Seeing Obstacles

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For some people, riding a bike is merely about transportation. Not for me. Aside from the exercise that cycling provides, I often have my most compelling insights while in the saddle. At times, riding becomes a metaphor for life.

One path that I ride frequently travels east from downtown Denver toward the Cherry Creek Reservoir. A few miles into the ride, I pass under a roadway, execute a full 360-degree turn, and confront my nemesis: a 3-foot pole in the middle of the path; it’s there to prevent cars and other motorized vehicles from driving onto the trail. For 15 years, that pole has tormented me. My anticipatory self-talk screams, “Look away. Don’t hit the pole!” Determined to avoid a painful collision, I squeeze the brakes and swerve. This physical barrier – and my response to it – has become a metaphor for mental and emotional obstacles that I create and that impede my effectiveness. When I ride defensively – to avoid the pole, my thoughts go to the larger life lesson about playing not to lose.

Everything in life goes better when I focus on the opportunities down the road instead of on individual obstacles along the way. Yes, it’s important to deal with obstacles when they arise. That’s different, though, than giving them so much energy and attention that I literally have no goal in mind other than to not hit the pole!

My knee-jerk tendency to see the pole distracts from my real goal. No amount of panicked attention to the pole will make it go away. It’s far better that I see the line I want to ride and allow myself to glide past the pole…mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Here’s an example that’s unfolding for me currently: after working most of the last 20 years in internal talent development, I am blazing a new trail in service to families and family-owned businesses. Even though I grew up in a family business and have coaching, mediation, and other valuable skills, I’m not assured of success. At the very beginning of this ride, I find myself at a fork in the road – one of many I’ll encounter – and have to choose whether to:

1) Set myself up to fail by becoming consumed with all of the reasons why family business consulting doesn’t make sense and won’t work. Or…

2) Clarify my point of view about families and family businesses and then talk to people who might have a need that I can serve.

The choice is simple – but not easy. Success requires hard work. It’s much more likely to come, however, when I steer toward what I want instead of toward the obstacles that I want to avoid.

I hope your next ride is focused on the line you want to travel!


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