“Obstacles do not block the path, they are the path”. – Zen Proverb
First time I heard it, I didn’t get it.
How could obstacles be the path? Weren’t those signs of where to change strategy, think differently, or to shift in a new direction?
This concept of obstacles not standing in the way – but actually being the way sounded so strange to me.
But, that all changed one day…
It all started in first grade
Let me tell you a story. When I was in 1st grade, I loved speaking in front of people. One of my favorite things in school, at the time, was to investigate a topic, find out facts about pandas for example and then to tell everyone in my class about it:
“The giant panda is actually a bear.”
“99% of a panda’s diet consists of bamboo.”
“Pandas can poop up to 40 times per day!”
Then, during one my mini-presentations, the teacher told me: “Maria, you know, girls don’t talk so loud. You don’t need to scream.” He said this to my 7-year-old self in front of EVERYONE. Ouch.
From that day on, I didn’t enjoy public speaking anymore.
(Note: looking back I can see his clumsiness and immaturity. And yes, I’ve called him an a**hole due to that comment on several occasions. BUT, we’ve all met people who have said similar things to us. So, let’s not stay focused on what happened, but instead how we choose to deal with what happened.)
The following two decades, I had both good and bad experiences with public speaking. Some of the time, I thrived and really enjoyed the kick of talking in front of an audience. Other times, I froze and panicked.
This left me feeling confused and unsure about how to deal with my obvious obstacle on the path. One part of me really felt drawn to public speaking, another wanted to hide under a cover if someone even mentioned it.
Focus not on the hurt, but on the lesson
At this point, I had three options. One of them was to stop speaking in front of people. Another, was to do it when I had to. (Meaning: probably push myself through it, while sweating like crazy.) The third option was to shed light on the obstacle, dive into it with the purpose of learning and growing from it.
This time, I chose option number three. So, I joined Toastmasters, an organization where you can practice public speaking. First time I came, I was uncomfortable just being in the room. In silence, I begged not to be called forth and as soon as the event was done, I literally ran from the place.
But, I came back the following week. And eventually, I did my first speech called the “Ice Breaker”. With time, I became more and more comfortable with public speaking again. Slowly, I began re-connecting with that eager and enthusiastic 7-year-old girl.
Some months later, me and a friend setup workshops. We both had a desire to speak and impact others, but struggled with fear.
What would people think?
What if we froze and forgot what to talk about?
What if we would make fools out of ourselves?
Also, we wanted to be open, honest and vulnerable during the workshops – as this was the atmosphere we desired to create in the room.
Set yourself up for success
So, we decided to see the fear behind. To get clear on what was hiding beneath the surface. Then, we did everything we could to set ourselves up for success.
We made the steps forward as tiny as possible. We invited friends and family we knew would be interested in personal development. And to make sure we wouldn’t waste anyone’s time, we also invited them for breakfast. It turned out that people really liked the concept (yay!), which we then began to grow and expand from there.
I’m not saying this to get a pat on the back. I’m saying this because many times, we tend to create a life around our fears, blockages, and hinders – instead of seeing them for what they are: pointers showing us where to go and where it’s time for us to learn and grow.
Because, as you might have noticed, desires (like mine to speak in front of people) tend to stick around. As long as your heart is beating, your soul is longing to express itself in the way you’re feeling drawn to. Desires are powerful; they won’t settle or shut up due to fears or obstacles.
Mastin Kipp nailed it when he said: “Unless you’re in mortal danger, fear is a compass showing you where to go.”
Change how you look at your obstacles
You’ve heard the advice “be scared, but do it anyway” before. If that approach works for you – then great, keep going.
However, if you struggle with it, I have good news for you. I’m not saying this way will be completely pain-free (sometimes it’s necessary to push a little), but it will probably lift some heavy weight off your shoulders next time you’re faced with an obstacle.
The way is about utilizing your secret weapon. (Yeah, that’s right!) And that weapon is called: perspective. Boom!
Either you focus on the problem, struggles or difficulties – and you’re likely to discover more of that. OR you shift perspective and focus on the lesson behind. What is life trying to teach you? How are you asked to grow and develop?
As my grandpa always said, “You’re never given something in life, without being ready for it.”
For me, this meant going step by step (even crawling at times) to make myself more familiar with public speaking. To shift from “What will they think about me?” to thoughts such as “What value can I provide?” and “How can I share my stories, insights, and learnings in a way that people will enjoy?”
Last week, I held a workshop for 30 people at a yoga retreat. It went amazing and the feedback I received after was just epic. Looking back, I now see that what looked like an obstacle really was life guiding me in the right direction.
Show up for what wants to be seen
When you have an obstacle in front of you, don’t avoid it. Don’t go around it or run from it. Instead, go into it. Explore it and play with it.
Look at the fear and discomfort behind. What do you fear? What are you afraid will happen? What could be the worst case scenario and how would you deal with it?
See what wants to be seen and honor those feelings. Make sure to also give yourself cred for showing up – it takes courage to look at our shadow.
Then, look for the lesson behind the obstacle. How will learning and growing from it help you to get closer to who you really are? Lastly, start to take small and manageable steps forward. Be patient with yourself and celebrate every step forward.
Become the alchemist who transforms obstacles into growth. You got all of that in you.
Now, tell me, what’s your first step to dealing with an obstacle you currently have in your life?
Photo cred: Sofie Stenmark, Model: My Charlotte Lestander