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Book Summary – The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

The Obstacle is the Way - Book summary

To live to your full potential, you must overcome all sorts of obstacles and convert them to opportunities and strengths. In this book, Ryan Holiday explains how to go about doing that with 3 key disciplines. In this free version of The Obstacle is the Way summary, we’ll outline the 3 disciplines of Perception, Action and Will for turning trials to triumph.

The Obstacle is the Way: Overview

All of us face obstacles. Such obstacles can be physical (e.g. size or ability), mental (e.g. knowledge or experience), or emotional (e.g. fear or frustration). Obstacles can also be real or perceived. Today, we face more internal obstacles than external ones. Faced with an abundance of options and progress, we’ve grown comfortable, soft and entitled.

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once wrote: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Successful organizations and individuals aren’t crushed by obstacles. They turn adversity to strength to end up even better than before they encountered the obstacles.

In this book, Ryan Holiday consolidates his analysis of ancient philosophers’ works on Stoicism into practical insights and tips to overcome obstacles. These are broken down into 3 disciplines:

  • Perception: how you look at your problems;
  • Action: how to tackle problems in actionable parts; and
  • Will: how to cultivate and maintain your inner being to conquer problems and difficulties.

The Obstacle is the Way summary_turning trials to triumph

Here’s a quick overview of these principles. Do get a copy of our complete The Obstacle is the Way summary for more details.

Combine Perception, Action and Will, and let the obstacles lead the way.

Part 1: Perception

During the financial crisis of 1957, John D. Rockefeller was still a small-time investor. Despite the mass panic, Rockefeller didn’t exit the market. Instead, he calmly saved up, used the opportunity to observe what was going on, and gained critical insights about the financial markets. Thereafter, Rockefeller applied the same composure, discipline and objectivity to invest in oil. Over the next 20 years, he gained control of 90% of the oil in the United States while his competitors languished.

Your perception is how you interpret what’s happening around you. It affects how you see and respond to a situation. To turn adversity to strength, the first step is to manage your perceptions: calmly and objectively evaluate what’s happening, look for opportunities, and actions within your control. In our complete book summary, we break this down further into examples and perspectives of how to:

  • Be objective
  • Acknowledge your Power
  • Control your Nerves
  • Not panic
  • Modify your Perspective
  • Focus on What You Can Do
  • Focus on the Now
  • Think Outside the Box; and
  • Look for the Opportunity in the Problem

Part 2: Action

Famous Greek orator, Demosthenes, was a sickly child with a serious speech impediment. He lost his father at the age of 7 and his inheritance was stolen by his guardians. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Demosthenes took extreme measures to conquer his obstacles. To overcome his speech impediment and strengthen his voice, he practiced speaking with his mouth full of pebbles or while running up steep slopes. Instead of going out to play, he locked himself underground to self-study.

Demosthenes eventually won a suit against his guardians, won back what was left of his inheritance, and went on to become a great orator. He was dealt a bad hand in life, but chose to take action and turn his challenges into strengths.

Once you have your perceptions and emotions under control, you’re ready to take real action. No matter how bad your situation, you can always choose to make the most of it. In the end, an obstacle will only be as big as you it make it out to be. Stop procrastinating or avoiding your problems. Take concrete actions to confront them.  In our complete The Obstacle is the Way summary, we elaborate further on what it means to:

  • Stay in Motion
  • Persist till you find a Solution
  • Fail Forward
  • Take One Step at a Time
  • Do Every Job Well
  • Go for the “Right” Approach (i.e. What Works)
  • Choose Strategy over Brute Force
  • Let Obstacles Eliminate Themselves
  • Put your Frustration to Work; and
  • Use Adversity to your Advantage

Part 3: Will

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, faced countless obstacles in his life. He had to struggle with poverty, the loss of both his mother and the woman he loved, educate himself, manage politics, depression, civil war and the fight against slavery. Through it all, he shouldered his burdens, found meaning in his struggles, and willed himself to keep going. In fact, Lincoln’s own suffering made him a more compassionate person. His favorite line was, “This too shall pass”.

Even with Perception and Action, you will still encounter unexpected trials in life. To endure and prevail, you must cultivate the will (or inner power) to confront obstacles over and over again. It’s about knowing that you can/will fail, yet taking the right, consistent actions regardless. Get the full 15-page summary for more insights on how to build your inner strength, including:

  • Use Good Times to Prepare for Bad Times
  • Plan for your Failures
  • Accept your Problems
  • Love Everything, including your Obstacles
  • Persevere Till the End
  • Focus on Helping Others
  • Contemplate Death; and
  • Embrace the Cycle of Life

Getting the Most from  The Obstacle is the Way

In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 15-page text summary, and a 27-minute audio summary.

The Obstacle Is the Way summary - book summary bundle

In this book, Holiday presents a series of stories and citations to show you how to perceive, take action and persevere in face of obstacles. You can purchase the book here for the full details, or check out more resources/details at  Loved this summary? Check out another book by Ryan Holiday: the Ego is the Enemy summary.

About the Author of The Obstacle is the Way

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph is written by Ryan Holiday–an American author, marketer, entrepreneur and founder of Brass Check (a creative advisory firm). He began his professional career at the age of 19, and is a media strategist, a former director of marketing for American Apparel and a media columnist and editorat-large for the New York Observer. Holiday has been credited by the New York Times with the increasing popularity of stoicism.

The Obstacle is the Way Quotes

“Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.”

“We can see opportunity in every disaster, and transform that negative situation into an education, a skill set, or a fortune.”

“The right perspective has a strange way of cutting obstacles—and adversity—down to size.”

“Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power.”

“Our perceptions determine, to an incredibly large degree, what we are and are not capable of.”

“Genius often really is just persistence in disguise.”

“Failure shows us the way—by showing us what isn’t the way.”

“We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we feel about it.”

“Death doesn’t make life pointless, but rather purposeful.”

Click here to download The Obstacle is the Way summary & infographic

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