Episode 99: What stands in the way becomes the way

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius used these now famous words to explain his own approach to Obstacles.  While most people perceive obstacles as negative, as an obstruction to what they are trying to achieve, Marcus Aurelius looked for the opportunity hidden in the obstacle.  Instead of running away, he ran towards…

Obstacles, difficulties, things “not going according to plan” are inevitable parts of life.  But how we respond to these so-called obstacles is what defines us.

This week Clay and Sarah explore the idea of obstacles as the pathway to growth and new opportunities.


In this episode we discuss:

* The idea of Adversity as a friend

* the Stoic philosopher’s discussion of Obstacles

* What we learn when we run towards the obstacle, when we push ourselves physically and/or mentally

* our perception which creates an event/situation as an Obstacle

* the method for overcoming failure, reframing obstacles and finding opportunities

* Sarah and Clay share some personal examples of this practical philosophy


“Every obstacle is unique to each of us,” writes Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle is the Way. “But the responses they elicit are the same.  Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Depression. Anger.”

And yet there are some who do not have this response when they are put in a difficult situation.  Instead, quite contrary to what we might expect, they embrace the very obstacle we are so afraid or or angry about.

We hear examples of such people a lot — people who saw opportunity where others saw tragedy. In his book, Ryan Holiday uses the example of John D Rockefeller, who lived through a massive financial crisis and managed to use the unique opportunities it afforded hI’m to become an incredibly wealthy oil tycoon. He credits his ability to perceive opportunity to his early experiences of difficulty and failure which he referred to as the “school of adversity and stress”.

We can’t control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond to what happens to us. This is a perennial lesson from the Stoic philosophers. So understanding that our first real problem is perceiving the event as an ‘obstacle’ in the first place.

In order to become better equipped to face obstacles and overcome failure, we must first regain a ‘Objective judgement’ of the situation.  Unselfish Action must follow. And this must be coupled with a Willing Acceptance of whatever results come of that action (whether they are what we had hoped for or not).

Ultimately, facing the obstacle is what helps us grow; it’s an opportunity to raise our game in search of higher excellence.

“The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of functioning,” Holiday writes.  “The extent of the struggle determines the extent of the growth.  The obstacle is advantage not adversity. The enemy is any perception that prevents us from seeing this.”

We’ve had a great discussion sharing the ways we’re using this practical philosophy to face obstacles in our own lives (and hopefully growth as a result).  Grab your mug, fill it up and listen in to our last conversation before the big 100!

Until next week,

C & S