Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

"I've always meant to learn better IT skills, but every time I'm going to sign up for the class something comes up. It would really help me at work, but..."

"I've always really wanted to get my MBA. I know it would really make a difference to my career, but it's expensive, and I've never really gotten around to getting it started. I would definitely do it next year, but..."

Is this you, or someone you know? Chances are, we all have something like this, playing as an internal monologue in the back of our minds. When we do articulate it, we always seem to try and justify why we haven't done it.

What's really stopping you?

It doesn't matter whether it's losing some weight, getting your MBA or seeing the Mardi Gras in Rio de Janeiro for yourself, we all have items on our mental 'to do' list that we never seem to get around to doing. Sometimes, it's because these things are nice ideas, but not really high on our priority lists but, more often than not, there are other barriers to us achieving our dreams.

You almost certainly know what dreams you have that you have yet failed to achieve, but do you know what the real barriers and obstacles are which are preventing you from achieving your goals? You have to be honest with yourself about what obstacles are truly in your way. Many people fall into the trap of not recognizing the real obstacles, and there are many reasons for this.

Sometimes, people want to kid themselves, sometimes, facing the music is more than they want to deal with. Sometimes, they simply aren't prepared to expend the effort it would take to reach their goal but, a lot of the time, they've simply never taken the time to consider what the barriers really are.

These barriers are important because they are opportunities to move forward. This may sound crazy but, if you have several obstacles in your way to reach a goal, each time you overcome one, it urges you forward.

A friend of mine had a dream of qualifying as a herbalist. She's settled in her career, but had been putting it off for a long while as she said she didn't have the time or money to study. Then, one day, she decided that she could either do it, or forever wonder why she didn't. She had an honest discussion with herself considered her barriers. The first was finding a course that fit around her work and home commitments. The second was how she found the time to study, and the third was how she funded her college fees.

She then started seeing these as helpful opportunities to overcome her barriers. Firstly, she found a correspondence course, where she only needed attend the college for occasional exams and tutorials, which gave her the boost she needed to approach the other barriers. She resolved to reduce her other hobby commitments and get up half an hour earlier each day, giving her 7 hours study time a week. Finally was the matter of finance.

Because she'd never approached the other obstacles, she'd never looked into funding or discussed it with her family. Once she'd taken the opportunities presented by the first two barriers, it gave her the impetus to deal with that final hurdle. She investigated and found a grant that would pay half her fees, which she applied for and won. Secondly, she told her friends and family that she was having a yard sale to help pay for the rest of her fees.

She cleared out her closet and house, and got things together for a yard sale. Suddenly, her friends all started finding more things for her to sell towards her goal, and her dad even gave her a very good camera he no longer needed for her to sell. She raised a further 20% of her fees this way. Finally, she looked into low-interest student loans, and was able to spread the rest of the cost in an affordable way. She's now halfway through her studies and well on her way to achieving her dream!

By clearly confronting her obstacles, my friend essentially gave herself a track to run on. It might have turned out differently - she may have found that the barriers were impracticably difficult (such as not being able to find a course which fit in with her location and work). However, she would at least have had answers. Dealing with the obstacles in the way shows you that you're still moving forward, rather than standing still.

Obstacles are totally different than excuses. Most people make excuses, to themselves and others, for why they don't get things done. By refusing to give yourself excuses, and focusing on what it really in your way, you'll be amazed at how much clearer your route to success will be.

A word of warning, though: You'll never be able to identify your obstacles if you don't have a clear understanding of what your goals are. Before making any plans, take some 'you time' to clarify what you want to do, be, or have in your life.

I tend to use 'journey' analogies with my coaching clients: First, decide where you're going. Once you've chosen the destination, then decide on your route and method of transportation. Not setting goals is like getting in the car and starting to drive, not knowing where you'll end up. So once you've decided on your destination, then you can decide whether you're going to fly or drive, and what route you'll take.

And, oh, by the way, there may be some obstacles or barriers along the way. But if you know where you're going, even though you need to detour, you'll figure out an alternate route to get you there - whether it's a road trip to New Jersey or something broader in your life.

Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC is CEO of The Egan Group, Inc., a Reading, PA based professional coaching firm. She is a certified workplace productivity coach and professional speaker, specializing in leadership development and can be reached at marsha@marshaegan.com or visit http://www.InboxDetox.com.