The Obstacle is the Way - Book Review

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18668059-the-obstacle-is-the-way

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

The essence of this book is summarized with this one quote.

When I picked up this book early 2015 – I was going through a tough phase. I had taken a beating from the stock market( my stupid decisions), the startup I was working for was not making much progress, and I was broke. I had all the reasons not to cheer. 2015 did not start off as expected.

And that’s the moment I needed to listen to the advice and ideas from a book like this. So I picked the book. I read this book at the right time. It changed my perspective on failures and obstacles.

Most self-help books are filled with fluffy, kumbaya type of material. They are usually filled with positive thinking, ignore the negative things type of message. No matter how positive or optimistic you are & how much you avoid negativity – things happen to you. It happens to all of us. Shit happens!!

Sometimes, these are things that happen by your own making, and sometimes they happen outside your control.

Nevertheless, The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday is a must-read. Pick up the book and read it. It will change the way you think about obstacles.

In this post, I will discuss the few nuggets of gold that I have picked up from reading this book.

Welcome Obstacles

As mentioned above (and many times in the book) obstacles and impediments will happen. This is universal. Every successful person has faced this. So the best course of action we can take is to accept the fact that obstacles will happen.

And more importantly, embrace them and learn from them.

The best illustration provided is that of Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel.

“Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.” – Andy Grove

Similarly great individuals find a way to transform weakness & failure into strength & success. For great men and women, they use obstacles to fuel their ambition.

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”

Change your Perspective

Ever heard of the adage ” It is not what happens to you, it is how you react to it”. Today we live in the hyper-connected age fueled with social media. And it seems as if everyone is on a short-fuse. No matter how positive or forward thinking someone’s message /post/ video is – there are always people are not happy. They react with immediate backlash.

And if you are the person receiving the criticism- it is hard to cool your nerves and stay calm. Being emotional is a human trait. We are emotional creatures that also have a logical faculty. And then we respond emotionally. In the end, nothing constructive really happens.

However, the successful men and women are the ones who were able to see opportunity in every disaster. They see the silver lining in the cloud. When others panic, they stay calm and take advantage of the opportunity.

Every situation is learning opportunity for them.

If you are faced with a situation that looks bleak – here are some things you can do.

  • See the good in the situation
  • place things in perspective
  • focus on what can be controlled
  • control your nerves- keep the emotions out

Control Your Emotions

As discussed above, we are emotional creatures. It is wired into us from millions of years of evolution. The most common reaction when faced in a crisis situation is the flight or fight response. We either run away from the situation, or we decide to fight back with aggression.

This is not easy. If you are new to particular situation, the most common thing to do is panic. One of the reasons that this happens is because of unfamiliarity. The more unfamiliar we are about a current situation , the more uncertain we become.

The best cure for unfamiliarity and uncertainity is adequate training. The more trained you are, the more practice you get – the less stressed you feel. The more exposure you have to a current situation, the less you panic and the more composed you are

Astronauts practice for hours and simulate the life in space – with numerous hours of training. The men and women in the military spend countless hours (and years) practicing every aspect – combat, survival,etc. So when they are put in a real-life combat situation they know how to react.

Don’t let the negative in, don’t let those emotions even get started. Just say : No Thank you. I can’t afford to panic”

Focus on Taking Action

Once you get a grip on your emotions and perspectives – the next important thing to to do is take action. Get moving. It is paramount to turning any obstacles to your advantage.

The more time you spend not taking action – the bigger your problem becomes, it swells and balloons until it reaches a point where it becomes difficult to even face it.

The sooner you take action the sooner the obstacle tends to go away.

Another things to consider is that inaction makes us softer, and action (no matter how difficult) makes us stronger.

“While you’re sleeping,travelling,attending meetings, or messing around online, the same thing is happening to you. You’re going soft. You’re not aggressive enough. You’re not pressing ahead. You’ve got a million reasons why you can’t move at a faster pace. This all makes the obstacles in your life loom very large.”

Action creates momentum (no matter how small or insignificant the action is). And with momentum eventually you reach success. However, if you want momentum you have to create it yourself, by getting up and getting started.

Practice Persistence

Every man or woman who has achieved great success, has definitely faced insurmountable odds & obstacles. Their paths were never straight-forward or easy, it never always looked rosy for them. To reach where they reached, he/she has faced numerous hurdles. Most importantly, they backed all their actions with sheer persistence.

As Napoleon Hill once stated” Persistence is to the character of man, as carbon is to steel.

Resistance is futile. It stops us, it makes us doubt ourselves, it breeds inaction, doubt and with it failure. However, with the right action backed by persistence- resistance eventually goes away.

Accept the fact that anything worth achieving is supposed to be hard. Your first attempts may not give you the results you envisioned. Chances are you will fail numerous times. Accept this fact. Start looking for weak points. And keep taking action until you reach the coveted goal.

Action and failure are two sides of the same coin. One does not come without the other.What breaks the critical connection down is when people stop acting – because they’ve taken failure the wrong way.”


The book will change your perspective on life.

It reminds us that the path to success is not easy. It is filled with internal doubts, it is sometimes emotionally painful. And there will be numerous times when you feel like quitting.

It helps you to change your perspective. It teaches you to fall in love with the process. It encourages you to embrace action. And take continuous action until successful

I strongly recommend you add this book to your 2016 Reading List.

Written By
Nissar Ahamed is the Founder & CEO of CareerMetis.com. He is also the host of The Career Insider Podcast and the co-host of The C.A.R.E. Podcast

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