A couple of years ago a message popped into my head: Every obstacle is an opportunity.
I get those from time to time, some of my message quips are better than others. This one isn’t particularly unique. I’ve heard variations of “problems are just opportunities in disguise” from many sources over the years.
But my version:
Every obstacle is an opportunity
has, I think, a ring to it and I wanted to share it, even then.
So I added a caption to a photo I’d shot of Colorado's Black Canyon, just outside of Montrose, and put it on Google+. I got a few +1s, a few comments and a couple of shares. I think I put it on Facebook, but it didn’t get much traction there.
Anyway, although the photo didn’t catch on the first time around, the message has stayed with ME and it’s continued to resonate. It’s become something of a personal mantra as I’ve begun to consider new horizons, new opportunities and embarking on a new path that will allow me to use my talents in more helpful, more meaningful, and more valuable ways.
[Tweet “Every obstacle is an opportunity.”]
As I’ve written before, a huge obstacle blindsided me in 2009-2010. Although the obstacle hasn’t gone away or been resolved, I’ve used it to push myself to develop new skills and to update or refine skills I already had. In the process, I’ve come to realize I can use my talents and skills to embark on a new path to take advantage of opportunities that I might not have seen before.
In other words
The obstacle has become the opportunity.
A while back I discovered a book by Paul Jarvis, Everything I Know. Turns out that Paul’s approach to the creative, entrepreneurial life is very similar to the threads and themes that I’ve found emerging in my own life.
Paul writes about staying curious, being true to yourself even if that makes you seem weird, ignoring the advice of others while blazing your own path, and pushing through fears by taking action.
Similarly, over the past 18 months, I've written about:
- Embracing your inner weirdness
- The power of purposeful action
- Fighting bravery
- Weaving your own life tapestry (staying true to yourself)
- Staying curious
- And the care and feeding the Heffalumps (invisible fears)
I had already written these posts before I read Paul’s book. I have heard him a few times in podcast interviews, so it’s possible that his ideas were influencing me, but still…it’s always great to discover someone who speaks the same language, even if I haven’t fully implemented everything I know I need to be doing.
I also have a reminder in my AnyDo app to ignore advice. And a note scribbled in my Moleskine where I list blog post ideas: Ignore Advice.
The Obstacle of Procrastination
In late February of last year (13 months ago), I wrote something I’ve titled The Happy Life Manifesto. A few excerpts are posted here, on this blog. The plan, ever since, has been to publish The Happy Life Manifesto as short Kindle book. I originally thought I’d publish it by the end of March 2013. Then May. Then early December 2013. Still nothing.
So why haven’t I fine-tuned my draft and bulished the book? It’s literally hours from being ready to publish.
What’s holding me back? Distraction? Some hidden fear that's causing me to procrastinate by telling me to do other things first (like grade papers or cook dinner).
So far, 2014 has been filled with great opportunities. Some have been the result of preparation and patience as I worked through old obstacles. Other opportunities are emerging as as a result of ongoing obstacles that still have me in the ring, boxing. The big difference in 2014, compared to 4 years ago, is that I know it’s not a death match, and it’s not the heavyweight championship. It’s a practice round.
I’m a huge fan of Seth Godin, particularly The Icarus Deception, and he makes a lot of the same points in that book and in his recent talks on embracing uncertainty and leveraging change and fear to build a new future outside of the industrial revolution structure, which is crumbling all around us.
Out of Factories, Into the Future
Unfortunately, not everyone wants to let go of the Industrial-era mindset, which values big money, capital-intensive extraction of everything that is human and natural.
One obstacle I’m currently fighting is a misguided move to “develop” bitumen resources in northwest Alabama, where my family land is located and where I’ve established my small, but growing apiary. My plans are to build Shine Springs Farm into a showcase for sustainable business.
My obstacle is fighting the greed which wants the bitumen in the ground beneath and around the farm. Bitumen is a solid form of oil, trapped in sandstone, clay and water. Most people know this substance as “oil sands,” or the more colloquial “tar sands.”
Alabama the US could benefit by reading The Icarus Deception.
“We the people” have to get away from the idea that a corporation (which answers to profit-minded shareholders) will create a job for us and pay us a salary that will be high enough and stable enough for an ongoing, middle-class lifestyle. A few may have this option (nurses come to mind), but even those will likely be free agents, not employees. Factories that make mass-market widgets will be staffed by robotics. Everything else will be built through 3-D printing or craftsmen and artisans.
The ruling politicians of Alabama are desperately seeking anything that might possibly create a job, and are more than willing to ignore the externalized costs that come with creating that job. So they disregard evidence that the jobs “created” under the mid-20th century structure will actual cost people more than any value generated for the state. Those jobs will be temporary, further diminishing the actual value. The economic value of the bitumen will actually accrue to the out-of-state corporations, the developers and rights holders. The local community and state will bear all of the vast costs of rebuilding from the aftermath.
My message is that the future is here and it's bright, if we the people take charge of our lives.
So I'm fighting the oil sands obstacle while simultaneously trying to find a way to spread this message to an audience of people who are (mostly) terrified by the present.
Within this obstacle is the opportunity to spread the message that it's time to let go of the old way and embrace a new economic future where the people control their lives and their economic destinies through creative problem-solving and activities that bring value to others.
[Tweet “The future is here and it's bright, if we take charge of our lives.”]
In Choose Yourself, James Altucher covers similar territory as Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception, but Altucher’s book is something more akin to his memoir of how he picked himself up and rebuilt his life after roller-coaster decades of success and failure. James provides lessons from his own life to help others who want to live a meaningful, truly successful life without need to go through disaster recovery first.
My Happy Life Manifesto is similar in that it offers up what I’ve found to be the ingredients for happiness, based on the ups-and-downs I’ve experienced.
Be Grateful for Obstacles
We all think we want a life without so many obstacles. In hindsight I have to say I’m grateful for every single obstacle I’ve faced. Why? Because I’ve ultimately learned valuable lessons and skills from facing my obstacles.
Obstacles are just opportunities in disguise.
I don't always overcome every obstacle. Sometimes I just go around it.
Sometimes I’ve marched forward on the path toward confrontation and the obstacle disappeared, as if it were a mirage.
But when I have taken action and moved forward, one step at a time, I’ve always managed to make it to the other side of the canyon.
You can use obstacles to your advantage.
But you must first let go of the idea that you control the outcome. You can only control the steps you take.
By taking the first step you embark on the path that will take you across or through the obstacle. Once you take the first step, you must choose to take the next step. Just remember this: You don’t control the path through, over, or around the obstacle. But you’re the one who must take each step of the journey.
What’s your biggest challenge in taking the first step toward your opportunity?
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