Using Obstacles To Become Great

There are days I stumble through life, cursing the obstacles I face. The truck not starting, trouble fixing a computer, or a struggling friendship.

They seem like they’re an obstacle in my way that I could do without.

I’m learning instead of seeing these situations as trouble, I need to use these obstacles to become great. And so do you.

Michael Phelps recently made history by winning the most medals in the Olympics. He, as of 2012, is the most decorated Olympian in history.

He achieved this through hard work and overcoming obstacles. Some of those obstacles were intentionally placed by his swim coach Bob Bowman.

Bob would intentionally put obstacles in the way of Michael Phelps.

Could you imagine this happening to you as a swimmer?

  • Your goggles fill up with water: Bob had stepped on Michael’s goggles and cracked them.  This caused the goggles to leak during a practice. He had to swim with the water filler goggles. This prepared him for Beijing 2008 when his goggles malfunctioned and he had to swim “blind.” He was prepared and still won the gold medal.
  • Being late for a meet and having to miss dinner: Going into a major race hungry is not fun. You’re focused on the missed meal and how hungry you are. When this happened, he had to push through the hunger and focus on the race. It take him to ignore the physical pain and push through.

While these challenges were not fun for Michael, they helped him prepare and overcome them when they appeared in the real world. Imagine if he had never swam blind before? Would he have freaked out? I think he would have had a much harder time completing the swim if he had not experienced the situation in training.

Last year two friends, my wife, and I attempted a backpacking trip in Maine. We had prepared in Michigan for the trip. Nothing out of the ordinary happened during our training. We thought we were prepared for the trip.

Oh no!

We arrive in Maine and it’s raining, hardcore. The tent our friends were using leaked. They were practically swimming with the water in their tent.

The decision was made to head towards home and find another spot to backpack. We chose the beautiful Mt. Kearsarge in New Hampshire.


Image by Tom Morgan

We thought we were in luck but the rain continued. The temperature dropped. And daylight faded. We had to make a choice. Were we prepared or not?

Facing reality, we chose that we weren’t prepared for the situation and turned around. Our lack of obstacles during preparation caused us to quit.

There will be a day that we go back and conquer Mount Kearsarge. Until that day, we’ll be praying and looking for ways to use obstacles to ascend that mountain.

Now, in your leadership you’ll face many obstacles:

  • Team members and volunteers that won’t show up
  • Speaking engagements that go bad
  • Power outages
  • Delayed flights
  • A vehicle breakdown
  • And much more

Begin to look for ways to experience these obstacles during your preparation time.

You’ll be able to think straighter and figure out a solution if you do this before showtime. When it does happen, and it will happen at some point, you’ll be able to have a cool head on your shoulders and go through the obstacle like it wasn’t there.

These obstacles will be your stepping stone to becoming a great leader.

Question: How do you respond to obstacles in your way? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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