The Obstacle is the Way

Dr. Alex Lickerman, from the blog Happiness in this World comments on the great book The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday: Unlike the idea that every cloud has a silver lining—that something positive can always be found in everything negative—the principle of changing poison into medicine explains that we can transform even the most horrific tragedy into the very thing we need to become happier than we currently are. This concept isn’t, of course, unique to Buddhism. According to Ryan Holiday, author of the new book The Obstacle is the Way, the ancient Stoics argued the same thing. As the great Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, wrote: “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” This notion that the obstacles that prevent us from achieving our goals can be used—and in some cases may even be necessary—to achieve those very goals seems not just Pollyanna-like but also paradoxical. If an obstacle lies in our way, how can it possibly be used to achieve our goal? The answer may be different depending on the obstacle itself. Sometimes, for example, failure itself is a benefit—failure that forces us to pursue an alternative path we wouldn’t have otherwise considered but that turns out to be the best way, if not sometimes the only way, to achieve a goal. At other times, the true obstacle isn’t the obstacle in front of us...