Get Rid of Your Inner “Obstacle Man”

“Nothing stops the man who desires to achieve. Every obstacle is simply a course to develop his achievement muscle. It’s a strengthening of his powers of accomplishment.” – Thomas Carlyle

If you work for a normal company or have normal friends or come from a normal family, your schemes for making a better life for yourself will be met by all sorts of dire warnings — some sensible and some crazy, but all given to you under the banner of concern and common sense.

“It’s certainly an exciting idea,” people will say to you, “but have you any idea how much that will cost you?”

“And what will you do if it doesn’t work out?”

“How do you know you can trust those numbers?”

“And what will happen if . . .?”

Norman Vincent Peale tells this story:

“The directors of [a] firm had a project under consideration which involved considerable expense and some definite hazards as well as success possibilities. In the discussions regarding this venture, the obstacle man would invariably say, and always with a scholarly air (invariably this type acts wise, probably a cover-up for inner doubt feelings), ‘Now just a moment. Let’s consider the obstacles involved.’

“Another man, who said very little but who was respected by his associates for his ability and achievements and for a certain indomitable quality which characterized him, presently spoke up and asked, ‘Why do you constantly emphasize the obstacles in this proposition instead of the possibilities?’

“‘Because,’ replied the obstacle man, ‘to be intelligent one must always be realistic, and it is a fact that there are certain defining obstacles in connection with this project. What attitude would you take toward these obstacles, may I ask?’

“The other man unhesitatingly replied, ‘Why I would just remove them, that’s all, and then I would forget them.’

“‘But,’ said the obstacle man, ‘that is easier said than done. You say you would remove them and then you would forget them. May I ask if you have any technique for removing obstacles and for forgetting them that the rest of us have never discovered?’

“A slow smile came over the face of the other man as he said, ‘Son, I have spent my entire life removing obstacles, and I never yet saw one that couldn’t be romoved, provided you had enough faith and guts and were willing to work.'”

Faith, guts, and the willingness to work. That’s the combination. But where does the faith come from? For Andrew Carnegie, it came from an overriding belief in the power of God to intervene in men’s lives. For me, faith must come from the habits we establish by our actions.

Carnegie says, “The first thing to do about an obstacle is simply to stand up to it and not complain about it or whine under it but forthrightly attack it. Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You will find that they haven’t half the strength you think they have. Just stand up to it, that’s all, and don’t give way under it, and it will finally break. You will break it. Something has to break and it won’t be you, it will be the obstacle.”

Successfully standing up to obstacles will give you a sense of accomplishment and will cement in your memory the feeling of your power. By developing a habit of resisting resistance, you build into your psyche an important habit of success.

But not all obstacles can be extirpated. Some are best dealt with in more subtle ways. A wise man once said, “If I can’t get through a trouble, I try to go around it, and if I can’t go around it, I try to get under it, and if I can’t get under it, I try to go over it, and if I can’t go over it, I just plow right through it.”

That’s the course of action I recommend:

  • First, ask yourself if the obstacle can be ignored. Eighty percent of the problems you face will go away the moment you stop paying attention to them.
  • Next, see if you can get around the obstacle by using your wits. If you can accomplish the same goal by using cleverness instead of brute force, why not?
  • If you can’t get over, under, or around the obstacle, stand up to it firmly. This won’t be easy, particularly if you are not used to confrontation — but the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Thomas Jefferson had a similar idea about how to handle difficult situations. He put it this way: “Always take hold of things by the smooth handle.”