Book Review: The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

81SLYRdcbaLThis book is a sort of different explanation of the concepts of Stoicism. The book claimed the original works by Seneca and others are very accessible but I found The Obstacle is the Way way easier to digest.

This books claims obstacles are a good thing and tries to prove it with many examples of people that achieved great things thanks to their obstacles. I’m not sure I agree. I think there’s a survival bias I that analysis similar to the one the author points to when looking at a list of millionaire college drop outs.

I wish the book would prove things by using data instead of anecdote but I’m giving it four stars because it this book made me think. It made me think about my current obstacles and the attempt of thinking of them as a positive thing made me find new solutions (or reconsider previously discarded solutions). I still thing they are obstacles and that they are bad for me, but they seem more surmountable. That’s no small feat for a book.


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Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

I feel there’s a lesson in this book I could apply to make my life better but I’m having trouble distilling it. I’m going to re read it after reading another book.

The writing style was surprising but it shouldn’t have been based on the title. It was a fun entertaining read if nothing else.


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What’s the meaning of life?

Like the question of what came first, the chicken or the egg, I feel this question is repeated over and over like it’s some grandiose enigma with no solution.

About the poultry question, at some point a non-chicken animal laid a non-chicken egg containing a chicken. Done! The egg was first. Back to the meaning of life.


To answer the question properly, I need to know, very precisely, what’s the meaning of meaning. The answer is sort-of contained in the question, but let’s take a look at the Oxford Dictionary:

mean·ing /ˈmiːnɪŋ/

1 What is meant by a word, text, concept, or action: the meaning of the Hindu word is ‘breakthrough, release’
1.1 Implied or explicit significance: he gave me a look full of meaning
1.2 Important or worthwhile quality; purpose: ‘this can lead to new meaning in the life of older people’

Meaning is an action performed by a living creature that is intelligent. It’s a connection between a symbol, word, text, concept or action and something else. It’s not inherent to the symbol. The tree is inherently green, the word “rose” is not inherently connected to Rosa rubiginosa. We can talk about the meaning of the word “rose” because we created it with that meaning (even if the creation was accidental, like most languages).

We didn’t create life, it was here long before we were assigning meaning to things, thus, it has no meaning. You can give a rose to someone else to signify your love for them and that’s the meaning of that rose, for you, and hopefully for the recipient. But the rose growing in the wild, like life on planet Earth, has no meaning.

A meaningful life

That doesn’t mean you can’t live a meaningful life. The same we you can assign meaning to a rose you can assign meaning to your life. And that’s the gist of the issue. You have to do the task of assigning meaning. Assigning meaning is very different than finding meaning. It’s a harder task, a task with more chances of failing, a task that doesn’t have a clear path to follow, because in essence, it’s building the path, it’s creating the path.

Another clear distinction is that whatever meaning you assign it’s for you and you cannot expect it to be shared. The meaning is not inherent to the thing it’s connected to, it’s connected in your mind, so you can’t expect other minds to make the same connection. For example, you might create a meaningful life for yourself by feeding hungry children. It doesn’t mean everybody else will also agree on it being meaningful. We can’t even agree on the meanings of words and we have dictionaries!

But God!

Now someone might talk about God. What if God created us with a purpose, with a meaning. Well, there’s no such a thing as a god, but let’s assume there is. Let’s assume a super powerful external entity created us with some purpose. Maybe we are an experiment, maybe God and the Devil are trying to figure out if good or evil will succeed. Maybe God had a crush on a Goddess and we are a present, like a poem but made out of living creatures (like bacteria in the ink on a page). Is that our meaning then? Nope.

We have minds and free will and can creating our own meaning. Even if we started off as something as low as a galactic rose, the fact that we can chose our path allows us to go wherever we want.


There’s no meaning except the one you create, so, stop searching, and start creating.

Picture by Chris Sorge.

The book that changed my life will horrify some of my friends

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand changed my life. Whether that was for the better or worse, it’s up for each person to decide. For me, I’m very happy with the change and I’m glad it happened. I didn’t turn into an objectivist though.

Literarily, I don’t think the book is great. I think Ayn Rand needed an editor, a very strong one. Those 15 page-long single-paragraph monologues do not make the book better. The book should probably be reduced to 500 or 600 pages from its staggering 1192.

The book divides the world into good and bad people, like many stories do, and it’s a bit simplistic. There might be a few surprises but at the end, everyone is clearly good or clearly bad. At least from Ayn Rand’s perspective. So far, nothing surprising. What was surprising for me is how the world is divider.

Good people are producers, they are the people that come with ideas, that start companies, that push progress, that fund science. Bad people are consumers, the ones that take more than they give, the ones living on welfare, but also the ones creating welfare. Bad people are the one telling the good ones that they cannot reap the benefit of their work, that it should be share.

Atlas ShruggedIn Atlas Shrugged, the good people are the Steve Jobs, the Thomas Edisons, the Steve Wozniaks, the Elon Musks, but also the Nikolai Teslas. The badies meanwhile are the Karl Marxs, the Vladimir Lenins, etc.

That’s what the book says, what objectivism is about, and not what I necessary believe. My personal belief is that if you stop the Jobs, Edisons, Musks, then you are a badie, you are stopping progress. But as a society we should take care of the people that fall into misfortune, of the ill, of the downtrodden, of the disabled, of the needy. That’s where I disagree with Ayn Rand.

One issue with the book is that she equates CEOs to the good people and that frustrates people because a lot of CEOs are more takers than creators. And most creators, like Tesla, never carried the title of CEO. Indeed, the biggest creator of all in the book is not a CEO, it’s a lowly engineer.

I don’t believe being a taker makes you a bad person but I do believe that being a taker when you can be a creator makes you bad person and this is why the book change my life. When I read it I was a taker. I was an entitled engineer working at Google most likely not producing as much as I could take when I knew my ability to product was much higher. I was waiting for someone to open the door for me to a position of productivity and that wasn’t going to happen, you have to open the door yourself.

My life changed, I decided to become a producer. So far, I reached the point of co-founding a startup that reached 4 employees (not counting me) that created various products that hopefully are making people more effective and productive. And I’m just getting started. I want to do more, I want to get bigger and provide a great working environment for more people and produce more and better products. I want to produce and give as well as take my share for my work.

Since reading Atlas Shrugged I’m a much better member of society and I wish other people would also make this transformation but I doubt Atlas Shrugged would be the catalyst for many people. It has too many issues.

Picture by Anoop Menon