What is an obstacle? Dictionary.com says its, "something that obstructs or hinders progress". That's certainly one way to see it, but I believe there is much more to obstacles than being obstacles to progress. Certainly there are situations in which obstacles are problems, obstructions, impediments to our progress both personal and professional. But I believe that with the right ATTITUDE, obstacles can become Opportunties. Let me explain …
We all face trouble in our lives, "Momma said there'd be days like these". No matter our background, financial situation, education or election, we all encounter hard times and have tough things to deal with. Certainly there are steps we can take to avoid some of life's pitfalls and set ourselves up for success as best we can, but there's still no cure for cancer and disease, financial trouble relationship stress can affect all of us.
There's no question that it is impossible to avoid all of life's challenges and problems. You will face obstacles in your life. No matter how rich, successful, or connected you are, there will always be hard times and obstacles to face. That's a definite; Like death and taxes. What has yet to be determined however, is how you will handle those obstacles.
Depending on the problems you face, there may appear to be several options for handling a particular situation. In truth, while a particular situation may be complex and have many issues involved, I believe we can handle things in one of 4 basic ways based on what I call the 4 basic life perspectives.
The Four Life Perspectives
Read the following descriptions to see which one best describes you:
1) The Worrying Willy – You often find yourself anxious and worried about life and the problems you face. You get concerned about the state of your bank account, the future health of your spouse, the safety of your home or if you'll keep your job, while, some of your concerns are based on legitimate issues, you also recognize that some of The things you worry about are not worth your attention, and yet you can not seem to stop yourself.
2) The Optically-Challenged Optimist – While fewer in numbers than the other categories, those of us who fit into this category, are still easily recognizable because of their enthusiasm and vocal optimism on every issue these people can sometimes get a bad rap from those Around them who become irritated or annoyed by their appearance immunity to life's problems. Life could be totally rosy for these people were it not for the fact that, due to their blind optimism, they fail to recognize problems before they become serious and often become very reactive in how they deal with obstacles.
3) The Negative Nancy – The Negative Nancy is the antithesis of the Optically Challenged Optimist. Negative Nancies also often very vocal, can find something to complain about in any situation. These people have a unique ability to find the worst in people and situations. They are also determined to focus on the negative no matter how much positivity might also be present in a situation.
4) The Positive Realist – The positive realist, as I call it, is someone who can look at the positive without losing sight of the facts. Unlike the Optically-Challenged Optimist, the Positive Realist will not fail to pay bills, or get into trouble due to a failure to address the facts.
Similarly, these people do not let the weight of the world's problems beat them up because they know that we can not make things better by feeling defeated. The positive realist addresses the realities of their world but rather than feeling hopeless or disillusioned, they use their positive energy to try to make things better.
Odds are good that you find bits of yourself in each of these descriptions. The descriptions above are charicatures of people. There are few REAL people who would exemplify all of the characteristics of one of these categories. And while I do not for a minute suggest that we should all the theike, we SHOULD all try to become POSITIVE REALISTS.
When you start to feel like negativity or worry is starting to creep into your thinking, I urge you take immediate action. A touch of negativity is normal. The problem is that a touch of negativity can quickly become a pattern of negativity. It can grow into frequent or even constant negative thinking.
When this happens it can be very difficult to turn ourselves around. We get into a funk and find it tough to get pumped up again.
So, the next time you feel negativity start to creep into your thinking, make a conscious effort to try to see the positive. When it looks like there is nothing to be happy about, make a list of all of the things you have to be thankful for. The change will not happen right away, but over time, you'll become a more positive, and happy person.
Every Obstacle is an Opportunity in Disguise
This is a life-lesson that I teach in all of my presentations. While we can not avoid the problems that we face in life, what we CAN do is use a positive attitude to transform the obstacles we face into opportunities.
If you look hard enough, with a positive outlook, I really believe that you can turn any obstacle you face in your life into an opportunity. This is a lesson I've learned over years of facing obstacles in my own life.
From the first day of my life I've been dealing with obstacles. Born with a congenital heart defect, my life nearly ended before it began. Less than 24hrs after I was born I was put on a medical helicopter and transported to the Isaac Walton Killam Children's Hospital for emergency open-heart surgery.
Deemed a very risky procedure at that time, doctors were quick to warn my parents that the valve surgery that I would go may well kill me. However, without it, I would certainly not survive. So we went ahead …
I was very fortunate. The surgeons did an amazing job. Within a few months I was able to go home with my parents for this first time. Unfortunately, my journey was far from over. A year later, almost to the day, I had more problems and doctors decided that I needed another surgery.
Again, the surgery went well but the doctors were quick to warn my parents that I was far from being out of the woods. They warned my parents that I would never be a normal kid. I would always have to take medication. I would have to see my cardiologist at least twice a year, and I would quite likely not be able to do much of what "normal" kids could. The doctors were partly right …
There were doctors appointments and from the time I can first remember, I've had to take medication. But I persisted my condition, I was able to do things that the doctors never thought I could.
Both of parents were physical education teachers and they encouraged me to be as active as I could be. I played soccer, basketball and baseball. I ran track and cross country. Despite my continued heart problems, I was able to live an active and mostly normal life.
I say "mostly normal" because despite being able to effectively deal with most of my health issues, there was one issue that I had to face each and every day. I was small. Not just a little short. Not just a bit smaller than the other kids in my class. I was SHORT. I was always the smallest kid in my class and by grade three or four I was usually shorter than the kids in grade below mine too. Even now, I stand at just 4'11 ".
Because I was small, I had to CONVINCE the other kids to let me play football in the school yard. I had to work twice as hard as my teams on my basketball teams just to keep up. My size put me at a disadvantage in many ways.
As a kid, being different in any way is hard. Being short was particularly hard because the difference was so immediately visible. I was teased relentlessly. "Shorty", "Short-stuff", "Small-Fry" and "Pip Squeek" were just a few of the hundreds of names that I was called.
At first, the names upset me a lot. I felt left out and alone like I was somehow less a person than my friends. But with the help of encouraging parents, a few good friends and supportive teachers, I was able to build my self-confidence so that when the names came, they had less and less effect on me.
During those early years of my life, I hated the fact that I was teased and I was not too fond of the people who did it either! But now, twenty plus years later, I can see that being small has been a great opportunity in my life. Being small has been an opportunity because dealing with the adversity I faced has made me a stronger person and helped me to deal with the other problems I've had to face along the way.
Things get more complicated
In 1991 I faced one of the largest obstacles of my life. I went to the congenital heart disease clinic for my regularly scheduled check-up and Dr. Nantin, my cardiologist, came to me with what was then life-altering news. My heart condition was growing increasingly more complicated. Now in addition the valve problems that I had had since birth, I had developed a condition called atrial fibrulation. The top two chambers of my heart, the atria, were no longer beating. As a result my heart function was deteriorating.
Dr. Nantin came in and told me at just twelve years old that I had to stop any activity that would put undo strain on my heart. Because my heart was now working harder just to supply my body with blood when at rest, putting extra demand on my heart, by doing things like running, climbing stairs or lifting weights, I was putting myself at high risk for cardiac arrest.
My world ended in that moment. For a thirteen year old, finding out that you can not do what you love to do is the end of the world. Dr. Nantin might as well have told me that I was not allowed to eat anymore, sports was so much the center of my world. It was the way I expressed myself. It was the source of my self-esteem, it was the way I socialized with friends, it was the way I defined who I was. Without sports, what was left?
After a period of feeling sorry for myself, I came to the realization that I had a choice. I could sit and sulk, or I could find something ELSE to do with my life.
Now do not misunderstand, this did not happen overnight. It did not happen in a week or even two. In fact, it was probably several months to a year before I began to seek out other avenues of self-fulfillment. For a long time, I simply rebelled against the doctors and continued to play sports even though I was not supposed to. My parents had taken me out of all organized team events, but they could not stop me from sneaking pick-up games of basketball with my brothers and friends, or playing football in the backyard when they were not watching.
I continued to "rebel" in that way until a fateful day in the winter of 1993 when I got a wake-up call as to exactly how serious my condition had become.
I was living with my family in Indiana. My parents were taking their masters degrees at the University of Indiana and the whole family, Mom, Dad, my three brothers and I, were living in a three bedroom apartment in the family residency on campus.
On a cool fall day Dad and I had been out running errands and came home to find the habit slow elevators in our building both occupied. We decided to take the stairs to our apartment on the seventh floor …
As we walked I could feel my breathing becoming more worked and my heart beating harder and faster. This was not completely unusual but I knew that something was not right. I should have told my Dad how I was feeling and stopped to catch my breath. But we were at the sixth floor at this point, just one more to go and we'd be home anyway.
As we reached the top of the stairs, my heart was pounding so hard I could feel it in my throat and in my head. We were on level ground now though, not climbing anymore, so I figured it would slow down. It did not … I remember seeing the door to the apartment and my Mom opening the door …
The next thing I remembered was the paramedic kneeling beside me putting an oxygen mask on my face. I'd late learn that I had gone unconscious as Dad and I had reached the door. The paramedics put me on a stretcher and bought me by ambulance to the university hospital.
After a lot of investigation, the exact cause of the incident was not decided. The doctors suggested that what likely happened was that my body was asking my heart for more blood than it could pump with its reduced function. Since the body was not getting the oxygenated blood it needed, I passed out. A simple explanation, but it did not make me feel any better.
That "cardiac incident" as the doctors called it, was a real wake-up call to me. Until that moment I'd been able to forget, or ignore my heart condition because, with the exception of my size, there were no immediately obvious signs of it. Day to day, I was not affected by it at all. Now in an instant, that had changed.
Over the next several years my condition ever so slowly declined. So slowly in fact, that I hardly noticed it was happening. Unlike a heart attack or a car accident, heart disease often doesnt change your life in an instant. Certainly in my case, it took years for me to decline to my absolute worst.
Fortunately for me, by the time I reached my lowest point, I was mentally ready for it. I've had years of training in how to find the positive in the most negative of situations, and I used that positive perspective on life to help me survive.
So what do you do when you face hardship and struggle? Do you dwell on the negative? Some do. Some people will find themselves in a negative situation and with a negative perspective on life, they immediately have a negative reaction.
The people will react in a number of negative ways, none of which help them deal effectively with the sitatution. Some people find themselves facing an obstacle in their life and start to play the "poor me" game. They come down with a severe case of "victimitis".
For someone suffering from "victimitis" everything that "happens to them" is a crime. Whether it's being stuck in traffic or finding out the item they want on the menu is sold out, the person suffering from victimism takes it personally. They will feel like whatever is happening to them is because someone out there, has it in for them.
I use the phrase, "happens to them" because that's is how someone with victimitis feels. The feel as thought they have no control over their lives. They have no ownership over what happens. Things just come at them, the world HAPPENS TO THEM and they are forced to deal with it.
If you are ever going to live the life you want, you can not allow yourself to suffer from victimitis. You have to take some responsibility for your life and realize that life does not happen to us. Life Happens. It's up to us to make life into what we want it to be.
So the next time you're faced with a problem in your life, stop. Take a step back and evaluate if there's any way that this seemingly negative situation could hold un-seen benefits. I promise you that if you can stay positive, eventually you will come to find there is an opportunity waiting to be sorted.