“Life is not about one obstacle, but many.” Author Ryan Holiday writes in his book, The Obstacle is the Way. Holiday looks at life as a series of challenges and views our success as being measured by how we respond to the road blocks and obstacles we face along our journey. In this view, the measure of success is not wealth, or career titles, or any of the other myriad of ideas of success we have gained from popular media, but instead, it is how well you adapt and adjust along the way. Popular visions of success may be byproducts of overcoming obstacles, but rarely are they a true measure of our success as Holiday sees it. Successfully navigating a sea of obstacles and challenges should be our focus because we never reach a place where difficulties subside and life becomes simple. Our attention should constantly be on self-improvement and self-reflection to guide us through the difficult times. Holiday writes,
“We will overcome every obstacle,—and there will be many in life—until we get there. Persistence is an action. Perseverance is a matter of will. One is energy. The other, endurance.”
By expecting that life will not be easy and that we will not reach a place of simplicity, we can prepare ourselves for what we will actually face while we grow. Aligning our actions to match our expectations and directing actions toward obstacles will help us reach success. We will not be judging ourselves against a ruler built by someone else, but instead we will judge ourselves based measures of our own efforts. This measure will be calibrated by the impediments, adversity, and luck of our own lives. Our actions build to become the rings on the ladder lifting us further against our ruler.
To continue our path requires constant focus and motivation. The perseverance that Holiday discusses comes after we have studied our challenges and identified the best path forward. The path is rarely the path of least resistance, but rather a path filled with questions that will challenge, push back, and ultimately help us grow as we learn and climb. The quick energy needed to surge forward with new ideas and perspectives can only come if we have a strong level of endurance to support our efforts over the long haul.
Author Ryan Holiday writes that his ultimate inner strength is his will, and he dives into what that means in his book, The Obstacle is the Way. He explains that our will stretches beyond simply our desire to do something or the degree to which we want something, and looks at will in the context of stoicism and our every day lives. Holiday writes, “Will is fortitude and wisdom — not just about specific obstacles, but about life itself and where the obstacles we are facing fit within it.” In this context our will is driven beyond the world of sports or promotions where it is analogous to hard work or grit, and it becomes transformed to an internal power plant that generates strength to persevere in all aspects of our lives during challenging times.
For Holiday, our will is a decision that comes from our mental ability to focus and reflect on our lives, which means that it is under the control of our conscious mind. Our actions, efforts, and energy can be shaped by other people and contribute the obstacles we face, but our will can be external to those events, influenced only by our own thoughts, perceptions, and self-awareness. By taking control of will, we can build it into our own lives to power our own engines.
Stoicism is helpful in building will since it focuses on self-reflection and self-awareness to shape our perceptions of the world. Recognizing the power of opinion and perception helps us take control of our mind, and allows us to focus our actions on our goals with intentionality. The will that Holiday explains results from the mental fortitude that develops when we realize that the only thing affecting our mind is our own thoughts and opinions.
Author Ryan Holiday provides an in depth exploration of human will in his book, The Obstacle is the Way. Giving us an in depth view, Holiday writes, “Will is our internal power, which can never be affected by the outside world. It is our final trump card. If action is what we do when we still have some agency over our situation, the will is what we depend on when agency has all but disappeared.” Holiday sees our will as something deeper than what we typically understand as will power, and by building a more profound meaning of will, he gives us a new dimension of fortitude and strength. This vision that can be cultivated and built into who we are, the goals we have, and how we press forward to overcome the obstacles we face.
Will is our ability to relentlessly approach the world in a way where we can benefit and grow. Holidays continues in his writing to explain that will is not just the idea of perseverance to win, but a deeper strength of mind that stays with us even when we have lost everything else. Our mind is the only thing we can ever have the possibility of controlling, and our will is derived from our habits of thinking, our actions, and our perceptions. It is our ability to take a situation in which action appears impossible and in which all seems lost, and find a way to move forward in a positive direction. Will builds from our ability to recognize our situation, choose our reaction, and continue to pursue our goals.
Holiday explains that typical forms and ideas of will fall short of the view he puts forth. Rather than thinking of will as the degree to which we want something, it is better to see will as our inner strength that does not waver when we face an obstacle. Holiday explains that this type of will is stronger than the will that pushes us to act and charge forward, because a will built on calmness and inner power will guide us ahead evenly, regardless of whether the world is surging around us or falling down.
In his book The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday presents advice based on principles of stoicism developed by ancient Greek philosophers. When it comes to our life journey and reaching the level of success we desire, Holiday gives us a window into what we must do to achieve our goals. Holiday writes, “If you think it’s simply enough to take advantage of the opportunities that arise in your life, you will fall short of greatness. Anyone sentient can do that. What you must do is learn how to press forward precisely when everyone around you sees disaster.”
The message from Holiday’s quote is that we must be able to persevere in challenging times and that we cannot just be great when things are going our way. We need to be wise and take advantage of the good fortune that we have in our life, but we must also be able to recognize ways in which we can press forward when we face adversity.
When challenges face our country, our company, or household, or just ourselves, we can look forward to find a way to build a path that makes us more resolute. Holiday’s book stems from the idea that adversity and struggle help us develop new skills and reach higher levels of fulfillment beyond anything else in our lives. Action when times are easy can take us far and make us feel great, but we will never be as successful or impactful in our lives if we only learn how to take action and drive toward success when the path is easy. Holiday’s message is to become aware of the difficulties and obstacles we face, and to use those to propel our growth and help us become better versions of ourselves.
Writing about facing life’s challenges and accepting failure Colin Wright in his book Act Accordingly states, “Living life to the fullest is not about winning every time and avoiding the aspects of life that prove too onerous. Its about unabashedly facing challenges, failures, and yes, even successes with a smile, moving ever-forward toward a more ideal lifestyle and a better version of yourself.” This quote addresses progress and maximizing our life by not shying away and avoiding the difficult parts of life that we think we may not be ready for or that we may want to avoid because we know they require a lot of hard work. Achieving goals and building connections and relationships with others lead to a more fulfilling and happy life, but often times it is a lot of work to reach our goals or put ourselves in situations where we meet new people.
In my life I have struggled with the idea of moving toward goals and ideas that I know will require a lot of work and effort. It is hard to find extra time to put in the work that is required to be engaged in extra projects that help build meaning in our lives. For me, there have been many times where I have feared the hard work required to overcome a challenge or work toward a goal, and I have instead moved in different directions. I first recognized this in college when looking at what majors I would chose, and it has continued to haunt me in smaller decisions and ideas ever since. What Wright would suggest for me is that I do not focus so much on the outcome or how challenging it will be to reach the point I am shooting for, but understand that regardless of whether I succeed or fail, the important thing is that I am engaging. Wright would tell me that in order to grow I need to recognize challenges and understand the difficulties associated with them, and move towards them with a strong desire to perform well. His message is a bit trite as we tell ourselves that not everyone will win every time, but actually applying that and accepting it in our own lives is important if we want to accept that we won’t always be ready to perfectly handle all of our challenges.
What Wright explains in his chapter about failure is that it is never permanent. We hit roadblocks and challenges that we are not always ready for. We should not expect that we are always going to be able to handle every situation we face, but by putting ourselves out in the world and accepting the hard work instead of running away from it, we will build more skills through experience. These skills which may develop from failure will allow us to make better decisions in the future. It will be challenging but by not allowing ourselves to quit we can learn and move forward as a better version of ourselves.
This quote from Allison Vesterfelt’s friend and companion on her 50 state road trip in her book Packing Light, really helps me understand the difficulties we have in our life. “I think sometimes when things get hard, too many of us assume we’re moving in the wrong direction … Like if we’re doing life right, it’s supposed to be easy.” The quote helps me see that my ideas of success are often out of touch with reality. Reaching a level of success financially or in a career will not mean that things are suddenly easy for me. I will still feel insecurities about how hard I must work or about not having everything I may want and desire. At the same time, becoming successful does not mean that other parts of my life will fall into place and become easy. Financial success does not translate into a happy home life, and a successful relationship also may not reach a point where everything feels easy. By remembering Vesterfelt’s quote, I am able to accept the challenges that come with success, and I am better able to judge my journey when I hit rough patches. Rather than running away from challenges to look for success and “easy” someplace else, this quote helps me see the value in persevering and growing from the difficulties.