There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.
This week I give you The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday.

It’s about taking the hard stuff in life and using it to make big, beautiful stuff. It’s practical, get-it-done, straightforward advice. 


The Obstacle is the Way is founded in Stoicism.

My Internet dictionary defines Stoicism as:

  1. The endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.
  2. An ancient Greek school of philosophy…which taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with divine Reason that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

Stoicism is, in my opinion, a rather “hard-core” approach to life. 

So I offer this review with a caveat: The Obstacle is the Way will not tear at your heart or make your soul sing. But it will give you the wisdom you seek to live well and make your thing.

The book is broken down into three sections: Perception, Action, and Will. 

Action is moving forward, doing what needs to be done. Will is our “internal power” and perception, writes Holiday, is “how we see and understand what occurs around us—and what we decide those events will mean.”

What we decide is everything.

Writes Holiday:

You will come across obstacles in life—fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacle are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. You will learn that this reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming—or possibly thriving because of—them.

Continues Holiday:

We decide what we will make of each and every situation. We decided whether we’ll break or whether we’ll resist. We decide whether we’ll assent or reject. No one can force us to give up or to believe something that is untrue…our perceptions are the thing we’re in complete control of.

So what are we in complete control of? Where should we put our energy? How should we choose to live?

Writes Holiday:

And what is up to us?

Our emotions

Our judgments

Our creativity

Our attitude

Our perspective

Our desires

Our decisions

Our determination

That is our playing field, so to speak. Everything there is fair game.

What is not up to us?

Well, you know, everything else. The weather, the economy, circumstances, other people’s emotions or judgments, trends, disasters, et cetera.

Byron Katie, creator of the Work and one of my personal heroines, says there are only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God’s.

Katie says that if you struggle it’s because you are in someone else’s business. Holiday would say you are trying to control what is not up to you.

And that is, according to Holiday, the deal breaker.

Writes Holiday:

When it comes to perception, this is the crucial distinction to make: the difference between the things that are in our power and the things that aren’t.

My business. Your business. God’s business.

Much of the creative process is in our control. What we make. What we think about what we make. What we do with what we make. 

That is our business.

What others think and do with what we make: not our business. 

Our business, our work, is to make and then to share what we make.

The meaning we give our work helps us take the action necessary to make it happen. Our internal will gives us the strength to keep taking action when our perception falters and life feels too hard.

Ultimately, whether we do or we don’t comes down to perception, action, and will. Master those, as Holiday would say, and you can master anything.

For more on perception, action and will, check out this interview with Naval Ravikant and Tim Ferris, read anything by Byron Katie and pick up this book by my coach Kurek Ashley.