You are going to face many obstacles in life.
In your job, in your start up, in your relationships.
Obstacles, barriers and problems are everywhere.
Whether you knock them out or get knocked out yourself is up to you.
I’ve tried to study the greats my whole life.
People like Charlie Munger, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Ray Dalio, Steve Jobs and even George Clooney.
Here’s what they did to make sure they knocked out any and every obstacle that dared come their way.
The most successful people are rationale.
Is there something holding you back?
Is there something you want that isn’t going your way?
The first step is to realize that you and only you get to decide how that obstacle will impact you.
Scientists have shown that most people make a simple mistake when they confront an obstacle:
They confuse what is really happening with their perception of it.
As humans we often perceive events wrongly by attaching our emotions and false notions to them.
The next time something bad happens to you, promise to stay calm and rational. See the situation simply as a specific and discrete thing that has occurred.
Do not build a whole chain of imaginary events from it.
Maybe you didn’t get promoted this year or you didn’t get the project you wanted. You could believe that your boss doesn’t like you, or that you just aren’t very good at your job, or that you should leave and join a new firm.
I’ve seen and felt all of these emotions.
When I didn’t make MD in 2010, I went home and cried. Thought about quitting while lying in the darkness and wondering whether I had wasted my life.
It took a few weeks to recover.
Slowly I stepped back, understood what I had done wrong, planned my next steps and moved forward.
Instead, I could have just made irrational decisions and been angry, but what would that have done?
Remember what Charlie Munger (Warren Buffet’s partner) said:
A lot of other people are trying to be brilliant, and we are just trying to be rationale.
When George Clooney got to Hollywood, he had a choice.
He could try to be like every other actor and focus on selling his experience and acting skills, or he could focus on pitching himself as the perfect solution for the casting manager.
He understood the problems casting managers were facing and positioned himself as the perfect solution.
The casting managers wanted someone dependable and trustworthy. Someone they could count on to deliver. That is how George Clooney positioned himself. He didn’t highlight his acting skill; he highlighted his ability to fix a problem for the casting manager.
Interestingly, renowned Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen also talked about this idea in his book, “How will you measure your Life”.
I read this book the next time I was trying to make MD.
This time rather than pushing my boss to promote me, I took some time to understand what she needed, what her pain points were, what she was trying to do, what did she want.
What JOB had she hired me to do?
Here are some ideas on how to understand the problem and become the solution:
Remember what Mahatma Gandhi said:
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Most people want to go in through the closed front door. They want to attack the problem directly. Guess what, the front door is usually closed and very crowded.
Everyone else is also applying for jobs online, telling their bosses they want a raise or promotion or chasing head hunters.
What if you thought about the problem differently?
What if you were strategic?
What if you used the open backdoor? You could just walk right in.
This is what successful people do. Find an easier way in, a way where others aren’t looking.
That’s being strategic. Here are some ideas:
Rather than applying online, maybe you network with people in the group you are trying to join, send them samples of your work, and get referred in through people you know.
Maybe you find a way to get an off-cycle internship to get some experience and gather contacts.
Rather than asking your boss for a raise or promotion directly, you take responsibility for a high profile project, maybe you find a way to build a new business for your firm, maybe you just bring in a new client or two and get noticed.
Rather than calling headhunters, maybe you started writing online on LinkedIn or Mediu. Build a following and influence.
Maybe you start sending hard copies of your work or ideas to people you admire, maybe you ask them for an unpaid internship to get your foot in the door.
Ask yourself what would a great person do with this situation. What would my advice be to a friend who had this problem?
Remember what Albert Einstein said:
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
In 2009, the team I was in was going through some changes. The financial crises was causing the team to shrink and I had a bad feeling that my career could be slowed down because of it.
Not only had the crisis been stressful, but now thinking about how to find a new job in 2009 really stressed me out.
I was scared and frustrated.
And if that wasn’t enough, I had just gotten married, and being unemployed with a wife at age 31 was even more depressing.
But I knew I had to shift my state of mind and beliefs quickly, or I was doomed.
The trick to shifting your state is to ask better questions, so I choose to invert the situation.
I asked myself, What’s great about having this problem?
Try asking that question whenever you fall.
I realized that having this problem would allow me to start with a blank slate, to seek out the best opportunities, and not be tied to a slowing business.
I realized, how lucky I was to still have a job, my contacts and my skills.
These insight were enough to break my pattern of frustration.
I found himself feeling grateful that I could share what I had learnt over the last ten years with others. I started looking for new areas to be involved in and thought about other parts of the bank that could benefit from my skills.
Within a few weeks, I had a job in our London office. Something that I had dreamt of for the last few years, but didn’t have the guts to do.
Remember what the great philosopher Plato said:
A grateful mind is a great mind that eventually attracts to itself great things.
Whenever bad things happen, don’t get lost in the noise.
You might feel like giving up. Don’t.
Stay with the problem.
Maybe you didn’t get that promotion.
Maybe you just got fired.
Maybe the interview didn’t go well.
It doesn’t matter.
You will be just fine.
Focus on the present moment, remember this moment is not your life it’s just a moment in your LIFE!
What can you do today with what you have?
If you don’t take any action you will fail implicitly.
If you don’t deal with it, it won’t get better.
If you really want to achieve your dream, then keep attacking the problem.
You will succeed, you will achieve your goal, but you must persevere.
Remember what Ann Landers said:
Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them.
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There are a lot of books that taught us how to be strategic and overcome obstacles, here are a few that are a must read:
Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl) — lessons learnt from living in a Nazi concentration camp. This is a life-changing book.
Good Strategy Bad Strategy (Richard Rumelt) — this is a higher level book, with a lot of complex ideas on crafting and executing strategy in business.
How Will You Measure Your Life (Clayton Christensen) — this book will teach you about the obstacles that are worth over coming and the ones that aren’t.
The Obstacle is The Way (Ryan Holiday) — a great book that covers Stoic philosophy throughout history with lots of inspiring stories.