The Obstacle Is The Way


When we face an obstacle, be it in job, relationship, health, we get stuck. We look down, classify the problem across various dimensions and mostly take no action. When you only see the power of the obstacle and your own vulnerability towards it, you will not be able to overcome it. The human mind can adapt to obstacles and find a way through it by perception, action and will.

Perception is how you view the problem - see the obstacle as an opportunity to develop your creativity, resourcefulness, patience, humility and other virtues. Action is the creativity and energy which you put in to make the obstacle into an opportunity. Will is your inner citadel - the ability of your mind to withstand the adversaries and preserve through it.

The all-too-common response to obstacles are to complain, defer and give up. Obstacles throws on us emotions like desperation, despair and fear. There is the real obstacle and then the perceived obstacle. Perception is about seeing things clearly, for what they are. Practice seeing obstacles for what they are. Every obstacle provides an opportunity for growth and makeing us sronger. Bad boss? It is an opportunity for you to improve your skill and get a new job, an opportunity to improve your style of communication, an opening to practice your mind control.

Think of businesses started during depressions or economic recessions - FedEx (oil crisis of 1973), Microsoft (recession in 1973-75), Standard Oil (Feb 1865, the final year of the Civil War when Rockefeller bought out his partners.) What had the founders had in common? They did not worry about what is going to happen in the future or what has happened in the past nor the market scenarios. They focused on factors which they can control and the present. They dealt with situtation in hand without overthinking about other imagined future problems. Getting disconnected, like meditating, spending time with your dog, reading, strenous exercise can help you focus on the present.

Unexpected problems suddenly occurs, competitors surround your business, everything is falling and crashing down and we feel like we can't handle it anymore and panic. Grace and poise, not talent, is what required to win in high pressure and stressful situations. Voltaire explained cool head as "tranquil courage in the face of tumult and serenity of the soul in the face of danger." Steady your nerves and control your emotions. They are like muscles. You build control by practice. Defeat emotions by logic. It might help to say it over and over again whenever you feel anxiety: I am not going to die from this.

We can always choose how we feel. Even in prison (a situtation which most of us will never face), we have a freedon to make our choices, to choose how we feel. Nelson Mandela was to able to choose his choices. We have the choices - our mind is with us, be in prison or in our home.

Act - you have to start acting to break into the obstacle and overcome it. However hard the obstacle may be, instead of complaining, you have to act and the action must be directed towards the obstacle. Act with energy, persistence, with a coherent and deliberate process, with pragmatism and a vision. Iterate on the solution, be resiliant, crafty and savy and have an eye for opportunity and pivotal moments. Ask yourself: Could you be doing more? At the minimum, you could be trying harder.

When solving the problem, never get tired, desperate, hurried, worried or stop short. Don't get put down by the size of the obstacle. Persist. Try different plans, different methods, try all the wrong ways and you will find a new way. Look at the problem from different angles and approach it from the various points and you will eventually arrive at the desired solution.

In each failure, you learn something new. Iterate but never fail twice on the same issue. Seek, strive and find.

Don't think A-Z, ignoring B to Y nor try to solve all problems at once. Break it down into pieces, go from one part of the problem to the next. The process, which is the task at hand is the most important. Move with a control over the process without losing your mind.

Do your job with hard work, honesty and helping others as best as you can. You may think that the job does not interest you or the job is not what you deserve and you deserve a better use of your time. Take pride in the tasks which you do, however boring or mundane the task be. Each job is an opportunity to excel in it.

Channel your inner energy towards the obstacle. The flowing water faces the man-made obstacle of dam. And it used the obstacle to channel energy to fuel power-plants that run entire cities.

Lot of times, when the enemy/the opponent is more powerful than you, striking head-on will not work because the opponent is already more powerful than you. Attacks from the flanks, the unexpected and untraditional sides. This can be about being more creative, flexible, fluid and pragmatic. But never lose sight of the mission. What matters is that you get it done. Be ambitious, aggressive and rooted in ideals but also imminently practical and guided by the possible.

Some times, you will not be able to do anything about the obstacle. An adversary might be impossible for you to defeat. Instead of fighting the obstacles, find a means of making them defeat themselves. Gandhi didn't fight for independence. The British Empire did all the fighting. He said to the most powerful occuping military in the world I'm marching to the ocean to collect salt in direct violation of your laws. He provoked them and it places the authorities in an impossible dilemma: enforce a bankrupt policy or abdicate, neutralizing the military's enormous strength. We wrongly assume that going forward is the only way to win. Standing still or even going backward might be the best advance.

Don't let a serious crisis go waste. During his presidential campaign, Barak Obama faced with a race scandal due to a inflammatory remark made by his pastor, imperiling his campaign. He channeled the attention and energy around the controversy to draw a national audience and spoke directly to the American people on the divisive issue of race. The speech, today known as A More Perfect Union, infused his campaign with energy and propelled him into the White House. A crisis provides the opportunity to do things which could not be done before. You lost your job. Now, you can start the business which you wanted to start for a long time.

What we can't do is control the world around us. We can perceive things well, act rightly and fail anyway. After we've tried, some obstacles might be impossible to defeat. We can turn that obstacle upside down too simply by using it as an opportunity to accept that bad things happen or to practice humility. Problems are a chance to do our best. When the verdict comes, accept it and move on.

Will is the internal power, which can never be affected by the outside world.

Difficult things take time. Acknowledge the pain but trod onward in your task.

During good times, we strengthen ourselves for bad times. Anticipate the worst - anticipating what can go wrong and be prepared for the disruption. It prepares you for failures and ready for success.

The world is random. Accept the difficulty, the fate, the shortcoming and channel the energy into a different direction. What happened would happen and go from there. Be humble and flexible enough to acknowledge the fate, that there is always someone or something that could change the plan. Life gives you plenty to work with, plenty to leave your imprint on. Follow where the events take you already.

Perseverance vs persistance - persistance is repeatedly trying to break a single obstacle. Life is not about one obstacle but many. Perseverance is about having the will and energy to overcome obstacles after obstacles along the way.

When you can't solve a problem, think how you can make it better for other people. Now, we have something to do. Thinking this way cut's distances ourselves from the problem objectively and we stop making it harder on ourself.

Meditate on your mortality. Death is the one which we can do least about. In its shadow, prioritization becomes easier. You won't indulge in trivialities of day-to-day life. You can adjust and come to terms with death and find relief, humbleness and understanding that there is nothing you can do about it. When you can derive value from death, why can't you derive value from any other kind of obstacle?

After mountains, there are more mountains. After obstacle, there are more obstacles. Be prepared to start again.