Summary of the book The Obstacle is the Way

Although it was only released two months ago, The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday has garnered a ton of positive reviews. Holiday’s book focuses on understanding how your reaction to an obstacle, tragedy, or problem can be more important than the event itself. In this book, Holiday outlines a sort of formula for overcoming obstacles. He draws on tales from ancient Rome to Amelia Earhart to Steve jobs to help demonstrate his points.

One of the most representative sentences, perhaps, is when he writes: “It begins with how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them into opportunities; finally the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty.”

One of the particularly interesting anecdotes in the book is Thomas Edison’s reaction to his factory burning down. In 1914, Edison’s plant in West Orange, New Jersey, erupted into a massive explosion and burned to the ground. Reportedly, Edison told his son, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.” He added, “It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”

Although a lot of people would see Edison’s reaction as inexplicable and even a sign of some serious mental instability, Holiday explains how it is the best reaction – and the only reaction that will set you in the right direction. He writes, “To do great things, we need to be able to endure tragedy and setbacks.” He continued, “We’ve got to love what we do and all that it entails, good and bad. We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens.”

Previously, Holiday authored Trust Me, I’m Lying, a brutally honest account of how the media manipulates us and lies to us. He has become a trusted business author and media analyst and, interestingly, he is so committed to the ideas he espouses in his latest book that he has actually tattooed “The Obstacle Is The Way” on his forearm.