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Why I Wrote ‘Stillness Is the Key’ — A Message from Ryan Holiday

To celebrate the release of the newest episode of State of Mind with Ryan Holiday, we share an exclusive text from the author on the inspiration behind his latest book.
by Michael Benninger | Mar 11 2020

Among the multitude of authors featured on Blinkist, one of the most popular in recent years is Ryan Holiday, whose books have influenced countless people from all walks of life. Today, we’re delighted to release a conversation with the author on our new podcast, State of Mind. To celebrate, we’ve taken a closer look at Holiday’s career and key beliefs, and share an exclusive statement from the author on why he wrote his latest book, Stillness Is The Key. During the past decade, Holiday has opened many readers’ eyes to the hidden side of media and marketing, but most of his recent writing centers around the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. And with the release of his latest book, Stillness Is the Key, the author expounds his Stoic beliefs by highlighting the value of quiet contemplation. In an exclusive message written to Blinkist users, Ryan Holiday offers insight into his approach to Stoicism and explains what inspired him to write Stillness Is the Key. But if you’re unfamiliar with the work of this author, here’s an overview of his career along with a summary of Stoicism.

Ryan Holiday’s Career in a Nutshell

Ryan Holiday’s career began when he dropped out of college at age 19 and landed an internship for Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power and The Laws of Human Nature among other books. A few years later, Holiday was named director of marketing for the clothing brand American Apparel, but he ultimately left the company to launch his own creative agency, Brass Check. As the head of Brass Check, Holiday has worked with many big brands and influential individuals, employing unorthodox—yet effective—methods of attracting attention. And although Holiday still oversees operations at his agency, he’s most well-known as an author whose books have sold more than 2 million copies in 30 languages. Today, his name is synonymous with the philosophy of Stoicism, and he’s one of the most prominent names resurrecting the ancient school of thought.

Introduction to Stoicism

It’s safe to say that more people are familiar with the adjective “stoic” than with the philosophy of Stoicism. For many, the word stoic conjures images of an emotionless person not easily ruffled by the world around them. And while this stoic definition is accurate in a sense, the philosophy of Stoicism involves much more than maintaining a stiff upper lip. Stoicism involves accepting the fact that the world can be a negative place that’s beyond our control. Yet despite this, the philosophy advises followers to find happiness through self-reflection and to avoid emotional pitfalls by employing logic and reasoning. By abiding by the principles of Stoicism, it’s possible to live a loving, stress-free life while bringing out the best in yourself.

Key Figures of Stoicism

Stoicism emerged in ancient Greece more than 2,000 years ago, and the tenets of the ideology spawn from a few thinkers whose teachings have survived the centuries. Here’s a quick look at these philosophers and their contributions.

Zeno of Citium (334-262 B.C.)

Considered the founder of Stoicism, Zeno was a Phoenician philosopher who recognized that emotions can lead to irrational behavior and errors in judgment. He believed that in order to live virtuously, we must live in accordance with nature and understand our place in the universe. Zeno espoused his beliefs from a painted porch called the stoa poikile, which is where Stoicism gets its name.

Seneca the Younger (4 B.C.- A.D. 65)

Seneca was a Roman philosopher, statesman, and playwright whose numerous essays and personal letters compose perhaps the most accessible and influential body of work ever written about Stoicism. Seneca believed it was important for people to confront their own mortality, and his writing advises each of us to conduct ourselves while envisioning others whom we admire.

Epictetus (A.D. 55-135)

The handbooks and lectures of this slave-turned-teacher explain that one must first examine and understand their own ignorance before engaging in more meaningful philosophical pursuits. Epictetus believed in the importance of remaining calm in the face of uncertainty, and he encouraged others to relentlessly question their own emotions and beliefs in order to find authentic happiness.

Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180)

Much of the modern understanding of Stoicism stems from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, which details the Roman emperor’s approach to the philosophy. In his writing, Aurelius explains why it’s important to exercise self-restraint and exhibit respect for others above all else. He also advises readers to overcome distractions and find purpose in life by approaching each task as if it were their last.

Recent Revival

In recent years, in large part due to the writings of Ryan Holiday and life-hacker Tim Ferriss , the philosophy of Stoicism has been enjoying a tremendous resurgence. From the football field to Silicon Valley board rooms, more and more people are embracing a Stoic approach to life. In fact, Holiday’s first book about Stoicism, The Obstacle Is the Way, topped the New York Times’ Best Sellers list in 2019 — a full five years after it was initially published.

A Brief Look at Ryan Holiday’s Bibliography

Ryan Holiday has written several books during the past decade, though not all of them are about his Stoic beliefs. Here’s a quick look at each of Holiday’s books, which are all just a tap or click away on Blinkist.

Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator (2012)

Revealing numerous flaws inherent in online media, this exposé explains the industry’s many weaknesses and outlines Holiday’s brazen attempts to exploit them.

Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising (2014)

Holiday explains how brands can deliver more effective marketing messages in this book that tells readers how to leverage design and user data to gain millions of followers.

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph (2014)

Transform the way you think about obstacles in Holiday’s first book about Stoicism, which offers actionable advice about overcoming personal and professional roadblocks.

Ego Is the Enemy: The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent (2016)

Through a series of entertaining anecdotes about historical figures, Holiday draws attention to the destructive power of egotism and outlines several strategies we can use to keep ourselves in check.

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (2016)

Coauthored by bookseller Stephen Hanselman, this daily devotional promotes self-reflection through hundreds of meditations drawn from the wisdom of Stoicism’s most influential minds.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts (2017)

Learn the secret to ensuring long-term success for your career and your creative projects in this book that teaches readers how to transform standalone efforts into ongoing money-makers.

Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue (2018)

Discover the dirty details about the lawsuit between wrestler Hulk Hogan and the controversial blog network Gawker Media in this book that highlights the pivotal role played by billionaire Peter Thiel.

The Inspiration Behind Stillness Is the Key

Published in October 2019, Ryan Holiday’s latest book, Stillness Is the Key, underscores the importance of quiet contemplation and offers tips to help readers think clearly, develop self-control, and ultimately find happiness. Though the book is rooted in wisdom from the ancients, it also shows how some of today’s top athletes and artists are using stillness to live prosperous lives. Here — in a statement written exclusively for Blinkist — Ryan Holiday reveals why he chose to write this book.

Stillness is The Key completes a trilogy I began with The Obstacle Is The Way and Ego Is The Enemy — all of which are philosophically driven books illustrated with historical stories about themes that I think are very important to where we are today.

Stillness is one of the most powerful forces in the world — it’s the ability to be calm and deliberate, to slow things down as the world speeds up, to find your purpose, to get your life in order (even amidst chaos and pressure).

It’s no secret that today’s world makes it hard to be still, but this is actually a perennial problem of the human experience. Pascal said in the 1600s that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Twitter and Facebook and the fact that you can hop on a plane to New York City right now for $150 certainly exacerbate the problem, but it’s always existed and it’s always been really hard.

Most of the advice we hear today comes from Eastern philosophy — we should meditate, we should detach from the world, we just need to turn inward. But we all have mortgages, and jobs, and deadlines, and things we want to accomplish, so while meditating is great, I don’t think it’s always realistic or practical.

In looking for solutions, I found that stillness is also a theme in Stoicism, Epicureanism, Christianity, Hinduism, and countless other philosophical schools and religions. They all say the same thing: stillness is the key to a thriving, meaningful life.

The Stoics are particularly interesting to me because Marcus Aurelius is talking about stillness…while he’s the head of the largest empire in the world. Seneca is talking about it while he works in the down and dirty arena of politics. Confucius was a political advisor too — and the more I read of him, the more I felt he aligned with Seneca. So I felt they all had a lot to teach us about how to cultivate stillness in practical terms. As I write in the book, “when basically all the wisdom of the ancient world agrees on something, only a fool would decline to listen.”

If you want to learn more about any of Ryan Holiday’s books, consider the Blinkist app a doorway to each of the titles’ main takeaways. Within mere minutes, you can absorb Stoicism’s essential teachings and begin incorporating them into your life. And our library also includes dozens of books about other approaches to life. So what are you waiting for? Satisfying your curiosity has never been simpler.

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