We all need role models. One of mine is a successful business man. I was working for him at a startup and we were facing a road block. I don't remember what challenge specifically, I do remember him gathering us all for a meeting. He said I'm not successful because I'm lucky. I'm not successful because I face no obstacles. I'm successful because I when I face an obstacle, I don't give up. I think and I work, until I find another way. Others fail because they quit, I succeed because I refuse to quit.
In other words, he was able to build successful companies because he had grit. Grit is something we hear about all the time now. The Atlantic wrote an article about the importance of grit in the classroom. They describe grit as a combination of motivation and resilience and deem it critical to the learning process. Research psychologists have determined that grit and not IQ is the best indicator of future success. If you want to know more about grit, check out the TED talk that started this discussion by Angela Duckworth.
Interesting, but if you are not particularly gritty, can you learn? Absolutely. I like the Atlantic definition of motivation and resilience. That breaks it down into Do You Want It Bad Enough and Can You Get Back Up? If you can answer yes to those two questions, you can overcome your obstacles. But just in case you need a little more guidance, here are some strategies for developing grit and overcoming obstacles.
- Work on What You Can - Ever get stuck on a crossword puzzle? You skip the ones you don't know, and complete the ones you do know. Then you circle back around, now armed with a few more clues. Words that seemed impossible are now easy with a few letters filled in. Same idea when trying to learn a complex subject or figure out away around an obstacle.
- Keep the End Goal In Mind - Sometimes I'd get stuck on a particular software feature. That same mentor would say to me "What's the end goal here? That feature or 10% more productive end users? Think of another way."
- Stay Calm - Don't panic. You need your wits about you. This is not the end. Just a new challenge.
- Take a Break - A walk or a shower may be just what you need to get some new ideas.
- Prepare - If you have advanced knowledge that an obstacle is coming, like a test or surgery, do what you can to prepare. I’m already filling my freezer with meals and stocking up blog entries in anticipation of my shoulder surgery. I'm not going to let it stop me, even if I have to take a few weeks off from writing.
- Talk About It - Sometimes the simple act of talking through an obstacle can help you figure out the solution. The person listening might offer helpful ideas, and at the very least, you will feel better about the situation.
- Challenge Your Assumptions - Assumptions are not fact and serve to paint us into a corner. When you challenge your assumptions, you often find previously undiscovered paths to your goal.
We all face obstacles that appear insurmountable. Often, the problem is larger in our minds than in reality. Control that inner dialog. Don't become overwhelmed. Keep calm and find another way to accomplish your goal.