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Climb (or Blow Up) Every Mountain: Five Steps to Overcoming Obstacles

By: Winston Scott
Last updated 8/5/2010

Everyone faces personal and professional obstacles throughout life. These may be financial, physical or emotional, or based on gender, class or race. But you can become your own biggest obstacle when you allow fear and self-doubt to stand in the way of your success.

Obstacles are like mountains; they’re not going to move themselves. You have to take action to overcome them. You can scale the mountain or go around it, reduce it to a molehill with dynamite or dig a tunnel straight through it.

Differences between Obstacles and Problems
  • Obstacles are more than just giant problems. Problems “occur,” whereas obstacles are already “there.”
  • Problems are more finite than obstacles. Problems rarely last forever.
  • You seek to solve problems to achieve the best possible outcome, but, even if you take no action, a problem will reach some resolution eventually, though it may not be the outcome you’d like. An obstacle won’t change itself or go away unless you do something about it.

Steps to Conquer the Mountain

There is no magic formula for conquering obstacles, but the following strategies will help you reduce a daunting mountain into a stepping stone to success.

  1. Believe in yourself. Norman Vincent Peale said it best: “Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture...Do not build up obstacles in your imagination.”

    The first step to conquering obstacles is to realize that the answer lies within you. Maturity and experience will give you the confidence that you can overcome any impediment. As a leader, it’s up to you to convince your team that it has the ability to overcome obstacles.

  2. Seek help. Ask for guidance and support from a mentor, team, classmate or teacher. You don’t have to overcome any obstacle solo. If a key executive leaves your organization at a crucial time, even if the loss is devastating, you should realize you have many resources to help overcome that obstacle, both within and outside the organization. If you are a member or leader of a team, seek the help of appropriate experts on that team. Bring together everyone you can think of throughout your sphere of influence and form a task force to overcome the obstacle together.

  3. Be like Mike. In the words of basketball great Michael Jordan, “If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” Try to remove emotion from the situation as soon as possible. Use your rational mind to figure out what you’re up against. If a competitor beats you to market with a new product, a short period of rage and confusion may be appropriate. When “disaster” initially hits, it may seem larger than life, but if you can step back and look at it realistically, often the solution becomes apparent to you. In this case, for example, you need to make your customers aware of why your product is different (and better) than the competition’s.

  4. Setback? Or catastrophe? Step back and try to put the situation into perspective. How big is the obstacle, really? When you calmly and thoroughly examine the problem, you may find that the obstacle isn’t as overwhelming as you thought it was. It may only seem immovable. For example, if an important, long-term customer is dissatisfied with your organization and intimates that it might defect to the competition, you may have a lot of work to do to keep them, but it’s not a catastrophe unless you do nothing and you lose that valuable customer.

    On the other hand, you may assess the magnitude of the obstacle and determine that it is at least as overwhelming as it first seemed. For example, if you discover that your VP of finance has left the country with millions, such a big obstacle may tempt you to turn tail and run yourself. Instead, consider the obstacle’s potential impact: what’s the worst-case scenario and what’s the time frame in which that scenario is likely to occur? You’ll need to act immediately, taking whatever steps you deem necessary to stabilize the business until you and your team can determine how to proceed.

  5. Break it down. When you know the real dimensions of the obstacle, begin looking for ways to break it down, dividing it into smaller, manageable parts or actions. Assign each task to people on your team or to appropriate groups in your organization so that people can work together to bring about a resolution. If the corporate culture is change-resistant, you’ll need to retrain, reorient and reengage your people, one step at a time.

The Other Side of the Mountain

Thomas Paine said, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly; ’tis dearness only that gives everything its value.” In the thick of the fight to overcome an obstacle, you may not believe it, but the more obstacles you conquer, the easier the process becomes. Your confidence will grow with each success. You may come to believe you can conquer a whole range of “mountains.”

About the Author(s)

Winston Scott Winston Scott is a speaker, consultant, and retired astronaut who has logged a total of 24 days in space. He is a retiree of NASA and the U.S. Navy and the author of the book Reflections from Earth Orbit, based on his experiences in space. He is currently a research professor in the Department of Aeronautics at the Florida Institute of Technology and is executive director of the Florida Space Authority at Cape Canaveral. For more information, visit www.winstonescott.com