus
  • “The phrase ‘This happened and it is bad’ is actually two impressions. The first—‘This happened’—is objective. The second—‘it is bad’—is subjective.”
  • “It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. To know you want to quit but to plant your feet and keep inching closer until you take the impenetrable fortress you’ve decided to lay siege to in your own life—that’s persistence.”
  • “The only guarantee, ever, is that things will go wrong. The only thing we can use to mitigate this is anticipation. Because the only variable we control completely is ourselves.”
  • “Blessings and burdens are not mutually exclusive.”
  • “We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we feel about it.”

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