The obstacle is the way .. or not

I just heard the quote “the obstacle is the way,” which I have heard more than once.

I think it was originally said by Marcus Aurelius about 2,000 years ago. He probably actually said something similar in Latin and may have stolen the quote from someone else.

Either way I think the idea is that “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

The idea is both intriguing and annoying to me at the same time.

I prefer planning based on optimistic ideas and a happy path scenario … until I begin implementing my plan/daydream.

Once I start work on my plans I inevitably find impediments and I am tempted to go and revise my optimistic plan to be a little less optimistic, but still similar. In fact though, this rarely works for me.

What does work surprisingly well is to come up with a dream and avoid (for the moment) the plan to get there. Instead I focus on what is currently stopping me from achieving my goal or aspiration. Inevitable a good plan falls out of this because I can then plan how to remove impediments.

Once I know how to remove impediments, the rest is cruising.

Of course some impediments are not going to be removed. I used to accept them and then plan for them, but this is actually the critical point where most of my initiatives seem to succeed or fail … even if it takes me a few weeks to realise.

By focusing on the major impediment, or biggest obstacle I get frustrated, then I go and have a cup of coffee and then I come back and get frustrated. Then suddenly I often realise there is a way forward and that it is not my original goal that I should be pursuing but some insight about tackling or working with the big obstacle.

Of course sometimes it should also tell me – this is not the way. For example if I want to catch a train and the train is cancelled, maybe I should abort my plan and then work from home. Maybe the obstacle is telling me “this is not the way – go another way.”

I don’t know if others have the same experience, but sometimes I regret not spending more time focusing on the big annoying obstacle and more often I gain an unexpected insight and way forward once I really understand the obstacle and why it matters.


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