Book: The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
Concept: persistence in face of failure

In The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday says, “Stop looking for angels, start looking for angles“. In other words, stop looking for divine providence or luck and start looking for new solutions.

This sums up the road to success for many great success stories. We often assume that success came from a flash of insight. Or we think that those who did great things must have known something unknown to the mortals. We often look back, in hindsight, and believe it was easy or that everything came together quickly for our heroes.

In short, we look at our heroes’ highlight reels and compare them to our blooper reels.

But, the truth shows that pure persistence is the key to success. It’s the one factor shared by high performers in every field. In fact, success, almost always, is a result of the elimination of so many angles that didn’t work. So many ideas that were bad. So many misses.

Our heroes failed many times. But, they kept going. They kept trying new approaches until – eureka! – they found one that worked. Their misses are largely forgotten by history, but, their successes are remembered.

Edison examines straws

Inventor Nikola Tesla once sneered of Thomas Edison that if asked to find a needle in a haystack, Edison would “proceed at once” to “examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search”.

In 1878, Edison did just that when he tested 6,000 different filaments for his light bulbs before he found one that would work – bamboo.

Holiday puts it like this:

It was the slow pressure, repeated from many different angles, the elimination of so many other more promising options, that slowly and surely churned the solution to the top of the pile.

The Truth

The truth is that your new venture is not supposed to work at first. Your new hobby is not supposed come naturally. Your difficult problem is not supposed to be cracked with ease.

As Holiday puts it, “Only in struggling with the impediments that made others quit can we find ourselves on untrodden territory – only by persistence and resisting can we learn what others were too impatient to be taught”.

What you need to win is the simple persistence to continue applying time and pressure to crack the problem along with the willingness to keep trying new approaches. And the will to not quit.

The great new is that those are things that are fully in your control. These are the traits that will eventually crack any problem wide open.


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This post summarizes some concepts from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Check out the full book, The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.