Everyone experiences challenges. They may vary in size and frequency but are universal to the human experience. Whatever path you decide to take has difficulties along the way because anything that alters the status quo and forces humans to alter behaviours, attitudes, and beliefs no matter how small is a stressor. Seasons change, we grow older, people get sick, accidents happen, plans change, and priorities shift.
How obstacles shape us as humans
Who we are is a culmination of our experiences— what we’ve seen, experienced, and been taught. Obstacles are a huge part of our formation as humans. They shape our worldview, our thought processes, what coping skills we use, and what drives us. Obstacles can be physical due to genetics or injury, financial, relational, emotional, inevitable, or self-imposed. The mere presence of an obstacle can affect you, but it will not change you. What can change you is how you react to the obstacle.
Do you place blame? Point fingers? Give up? Or do you get up, find your bearings, and overcome? Our responses to challenges are what have a dramatic impact on who we become and how we will react in the future. Obstacles add stress and, over time, make or break your character.
Let me elaborate…
Every decision we make has consequences. There can be positive or negative and, sometimes, a mixture of both. In order to have a chance at becoming an Olympic athlete you have to sacrifice, or exchange, time that you would spend with friends and family for practice and competitions. Instead of eating what your friends are eating, you will be on a specific training diet to maximize energy and to gain, lose, or maintain weight depending on the sport. It is your choice to pursue that goal as well as how you choose to work toward that goal daily. Not every athlete who pursues Olympic level status will achieve it even if they do everything right. It is competition at the highest level and only the best of the best make it. However, if your goal is to be an Olympian, but you regularly skip practices and ignore your coach’s training regimen, it guarantees failure.
Sometimes we are impacted by the consequences of other people’s actions. When someone mentors you through a tough time, they can lift you up with their love and support giving you strength to grow and move forward. That can be a beautiful consequence that I wish happened more often than it does. On the negative side of consequences from others’ decisions, we have someone choosing to drive under the influence. If they crash and cause the death of your loved one, life as you knew it is forever changed.
Difference Between Successful and Unsuccessful People
It is perfectly normal to have negative emotions when difficulties arise, but it’s how we react to obstacles that are in front of us that determine our character. It boils down to two questions:
- Do you let your emotions control you or do you control your emotions?
- Are you willing to accept responsibility for your life, actions, and behaviors?
Unsuccessful people are negative and angry when they have challenges. They blame others for their problems or shut down in depression. It is a selfish response as the focus is on them and pulls others down into a negative web of toxic emotions.
Successful people grieve, vent, and get angry too. What makes them different is that they reign in their emotions, put their situation in perspective, and acknowledge ways they can learn and grow from their obstacles. The saying “turn obstacles into opportunities” may be cliche, but true. Successful people inspire others with their courage in the face of adversity and strength in overcoming what unsuccessful people deem as “impossible.”
Ways to use obstacles to make you stronger
- Embrace negative emotions
Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Cry, vent, and be real with yourself. These are all valid human emotions that need to be processed in order to move forward with life.
- Acknowledge the impact of the obstacle or event
Understanding how difficulties affect you is just as important as moving on because if you do not, you can never truly move on. There will be emotions and behaviors that spring from what happened and it will perpetuate poor coping skills and negative patterns.
- Give yourself grace
Be patient with yourself. Change takes time. Situations do not magically resolve and some scenarios are truly more tragic and difficult to work through. Do not beat yourself up if you made a mistake or slip back into old patterns. Learn from those mistakes and work on being better each and every time you face challenges. I promise that there will be no shortage of opportunities to practice because life tends to be a series of challenges.
- Find the positives
In a sea of stress, anxiety, sadness, and frustration, look for the good. Is this challenge stretching you to become more patient? Is it giving you a new perspective on life or situations? Are you more grateful for what you have? Sometimes it takes time to see the good when a situation is truly horrible, but down the road there will be someone you can help who is going through a similar circumstance.
- Use your support system
Humans are social creatures. We need interaction with others. When we isolate ourselves out of fear or rejection or not wanting to burden others, we further hurt ourselves. Even if no one else understands what you are going through, there is immense healing power when someone sits with you and holds you through the tears. Love may not fix the problem, but it can carry you through until you can stand on your own again.
Just be mindful of who you turn to for support. Are they people who expend a lot of negative energy when life does not go their way or do they have a reputation becoming stronger on the other side of challenges? You will become who you surround yourself with so if you want to be more successful when facing challenges, find lean on successful people.