What are the things that prevent you from doing what you want to do? How do you get past them? Can you tackle obstacles using the ancient stoic art of turning adversity to advantage?
In his book The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage, Ryan Holiday establishes the path to living and leading well, showing us how to turn failure, obstacles and everyday frustration to our advantage using easy tactics.
Holiday uses philosophical and historical examples rooted in stoicism to show how to manage perceptions, recognise when you can change things, direct your actions and learn to turn negatives to positives.
He categorises obstacles into two groups: Physical — size, race, distance, disability, money; and mental — fear, uncertainty, inexperience, prejudice and others. These can either be systemic or individual.
He then prescribes solutions to overcome these obstacles through perception, action and will.
Take Mahatma Gandhi, who didn’t fight for the Independence of India. The British Empire did all the fighting and all the losing.
Gandhi’s extensive Satyagraha campaign and civil disobedience is a classic case of overcoming obstacles not by attacking them but by withdrawing and letting them attack you.
Although he appeared weak compared with the forces arrayed against him, Gandhi leaned into that weakness, exaggerated it and exposed himself.
He said to the most powerful occupying military in the world, “I am marching to the ocean to harvest salt in direct violation of your laws.”
Historical examples of great men and women who did not have exceptional luck, talent or experience but turned adversity to advantage is the fundamental premise of The Obstacle is the Way.
Holiday is an internationally renowned marketing guru and bestselling author.
He dropped out of college at 19 to apprentice under Robert Greene, bestselling author of The 48 Laws of Power and Mastery, and later served as the director of marketing for American Apparel.
The Obstacle is the Way, published in 2014, is a prequel to his 2017 book Ego is the Enemy.
Holiday discusses the leadership case history of the 44th president of the USA, Barrack Obama.
In 2008, he writes, Obama’s presidential candidacy was imperilled. A race scandal involving inflammatory remarks by his pastor, Rev Jeremiah Wright, threatened to unravel his campaign, and break the thin bond he had established between black and white voters at a critical moment in the primaries.
Obama turned one of the lowest moments in his campaign into a surprise offensive.
Against all advice and convention, he channelled the attention and energy around the controversy to draw a national audience and speak directly to the American people of the divisive issue of race in his classic speech “A More Perfect Union.”
A seasoned marketer and entrepreneur who has advised clients like Google, Taser, Complex and Tucker Max, Holiday is deeply influenced by the stoic philosophy. He borrows heavily from the strategies used by renowned stoics like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca.
Holiday’s recurring theme is, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
He says recognising your power, steadying your nerves, controlling your emotions, practicing objectivity, altering your perspective, thinking differently and acting when the opportunity arises is the discipline of perception.
The discipline of action is about being on the move, practicing persistence, following the process and channelling your energy to use obstacles against themselves.
The discipline of will involves building an inner citadel, anticipation and perseverance.