Seize the Day: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities
Beth Bloom | Seattle, WA. April 12, 2022
There are countless books on how to achieve success but very few on how to overcome failures. No one ever teaches us how to confront loss and disappointment. We know that loss is a part of life. We cannot have the major chords without the minor ones or birthdays without funerals. Spring is so glorious because we have just survived another winter. But how do we face obstacles and triumph over them? How do we avoid getting stuck when something stands in our way?
After 20 years as a lawyer, I reached a roadblock in my career. I wanted to be a trial lawyer. I wanted to present cases to jurors. But my colleagues cautioned against it. Where I saw possibility, they saw risk. And so, I was stuck. I was frustrated, confused, helpless, depressed, and afraid. The longer I stayed in that situation, the more upset I became. The obstacle became fuel for the blaze that was my ambition. Eventually, I started my own firm, cleared my own path, and began trying cases to jurors as I wished. I have never been happier. What changed was my own perception. I learned the power to pull good fortune out of misfortune.
What Will You Do with Your Obstacle?
Maybe you have just been fired from your job. Of course, you will feel panic, fear, and anger. Life has thrown up a wall in front of you. Perhaps that wall is discrimination because of race, or sex, or disability, or sexual orientation. Or maybe that wall is an abuse of power unleashed upon you because you stood up for what is right and became a whistleblower. If so, then you may also feel despair and grief. The world has shown its true colors just as you feared it would. There is an obstacle in your path – and it sucks.
Go ahead and feel those feelings. You are out of your comfort zone. Everything is falling and crashing in around you. You may feel like you can’t handle any more – but you can. There will always be people who want to intimidate you, to scare you, to push you off your path. The question is are you going to let them? Who gets to write your story? Will you allow others to harm you personally and professionally? Or is this job loss an opportunity to gain a new foothold, move ahead, and grow in a new direction?
There is an old Zen story about a king who wanted to test his people. He placed a large boulder at the front gate into the city. As citizens approached the gate, they stopped in front of the great rock in their way. Some pushed it. Others kicked it. But the massive rock would not budge. Many citizens turned back and walked away. Then one day, a young woman came up to the gate and faced the boulder. She looked up at it. The sun shined down blinding her eyes. She walked away. But soon she came back. A long branch crafted into a lever hung over her shoulder. She placed the branch under the boulder pushing down on it with all her weight. And as she did so, the boulder dislodged from the earth and rolled away. Under the boulder the king had placed a bag of gold coins and a note. The note read, “The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”
You have lost your job. Once you move past your initial feelings of shock, you will have to make a choice. What will you do with this obstacle? Can you steady yourself, find your footing, and not be discouraged? Because if you can, then you have taken the first step toward turning this obstacle to your advantage.
Seeing the Blessing in the Burden
Once you have steadied your emotions, the next challenge is to see the obstacle objectively. Can you make a mental flip? Can you reach a point where you see that this must be good? I don’t mean blind optimism. I am not saying simply “look on the sunny side of life.” I am saying move forward. Be ceaselessly creative. See the opportunity within this obstacle because there is always an opportunity within every obstacle.
When the obstacle is the loss of a job because of who you are or because you have stood up for what is right – the opportunity may be staring you in the face. If you search for the opportunity within the obstacle, natural questions will arise. Do I have a legal claim? What are my rights? Is there a path to right this injustice? Is what happened to me just my story? Or is what happened to me part of a larger story? Is there potential to turn this obstacle into an opportunity for growth – not just for me – but for the world we live in today? Is this obstacle one that we can leverage to move the world from the way it is into the way it could be? Is pushing this obstacle out of the way part of our march toward “a more just, more equal, more free, more caring, and more prosperous America?”
Is what happened to you a blessing or a burden? I ask why can’t it be both?
Granted, no one calls an employment lawyer when they are having a good day. And yet, in the years that I have served clients in circumstances just like yours, I have witnessed miraculous transformations. There is something in the process of standing up for what is right that holds healing properties. Fearful people find power. Grieving people see a path to hope. Angry people find peace in justice. Humiliated people walk tall again. Within the obstacle is the opportunity for growth.
And it is not just clients who are transformed. Businesses learn important lessons and change for the better. They grow and become more accountable. Many are pushed into an uncomfortable reality. But this is good and necessary if we expect our powerful companies to show their commitment to equality with their actions and not just their words. Accountability is important. Within the obstacle is the opportunity for change.
Jurors are also moved. Some people love jury duty and cannot wait to give up their lives to sit for weeks on end in a courtroom to serve their civic duty to enforce the laws. But most people hate jury duty – at least initially. Some folks will go to great lengths to avoid it. And yet, the State vests jurors with absolute power at the end of a case to decide whether someone is at fault and, if so, what they will do to make it right. People who serve on juries are often amazed at how much they enjoy the experience of making justice not just an ideal but a reality. There is immense power in setting the world on its proper course. Within the obstacle is the opportunity to empower communities.
What Choice Will You Make?
It comes down to your mindset. Do you believe in your ability to push through this job loss to be transformed? We can help you leverage this obstacle. But you’ve got to have the will. Can you get your mind around it? You can do it. I know you can do it. We are in the business of radical mind shifts. Pushing back is the opposite of how we are taught to be behave. “Be realistic,” we are told. “Compromise,” we are told. “Don’t raise a fuss,” they tell us.
But what if all of that is baloney? What if it is too conservative for the moment, too small for this time? What if this job loss is the beginning of a new chapter? What if stepping forward and fighting back is the right path? You cannot change what has happened to you. That is in the past. But you are in direct control of what you do next. Embrace what you can change, and let go of what you cannot. That is the difference between people who accomplish great things and people who defer, complain, and give up. The obstacle in the path becomes the path. The choice is yours.