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The Obstacle Is the Way

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The Obstacle Is the Way

The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Embrace the powerful philosophy of Stoicism to turn any obstacle to your advantage.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


Through the ages, people have relied on the philosophy of Stoicism to conquer their difficulties. In addition to ancient Greeks and Romans, proponents included Frederick the Great, Michel de Montaigne, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Adam Smith and Theodore Roosevelt. Every year, former US president Bill Clinton studies the writing of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, a well-known Stoic philosopher. Former Chinese leader Wen Jiabao has read Marcus’s immortal Meditations “more than 100 times.” Media strategist Ryan Holiday explains how contemporary people can utilize some venerable Stoic principles to turn obstacles into advantages. His lively, clear prose brings these ancient ideas to modern life. getAbstract recommends his helpful guide to the Stoic path to leaders, entrepreneurs, and anyone facing significant challenges.


The Stoic Way

In 170 AD, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, “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.” He concluded, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Marcus was a Stoic. His thoughts encapsulate the words of other illustrious Stoics: “Chrysippus, Zeno, Cleanthes, Ariston, Apollonius, Junius Rusticus, Epictetus, Seneca” and “Musonius Rufus.”

An ancient Zen parable features an almost identical line of thinking, stating: “The obstacle in the path becomes the path…Within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”

Marcus knew about obstacles. Frequent wars were prominent throughout his 19 years as emperor, during which his realm suffered a horrible plague. He faced a meager treasury, an attempted coup, a hoggish brother-in-law, as well as toilsome travel throughout the Roman Empire – from Asia Minor to Syria, Egypt, Greece and Austria. However, he never lost his patience, grace or courage. People of his era admired Marcus as a great...

About the Author

Media strategist Ryan Holiday is the former marketing director at American Apparel. His ad campaigns garnered coverage in Advertising Age, The New York Times and Fast Company.

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    R. B. 9 years ago
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    M. G. 9 years ago
    I was not aware of the philosophy of Stoicism and what it meant. Always had the impression it meant that someone wasn't overly friendly...

    Good read and information. Have added to my favorites list and will refer to this often. May even read the entire book!

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