Learning to Love Obstacles

Ryan Holiday in his book The Obstacle is the Way explores the idea that obstacles are actually our best friends, our wisest teachers, our greatest allies. Using examples from Marcus Aurelius to Amelia Earhart, Ulysses S. Grant to Barack Obama, he shows that the greatest feats in humanity weren’t accomplished in the absence of obstacles — they were accomplished because of them. Obstacles are just blessings in disguise. And so instead of cowering before the monstrous obstacles in our life, we should learn to embrace them.

Here are reasons why we should love obstacles with quotes from Ryan’s book.

1. Obstacles Show Us Who We Really Are

Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens — at that exposing moment — the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you’re sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or bullshit?

2. Obstacles Instruct Us on What We Need to Do Next

In every situation, that which blocks our path actually presents a new path with a new part of us. If someone you love hurts you, there is a chance to practice forgiveness.

3. Obstacles Make Us Tougher

Nobody is born with a steel backbone. We have to forge it ourselves.

4. Obstacles Help Us Focus on What’s Important

We want to have goals, yes, so everything we do can be in service to something purposeful. When we know what we’re really setting out to do, the obstacles that arise tend to seem smaller, more manageable.

5. Obstacles Make Us More Creative

Only in struggling with the impediments that made others quit can we find ourselves on untrodden territory—only by persisting and resisting can we learn what others were too impatient to be taught.

6. Obstacles Help Us Find (or Define) Meaning in Our Lives

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.

7. Obstacles Remind Us That the Deepest Meaning is Found Outside of Ourselves

You won’t have time to think of your own suffering, because there are other people suffering and you’re too focused on them.

8. Obstacles Can Give Us Inner Peace

If what’s up to us is the playing field, then what is not up to us are the rules and conditions of the game.

The biggest, baddest obstacles in life — think natural disasters, economic depressions, and untimely death — remind us something that’s easy to forget: how little control we actually have over most things in life. Yet in the same breath, we’re reminded of the single thing we do have control over: our reaction.

These obstacles remind us of the importance of detaching what happens to us from how we react. As we internalize this, we’re able to achieve a higher level of inner peace. And this inner peace allows us to love our obstacles even more.

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