How To Overcome Any Obstacle

A creative approach to success and productivity

First published on Medium 23/03/21

Image by the author with help from PEXELS

I am not making ridiculous claims in my title. I will detail below a creative approach to working with any obstacle or block life throws at you. I will give an example from my own life, where I have applied this approach.

The only thing I ask of you is that you find a way of being open to working with metaphor. 

As a quick practice in this, look at the title picture. Ask yourself some questions.

  • When have I ever hit a wall in my life?
  • Did I give up and walk away?
  • Did I smash it down, climb over it, find ways around it, tunnel under it or find a gateway I could walk through?
  • Did I spend the rest of my life asleep on this side of the wall?
  • Could I have done something differently?
  • Did I see it as an obstacle but miss the opportunity?

Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years, but he used that time very creatively. For him and many, his incarceration became an opportunity to work toward freedom.

Failing a job interview can be seen as a setback or an opportunity to identify and develop the skills you need to secure a job you love. 

Having your heart broken can become an obstacle to ever being in a relationship again, or it can be an opportunity to explore how you relate and deepen your connection with yourself and others. 

Our logical mind is very good at identifying all the obstacles in our path. To identify the opportunities hidden in the wall’s bricks, we need to access our creative mind. We need to let our soul and emotions have a voice. 

I imagine some of you are about to click away. That is your logical mind getting in on the act. What is it saying? “I’ve got no imagination — I’m not creative — this is arty-farty bullshit” or something along those lines? So, by all means, click away. I will shout to you as you leave.

“That’s what you always do — at the first obstacle you back away — your loss —  once again, you have missed an opportunity.”

Find Your Own Approach to Working With Metaphor

The possibilities are endless here. Many readers may be writers. In that case, write the story, maybe draft several versions until you find the one that fits. 

If you are an artist, draw some images. Musicians could write a song. Many people use mindfulness and visualisation techniques. Poets will find their way in verse. 

Marketing executives can start applying their juicy language to their own lives. 

Imagery — the core of metaphoric language — will surprise, grab, inform, and persuade your [readers] as mere explanation will not. Vivid language will distinguish you from the swarm, will make you heard above the drone, will make you that rare person today: a communicator who gets results. ~ Anne Miller

If you are new to this malarkey, I am asking you to communicate with yourself. The technique does not matter. You have everything you need right now. You don’t need to learn something new or go on a course or google endlessly “how to work with metaphor”.

In Working With Metaphor, You Can Bypass Your Habitual Logical Thinking Processes

Faced with a real wall like the one in the picture, how would your logical mind respond? Would you get on Google Maps and find a way around it? Keep walking until you found a gate? Decide that you have stumbled upon someone else’s private property and go somewhere else? 

Now think of an obstacle in your life. That job you really wanted, the friend you no longer talk to because of a misunderstanding, getting your creative work published or exhibited.

Are you applying only logical thought processes to this issue? Is it working?

When Business trainers use the metaphorical phrase “thinking outside of the box,” they suggest you step outside of the box created by your logical thinking mind and access all the other things at your disposal. 

Use your intuition, think creatively, visualise a different solution, imagine you have already solved the problem and work from there. 

Time For an Example

I was working as a teacher, a freelance musician and a performing storyteller. 

My heart was not in teaching. I felt trapped. I wanted to do more creative work, but I could not make enough money to survive on that alone. 

I wrote a story and started performing it, and it was not until I had performed it several times that I realised I had discovered the answer to my own dilemma through writing the story. 

The Basketmaker

A basketmaker saw his craft going out of fashion, and he was losing money. He decided to put all his effort and energy into building the world’s biggest basket and making himself famous. He did this but made a terrible mistake. He built the basket from the inside, and when it was complete, he was trapped inside it. 

He berated himself and raged and screamed but could not break out. A mentor came to his aid in the form of a talking frog. The basketmaker pleaded with him to throw him a rope or a ladder or call a helicopter—all of those logical thinking process solutions. 

The frog talked with him regularly but could offer no practical help. The basketmaker expressed a lot of anger and frustration to no avail. 

Eventually, with coaching from the frog, the basketmaker gave up trying to escape. He spent his time singing and dancing and got great pleasure from this. One day while he was singing and dancing, he found a gap had opened up in the basketweave, and without further thought, he squeezed through and danced his way out into the world. He never returned and never made another basket, spending the rest of his life travelling around singing and dancing for his living. 

How I Found My Own Solution and Applied It

The story I had created without conscious thought gave me my solution. From that moment, I focused all my energies on the things that gave me pleasure rather than focusing on how trapped I felt in a job I had lost any love for. 

Within weeks an opportunity opened up in creating my own music and performance business. I handed in my notice and moved into an uncertain world that served me well for many years. Working with the metaphors in the basketmaker story gave me the confidence to take that leap of faith. 

How to use the creative approach

  1. Identify the obstacle and find a metaphor for it. Is it a wall, a pit, barbed wire, a cage, a desert island? Be as creative as you can. Draw it, write about it or visualise it in a detailed way. 
  2. Live with it for a while. How does it feel being trapped or stuck in this way? Don’t force a solution; that would be your logical mind kicking in. 
  3. Imagine a wise person/creature joining you in this space and suggesting a strategy or be open to a solution appearing out of nowhere. The solution may not be logical or obvious. It could be magical or ridiculous. 
  4. Live with that for a while. Don’t feel you have to act immediately. You may find alternative solutions pop up in dreams, or you may suddenly have a eureka moment in the bath.

Be patient; ideas need fermentation time

Creating my basketmaker story and the changes I made probably covered a period of three or four years.

The apple falling on Newton’s head was a eureka moment. Lots of thinking preceded it. 

Newton’s formulation of the concept of gravity took more than 20 years and included multiple components: preparation, incubation, inspiration — a version of the eureka experience — and production. The Atlantic

Anything that ferments takes time. Sourdough bread takes a week. Single Malt Whisky ten to fifteen years. The key thing in all these processes is that you will have to wait longer if you don’t start it now. 

Before You Rush Off

Jot down four things on a post-it note and stick it on the fridge.

  1. The obstacle
  2. How you feel about it
  3. The opportunity
  4. ………………………. (Leave this one empty — let it ferment and wait for your eureka! moment)

I look forward to hearing if this is useful in the responses below. 

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