Patton's Picks from the PMA Library: The Obstacle is the Way

May 2020

"The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph" by Ryan Holiday 

If you're looking for book recommendations in the productivity and professional development genre, Patton offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Library. 

Holiday brings to life the wisdom of the Stoics in his book "The Obstacle is the Way," championing the practical value of their advice. The key to upholding the Stoic tradition is to temper your perspective on the events and hardships that shape your life. When facing what seem to be insurmountable roadblocks on your path, see them as tests of internal will; instead of being deterred by obstacles, turn them into opportunities. This is a personal recommendation, as well as one made by Brian Maness, the guest on Episode #37 of the Your Path to Nonprofit Leadership Podcast

Three Takeaways:

  1. Be Present. Sometimes intentionally shifting your perspective can allow you to assess your problems objectively and more effectively. It's easy to get emotionally overwhelmed by tough scenarios, either because of their difficulty or the implications for the future that are out of your control. Instead of long-term thinking, focus on each moment for what it is and assess it with distance. 

  2. Reassess. Obstacles have faults, which can often be identified and utilized to dismantle the threat. Focus on your perception of the obstacle, see hidden opportunities rather than getting overwhelmed and giving up. Natural reaction to stress is anger, frustration, and anxiety, therefore you must learn to control your feelings and allocate energy where it matters. The stoics believed that when things are out of one's control, they should not tax one's well being. 

  3. Persist. At the end of the day, it is willpower that determines how you can overcome obstacles despite the negative feelings associated with them. Those who mastered Stoic philosophy were able to come to terms with difficult and dreaded things being out of their control, though this is not an easy feat for most of us. You must have the discipline to not only be at peace with things that are out of your control, but also to act and keep acting, despite every opposing force.  

Ryan Holiday, an avid reader and outspoken fan of the Stoics, has a knack for accumulating knowledge and skills while also translating them into digestible resources for readers. This book is a perfect example of his mission: to apply academic knowledge, in this case stoic philosophy, as a guide for personal and professional achievement. 


Ryan Holiday is an American marketer and author. He is the former director of marketing for American Apparel and a media columnist and editor-at-large for the New York Observer.