Can there be a more insidious word? Later, as in “I’ll do it later.” Or, “Later, I’ll have time to write that book that’s been on my mind for the past five years.” Or, “I know I need to straighten out my finances…. I’ll do it later.”
“Later” is one of those dream-killers, one of countless obstacles we put up to derail our chances of success. The diet that starts “tomorrow,” the job hunt that happens “eventually,” the pursuit of the life dream that begins “someday” combine with other selfimposed roadblocks and lock us on autopilot.
Why do we do this to ourselves, anyway? Why don’t we take action now? Let’s face it: The familiar is easy; the uncharted path is lined with uncertainties.
To conquer the obstacles, you’ve got to first understand what they are. There are lots, but the most common include fear, negativity, a perceived lack of time and what we’ll call the “if only” syndrome. You know, “If only I had a degree/ experience/money/you-name-it, I would…” Combined, these obstacles keep us in a state of inertia. The good news is once you recognize those barriers, you can knock them down.
“I find that most obstacles are self-imposed,” says author, speaker and consultant Laura Berman Fortgang, whose latest book The Prosperity Plan will be released in January. “As ironclad as the obstacles seem, most times they were really put there by you.”
Curbing old habits, squelching selfdefeating inner voices and tuning out the unsupportive external ones are neither easy nor instantaneous.
So what’s to gain for all your anguish and effort? In a word, everything. Fulfillment, purpose, contentment, the satisfaction that comes in making a difference in the world, or in testing yourself and finding you are stronger, smarter, more creative, more resilient than you ever dreamed possible. The more important question to ask yourself is why wait? Why postpone your dreams another day?
Every day, people take tentative first steps that lead to bold strides, gaining momentum as they go.
Sometimes, you just need the right tools, a jolt of encouragement from others who’ve been there or a spark of inspiration to light your fire. Some find what they need in books. Some prefer the day-to-day “can-do” tips they find on the websites of favorite personal-development coaches or specialty publications. And for others, the spark may come from meeting that special person or attending that conference where the speakers suddenly make you consider life from new perspectives.
Just ask Ben Nelson, 27, a real estate investor and insurance agency founder in Portland, Ore. Nelson found his spark in a book. Of shedding his fears to strike out on his own, he says, “It’s been one of the hardest, if not the hardest thing, I’ve ever done.” After surmounting those fears, he feels the worst is behind him, that he can face down just about any challenge that comes along.
So, are you ready to take action now? Let’s start by exploring the obstacles and finding the tools to surmount them.
This is the biggie. Dig into nearly any obstacle, and you’ll discover that fear is probably at the root of it: fear of failure, fear of financial ruin, fear of straining family relations or friendships, fear of giving up the familiar and safe, even fear of success.
You’ve got to shift the paradigms in your life. Dare to be unpopular, urges motivational speaker Les Brown in his book Live Your Dreams. “This fear of unpopularity causes some to live in the shadows rather than step into the sunlight. They refuse to take positions on issues or stand up for what they believe in or to speak up for themselves when they have been wronged,” he says.
Imagine giving your life a new adjective—crossing out “fearful” and penciling in “daring.” Appealing? Yes. Easy? No.
“The greatest problem of human life is fear,” writes author, speaker and consultant Brian Tracy. “The only good thing about fear, if there is anything good, is that it is learned, and because of this, it can be unlearned.”
Face those fears and start brainstorming solutions. Surround yourself with allies—people who will back you regardless of whether they think your plans are brilliant or a little nutty.
Make sure you are proceeding with facts rather than assumptions. Would a little research reveal that your fears are unfounded? Conquer the fear barrier, and you’re well on your way to realizing your goals.
“What changes would you make in your life if you had no fear?” wonders Cheryl Richardson, an author, speaker and host of the Internet radio show Coach on Call. What, indeed?
If fear isn’t the thing holding you back, perhaps you are stalled by the “if only” syndrome.
If only the children were older, I would…
If only I weren’t working so many hours, I could…
If only I had money, I might…
Here’s a reality check: Every time you utter that kind of victim-of-circumstance statement, you’re adding another layer to your barricade.
“Life does not always present us with our ideal situation in which to pursue our dreams. That is where hunger comes in. We must motivate ourselves to do what we must do to get on and go on with our lives,” Les Brown says.
The difference between those who succeed and those stuck behind their walls is how they cope with less-than-ideal situations.
Time may be the biggest of these dream-stallers. Take an inventory of your day. Be honest. How much time is wasted on television or social networking sites or busy work that doesn’t really impact your bottom line? Where does the pursuit of dreams fit into your day?
Often, the time barrier and others like it can be whittled away in small steps. Stop trying to do everything all at once, personal development experts advise. Break the goal down into pieces.
Fortgang, for example, says at one time she struggled to find enough time to write. A friend suggested she set a goal of 700 words a day—a snap for a practiced writer. Suddenly, writing became less arduous; the early-bird Fortgang says she writes between 5 and 7 a.m. and then puts away the manuscripts for the day. “It’s a scheduling priority,” she says.
A LACK OF PASSION/PURPOSE
You’ll bang your head against a million self-imposed obstacles until something ignites your passion and you discover your true purpose.
Alisa Ahlstone Lewis of Saratoga, Calif., had experienced the thrills of entrepreneurship as a high-school student. She produced teaspoons dipped in chocolate that were a favorite novelty among gift basket distributors. “I just loved the amazing experience of having an idea and being really excited about it and being able to see it through,” says Lewis, 39.
She gave up the business as she progressed in her education but longed to start something new. She just couldn’t figure out what it was, and that entrepreneurial dream languished just beyond her field of vision.
Finally, the working mom decided to design a website based on her loves: parenting, shopping and shoes. “Sweet Peas & Stilettos” is a year-old site that compiles lists of favorite family and women’s products for busy moms who don’t have time to comparison shop. It includes sections on volunteerism and activism, and it highlights a blog that traces Lewis’s life story as told through favorite pairs of shoes.
“I kept on coming back to what I love and being authentic and not caring what anyone else thought of it,” Lewis says.
Finding a passion like Lewis can require a lot of internal work. Play question-and-answer with yourself: What makes you happy? Energized? Fulfilled?
“Once you have awakened to your true purpose, no obstacle will be able to stop you. It’s simply too important,” writes Cynthia Kersey in her book Unstoppable.
It doesn’t matter what sparks your passion. Find it, honor it, and you’ll see those self-imposed obstacles begin to crumble.
NEGATIVITY AND NAYSAYERS
“I can’t.” “I’ll try.” “It’s impossible.” “I’m not good enough.” “I could never do what she did.
” We chide our children for selling themselves short, but then somehow we lapse into that same fault. Shift the language and watch what happens: “I can.” “I will.” “It’s attainable.” “I’m talented.” “I’ll learn from her success and then create my own.
” See the difference? The power of language is undeniable. Often more than anything else, it’s what holds people back, and conversely, what propels them forward.
Shifting semantics isn’t easy. Those self-repudiations stem from all sorts of life issues: negative parenting, past failures, put-downs by those in positions of authority, anxieties over educational level, talent, body image… you name it.
But as with other barriers, simple awareness of negative language is the first step. From there, it’s practice. Recite daily affirmations. Track how often you utter phrases containing “can’t” or “not” or any of their cousins. Still stuck? Try Fortgang’s tough love approach: “It’s not that you can’t, but you won’t. Can you live with that?”
THE EXTERNAL OBSTACLES
As we’ve seen, many of the barriers we hit are self-made. But external forces can bring you to a screeching halt if you’re not mentally prepared to deal with them.
Teresa Delfin, a newly minted entrepreneur and speaker at The Women’s Conference this year, could have complained about any number of obstacles in her life, starting with a decision to quit high school as a teen. But Delfin, 34, is an outdoorswoman constantly conquering the elements or the mountains or the waters near her Ontario, Calif., home. She conquers no less in her academic, professional and entrepreneurial lives. Delfin is the founder of Mountain Mama, a first-year company that produces specialized outdoor wear for pregnant women.
Delfin’s company was born out of her own frustration. When she became pregnant with her son, who is now 2, she couldn’t find any of the moisture-wicking, temperature-regulating specialized clothing that she was used to wearing. It simply didn’t exist—as though the outdoors industry never considered that women didn’t want or need to pack up their hiking boots once their baby bumps started showing. “There’s a whole category of persons that had been overlooked by an industry,” Delfin recalls. “It started to feel like it was something somebody should take on.”
Delfin doesn’t appear to suffer from many of the self-imposed obstacles described above. True, she could have been tremendously disadvantaged. Delfin left high school at 16 because she wanted to spend more time climbing, but she was an avid reader and loved learning. In between stints as “ski bum” and outdoor instructional jobs, Delfin pursued her education, eventually earning a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies from Stanford University. She had plenty of internal drive.
But she did face external challenges, beginning with the fact that specialized fabric manufacturers didn’t want to work with her. “The fabrics are expensive. They’re hard to come by. We can’t go to the store and pick up Gore Tex,” she says.
She wanted fabric that could double in size for the late-pregnancy months and then shrink back to its original form so that mothers could wear the clothing post-pregnancy. Delfin finally found a textile manufacturer in Los Angeles who begrudgingly agreed to see her. He opened the conversation with: “I don’t like startups, and I don’t want to work with you.”
Delfin perservered—and prevailed. “We just keep grinding people and grinding people and grinding people until they work with me,” she says. Delfin’s passion for the work allowed her to succeed.
Today, Delfin is working to introduce her line to outdoors and maternity retailers. Just six months after launching, the venerable Polartec® named Mountain Mama’s Fairview Wrap Jacket as one of its 2010 Apex Award winners for design innovation and excellence.
“It’s just been a whirlwind,” Delfin says.