Arnold Schwarzenegger on How The Obstacle Is The Way


“What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

It recently occurred to me that there is one person I don’t feature in The Obstacle Is The Way but easily could have. Because like Rockefeller, Edison, Earhart, and especially Theodore Roosevelt, there is a man who proves and has lived the message pretty clearly: Arnold.

I mean, look at this. Or, if you don’t have time, just listen to his commencement address:

  • 1961: Arnold doesn’t like soccer, the sport most children played in his native Austria, so he tries weightlifting instead. He became so dedicated to bodybuilding he began breaking into his local gym on the weekends when it was closed so he could train: “It would make me sick to miss a workout… I knew I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror the next morning if I didn’t do it.”

  • 1965: Arnold served in the Austrian army to fulfill his one year service requirement. He ends up going AWOL during basic training so he can compete in the Junior Mr. Europe contest and ends up serving a week in military prison because of it. He won the contest.

  • 1968: Arnold arrives in America with little money and can barely speak English. Because bodybuilding doesn’t pay, he begins a bricklaying business with a fellow bodybuilder, mixing cement and knocking down walls with a sledgehammer.

  • 1970: Arnold won his first Mr. Olympia title at 23, making him the youngest Mr. Olympia ever, a record he still holds today. He would go on to win it six more times.

  • 1971: Arnold’s brother Meinhard died in a car accident in which he was killed instantly. Arnold would later pay for Meinhard’s son Patrick’s education and his emigration to the United States.

  • 1972: Arnold’s father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, dies from a stroke. Arnold was unable to attend his funeral because he training for  a bodybuilding content.

  • 1980: Arnold was a color commentator at the 1980 Mr. Olympia competition when he announced at the last minute he would compete in the contest. Schwarzenegger had been retired from competition but had been secretly training for the event. He won it with only seven weeks of preparation and after being declared Mr. Olympia for the seventh time he officially retired from competition.

  • 1984: Arnold appears in James Cameron’s The Terminator. Of his early acting career, Arnold said, “It was very difficult for me in the beginning – I was told by agents and casting people that my body was ‘too weird’, that I had a funny accent, and that my name was too long. You name it, and they told me I had to change it. Basically, everywhere I turned, I was told that I had no chance.” Basically, Arnold turned all those ‘negatives’ into a totally unique and iconic package.

  • 1991: Arnold reappeared as the title character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which was the highest-grossing film of 1991.

  • 1993: Arnold stars in Last Action Hero, which did poorly at the box office, opening opposite Jurassic Park. It is one of many failed movies in his career–as he admits.

  • 1994: Arnold’s movie career bounces back when he reunited with James Cameron for the popular sky film True Lies.

  • 2001: Arnold broke six ribs and was hospitalized for four days after a motorcycle crash in Los Angeles.

  • 2003: Without any previous political experience, Arnold wins the California recall election for governor by 1.3 million votes. (I actually attended his kick off rally in Sacramento. Twisted Sister performed)

  • 2006: Arnold wins re-election for Governor of California by well over one million votes.

  • 2009: He gives an epic and philosophic commencement address to USC students.
  • 2013: Arnold restarts his acting career with his first leading role in 10 years with The Last Stand, and his first co-starring role with Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan. Also cooly embraces reddit and social media to great results.

“So let me tell you, as you prepare to go off into the world, remember six rules: Trust yourself, Break some rules, Don’t be afraid to fail, Ignore the naysayers, Work like hell, and Give something back.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

What Arnold shares with all the figures in the The Obstacle Is The Way is that stoic idea of self-direction, self-discipline, self-mastery. He faced innumerable problems and obstacles in his life—some of which he created for himself, as we know—but what mattered more than that was how he responded.

He saw, as Marcus Aurelius wrote, that the impediment to action can advance action. He saw that the obstacle is the way.

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Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.