NICOLAS COLE

Writer

#ABOOKAWEEK: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

CreativityNicolas ColeComment

Reading is a key component of learning.  I do my best to read a book each week.  And I'm always looking for new titles!  To share your own book suggestions, use #ABookAWeek on Twitter or Instagram, and tag me @NicolasCole77. If I choose your book, I'll tag you in the blog post!

theobstacleistheway

In Stephen King's memoir, On Writing, he says something to the effect that if one wishes to write then one must read, and to not read is to lack the necessary tools and skill required for writing.  I think the same can be said in general for learning.  To learn, reading is a necessity.

I have many goals for 2015.  One of them is to read a book a week.  I would consider myself fairly well read, but I also know that I am sporadic.  One week I'll read three books, the next none.  The purpose of reading a book a week is as much about the absorbed knowledge as it is the practice of discipline that goes along with it.  Some weeks will be slow and I will have ample time to read, and some weeks will be busy and maybe I will have to maybe wake up a few mornings earlier than normal to reach my goal.  Over the years, I have learned to seek out these habits not just for the betterment of a skill, as I've said, but to find yet another way to practice discipline.

This past week, I read The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.  I came across this book after a comrade on Quora, seeing that I had a background in both creative writing and advertising, asked if I was going to be the next Ryan Holiday.  I'd never heard the name, and so I looked Ryan up in curiosity as to whom was my comparable.  For those of you that don't know, Ryan Holiday is best known for his controversial marketing stints, specifically with American Apparel, detailed in one of his other books: Trust Me, I'm Lying.  He was mentored by author Robert Greene, and has since made a name for himself by writing about entrepreneurship, self-development, etc. 

At first glance, I found the comparison interesting.  On the surface, Ryan Holiday and I have much in common—a love for writing, actives roles in the world of advertising, etc.  He's a few years (and several trophies) ahead of me, but nonetheless.  I picked up his book.  All three of his books, actually.  And I started with The Obstacle is the Way.

Synopsis: There are a few key things that hold us all back from our own success, and they all boil down to this basic idea that we as people tend to steer clear of what is "difficult."  The Obstacle is the Way and its supporting examples is the idea that, in fact, the obstacle itself is almost always the answer.

While I did enjoy the book, its most important concept can be found on the second page—a quote by Marcus Aurelius that says, "The impediment to action advances action.  What stands in the way becomes the way."  This is a rather brilliant thought, and it requires careful intrigue to fully understand what it means.  Marcus Aurelius was saying that whatever stands in your way requires action to overcome it, and so by overcoming it you are prompting action.  We know that action is the key to success.  Thus, "What stands in the way becomes the way."  In short: Whatever challenge you face next, to overcome it is to have your path.  

The Obstacle is the Way reads like a Malcolm Gladwell parody.  The narrative dives into specific examples, giving quick historical backgrounds, and then leaping back to a 30,000 foot perspective to discuss the morale and lessons learned.  What makes Malcolm Gladwell great—author of Blink, David and Goliath, Outliers, The Tipping Point—is that when he dives in to the history, he gives you enough surrounding information so that you don't have to fill in the gaps yourself with a quick Wikipedia search, and conversely, when he pulls back to the 30,000 foot perspective, he makes sure not to stay there for too long knowing that you can't appreciate a city of knowledge from that far away.  The Obstacle is the Way had a hard time balancing the two.  When it dove into history, it was vague, and when it pulled back, it was redundant.  The prose became tired.  The Obstacle is the Way is motivational, it is interesting in parts, its even entertaining as Ryan Holiday steps out from behind the curtain and waves at the reader.  But it lacks the depth of an Eckhart Tolle, the fascination of a Malcolm Gladwell.

Regardless, I commend Ryan Holiday for undertaking this concept.  If for nothing but that quote from the second page, I'm glad I read it.  Hopefully one day I'll be so lucky as to have him give one of my books a read and share his thoughts as well.


Want to join the #ABookAWeek club?  Submit below!  Every Sunday I give you a new book to read.

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