How the Obstacle Becomes the Way


Turning an obstacle into a way is a popular concept in stoicism, very well explained by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius – “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” This line of thought mostly argues that human beings are able to adapt anything to serve its purpose.

As such, it is also capable of adapting itself according to the obstacles confronted, and uses the obstacle itself as a means to achieve the goal. Below we look at a few tactics you can employ to achieve such a positive shift in mindset and turn obstacles into an opportunistic way. 

I would like to thank Ryan Holiday, who wrote a wonderful book on the same topic, “The Obstacle is the Way.”

How the Obstacle Becomes the Way
1. Use The Obstacle Against Itself
2. Fail, Learn, Succeed
3. Wait It Out
4. Change Obstacle Nature
5. Create New Expectations With Obstacles

1. Use The Obstacle Against Itself

A simple way to turn an obstacle into an opportunity is to use it against itself.  For example, imagine that you run a business and that a certain employee is acting in a manner that is against the interests of your business, inciting other employees to go on a strike against your company.

Now, if the instigating employee has a tendency to go overboard with his words and actions, then the best thing you can do will be to let the person continue the agitations against you. And eventually, when this person says something against the company that does not sit well with other employees, you can enter the conversation and negotiate with them, making the instigator look bad.

This will likely pacify the rest of the employees, leaving the instigator alone. Here, because you knew that the nature of the instigator will make him say something that will make other people uncomfortable, you were able to use that behavior to overcome the obstacle he was raising.

A similar concept is used in martial arts where when an enemy attacks you, the incoming force of the enemy is used against the enemy itself for maximum damage.

2. Fail, Learn, Succeed

It is normal for people to fail at things they attempt for the first time. What is important is that you have an open mind set about it so that you can learn from your failures and apply your knowledge to find out new ways to overcome the obstacles. Never look at an obstacle and see it as an impediment.

Instead, look at it as an education – if you lose, you will learn more about why you lost, which will then help you make a better effort next time to get the obstacle removed. And in doing so, the obstacle becomes an educative tool that shows you how to get over it.

For example, suppose that you have been assigned with completing a new task at your job. Initially, you might find it very difficult to complete, and may try to get it reassigned. You will be unsuccessful in completing the job in your first few attempts. 

But those attempts will give you a good idea of what it would take to complete the task. And then you will slowly start to see how the task can be solved. Your constant exposure to a task, which you considered as impossible, has now shown you the way to complete it.

This is the essential difference between those who are successful and those who give up after the first attempt. Success is a mindset and a key to this is a broad-minded approach to failures. Remember, failures are defeats when you don’t learn.

3. Wait It Out

“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.” -Sun Tzu

An easy way to turn the obstacle into a way is to simply wait it out. That’s it. You don’t have to over-think, or do anything about the matter. Just wait patiently, and the nature of the obstacle will disappear due to its own accord.

For example, suppose that you are a marketing manager looking to expand into a new market. Now, if the market is crowded with competitors, then it might be foolhardy to invest in introducing your new product since this might end up resulting in a loss. As such, the best thing to get over this obstacle would be to patiently wait for your time.

Since the market is already overcrowded with competition, it is inevitable that most of the companies wouldn’t make too much profits. As a result, some of them are bound to make losses, shut down operations, and move away from the market. You will then be able to introduce the product in the market and profit from it.

4. Change Obstacle Nature

An obstacle can also become a way if you change its nature, thus converting it into an opportunity. For example, imagine that you are selling an object to a large group of people. You do your regular presentation and are confident of getting large orders.

But suddenly, a single prospect might start to aggressively question the quality and effectiveness of your product, creating doubts in the minds of other people as well. Now, this is definitely is a strong obstruction to your purpose of generating sales.

But there is a good news. If you are able to convince that one single person to purchase your product, then all the rest will easily follow you and buy whatever it is that you are selling. Just by changing the objection of a person to acceptance, you will have achieved your sales goal. 

5. Create New Expectations With Obstacles

When faced with an obstacle, sometimes you may not get exactly what you want. But you can still achieve most of what you desire by adjusting your expectations and trying again.

For example, imagine that you are hoping to sell a $200 product to a customer. Halfway through your presentation, the customer becomes impatient and says that they don’t have the money for the product. Now, even though this is an obstruction, it actually gives you a very important information – that the $200 price tag is too costly for them.

As such, instead of closing your sales and moving away, you can now pitch a smaller version of the product valued at $100. This might make them interested. So, by lowering your expectations, you were able to get over the customer’s objection and make a sale rather than lose it.

And when you come face to face with an obstacle, you must be very careful not to feel intimidated. If you do feel intimidated, then there is a good chance that your thinking will become skewed, and your mind won’t be able to focus on finding a way around the obstacle. Instead, you might constantly think that overcoming the obstacle is an impossibility. Avoid such thoughts, and there is a better chance that you will find a way around it.

Your obstacles or their largeness are mostly the result of your perspective. Change your perspective, and imagine yourself bigger than the obstacle. This will give you a better viewpoint to handle and overcome what was before a seemingly impossible barrier.

​P​ro Tip

There were many who stood where you stand right now. Learn from the winners on how they overcame the same obstacles. Like they say, you get a much better view when you stand on the shoulders of giants. Hindrances on your way to success are mostly a lack of knowledge. So, keep gaining more knowledge and you’ll soon figure out how to attain your goal. Emulating the masters can get you far.

About Mohit Tater

Mohit is the co-founder and editor of Entrepreneurship Life, a place where entrepreneurs, start-ups, and business owners can find wide ranging information, advice, resources, and tools for starting, running, and growing their businesses.

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