Everyone’s life has obstacles from time to time. Your life. My life. Everybody’s life.
The obstacles come in all shapes, sizes, and types. Obstacles to our career, our health, our finances, and our relationships.
We need not conclude that the universe is out to get us when obstacles appear on our path.
Or that the obstacles are payback for past indiscretions.
Of course, we may indeed conjure up our own obstacles as a result of our own bad choices.
If we spend money recklessly, we may reasonably expect to eventually have financial obstacles.
If we treat our friends unkindly, disrespectfully, or flippantly, we might very well need to confront relational obstacles at some point.
If we neglect our health and consistently ignore the proven good habits of health, we can expect to sooner or later get sick, have limited energy, or face a serious health crisis.
But no matter how carefully we plan, regardless of how many things we do right, and in spite of our diligent commitment to wise choices, we will inevitably find obstacles on our life path.
Obstacles are a 100% certainty.
Obstacles can only be avoided in the short term. In the long term, they will be encountered by everyone.
So if obstacles are an inescapable reality of life, what can we do about them when we encounter them?
Is there some proven strategy for dealing with obstacles?
Is there a method through which we can best navigate the obstacles we face?
It’s neither deep nor profound. But in the total scheme of things, it may be our best means of dealing with one of life’s inevitable components.
I’d like to discuss this process by way of a simple analogy. Analogies have a way of clarifying what might otherwise be complicated.
Suppose you’re taking a walk through the forest. Everything is wonderful.
The temperature is a perfect 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun is poking through the trees as you proceed. The birds are chirping a pleasant melody.
The forest is alive with beautiful trees and a few scattered wild flowers delight your senses. All is well in the world.
But as you’re walking, you come across an obstacle in your path. A large branch has fallen from a tree and landed squarely in the center of your path.
As you draw closer to the branch, you begin to assess your options. You realize you have several of them, some simple and others more complex.
You weigh each obstacle for its pros and cons. Then you choose the option you feel is best.
So how does this analogy apply to obstacles in life?
Step 1: Acknowledge The Obstacle
Though it may seem self-evident and a no-brainer, you’d be surprised how often this first critical element is ignored.
We must begin our encounter with an obstacle by honestly admitting that it’s an obstacle and that it in some way blocks our progress.
If we pretend there’s no obstacle, or act as if it requires no adjustment on our part, or we attempt to bully our way past the obstacle, we’re going to merely create additional obstacles for ourselves.
Our first response should be to honestly, accurately, and calmly acknowledge the obstacle we’ve encountered.
This may be subtle and almost imperceivable, but it’s nonetheless real. If your words expressed your mental assessment, they would sound something like this:
“I’ve encountered an obstacle. I’m not exactly sure how it got there or why, but it’s clearly there. I must figure out a way to deal with the obstacle in a healthy, constructive, effective way.”
Every day people must deal with life-threatening illnesses because they’ve failed to acknowledge a health obstacle when it first appeared.
Every day people permanently damage relationships because they refuse to acknowledge the rift that exists in them.
Every day people go bankrupt or face profound financial difficulty because they would not acknowledge their destructive financial pattern.
Begin with acknowledgement. It’s the best place to begin.
Step 2: Accept The Obstacle
This next phase may at first seem like a repetition of the previous one. But it’s not the same.
When we acknowledge the obstacle, we simply admit that it’s there. When we accept the obstacle, it means we’ve moved past the questioning point.
What do I mean by this?
Oftentimes when we meet an obstacle, we begin a convoluted analysis. We ask questions such as:
– Why is this happening to me?
– Why is it happening now?
– What did I do to deserve this?
– Why can’t I stop this pattern?
– How could I have prevented this?
And on and on it goes.
Such analysis is often tainted by the emotions you are feeling about the obstacle. You may be sad, scared, angry, or annoyed that this thing now stands in your way.
And such emotions are often a driver of overthinking – or rather, repetitive thinking about the situation that is of no particular help when it comes to tackling the obstacle.
Now, to be sure, there’s a legitimate place for evaluation and assessment. Maybe there was something we did that was a major contributor to the current obstacle.
Maybe we ignored wise counsel. Maybe we stubbornly went forward when we should have hit the pause button.
Maybe an honest assessment will turn up some helpful principle that can reduce the likelihood of a future recurrence of this kind of obstacle. Learning from mistakes is one of life’s most effective classrooms.
But often the obstacle has little if anything to do with our previous actions. It’s just there.
The tree branch in the path ahead is not your fault. It’s probably not anybody’s fault. It’s just there and must be dealt with.
It’s not your fault that the driver coming toward you moved over into your lane and forced you off the road.
It’s not your fault that your company must downsize, and needs to let you go.
It’s not your fault the stock tip from your brother-in-law turned out to be lame financial advice. Well, maybe that would be your fault. Never mind.
But finding fault, and assigning blame, and second-guessing the cause are not usually helpful.
They just distract us from our main task. Our main task is to figure out how to avoid, remove, or otherwise deal with the obstacle.
You can assess, evaluate, and analyze later. It’s not the most important focus at the moment.
Acceptance means we accept the obstacle for what it is. It’s an obstacle. No matter right now how it got there. The key question is how to deal with it effectively.
Acceptance also means we put our emotions to one side and break the thought loops we find ourselves in so that we may turn our attention to finding a way forward.
We only waste time and energy when we fail to accept the obstacle. We waste precious resources when we refuse to accept what must be confronted.
The obstacle is not going away on its own. It must be proactively addressed, or it will continue to block our path.
Most obstacles we will merely take in our stride.
Other obstacles will do little more than cause us to have a bad day.
But some obstacles will require the redirecting of our lives.
But whether the obstacle is small or gigantic, we’ll do better if we first acknowledge it and then accept it.
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Step 3: Form A Strategy
After acknowledgement and acceptance, it’s time for a strategy.
This is the time for analysis. It’s the time to weigh various approaches to the obstacle.
All kinds of factors play a role.
– How long will this strategy take?
– How much will it cost?
– Do I have the required resources?
– Do I have the required skills?
– Is there someone who can assist me?
– What are the ramifications if I fail?
– Is there a critical time limit for a solution?
– What are the steps that need to be taken, and in which order?
There may be other critical questions. But these are typical.
Remember the large fallen tree branch analogy?
The branch has fallen and is blocking your path. You’ve accepted that it doesn’t matter how it got there. So what are you going to do at this point?
You may simply decide to go around the branch. That’s easy. But maybe not. What if there is a steep bank on either side? Maybe this section of the woods is dense with poison ivy that you can’t possibly avoid if you move off the trail.
How about going over the branch? That’s fine if it’s not too large. But what if the branch is too large to climb over? What if there are so many sub-branches that climbing over the main branch is nearly impossible?
But what if you happen to be carrying a chainsaw with you? No worries. You whip out the chainsaw, pull on the cord, and begin to cut up the branch. When you’re finished, you stack the wood neatly into a pile on the side of the path.
Hmm, perhaps this is a bit unrealistic. But you could well have a sharp pocket knife with you that could be used to whittle off some of those troubling smaller branches so you can climb over the larger branch.
If you had a magnifying glass with you, maybe you could burn off each individual branch. Wait, the sun isn’t shining through the tree foliage. So that won’t work.
What if there is water on either side of the path? What if the water has hungry alligators in it?
Okay, so I may seem to be getting a bit dramatic at this point. But you may want to withhold judgment until after you read my account of an actual event from my past.
A few years ago I was riding my bicycle on a path through a forest in South Carolina. It was very pleasant.
Until, that is, I rounded a corner on the bike path and saw a full grown alligator straddling the path.
At that moment there was only one acceptable action to take… STOP IMMEDIATELY.
So I did.
My strategy was to wait until the alligator was well off the path and back in the water where it belonged. I then proceeded with extreme caution, keeping my eyes on the spot I had last seen the alligator.
Alligators are surprisingly fast on land. When I reached the spot on the path where the alligator had been, I increased my peddling speed, putting as much distance between myself and the alligator as I could.
Of course, had the alligator come out of the water and back on the path, one might later conclude that the better strategy would have been to go back and not proceed forward at all.
If I had been attacked by the alligator, that would be true. But I wasn’t. So my strategy turned out to be just fine.
This is often the case with the best-formed strategy. Sometimes we do all we can to come up with what seems a good approach to the obstacle.
But sometimes we miscalculate. We may over overestimate our capability. Or we don’t provide enough resources, or time, or patience.
But we do the best we can.
The point is that sometimes obstacles have simple, easy, and obvious strategies. Sometimes they don’t. Each obstacle must be evaluated individually.
The better the analysis, the more likely a sound strategy will emerge.
Which is why you might benefit from having another person help you form a strategy. After all, two heads are often better than one.
If you have someone you trust and whose opinion you value, it may be a good idea to discuss the obstacle with them to see if they can suggest ways to overcome it that you haven’t thought of.
At the very least, they can help you narrow down your options and pick one to try first.
And, in some cases, you may even benefit from the assistance of an expert.
This might be a counselor who can help you clarify your thoughts and options, or someone who knows this particular obstacle well – perhaps having faced it in the past.
If this person has knowledge that you do not have, they may be better placed to advise you on the approach that is most likely to succeed.
But not every obstacle can be navigated perfectly, no matter how good the strategy may appear.
And sometimes we don’t have time to analyze. Sometimes the strategy must be chosen quickly.
In such cases the margin of error increases significantly. But delay has its own dire consequences.
Again, it’s not our fault that we must come up with a speedy solution. But it doesn’t change the fact that a speedy solution is required.
Step 4: Admit Your Defeats
So, you’ve acknowledged the obstacle. You’ve accepted the obstacle. You’ve mustered your resources and come up with what you believe is a sound, effective strategy.
You then put the strategy into action. You may need to make some mid-course adjustments along the way. Be open to modifications in your strategy.
After all, you may not have had a long time to develop your plan. At any rate, you give it your best shot.
But what if your strategy is unsuccessful? What if your strategy to deal with the obstacle fails? What then?
Well, you must then deal with the new obstacle that’s presented as a result of the failure.
You will need to admit the failure and learn what you can from it. This is not a call for despair. It’s a call to realize that not every strategy for obstacle removal will yield the desired results.
Sometimes our strategy just doesn’t accomplish what we thought it would. This is all too common.
Often, the key to overcoming an obstacle is persistence. Hence the proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Remember, there is usually more than one approach available to you, so if one fails, you can go back to the drawing board and consider which to try next.
And what you learn from your failure may help prevent a more serious obstacle later.
Had that alligator come up out of the water and chased me through the woods, I might have learned a vital lesson to apply later… assuming I was not lunch for the alligator. What I learned that day was that carefully moving past the alligator can work well.
We need to be careful in our post-assessment. We should realize that circumstances beyond our control often play a key role.
But again, we do the best we can with what we have. None of us possesses all the resources we will ever need to face and be victorious over every life obstacle.
But if we’re committed to the process, we will not only experience many successes, we will learn something helpful through each encounter.
That said, sometimes we will fail.
It’s better to simply admit the failure and move on. Not to beat ourselves up over it. Nor to make excuses for ourselves if we violated some time-proven principle.
Henry David Thoreau said:
Do not be timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.
And it was Helen Keller who said:
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
Life needs to be lived somewhere between wanton recklessness and paralyzing fear. As someone has wisely pointed out, there are no guarantees in life, only opportunities.
We have lots of opportunities to face and overcome obstacles in life. Lots of opportunities because obstacles abound in life.
But there’s no sense or value in refusing to admit defeat and failure. It’s just part of the journey. And we learn more valuable lessons through our failures than from our victories.
Step 5: Celebrate Your Victories
Fortunately, we can celebrate many victories of overcoming obstacles in life.
These are sweet moments we should relish. They’re opportunities for celebration and gratitude.
We may be able to take some of the successful strategy with us, and use it on future obstacles.
Or we may have simply been the recipient of fortunate turns of events. Fortunate turns that are none of our doing, but for which we can be thankful.
Realize that sometimes we overcome an obstacle as a result of numerous factors outside of ourselves.
Others with more experience assist us, circumstances arise in our favor, we experience an act of kindness, or we’re just plain lucky.
Not everyone believes in luck. If you don’t, feel free to call it providence, good fortune, or a blessing. These are just different ways of labeling what is outside our own power.
But it’s just as real and just as valuable.
Step 6: Anticipate Your Next Obstacle
Why does it seem that just about the time you overcome one obstacle, a new one arises to take its place?
It seems that way because it is that way.
Life is full of obstacles, and it’s impossible to go very long without encountering new ones.
Sometimes they even seem to mount a strategy against us. It’s as if the obstacles got together for a conference and figured out how to team up and combine resources against us.
Of course, it only seems that way.
One of the best defenses against future obstacles is to engage in thoughtful planning.
Good planning can eliminate untold numbers of obstacles.
Taking just a few minutes to formulate a plan can pay huge dividends down the road. For example:
– Taking an umbrella is usually more effective than predicting the weather.
– Filling your gas tank now beats running out of gas later.
– Observing good health habits can greatly reduce the occurrence of health problems.
– Avoiding debt while investing instead will allow time to work for you rather than against you.
– Being honest with people makes for a more meaningful relationship with them.
– Doing it now rather than procrastinating will help keep the surprise demons at bay.
– Though the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, most times they don’t.
So we’ve looked at 6 steps to overcome obstacles in life. Here they are again:
1. Begin with acknowledgement of the obstacle.
2. Proceed to acceptance of the obstacle.
3. Move on to a strategy for overcoming the obstacle.
4. Admit defeat when it comes.
5. Celebrate victory when you experience it.
6. Anticipate the next obstacle.
This approach will not ensure that no obstacles come your way. Nor will it guarantee success over every obstacle you meet.
But it will increase your chances of navigating the obstacles more effectively. It will make it far more likely you’ll overcome the obstacles you face.