The Obstacle is the Way

After seeing Ryan Holiday speak at the 2017 ScalingUp Summit in St. Louis, I was very impressed and very intrigued.  First, he was a 30 year old guy who was now in his 2nd successful career.  Second, he was clearly well versed and scholarly on the subject of Stoicism – which is a topic that I would expect to be espoused by someone in their 60s or 70s.

I was some combination of excited and curious when I started reading the book “The Obstacle is the Way“.    That was just the beginning.  Once I got started, I couldn’t stop – the content and stories were great, with anecdotes from a Roman Emporer (Marcus Aurelius) a early pioneer of flight (Amelia Earhart) and a pitcher who played Major League Baseball for 26 years (Tommy John).

Books and articles that tell you how to avoid trouble are a dime a dozen.   Its also not very difficult to find writers who will attempt to teach you how to manage the pain when things go bad.   But this book takes an entirely different slant.   Don’t duck from the problem, embrace it.  Figure out how it can make you better or stronger.   I can’t do justice to the concept in a blog – you’ll just have to trust me or read the book.

The best part of my experience has been that after learning about this way of thinking, I have become keenly aware of those that are good at practicing it.   I’ve watched some great business people deal with a major market disruption, a family close to me deal with a serious illness with their daughter, and read about how Ryan Holiday himself dealt with the worst week in his life.   In short, great people seem to be naturals at taking the Stoic point of view.

This is a great challenge for all of us.   How can we design our life and/or our business to be resilient no matter what the environment?   How can we shift from a focus on results to a focus on process?  How can we learn to not only accept difficult circumstances but embrace them?   As Andy Grove said in 1994, “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis, Good companies survive them, Great companies are improved by them.”



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