When pursuing a goal, many people think challenges must be slain, like a dragon. That is simply not true. All challenges come in two broad types – external and internal – and it’s important to understand the dynamics of both and how best to deal with them.
Every year, I learn a little more about how my disability affects my life. It would be easy for me to believe that if I didn’t have this disability everything would be okay. However, that kind of narrative doesn’t help me understanding my challenges and is a recipe for stagnation.
I have been there before. It was tough for me to find a job after graduating college because even if I found employment, it was a logistical nightmare to get to work. Over the years since, I have hired many people and I always gauge whether the logistics of bringing that person on board makes financial sense for both of us. So, I cannot imagine what my old interviewers were thinking as they sat across from me, pondering what my disabilities meant for their business. After a few (understandable) rejections, I could have consoled myself that they were prejudiced. But I know better today.
Now I understand that every challenge has multiple angles and moving forward requires planning accordingly. Let’s unpack all these different parts of a challenge.
An obstacle is any psychological or physical acting as a barrier to your success. This could be a sales rejection, a physical injury or a roadblock – anything that gets in the way of a goal. Think of an obstacle like a bump in a rug too big for a room: you can push it down, but it will just pop up in a new place. Yet within every obstacle hides the key to dealing with it – if you learn to engage with it in the right way. For instance, a diabetic knows they must regulate their blood sugar and an anxious person knows they need to take time out during the day. Part of dealing correctly with an obstacle is understanding that it only evolves over time and never completely disappears.
Reality has two sides: reality itself and your reaction to reality. And just like there is a long list of possible life challenges, there is also an infinity of reactions to those challenges. For instance, you could try complaining, stressing out, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance or anything in between. And don’t forget the good ole fight-or-flight response! Emotions like these are impossible to avoid, but they can be managed.
Negative ways of dealing with challenges can include stress eating, retail therapy, alcohol, drugs, belligerency or taking frustrations out on other people. Positive ways of dealing with challenges could involve a good gym workout, meditation, prayer, sitting in a jacuzzi, talking with a psychologist, reading a book, journaling or anything that creates momentum in your life. The last thing you want to do is turn a challenge into an obstacle, like avoiding travel for work because you hate standing in a TSA line.
Success demands taking on larger and larger challenges, each with their own steep learning curve. When I decided to speak in public and write books, I had no idea how publish a book or deliver a keynote speech. These were massive learning curves for me, but I never would have climbed them if I kept holding tightly to my current knowledge base. Climbing the learning curve means seeking out information that can help you be more efficient and productive. What often limits people is that they don’t make continued education part of their overall strategy.
Don’t assume you know what it takes to be successful. A strategy is always better than a goal. Try to refine a strategy that works for you. When I started writing a book, I assumed the process would require eight hours of writing each day and an English degree. But screen writer Jay Lavender suggested I hire someone and just get some stories down on paper. Twenty years later, my writing process includes spending between 45-90 minutes writing 900-1500 words a few times a week, every week. This is a simple process that lets me be wildly productive and fits neatly into the rest of my schedule.
Traveling Out of Your Comfort Zone
Find a way to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. After all, on the way up the learning curve it is impossible to avoid tough conversations, dodge reading complex books, get up early and many other critical activities. You must embrace the uncomfortable to deal with life’s challenges.
Not all challenges are internal. Some are caused by your environment and understanding this is crucial to success. You don’t want to be the guy who opens a ski shop in the middle of Hawaii. On the other hand, a wise real estate investor knows to alter their approach the moment the market changes. Remember that a big part of your environment is also the people who surround you. Do your friends give you a blow torch to solve your problems or a wet blanket to cover them up?
What can transform challenges into nasty obstacles is blowing them out of proportion with the stories we tell ourselves. Even the best opportunity can be scuttled by telling yourself it is impossible to reach. We all have limited resources of time, knowledge and energy, but there are ways to get around these limitations if you let yourself ignore the taboos. For instance, asking for help may be a sign of weakness in some circles. But to truly transform your life, try to see that the options for self-improvement are effectively endless, because they are.
The Limits of What is Possible
Here’s some bad news: life is full of limitations. A starting pitcher cannot pitch five games in a row and no NBA player can play a full 48 minutes in every game. But limitations can also reveal opportunities since they clarify what’s possible. We each have finite resources and shouldn’t waste them on the impossible. This sort of lesson is good to learn early in life, especially if you develop a romantic interest in a married person. After all, stalking is illegal in most states…
Limitations on what you are willing to do
However, just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s the right action for you. There are opportunity costs for everything. A vacation in Hawaii makes sense for someone living in California, but a visit to the Bahamas would be a better choice for a person in New York. Equally, if you have a chance to double your income, but the job requires working a hundred hours a week, eating fast food at your desk and time away from the family, is it really worth it? At the same time, beware of lame excuses. If you are unwilling to put the proper energy or avoid picking up a book to learn, you will only exacerbate the challenges that you face.
Decisions made in the past have a direct impact on your current life. To paraphrase James Clear in his book Atomic Habits, your financial success is an indicator of your past spending habits just like your health is a lagging indicator of the yesterday’s lunch. In the same way, if you did not invest in education, you will be responsible for the lack of opportunities today. The good news is that you can start changing your future life by making better choices today.
It is far too easy to blame single things like the economy, other people or corporate America when in reality each of our challenges are a result of a combination of external and internal factors. Plus, just because something is true doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to tackle each challenge as it arrives. When a competitor enters your neighborhood, it’s your responsibility to adjust the business plan or risk going into liquidation.
A common misnomer in society is to disregard every challenge, ignore our ugly past and live without limits. But this path only leads to failure. Instead, aim to understand the origin of your challenges – whatever they may be – and learn how to deal with the different parts. As the saying goes, the only way to eat the elephant is one bite at a time.