“The impediment to action, advances the action. What stands in the way, becomes the way” – Marcus Aurelius
Today we take a look at Ryan Holiday, stoic, media manipulator and author of The Obstacle Is the Way. Ryan began his collegiate career at UC Riverside before dropping out at the age of 19 to pursue work as the marketing manager for the foul-mouthed fratire ingenue Tucker Max, pinballing from him to assisting Robert Greene and then becoming the marketing director for American Apparel. This astounding rise to fame and success from a college dropout is attributed by Holiday to his investment in the ethos of the great Roman Stoics.
Epictetus was the original Stoic, which Holiday describes as “a hippie meets a college professor meets a priest,” and while the Stoics weren’t reviled in their time, they were treated as little more than “very smart crackpots.”
Stoicism as a philosophy was used at the highest levels of the Roman Empire to handle the complexities and stress of managing a globe-spanning empire, most famously by Marcus Aurielius.
Stoicism is a practical philosophy, a guide to a good life. Stoics talk about fate without referencing god. There are “forces” that can spin you like a top, and you have to deal. It was (and is) a real-world method to deal with the problems of life, not just creating an internally consistent theory that survives logic. Emoting about a problem is not the same as addressing it. You are in control of how you react to an event, even if you aren’t in control of how you feel about it.
In many ways, Stoicism shares many traits with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which likewise trains its adherents to control their reactions, even if they cannot control their emotions.
Holiday’s book focuses on Stoics throughout history, including shiftless layabout Ulysses S. Grant, who was well into his 40s before becoming the general and President we now know him as – and it was his stoic responses to the events in his life that allowed him to capitalize on them. As Holiday sees it, there’s no good or bad situation that can occur to you, there’s only perception. We are constantly telling ourselves a story about what happens to us.
Holiday also has a few choice words for the future of news. As a marketer, he knows well the ways to manipulate the news into reciting his press releases and PR as actual news. He fears that right now, major news outlets are operating on a level on par with, if not even a little below, the reporting standards we had during the yellow journalism of the early 20th century. As long as the profit model is still based on views and likes, he predicts this will not change. He advocates for the return of paid journalism, people going to a subscription-based model where they pay real money for news rather than pay in time and eyeballs via advertising. As he astutely points out, if you aren’t paying money for the news, then you are the product being sold by news services to their advertisers, not the other way around.