Book Club #35: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Book Club #35: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan HolidayToday’s business environment is different from anything studied or reviewed in the modern era because the times and culture we are in are significantly different than any other in the modern era. While trying to stay ahead of the curve of an economy in flux, many business owners have been looking for new ways to overcome the turbulence. However, Ryan Holiday believes that the ancient Greek and Roman philosophy of Stoicism is the approach that current and prospective business owners and sellers should adopt. His best-selling book The Obstacle is the Way dives into the lessons that can be learned from Stoicism which we can apply to challenging times, including in the world of business ownership.

Rolling with the Punches: In Three Parts

The elevator pitch of Stoicism is that it is a philosophy of life that focuses on what the individual can control. Instead of reacting to outside influence, the practitioner remains calm and focused on what they can directly influence. A calm mind is able to think logically by removing emotion from the equation. In The Obstacle is the Way, Holiday believes that you should face challenges and accept them as an opportunity to grow. Time spent complaining about actions outside of your control is time wasted. Accepting the hand you have been dealt and moving to overcome it is much more valuable.

There are three parts to the path forward when encountering any obstacle. First, your perception of the challenge is key because an accurate perception means that you can formulate a clear path forward. Once you see your path, you are able to act on it, which is the second part of Holiday’s approach. Finally, when you reach a roadblock in your path, you will have to enact sheer will to stay focused on the challenge and overcome it, and not stay fixated on what could have been or would have been. Willing yourself to remain present is the key to learning from the past and being better prepared for the future.

Best Laid Plans?

One of the challenges of acting on a plan is knowing what to do when that plan suddenly becomes inoperable. Most business owners attack a problem with a clear and consistent approach. They evaluate their options, decide on the best step forward, develop their plan to move ahead and get to work putting it in place. However, when an outside force derails your plan, how do you react? Most people try to find ways to remain with their plan. After all, they followed their processes to develop the best plan possible, so why not fight to make it work as it was designed? What is the right way to proceed?

This is where Holiday suggests accepting that what is right, is what works. Time spent worrying about deviating from a previous plan is time you could spend moving forward and learning new insights that could solve your problem. He doesn’t suggest abandoning a plan, just that you shouldn’t allow total adherence to a pre-existing plan then lead you to lose valuable time and energy by remaining static. Instead, focus on channeling your energy toward movement into a new and more flexible plan.

Where There’s A Will

The third part of Holiday’s path to accepting that the obstacle is the way is to impose your will onto the challenge at hand. But he doesn’t mean the type of will that you may hear about when a larger company bullies a smaller company into submission. What Holiday is referring to here is the Stoic will. The ability to remain resilient and flexible while maintaining quiet humility as you overcome your obstacle. Problems will occur. Plans will be affected. Nothing will run perfectly smoothly. And that is okay. If you follow the teachings of Stoicism you will accept that many problems will occur. If you believe in your business you will treat these problems as obstacles to overcome and lessons to be learned and become a better business owner for it.

The business of being in business is often a paradox. While you may strive to create structure and systems that serve as the bedrock for a stable business foundation, you will also be faced with challenges that threaten to shake your systems to the ground. You must learn to transform these random quakes into a support structure for an even stronger business. You can do this by accepting these challenges as inevitable, remaining focused only on what you can control, and seeing these events as tools and lessons to be wielded for future challenges. You will come to relish the fact that the obstacles we face are often our best teachers.

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