Blog Post: The Obstacle Is the Way

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The end of the year is a great time to be grateful.  So let’s consider what might sound like a somewhat strange gratitude prompt: what obstacles did you encounter this year?

Grateful for obstacles?  It makes sense to be grateful for goals achieved, battles won, successes secured, and blessings received, but obstacles?  Yes, we should be grateful for obstacles.

Obstacles come in many forms.  You’re trying to get healthy, but your workout partner moved to another city.  You’re itching to make a career move, but nobody seems interested in looking at your resume. You want to get closer to your grown son, but he made it clear he’s not interested.  You thought 2021 was the year you’d go from renting to being a homeowner, but then home prices went berserk.

Okay, so life’s full of obstacles.  But why be grateful for obstacles?  Well, as the best-selling author Ryan Holiday put it in the title of one of his books, the obstacle is the way

That doesn’t really make sense, does it?  The obstacle is not the way, the obstacle is in the way, right?  The obstacle blocks the way.  The obstacle is something that we need a way around.

How can an obstacle be the way? The obstacle is the way when it provides something you otherwise would not have experienced, encountered, endured, or engaged.  Let’s consider three ways obstacles can become the way.

First, when we expect and even embrace obstacles as a part of life.  If you are going to do anything even slightly worthwhile in life, you are going to encounter resistance.  The trials we face en route to our goals and destinations are like mileposts indicating progress.  The very fact that we have encountered an obstacle is a sign that we are going somewhere and doing something.   Facing obstacles gives us a chance to see what we are made of and how important the victory really is to us.  Without the obstacle, we wouldn’t really know.

Second, when we leverage the obstacles to test ourselves and grow stronger.  Much innovation and growth comes in response to obstacles.  When we encounter and overcome an obstacle in pursuit of a goal, not only do we reach the goal, but we get the added benefit of having developed a new strength because of the obstacle.  I had a client this year who had big plans to grow his company but then lost one of his key leaders.  The client did grow his company and he also developed new levels of courage, innovation, and crisis management.

Third, when we face obstacles with action and resolve. When things don’t go as we’d hoped, we have three choices: denial that ignores the challenge; despair that the challenge is, well, challenging; do something about it.  The obstacle gives us the opportunity to choose.  And what a marvelous opportunity such a choice is!

Think back on the year 2021.  What obstacles have you faced?  Obstacles at work?  Setbacks with your health?  Trials with key relationships?  Name the obstacles.  And now, be grateful for the obstacles and how each obstacle was, in its own way, the way.

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