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3 Key Obstacles to Success and How to Overcome Them

Updated on March 29, 2018
aesta1 profile image

Mary is an organizational development specialist and writes about today's changing workplace.

What Holds Us Back from Success

The biggest anchor holding back most people’s success ship has their name on it. We are our own worst enemies. As Pogo said, "I have seen the enemy and he is us!". Unhappily, the things we fear are usually much greater in mass than the things we hope for.

Fear is infinite and is almost always built on worst case scenarios that can never happen. So, every idea we have, has to climb a Himalaya size mountain range of personal terror before it sees even a glimmer of sunrise.

Given that we want to be successful, we need to identify each mountain of fear that exists for us personally, and deal with that before our ideas are euthanised..

Barriers to Success

Barriers to Success
Barriers to Success | Source

1. The Fear and Stigma of Failure

Everyone fears failure, so that’s one mountain. The fear of failure is often more tangible than the incentives for success, so ideas die at the inception stage. Each of us knows most of his/her own weaknesses. We worry about our laziness, our lack of imagination, our inexperience, our track record of giving up and unless we can master these other mountains, success would be torn to tatters before it gathers any momentum.

Somewhere between our mother’s view that we are a genius just waiting for an opportunity to arrive and our brother’s or sister’s view that we are a complete doofus that would trip over the only rock on the desert of opportunity, there is a considered and realistic middle ground that we have to find, giving a path through the fear mountains.

Bill Gates and his partner, Paul Allen, did not start with Microsoft. They started their first company, Traf-o-Data aimed to process and analyze the data from traffic tapes. Big data is now in but, at that time, nobody was interested in their idea. It ended in disaster. If both Bill Gates and Paul Allen stopped right there, Microsoft would not be there or a different version would have been brought on by other entrepreneurs. They were lucky they live in the United States, the country which has the lowest individual fear of failure of all surveyed.

Fear of blowing it is so intense in Japan that not many Japanese are entrepreneurs. Failure can be debilitating and the Japanese are just learning, what many Americans do, hide it behind narrative fallacies or hire spin doctors to soften, even nullify the impact of failure. If you fail, the entire family bears the shame. This is changing slowly.

In India, where the pressure to win a seat in one of the top institutes of technology, there are many reported suicides among the young aspirants. Missing the chance is shameful given the families total commitment to youth success. Even in North America, the fear of failure is prevalent in many aspects of our society and intense in many individual lives and this is the most supportive of environments.

Francesc Masriera's Painting of After the Ball

Failure
Failure | Source

The Internal Fear of Failure

The failure fear felt by many has acutely affected their chances of success. While we hail many who have built on the learning from their failures to reach tremendous achievements, the collateral damage from failure lies around us and we don't want to undermine our own self confidence.

There are suggestions around organizing an Embrace Failure Day, or having institutions organize Failure Week, helping us face our fear of failure so we can climb the mountains and see a sunrise. We know that a failure accepting environment like Silicon Valley becomes the real seedbed of invention, so how do we help achieve some of this at home?

As an illustration, I will share my own experience. I am 65 years old. It was only recently that I sorted out what I had been doing or maybe what had been happening to me. I first thought that I was not really a success because I didn't know what I really wanted to do in life. As a result, I concentrated my effort on trying things out endlessly so I could discover what I really wanted to do. But somehow, I had not succeeded after doing this for over 30 years. I went from one thing to the next with some success but not really satisfying and never pushing any one activity hard enough to really fail...or succeed.

One day, I had a do it yourself epiphany. It became clear to me that all these years I had allowed everything to happen to me; that I had not taken hold of myself nor taken 100% responsibility for my life. Why? I was paralyzed by my fear of failure. Incredulous was my initial reaction but true. I just had to face it.

At first, I worked on my fears. I tried to understand what they are and how they influence my actions and decisions. I pounded on this for some time until my fears' hold on me were no longer fierce and I could often thwart it. A therapist also taught me how to make friends of my fears and this helped tremendously. I can look at what went wrong and do something about it or just assure my inner self it is no longer unconquerable. I could do something about it so the fear slowly disappeared.

Now, I live my life with fuller awareness, not out of fear. I choose. I no longer just react and because what I am doing is not a reaction, I don't quit. I take deliberate steps, own the outcomes, test them out, and steer the next step based on what I have learned.

In other words, I now have reasonable control of my actions. I decided and gave a chosen activity my full commitment. Not anymore, oh I'll do it when I'm free or I'll test it out or I'll see if I like it. No. I decided and focused on the chosen task till completion.

My productivity has gone up, my complaints are gone, my hating of life for giving up a career is all gone. This is what I like to do now and I give it my all. I have come to enjoy my day more. I no longer count my own input. I just do what I can do and do it and give it my all. Remember Aesop's fox. He wanted a bunch of grapes with all his heart but he could not reach them. He jumped and jumped....and then so he could avoid failure he exclaimed..."ahhhh, they are probably sour!!!!" He won by failing...sort of.

Which Way to Success

Which Way?
Which Way? | Source

The Stigma of Failure and the Blame Culture

There is another side to failure that not only impacts individuals but the society as a whole. As a society, we may have learned from our family, our school, our Church and from one another that failure is bad. If we don't graduate nor get promoted to another level or make the varsity team, we fail. But if we don't really try, we can rationalize the failure very easily. So our fear of failure makes us fail!

The stigma is there and this includes your family. Your parents get embarrassed feeling that they have failed in raising you and the community thinks they are really bad parents. Thus, early on, this fear of failure has been entrenched and has stigmatized us and has taught us failure mechanisms that save everyone from embarrassment.

We observe this in the behaviours of our politicians and government people. They blame the previous administration for whatever goes wrong. They blame the media for not reporting the truth. Our church leaders blame the entertainment industry or other social changes for the dwindling numbers of church goers. Schools blame the internet for the inability of students to get good scores in tests. Fans blame coaches when their team loses. We can cite endless examples of blame in our society.

So, it is not only the internal fear we have to overcome but also the external culture of blame that is stoking this up. The question is, how do we make our environment a personal Silicon Valley where a failure is just the next step on the ladder to success.

The Book on How We Deal with Failure

Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes--But Some Do
Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes--But Some Do

I just finished reading this book by Matthew Syed, a leading columnist and feature writer for The Times. Before becoming a writer, Matthew was for almost a decade the number one table tennis player in England, won the Commonwealth Championship 3 times and represented Great Britain twice in the Olympic Games. He knows what it is to challenge our thinking around success.

In this book, Black Box Thinking, he exhorts us to change the way we look at failure, take away the stigma associated with it and look at it as the best opportunity for us to learn. He gives us example after example of what he means by black box thinking and how we need to let systems in health care, criminal justice, education, corporation and our own selves take the lessons of the black box in aviation. This is to look at failures and see these as learning opportunities; to see how marginal gains are necessary to high performance and to do trials to test out policies and plans.

Read this to be convinced by all the examples Syed has included.

 

2. Limiting Beliefs and A Fixed Mindset

My father-in-law used to say, "It ain't what you don't know that hurts you, it's what you do know that just ain't so". We have beliefs we hold on to even when people tell us they are not true. We tell them it worked for us for years even though we have not really tested its veracity. We know it didn't not work....because we never really tested it.

Examples of limiting beliefs also abound in history. In the middle ages, doctors used bloodletting as it was the prevailing belief that it cured people. Because it was widely accepted as effective, there was no need to look for alternative cures. That the earth is flat has been widely accepted for a long time. Today, in ourselves, in organizations and in many social institutions, there are beliefs that are accepted as truths. Nobody questions these. In the old times, questioning accepted beliefs could get you burned!

In his book on Elon Musk, Ashlee Vance gave examples of how Musk's claims of what SpaceX could deliver had been judged by experts as not possible but Musk did it. If he believed the experts, he would not have been able to succeed in pushing our knowledge on space technology. Then Musk did the same with electric cars and challenged the belief structure built by the auto industry to mask their own inability to invent.

Those who are at the top of the current system often believe that everything works well and there may be the usual little changes done each year but the frame is solid. That is a Fixed Mindset. They have put together the current system and succeeded in it and they are not prepared to accept that they were wrong or there are things they did not see properly. Judges and prosecutors, for example, who have proclaimed persons guilt will hardly welcome insinuations that they made a mistake in their judgment. Many languish in prison because of this kind of mentality. Bad technology fills the roads because of fear of failure for new ideas. In the workplace, few managers will accept that they made a mistake in their choice of staff even when they see their performance. Board members will hardly accept that they made a mistake in their choice of a CEO. Dooduses survive and are promoted!

Because of fixed mindset, things stay as they are for many years even if almost everyone sees they don't work that well nor are they effective. One example is the education system in many countries. Most know the system is no longer working if its main job is to support learning but few are prepared to change it. Some educators think it is the best they can do and it only needs to be more effective but the system is alright. Many planners think they can only do so much and they keep going back to what they know already and what they have done before. Some even think they have an instinct of what to do and there is no need to test out their ideas, just implement them. Limiting beliefs.

This is what the space technology experts told Musk about his ideas but Musk refused to see these limits and hammered his people to make it happen. He won and now other countries are lining up to use the rockets he has made.

Fixed Mindset

Fixed Mindset
Fixed Mindset | Source

3. Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts we can relate to easily. Our mind has the power to haunt us with our failures, remind us of these every moment and, as such, cause continuing stress in addition to the new mistakes we make day to day. The stress some of these negative thoughts even result in sickness and death in many people. Marley's chain just gets longer and heavier.

But even in our day to day existence, our mind has ways of bringing about negative limiting thoughts. If we drop our breakfast plate, we tell ourselves, this will not be a good day. We start thinking of things that could go wrong not the things that bring us joy or satisfaction. Even worse, we start blaming ourselves for these things so by the time we get to work or go to school, our minds are already expecting the negative so everything that happens will be viewed in a negative way.

Mind you, our minds are experts in this. It rolls out scenario after scenario of negative things that could happen that by the time we stop, we're already in such a state that nothing positive can get our attention. We selectively pick out experiences that support the negative image and cement failure. The Black Cat Syndrome can destroy your life!

On Our Way to Success

The Way
The Way | Source

How do We Overcome these Obstacles?

We live in a very complex world so whatever suggestions we take must consider all these ideas as working together to put anchors on our success. So, what steps can we take so we overcome these major obstacles? Here are some suggestions:

1. Make failure a friend, a necessary step in the process of growing, of creating, of expanding. In fact, it is an important part of winning because it shows us that there are other ways, maybe better ways of pursuing something.

2. Read biographies of famous, successful people and count the number of failures they had on the road to each success. You will be amazed!

3. Students can learn levels of course work on their own with the help of the teachers or the other classmates but not expect everyone to go through these at the same time and the same way. They can be allowed to learn things differently, testing out other ways of learning the same theory for example. The curriculum must make students test, try out, practice consistently until they become proficient.

4. Encourage questions, debates and discussions as well as criticism within the family, in school, among friends, in any institution and at work.

5. For many of us, work on our fears especially the fear of failure. There are many ways of doing this and help is there for those who want to do it seriously. When we do this, we also encourage others around us to do the same and more importantly, the loop of negativism gets opened up when they reach us and are transformed into positive learning experiences.

6. Challenge fixed mindsets or any mindset. Most of us are fixated on something. In some companies, we can laugh at some of our long held beliefs. Keep these kinds of companies. Bringing it to our awareness is part of the process of getting a handle to changing it.

7. Work on defeatist thoughts and negative talk. It is not as simple as telling ourselves, don't think that or don't do that. So what we can do is identify the verbal statements that negative thoughts take and place a positive alternative beside it. In the chart below are some examples to which you can add more. Let it work like a check list as you practice in changing towards a more positive way of communicating.

Examples of how we can change negative communication to its positive alternative

Negative Talk
Positive Alternative
I'm really not good at this
I will give it a try
I don't like working with other people
I will start working with one or two I am comfortable with
 
 
What you suggest will not work
I will see how I can make it work
We don't have the resources to do that
Let's see how we can move some resources so we can try doing this
I don't think I can do that work
I'll give it a try
I have no time to do that work
I'll look at my schedule and see where I can fit this in
That work is too complicated for me
I will give it a try and see where I can get help to do this
I always get the worst weeks for vacation
Let's take a look at the calendar and see how we can work out our vacation schedule

The Most Difficult Obstacle to Overcome

Which of these is for you the most difficult to overcome?

See results

Onward to Success

So what do we conclude? We are our own worst enemy. We can do something about this. Others have shown us. It's our own determination that will make a difference.

© 2018 Mary Norton

Comments

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    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      4 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes, it is often needed in our day to day communication patterns. What's great is you're still young to do the change. Thank you Shaloo.

    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 

      4 weeks ago from India

      A very positive and motivating article! Changing negative communication to positive is very important as we become what we think.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Geri. I wish we can teach kids to go beyond their failure and as you've written, give them the confidence.

    • gerimcclym profile image

      Geri McClymont 

      2 months ago

      A very powerful article. You bring up topics many of us don't want to face or deal with, such as our fear of failure and having a fixed mindset made up of false beilefs we have held onto for a long time. It is so true that these fears and false beliefs hold us back from being all we could be and accomplishing all we could accomplish. Thank you for challenging us to face and overcome these obstacles to success!

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Peggy. You are so generous with your comments. Yes, we all wallow at times in negativity but as we live longer years, we do realize that this is not doing us any good.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      This is an informative and helpful article Mary. Probably everyone can relate to experiencing negative thoughts at some point. Getting mired in them can negatively affect one's life and that should be avoided. Your tips from changing negative thoughts to positive ones are excellent.

      Your photos are always so good when illustrating your articles. I always enjoy them.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      thank you Readmikenow. That is a very good advice. I should follow that and study a successful hubber.

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 

      2 months ago

      Very good article. A wise man once told me to find someone who has succeeded where you want to succeed and study them. I once met a local person who was very successful in the writing world. I met him and told him I wondered if sometimes mixing up Ukrainian words and English words would keep me from a writing career. In perfect Ukrainian, he told me not only does it not hurt, it help see what is true in both languages. I had no idea he was Ukrainian or even spoke the language. He inspired me. He's even made himself available to discuss things from time to time. You bring up some very good points. I enjoyed reading your article.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      That's great Barbara. We all have those negative thoughts and our minds are experts in producing them.

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 

      3 months ago from USA

      The hub has a lot of good advice. I thought of a few negative thoughts that I can work on myself.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      3 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Gregory. Yes, there is no giving up. At one point, when I wanted to give up, I read about not giving up but investing instead so that's what I tell myself now. Invest.

    • Gregory DeVictor profile image

      Gregory DeVictor 

      3 months ago from Squirrel Hill, PA

      Mary, thank you for an informative article. On a fairly regular basis, I start off the day by renewing my mind and training my heart. It makes a noticeable difference as to how my day ultimately turns out.

      I too have always had a fear of failure. Gratefully, I have had two strong mentors in my life for the past five years. Both of these people are very successful and famous today in their respective professions. However, both are quick to admit some of the setbacks that they suffered in the process of getting from Point A to Point B. It was not easy for either of them. I’ve been there too. But I wouldn’t be where I am today personally and professionally if I had just given up and stopped pressing forward after some setback parked itself at my doorstep. Mary, thanks again for the article.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      4 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes Bede. That is the question. I believe it is personal for each one of us what we consider success. It will differ based on what we value and the circumstance we're in. You are right about the balancing especial today when the obsession for success seems to be a major preoccupation.

    • Bede le Venerable profile image

      Bede 

      4 months ago from Minnesota

      Reaching success is a balancing job between courage and humility: the courage to embrace challenges and the humility to live with personal limitations or failures. Here’s the million-dollar question: what is success? It might make a good hub or at least a forum question.:)

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      4 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Fearlessness and stubbornness. I am stubborn but very fearful so I need to learn this. Thank you for the Edison quote.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      4 months ago from Orlando Florida

      I always like to remember what Edison said, "I have not failed, I have found 1000 things that won't work. And then he found the one that id and invented the light bulb. Any success I have ever achieved is due to fearlessness and stubbornness. Thanks for reminding me to overcome all obstacles.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      4 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      How true.

    • profile image

      Tom 

      4 months ago

      We have seen the enemy, and he is us! Thank you Pogo.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      4 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Li-Jen for your kind comments. Fear is so intense in those who grew up in particular cultures which instil this strongly in kids so the journey is not over yet.

    • Li-Jen Hew profile image

      Li-Jen Hew 

      4 months ago

      Hey Mary. Thanks for sharing this useful article. Glad that you were able to overcome your fears and don't worry, your efforts of trying out different things helped you to know what you can and can't do and inspired you to write this article. :)

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      All of us deal with negativism. Sometimes, I think it is there to make us appreciate the positive.

    • profile image

      Minoru10 

      6 months ago

      Thank you for the positive information here. It is a real challenge for me with negative thoughts and of fear of the unknown while trying to move forward and overcome obstacles... : D

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I'm surprised, too, that your last comment got lost when this was published as you got in early. Anyway, thanks for coming back. Negative thoughts have haunted me for years and I worked on it for years until its claws have loosened up a bit.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      6 months ago from USA

      I'm back to comment on this. (The first time I was waiting at the doctor's office and my name was called.) Negative thoughts particularly can become self-fulfilling prophecies. We hear negative messages from teachers, doctors, parents -- many times well-meaning -- and we internalize those messages so that they play on a continual loop within our minds. Sometimes healthy denial and a good dose of determination is the best thing. Loved your message.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      We all do Nell. We all do and it is good to have some mechanisms to protect ourselves from so many things we have to face.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 months ago from England

      Thanks Mary, I am terrible where it comes to failure. I try to push myself out of it, but most times I just say, ah well never mind, then forget it. Great advice.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you for the visit. Yes, it is only happening now. I think I had been over protected but I'm happy anyway.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Mary for sharing these interesting and helpful suggestions on how to face and overcome these obstacles. Great that you share your own experience and the outcome. Happy for your progress!

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      You're not the only one. I understood experts call it sabotaging ourselves by doing something that would explain why we did not succeed. Slowly, we'll work it out.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      6 months ago from Brazil

      Your article resonated with me.

      Fear of failure is still something I struggle with. I find I spread myself too thinly not committing to one thing just in case it is the wrong thing. This results in lacklustre experiences on all fronts.

      The information you've provided is excellent.

      Thanks for highlighting the problems to watch for and ways of making improvements.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I am sure Linda you know all of these from what I see in how you live your life. You try to inform us and your research is very enlightening. Thanks.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes, you're so right. We an start with ourselves and eventually shake up the fixed mindsets and limiting beliefs of the institutions we have. Thanks Eastward.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a great article, Mary. Some of what you say applies to me. Thank you very much for sharing your advice and ideas.

    • Eastward profile image

      Eastward 

      6 months ago from Phuket, Thailand

      Very important points about overcoming these obstacles to success. I like how you presented the alternatives to "negative talk" as well. We can all benefit from embracing these principles and putting out more positive energy around us. Eventually, we might even be able to see real change in the fixed mindset systems at the top echelons that protect so few and plague so many.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Look at those fears and make them your friends. One of the exercises taught me by the therapist is to listen to it, it will say something to you. Maybe, it needs reassurance. You will understand it and just by listening to it, it can just go away.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Bill. The Mailbag's result. I have now taken my writing seriously.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      6 months ago from Central Florida

      I need to really ponder the advice here. There are 3 books I've been working on (but not really progressing because of fears I have).

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 months ago from Olympia, WA

      We can definitely be our own worst enemies when it comes to pursuing success. Very good analysis of this, Mary!

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Good luck. I look forward to reading it Jorge.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you very much for your very positive comment. Yes, we all got this fear and I'm happy that you kicked it off earlier than I did. What a relief it really is not to be burdened by it.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      You are in a better position to start and not wait until you're over 65 like me. I can see you are doing that.

    • Jorge Cruz99 profile image

      Jorge 

      6 months ago from Canada

      You are right. Now, I am going to write my article, right now, no excuses...

      Thank you

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      6 months ago from Norfolk

      Mary this hub really does talk to me. We have all suffered from a fear of failure at some time in our lives. I am pleased to say that somewhere along the way I realised that it was crippling me and I just had to kick it into touch. This is a well thought out piece of writing and should be compulsive reading for anyone who feels the need to boost their self-esteem a little.

    • profile image

      Shafqat Mushtaq 

      6 months ago

      Wonderful! I guess people of my age need it most than anyone else!

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