We all encounter challenges and obstacles along the road to building a career – and along the journey of life in general, really. Some people seem as though they take these bumps completely in their stride, while some of us are completely floored when an obstacle comes along and derails our well-intentioned plans.
In fact, it might seem as though some people don’t find any obstacles in their way at all! It’s true that some of life’s challenges are more demanding than others, but none of us move through our career on a completely smooth course. Here are some basic building blocks to establishing your defences, so you’re prepared for when something comes at you and messes up your plans out of the blue.
Do you know your ‘why’? We’re not talking your life’s philosophy here – although this will come into to it to some degree. It’s about understanding the things that are really important to you. Knowing your ‘why’ will help you figure out goals that are truly important to you and help you build a life and career that is meaningful and fulfilling. Knowing your ‘why’ will help you to dig deep and find the extra motivation you need when you are confronted with obstacles and challenges.
It will give you the courage to stand your ground and take risks in the face of adversity. Because if it’s important to you, you’ll fight for it. If it’s not meaningful, then it’s difficult to find a compelling reason to do the hard yards. For more information, check out Simon Sinek’s TED talk on finding your ‘why’ where he discusses how this is the grounding principle for virtually any successful individual or business.
There’s an old joke that goes something like:
Q: ‘How do you eat an elephant?’
A: ‘In very small pieces’
While no-one is advocating eating an endangered species here, the real point that this quip is trying to make is to break things down into small, manageable chunks. Big issues can seem overwhelming, but breaking things down into smaller pieces helps to get through the tough stuff. When things seem insurmountable, try to consider a situation in all the small parts that make it up.
When you think about dealing with each small issue that is making up the entire challenge, it can make it more manageable and less overwhelming. Sometimes it’s easier to think more clearly about all of the contributing factors if you write them down, or talk them through with a trusted friend to get an objective perspective. It’s a bit like how you’d tackle a big assignment or project. Be clear about what the challenge or obstacle is and think about the strengths, knowledge and resources you have to overcome the obstacle.
The old proverb, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ really does hold a lot of weight. It means that if you talk about your challenges or problems with others, just the act of doing so will make you feel better and reduce your stress. Writing them down can also work the same way. It’s like it ‘gets it out of your head’ and reduces the amount of time and energy you spend repeatedly thinking about the problem. This will create some ‘head space’ to think about a solution.
But the real beauty of telling a friend – or a group of friends – is that they can help you find a solution. Talking about things with like-minded people can help us to view things differently and collaborate on the best action to take. Since we’re referring to famous quotes, we think that 60’s pop group The Beatles got it right when they say ‘I get by with a little help from my friends’. It’s important to reach out to your network during times of stress. Reach out and talk to someone about what’s going on for you at the moment. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel.
Sometimes when we’re working hard, and feeling tired and run down, it’s difficult to think clearly. Often when we are physically exhausted, it’s even hard to imagine that there could possibly be a way to overcome the challenges that we are currently facing. Self-care is an important part of getting through the tough times in life.
Eating a healthy, well balanced diet, staying hydrated, getting adequate sleep, and ensuring you get some exercise are all important aspects of taking care of yourself. Making sure you are doing the right things for your body will also help you clear your mind and think more logically about the issue at hand.
If you find that even after writing things down and talking with your friends, you are still struggling to find strategies to overcome your career challenges and obstacles, it might be worth looking further afield for help and support. There may be a trusted senior manager in your workplace that you feel comfortable asking for advice.
Many workplaces also have an Employee Assistance Program that provides staff with free confidential counselling and support for all sorts of issues. These programs often offer options for telephone, online and face-to-face support. You may also like to explore the option of finding a career coach or counsellor who can help you learn some strategies to deal with the challenges you are facing.
Modern society puts so much emphasis on getting things right; on being successful. Mistakes are frowned upon. We are taught that ‘losing’ and ‘being wrong’ are akin to failure. And that failing somehow makes us less competent. We are taught to fear failure. What we have lost sight of is that making mistakes is the essence of learning. Some of the most ground breaking inventions throughout history were accidently stumbled upon in the process of doing other things.
Penicillin, Post-it Notes, the pacemaker, and even the lovable slinky were all the results of spectacular failures. But even though most of us are not scientists or engineers or inventors that are likely to discover something as a result of something else going wrong, there is always much to be gained when things don’t go as planned. Failure teaches us resilience. We learn to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and continue on with life. When something doesn’t go as we’d hoped, we can learn from the experience and think about what we might do differently next time.
And sometimes when we don’t get the result that we’d planned or hoped for, it can make us consider opportunities that we may never had even contemplated if everything had been smooth sailing and gone exactly as we’d planned. Overcoming obstacles gives us problem solving skills and teaches us the value of thinking about things differently.
Being afraid to fail will hold you back from taking risks and trying new things in life. It’s important to challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone. Sometime that’s where you’ll find the ladder to climb over your obstacle.