Arnold Schwarzenegger on How The Obstacle Is The Way

May 13, 2014


“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.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

20 responses to Arnold Schwarzenegger on How The Obstacle Is The Way

  1. I totally agree – Arnold’s autobiography is a real inspiration.

    A great analogy is how Arnold says “the last 3 or 4 reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone who is not a champion.” The obstacle – the pain of those last few reps – literally is the way to build muscle. Without that pain, you’ll get nothing.

    I also love the fact that he was already a millionaire before he even won Mr Olympia for the first time thanks to his property investments and fitness/construction companies.

    Unfortunately when I try to tell people all this I just get is funny looks or people saying “Get to da choppa.” Arnold isn’t really appreciated as much here in the UK.

  2. Great article and even better book!

    One thing I just wanted to mention, he has said it wasn’t that he didn’t like soccer but more that he knew that he would never be the best at it and also that he wanted the personal accomplishments associated with bodybuilding than the group accomplishments with football.


    Here’s the video link to Arnold’s commencement address to USC

  4. Good post, Ryan. Arn9d is the very definition of seeing challenge as opportunity and could easily slot into the book. I have been a fan since I was 12 and have a solid understanding of his biography and you have hit all the notes. A quote I have often heard him use in interviews sums it up best: “Whenever anyone tells me no, I hear yes.” Pure and simple.

  5. Awesome article. Just a little correction though.

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

    This is false. That statement is created in Pumping Iron. Arnold had this from another bodybuilder, who did not attend his fathers funeral, because it was in the midst of contest-prep. Arnold then adopted this, among other things, to fit his slightly exaggerated character in Pumping Iron.

    • Yes you are right. I own a copy of pumping iron and Arnold does mention that the feature took some artistic liberties while portraying his life story.

  6. Sr Arnold,eu sou seu fã a mais de 25 anos,porém não só pelos seus filmes ,mas pela sua história de vida,e sei que você é um grande exemplo para muintos e para mim, tanto que aos seus 66 anos,continua em plena forma física e dá de 10 em muintos jovens por ai! Parabéns!

  7. Thanks to all well i am too a fan of Arnold he is true motivation and a inspiration. He his a true legend of ups and downs of life.

  8. Totes – loved this book. Glad you mentioned him Ryan, Arnold is one of my heroes!

  9. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a legend that has achieved so much success in his life: bodybuilding champion, heroic actor and celebrity politician.

    Great insight into the obstacles that he had encountered on his journey to greatness.

  10. well, it’s best previlage, discussing abt de one of de legend in dis world, he is one of the wonders, he might be the eight wonder in dis world,

  11. Arnold is the reason why I too, moved to Hollywood to chase the dream from a small world country.

  12. Following the 1975 Mr. Olympia, and the sixth straight victory, Arnold
    Schwarzenegger announced he would retire from bodybuilding.

  13. This is a good tip especially to those fresh
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  14. totally agreed with you.


  15. Obstacles or struggle is everywhere. Thanks for the positive words.

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