Everybody wants success. It’s the ultimate goal. But when you take the first step to achieving any meaningful goal, you will run into roadblocks.
You’ve heard it before: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.”
Setbacks create opportunities for you to become stronger, wiser and better.
Turn every obstacle into an advantage
Faced with impossible situations, the likes of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, John D. Rockefeller, Amelia Earhart, Andrew Carnegie, Epictetus, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Thomas Edison turned obstacles into opportunities.
These men and women were not insanely brilliant, lucky, or gifted. Their success came from the timeless philosophical principle of turning adversities into opportunities.
Without a philosophy to guide your work and life, you will relentlessly succumb to your excuses, distractions, and impediments.
Some people see obstacles as a puzzle to solve. Others see obstacles as an opportunity to grow. Others see obstacles as threats. Still, others see obstacles as meaning they cannot succeed.
Your view of barriers to achieving your goals affects how you react.
Amelia Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Amelia overcame the roadblocks that stood in her way and made history. She observed, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”
Benjamin Franklin dropped out of school at age ten. His parents could only afford to keep him in school until his tenth birthday. That didn’t stop him from pursuing his education. He taught himself through voracious reading and eventually went on to invent the lightning rod and bifocals.
Van Gogh is considered one of the greatest artists of all time, yet he sold only one painting the entire time he was alive. Even though he made no money, he still painted over 900 works of art.
Though his persistence went unnoticed when he was alive, Van Gogh proves you don’t need external validation to be proud of the work you create. He once said, “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?
General Dwight D. Eisenhower once made this announcement when the Allied Expeditionary Forces of the US lost their shit in the face of the rush of German troops (a final blitzkrieg of 13 divisions totaling 200,000 men).
“The present situation is to be regarded as opportunity for us and not disaster,” he commanded. “There will be only cheerful faces at this conference table.”
The Allied forces went on to win the goddamn Second World War.
If you see obstacles as the world being against you or as meaning you failed, you are likely to give up. But the obstacle is always the way.
In his book, “The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, Ryan Holiday said:
“All great victories, be they in politics, business, art, or seduction, involved resolving vexing problems with a potent cocktail of creativity, focus, and daring. When you have a goal, obstacles are actually teaching you how to get where you want to go — carving you a path. “The Things which hurt,” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “instruct.”
Failure shows us the way — by showing us what isn’t the way. Failure is only a setup for a comeback. Failure builds resilience and endurance. With each failure, you’ll learn something new. In the process of creating or building what you want, you develop strength, wisdom, and unique perspective.
Epictetus says, “Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.”
Every obstacle is an opportunity to improve
“I will persist until I succeed. Always will I take another step. If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another. In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult. I know that small attempts, repeated, will complete any undertaking.” — Og Mandino
When you work on any big goal, your motivation can wax and wane. Sometimes you’ll feel motivated; sometimes you won’t. But it’s not your motivation that will produce results — it’s your action. The decision to persist. To make progress even when you don’t feel like it.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” says Marcus Aurelius
Persistence allows you to keep taking action even when you don’t feel motivated to do so, and therefore you keep accumulating results.
On Dec. 10, 1914, a massive explosion erupted in West Orange, New Jersey. Ten buildings in legendary inventor Thomas Edison’s plant, which made up more than half of the site, were engulfed in flames. Machinery worth millions and all the papers pertaining to his lifelong research were burnt to ashes.
Later, at the scene of the blaze, Edison was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.”
Thomas Edison’s persistence was exemplified in his famous quote, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
A.H. Wilson, his vice president and general manager, told The Times after the flames died down: “There’s only one thing to do, and that is to jump right in and rebuild.”
People who persist no matter the obstacles, sooner or later are bound to succeed. Despite the setbacks, it’s in your best interest to turn obstacles into stepping stones. Don’t choose to complain, or worse, to just give up. These choices do nothing to get you across the finish line.
Elbert Hubbard once made a profound statement about the importance of not given up. She said “A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.”
Giving up is not an option
“If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic that I regard as being most highly correlated with success, whatever the field, I would pick the trait of persistence. Determination. The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down seventy times and get up off the floor saying. “Here comes number seventy-one!”~ Richard M. Devos
A lack of persistence or “giving up too soon” is one of the most common reasons for failure in any endeavor. A little more persistence, a little more effort is sometimes what you need to get closer to the goal.
Once you create a belief that there is an obstacle you can’t overcome, you stop looking for solutions.
Greatness is not measured by what is accomplished. It is measured by how many times you pick yourself up and try again.
If you are facing an impediment, remember what Leo Babauta once wrote about choosing to move in the direction of your dreams even if it’s uncomfortable.
“When things get tough or uncomfortable, we tell ourselves: it’s OK to quit, it doesn’t matter, we’ll do it next time, we’re not disciplined enough, we suck at this, we can’t do it, it’s too hard, it would be nice to take a break, life is too short to struggle, we deserve a reward, just this once won’t matter, we’re going to fail, it’s better to fail quietly, we just don’t feel like it right now, let’s not think about this, hey a squirrel! So what can we do if our story is working against us? Change the damn story. Create a song to sing about yourself at the epic hero of your dreams. Sing this song daily, and be proud of it. Go after the dream, fight the forces of distraction and dullness and self-doubt, rise up to be your best self. You are the writer of your story, the composer of your song, and every moment is a chance to rewrite it, a new draft ready to be crafted into something better.”
Challenges scare you but, if you do nothing, they grow and become unsustainable situations.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” says Maya Angelou.
The journey of life can be wonderful, terrible, exciting, frightening, enlightening, confusing, or a beautiful maze.
The bitter truth is, the more you accomplish, the more things will stand in your way. There are always more obstacles, bigger challenges. You’re always fighting uphill. Get used to it and train accordingly.
When J.K. Rowling said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life,” she hit the nail on the head.
Whatever the obstacle is, tough times happen for everyone. Understand that each battle is only one of many and that you can use it to make the next one easier. It’s important to mentally prepare yourself for the changes that will come down the road.
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