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What Stands In The Way Becomes The Way

The other day I stumbled across a reference to Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle Is The Way, which is a bestseller based on this famous quote from Marcus Aurelius:

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

I’m working with a friend on a big project that we are hoping to launch this summer, and a few days after reading that Marcus Aurelius quote, I was telling her how much easier our lives would be if we had started working on it before we both had babies (our daughters were born around the same time).

Then I realized something: while we might have had more free time and more energy for the project before we became moms, we have better insights into this project now that we are moms.

Because our project requires us to have a lot of insight into the lives of women going through hard life seasons, the fact that we’re each in the trenches right now too is not just an obstacle – it’s an asset. We are also more decisive and efficient now that we have so little extra time in the margins to waste on unnecessary or low priority work. That means we’ve made far more progress on our project than we would have expected had we started a few years ago. So yes, it’s harder now that we’re moms – but also better because we’re moms.

The very thing that makes it hard for us to do what we want to do also makes us better at what we want to do. 

I have found myself thinking about this concept constantly over the past several weeks.

What else have I missed?

Where else do I have secret assets hidden in the obstacles that abound in my life and work?

Where else have I been stumped when I could have used the very thing that stumped me to become stronger, cleverer, more competitive?

Here are a few of the things I’ve come up with since that conversation with my friend:

  • Challenging work projects have forced me to learn more and be more humble than if everything had gone smoothly
  • Being constantly pressed for time has given me insight into the need for more marketing resources out there that remove extra work instead of adding it
  • Not living in a major metropolitan area the way I used to has given me an outsider perspective that helps me see clearly into short term trends vs long term market changes

As Holiday puts it in his book, this isn’t a glass-half-full mentality – it’s a complete flip, from seeing only the obstacle to seeing only the benefit within the obstacle.

This is a simple concept, but it’s a game changer for entrepreneurs. We are constantly feeling like we fall short, don’t measure up, don’t meet our own standards. But at the same time we are searching for competitive advantages that help us stand out in the crowd. What if we could kill two birds with one stone? What if the very things that we think hold us back actually make us more unique, push us to work harder, or give us opportunities and insights that those who have it easy will miss?

Just for fun, I made a typography print with this quote for my workspace. Click the image to download it and use it for yourself. Hope it brings you inspiration and encouragement when you need it most!

What stands in the way becomes the way | Quote typography download | Alana Le

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