Let’s get something out of the way immediately — this is a #1 best seller and what you could call an “airport book”. It’s on the shelves, it’s (somewhat) easy to read, and it deals with life issues & philosophy in an easy fast-food kind of way. I was dreading all of that when I bought the book.
Those are the worst things I could say about this book. Otherwise, it’s a very important work, especially if you’re not familiar with the stoic philosophy. Just as it sounds with the word stoic (or to respond to life in a stoic fashion), this is about enduring and dealing with adversity. That said, you can come up with much better descriptions than I just did, because what I described sound dull, gray, and perhaps somewhat negative of just dealing with what life throws at you.
This is where the brilliance enters if you give the book a chance and make sure you don’t read it fast. This is a book to contemplate. The book has popular accolades and is easy to pick up, but that’s also a trap. It’s my belief that people suck in nice sayings and logical statements and then continue with their lives as they’ve done previously and with no real growth.
This is where stoicism and Ryan Holiday’s efforts here can shine, if you slow down, contemplate what you’re reading, and practice it in the real world. He says it well, this is not a philosophy for academia or for debating clubs. This is how you live life, this is how you grow, this is how you acquire resilience, and this is how you live life without fearing life.
One of the historic figures in stoicism is the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He said it in as a profound and simple way as it can be said: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
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Between the Lines
This is one of those books that I read and so much of it instantly hits home to me. I think to myself “I do that!”, “of course”, or “does this need to said, I thought it was common sense?” That’s not a critique of the book nor am I patting myself on the back, necessarily. What I love about this way of thinking and dealing with life is how practical it is. And, yes, I learned many of these habits through life before coming to this book.
Having been born and raised in the early years of your life in another country, especially which has a different culture, language, identity, and religion, it’s not an easy transition when you move to permanently live elsewhere. Couple this with additional pressing factors such as the two countries being enemies and your home country being in the nightly news most nights.
It also was he case that I arrived and was immediately thrust into the next grade in school without even knowing how to read, write, or speak the language. As a cherry on top, family was also nonexistent in this new life. It couldn’t be a better illustration of — sink or swim. Those early years, along with the normal mix of adversity that life throws at everyone, meant that I either adopted systems and ways of thinking that allowed me to endure and adapt or life was going to just crash on top of me and bury me.
Everyone’s story features obstacles and disappointment. This can color your life perspective, turn your bitter, keep you from thriving, and make you into someone you don’t want to be. Or, as Holiday in this book illustrates, the Stoics have written extensively about the principles that can be used instead to not simply endure life’s challenges and become resilient, but to truly understand the obstacles are the whole point.
Wishing the challenges don’t come your way is not what you want. But, realizing and crafting yourself into the person that can sail life and use obstacles as the wind in your sails to get to where you want to be. Don’t walk away; the obstacle is the way.
Even though the principles of Stoicism and this book weren’t unfamiliar to me. I still found it highly useful to read, fill in gaps of my understanding, and to get further inspired. Highly recommended.