[Obstacles – Part 1 of 4] For many of us, after we’re finished with school, we never want to see another test again. Then the “real” world hands us one obstacle after another, and we’re told to look at it as a challenge, or that God is testing us.
I used to think to myself, “How about I pick my own challenges? And, by the way, why does God feel the need to evaluate me?”
But the more I work with people who are confronting this issue, the more I am seeing it differently. We aren’t being asked to prove anything to anyone else; we’re being offered the opportunity to know who we are and what we are capable of.
It is very unusual to be confident about something, or know something about yourself, until you have experienced it. We like to think of ourselves as patient, forgiving, courageous, strong, generous, trusting … but until we get a chance to test it out – in traffic jams or dealing with family, for example — we are mostly just hoping.
If I have an image of myself as “a profoundly spiritual person who trusts the Universe,” I might avoid taking an action that would expose my underlying fear and doubt. I won’t take a risk — such as following a strong intuitive feeling that I should leave my job and start my own business with little or no savings. It would be too painful to find out that I’m less than I had hoped.
These “tests” also can help us discover something about ourselves that we hadn’t even imagined was true until we were confronted with the need to demonstrate it. How might you react in a real crisis? Can you know that you have the capacity to be calm, clear and efficient until you step in a bear trap or your child accidently starts a fire?
In either case there is a tendency to fear a situation, even if unconsciously, until we realize we can handle it.
There’s a Minor League Baseball coach whose philosophy was, “Once you show a skill, you possess it.” Not that you had mastered it, but that you’d shown it was possible, whereas before we had no reason to think you capable of that skill.
You can’t throw a curve ball until you do. But after that, it’s simply a matter of repeating something you’ve already concretely demonstrated. In my own life, I experience a dramatic difference when things move, in my own mind, into the realm of The Possible. I am expanded, and my willingness to move forward increases significantly. I am no longer dealing with the situation abstractly, in theory only.
Until these insights are worked through and experienced for ourselves, we don’t really know what they mean or how to use them. It is not enough to be told, “No one can take your dignity without your permission.” Otherwise, we could just borrow each other’s wisdom and never have to experience any pain or struggle.
The question then becomes, do we resist and resent these “tests,” or welcome them as opportunities to dispel our fear and ignorance and enter into new levels of empowerment?
I have heard myself say many times to clients, “If you can do a thing when it’s hard, you own it.” To me, “owning it” means, at a minimum, you may not wish to be in that situation again, but you will no longer be controlled by the fear of it. You are freed from worry, and you don’t have to live your life around obstacles like the dread of being able to handle grief or not having money.
In addition, “owning it” can mean the extraordinary empowerment that comes with finding out what you’re capable of in difficult circumstances. The obstacles can actually reveal not just the ability to cope, but a strength, a gift you will want to share with the world.
Michael Jordan’s experience of hitting the big shot in the big game in college – after being cut from his high school team – not only showed him that he was capable of rising to the moment, it gave him an insatiable thirst for it. Many pro athletes don’t want the ball in the final minute, because they’re focused on the consequences of failure. Jordan seemed addicted to experiencing that side of himself that could only come out under great pressure. He sought out, and even invented, high-stakes situations in order to challenge himself. But he couldn’t really know his greatness until he allowed himself to risk failure.
So, if the idea of being tested inspires you – great! If not, the challenge is to learn to see the opportunity disguised as an obstacle.