“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” Booker T. Washington, African-American educator and head of the Tuskegee Institute.
As much as we’re told—and tell ourselves—to reframe challenges as opportunities and to stretch ourselves to reach new goals, on a day-to-day basis, it’s hard to keep the faith. We know what we should do, but in the hustle and flow of our jobs, we often forget—especially when we have too much on our plates for more than a few days.
But ironically, conquering obstacles can be the experiences that teach us the most, (<---Click to Tweet) if we can just make it through. Assuming you have ways to blow off steam and other factors haven’t left you under too much strain, you can grow more from experiencing tough times and obstacles to productivity than you might imagine, especially as you struggle to make it out from under. It’s no fun as you trudge forward, and your productivity may suffer in the short term; but the next time you find yourself in a similar situation, you’ll know how to handle it.
What Doesn’t Kill You…
While challenges can be rewarding when they’re not too disproportionate to your abilities, no one really enjoys obstacles. An avalanche or a fallen tree across the road, whether literal or figurative, just represents something to get past. But you can come to appreciate them after you’ve made it through, if you learn something from the experience.
Here are four critical lessons that facing and overcoming obstacles can teach you.
1. How to avoid them. There’s a saying: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” We can extend this to obstacles, whether of the physical, procedural, or crisis variety. If you’ve never experienced the precursors of a particular type of obstacle, you may not recognize when it’s coming on. But once you have, you can stay alert for the appearance of those signs in the future… and remember how you handled them before and do so again…or shame on you.
2. The Silver Lining approach. It’s an ill wind that blows no good. So once past an obstacle, make a conscious effort to find the good things the obstacle has forced. I know a teacher whose school district once faced a tax rollback resulting in smaller budgets for the schools, causing a great deal of difficult change and cutbacks; but in the end, it cleared away a lot of deadwood and made the district run more smoothly, despite employing fewer personnel.
3. They show you what you’re made of. Crises and obstacles test your mettle. They strip away facades to reveal what you can and can’t do when under the gun. An obstacle may force you to reach deep inside to find new reserves, invent new ways to succeed, find ways to deal with unpleasant people… or it may stop you altogether. Either way, you learn what to do in the future, or what to improve upon before you can move forward again.
4. They build inner strength. Overcoming obstacles builds character. The process teaches you self-responsibility, in two ways: you learn the real meaning of “if it’s to be, it’s up to me,” and if you caused the obstacle—for example, by overextending yourself—you know not to do it again. In many cases, you become more mindful in your work, focusing tightly on the moment. This forces you to do a better job or face the consequences. It also prepares you to face greater obstacles in the future by boosting your confidence when you prove you can succeed.
…Makes You Stronger
Obstacles are what happen to us when we’re making other plans. By that, I mean they tend to happen unexpectedly. You may suddenly face a conflict when two departments won’t work together. A literal flood may devastate your office. A key person may leave suddenly. Whatever happens, you have no choice but to face the obstacle, reframe it as a challenge, and push on through. It may be painful, it may be paralyzing, and it may prove well-nigh impossible. But your only other choice is to crumple, and that’s no choice at all. Remember these four benefits, put your chin up, and press on!
© 2016 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (January 18, 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.