I work with a lot of very successful people in my Executive Coaching and I can assure you that even very successful people face obstacles.

Let me take you through the eight of the most common obstacles I’ve come across, and then we’ll talk about some strategies for handling them:

  1. Limiting beliefs
    Like “I’m too old, I’m too young, I’m not qualified”, which are basically a lack of confidence.
  2. Societal norms/expectations
    Such as “big boys don’t cry – I can’t show emotion, women don’t do this, Chinese people culturally can’t do that…”.
  3. Habits
    Our automatic reactions or habits we’ve fallen into, like being defensive when challenged, or saying no first before then thinking it through.
  4. Burdens of the past
    Things that have happened that might prevent us from dealing with the current situation in the most effective way. Sometimes we forget that we’ve learned and grown and matured since then and no longer need to be guided – or rather, misguided – by that negative experience in the past.
  5. Fears
    Of the unknown, of failure, success, all sorts of fears.
  6. Lack of clarity
    About what is success, or how to go about a task.
  7. People
    Who are not supportive and are standing in your way.
  8. Lack of resources
    Such as time, money or people.

Looking at these examples, the first six are “self”-based – they’re internal. And this kind of “internal churn” can really stop you from performing to your potential.

The good news is, if it’s internal to ourselves, there’s every reason we can deal with them in an effective way. Of course, the fact that we’re right up close with it can make it hard, but self-managing is a key part of becoming a good leader and enjoying greater career success. It’s in our own interest to learn to manage ourselves well.

On the other hand, only two out of the 8 obstacles are external, or other-based: people who are not supportive, and lack of resources.


Of course, what really matters when we’re trying to achieve a big goal is what we do with those obstacles.

How to handle internal obstacles

For the internal obstacles, the most effective strategy I’ve found is to:

  1. Recognize them for what they are
    Shine a spotlight on it and say, “okay, I see this limiting belief and I can see it’s not true, and here’s the evidence”, and then replace the limiting thoughts with something more constructive. Or if it’s a fear, look at what it is that we’re afraid of and what we’ll be missing if we let the fear keep us from taking action.
  1. Find someone to help go through the issue dispassionately
    Some of us can do this on their own, but I personally find it helpful to have another person to talk it through with.
  1. Then find a way to release yourself from it and let go of it
    I struggled with this for years until finally, one of my mentors said to me as he watched me spin my wheels, “decide and move on”. He was basically telling me that unless I learned to move on, I would never be as successful as I wanted to be. I can still hear him saying this to me whenever I’m in the midst of this internal churn. And that triggers me to act.

The other things I’ve found useful is to remind myself of the saying:

”You aren’t responsible for the first thought that goes through your head, but you are responsible for what you do with it.”

It’s okay when the internal obstacle pops into your head uninvited, but then it’s up to you to “get over with it”, as my mother says.

Let me give you an example of someone who I tremendously respect who is exceptional at taking obstacles, addressing them, and then putting them on the shelf. Let’s call him Bill.

Bill had asked me to do a project with his organization. I said, “Well, it’s too far away, I’m not qualified, it’s too difficult, I don’t have the time …” – I had so many obstacles in my mind.

He said, “let’s sit down and go through them”. So we did.

I said “this is an obstacle”. He’d say, “this is how we’re going to address this obstacle”, and then he’d put it aside and say, Next?

Next obstacle – here’s how we’re going to address that, put it aside. And so on.

Before I knew it, I had no more objections or obstacles left and I realized that I could say, “yes” to this project I really wanted to do but thought I couldn’t.

Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could do that for ourselves or find someone to help us with it?

How to handle external obstacles

Once we’ve recognized the internal obstacles, then what we’re left with are the external ones.

You will find that there are fewer of them, which makes them easier to deal with.

  • If it’s lack of time, there’s always the tactic of “focus, prioritize and delegate”.
  • If it’s money or people resources, then surely it’s within our capability to go out and persuade someone to donate or hire or give us advice.
  • If it’s really about people who are not supportive, we need to look at that and decide if it’s important to win them over – do we need to negotiate? Sometimes there’s nothing we can do and we have to move on from there. But most of the time, there will be something within our resources that we can use to help us address the external obstacles.

So now, I want you to list your obstacles, shine a light on them and get someone to help you do the equivalent of “here’s how we’re going to address it, move it aside.”

Then I want you to get out there and do what you are meant to do!

And remember to come on over to my Facebook page and leave a comment.