I had a revelation about overcoming obstacles during a recent visit to San Diego. I was taking a walk on La Jolla Shores, my favorite beach. Partially because I grew up going there, but also because, as an adult, I find my walks there to be significantly grounding and restoring. They bring me insight, ideas, and inspiration almost every time.
This time was no different.
I walk north, like I usually do, taking a moment underneath the pier to watch the waves march towards me. One by one, their movement is fluid and consistent, and I feel the endlessness of life’s possibilities. Then, I head to the point where most people turn around:
I climb over them, to the area of beach that rarely sees anyone. It’s my favorite part. It’s that stretch of beach that brings me another level of distraction-free solitude. On this day, I only saw two people walk past me in 45 minutes.
It was a typical walk for me until my return. I didn’t know that it would be a day of overcoming challenges.
On my way back, I notice the tide rolling in. This is an unusual time of the day for this to happen. I cross the rocks and head to where I can see the shore. I take steps between sand and rocks, my feet submerged in water. My eyes are on the ground, and I’m focused. Then suddenly, a waist-high wave knocks me off balance.
I hold my phone high in the air thinking to myself, Good God! Why do I have this phone? I didn’t buy the insurance! It’s at this moment I realize that during the commotion, my left foot had collided with a rock. The saltwater began to sting the open wound. Of course, I couldn’t help but think, Well, at least my foot is being bathed in saltwater!
A book I’m reading for the second time comes to mind almost immediately, The Obstacle Is The Way – The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph by Ryan Holiday, and I literally laugh out loud at my next thought, “Life is a living workshop.”
Overcoming Obstacles One Step at a Time
I decide that, rather than panic, I need to engage. I know I can think my way through overcoming challenges with absolute calm, as long as I remain fully present with each step. Reaching into my knowledge base to guide me, I stand still and try to come up with a plan.
Strategic is my number one strength (based on the Clifton Strengthsfinder Assessment), so I engage and activate. This is the first step to overcoming obstacles. I think to myself, Deborah, what is the best possible path for the best possible outcome? This is always the question I lean on when making decisions.
The cucumber is bitter?Marcus Aurelius
Then throw it out.
There are brambles in the path? Then go around.
That’s all you need to know.
I’m in the middle of an area full of rocks that I can’t see. I just know they’re there. I can barely make out my feet beneath the water. I look at the ocean, and another high wave is heading my way. I need to move. But, instead, I’m frozen.
Obstacle Paralyzation. Sometimes when overcoming obstacles, we’re put in a place of paralysis. With awareness, that frozen moment can be used for an obstacle navigation plan.
Then it hits me. I don’t need to see the rocks. I can move by feeling my way around. I put my right foot forward and feel the ground in front of me. It’s flat, so I take a step forward. Then, I go to move my left foot, and I feel a slope, which means that there’s another rock.
Then, another wave crashes into me. Obstacles are negotiable, I think to myself.
Sometimes when faced with an obstacle, we feel like we need to have absolute clarity about the solution. Often, that is the very thing that slows our progress. I have experienced this more than one time in my life while overcoming obstacles. The truth is – you can feel your way through to the solution, keeping your awareness high and taking that “next right step,” one step at a time.
I brace myself, and begin to time the incoming tides. I take small steps, watching the rocks beneath me. Then, I realize, between tides, I have a brief moment where I can see the rocks before another wave comes and covers them again.
That’s it! I have my obstacle navigation plan. I decide to feel and step slowly when I can’t see the rocks, but the second they become visible, I’ll surge and move faster.
I concentrate and pause only when a wave threatens to knock me off balance, but I never stop. I move forward slowly, then fast, slowly, then fast until my feet hit the shore.
I make it to safety.
While it was just a few moments, it was a terrifying and exhilarating experience. Sure enough, my foot was a bloody mess. But, I wasn’t upset about it, because for me, the entire experience was an incredibly poignant metaphor for overcoming obstacles in normal life.
I will never look at any obstacle the same, because I realized something. Obstacles are just opportunities to challenge ourselves and the work we’ve done. There are lessons to be learned in these moments. This trip to La Jolla Shores taught me something:
The most important element of maintaining momentum is to never stop moving.
Remember these four things next time you’re overcoming an obstacle:
- Tune up your awareness, feel your way at first
- Make small moves, and pay attention when you can’t see the next step
- Surge forward when the way is clear
- Pause, but never stop
Always reach into your strengths and rely on them in these moments of crisis. They could be the difference between making it to shore and being knocked down by incoming waves.
Power Up, Power Around, Power On!
Keep striving for the extraordinary,