Turning Obstacles into Opportunities: Reflect, Reframe, and Cast a Vision

Warwick Fairfax

March 16, 2020

Typically, when we face an obstacle, especially a major obstacle, we tend to think, at least in the moment, this is the end.  Especially if it is a serious health diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, or losing your job or the company you started.  That is normal.  Our first reaction is almost never, “Oh joy!  An obstacle!  I am sure this will be a great learning experience.  I can’t wait to see what unfolds.”

Significant obstacles set you back.  They are often crushing.  If it is an adverse health diagnosis, you might be thinking of the shortness of life, or perhaps the pain of treatment and the effect it will have on those you love.  If it is getting fired, you might be angry at those who fired you and/or mad at yourself for not doing better.  Major obstacles can lead to a range of emotions: anger, depression, self-doubt, fear, immobilization.  Just thinking about next steps can seem impossible.  You can’t get your head and emotions out of the bottom of the dark valley you are in.

So how do you get beyond obstacles?  Can you reframe obstacles as opportunities, and how do you do this?

Reflect

The first step is to reflect on what happened and why.  In an adverse health diagnosis for instance, often it is not your fault; it can be because of genetics or what you feel is just bad luck.  Perhaps you smoked many packs of cigarettes a day or led an unhealthy lifestyle.  You must come to terms with what has happened.  Forgive yourself if part of the situation was your fault; or try not be angry at the world or God, depending on how you view things.

If part of it is your fault and it affects other people, perhaps there are words of contrition that need to be said; and some relational healing may be needed.

What are the lessons you may need to learn from this situation?  In a business setting, getting fired, or in my case losing a business, should make you want to consider what happened and why.  Did you make some mistakes?  Were you in the wrong position given your gifts?  That would be yes to both of those questions for me.

Glenn Williams is a great example of someone who stopped and reflected after leaving a high profile leadership position in a major nonprofit.  He could have instantly leapt into another corporate-type job.  After listening to some good counsel, he wisely did not. For more on Glenn’s story, here is the link to our BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE podcast.

Filmmaker and actor Robert Krantz also did some deep reflection after twin crucibles – one professional, one personal – hit him hard in the early 2000s. After the movie he sunk all his money and talent into failed due to circumstances largely beyond his control, his wife received a health diagnosis that threatened the lives of their unborn triplet sons.  Krantz took a long look at what was really important in his life, and dedicated himself to his family rather than his career until his sons were old enough … and he pursued his professional calling with renewed passion. For more on Robert’s story, here is the link to our BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE podcast.

Reframe

Probably the biggest step forward after reflecting and forgiving yourself or others for what happened, is to reframe how this obstacle can be used as an opportunity.

Reframing an obstacle as an opportunity might seem impossible, but it is possible.  People who have gone through great pain and suffering, have endured huge setbacks, typically have in common the desire, indeed the drive, to use that setback to help others.

David Charbonnet, a Navy SEAL, used the crushing setback of a parachuting accident that ended up with him being paraplegic, to head a veterans clinic designed to give veterans as much mobility as possible after enduring physical trauma like he did. He transformed a tragic thing that happened to him into an opportunity to do wonderful things for others. For more on David’s story, here is the link to our BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE podcast.

Esther Fleece Allen used her setback of being abandoned and abused to become a writer and speaker dedicated to helping others overcome tragedy and find a new sense of purpose. What had felt like lost years growing up, she saw as learning years as she matured. For more on Esther’s story, here is the link to our BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE podcast.

When your life is dedicated to serving others, there is tremendous healing.  Your life has a sense of purpose, a sense of significance.  Getting your mind and emotions off your own problems and challenges and getting them focused on others and how to help them is the key.  It also importantly brings purpose to your pain.  You might not like what happened to you and wish it hadn’t happened, but using your pain to help others does help.

Cast a Vision

Finally, as you reflect on your desire to serve others, to use your pain for a purpose, might there be a vision here that needs to be explored?  Talk to friends and family and advisers.  Tell them you want to find a purpose to the pain and let them know some of the people you are trying to help.  Together you might be able to take what you are already doing to help people to a whole other level; and indeed, a whole other level of giving purpose to your pain.

Jim Daly, president of the global family-help organization Focus on the Family, began life as a boy in desperate need of family help. He was abandoned by his alcoholic father, his mother died of cancer and his stepdad skipped out on the family the day of her funeral: all before Jim was 10. Jim says, “Oftentimes, our pain bears our passion” – and that’s just what it did for him as he embarked on his ministry career. For more on Jim’s story, here is the link to our BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE podcast.

Ed Kressy, at the lowest point of his life after drugs and substance abuse left him destitute and homeless, began helping people through community groups, the local police in San Francisco, and the FBI.  Helping others was the key to his path back. You can hear Ed’s story in an upcoming BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE podcast.

Obstacles, especially devastating setbacks, can be crushing.  They can feel impossible to overcome, and impossible to bounce back from.  But if you reflect on what happened and why, consider how your pain can be for a purpose, and think how that can lead to a vision to serve others; you can indeed get past a crushing setback.  You can see your obstacle as an opportunity to make a difference in the world by serving others.

Reflection

  • Why did your devastating setback happen and what can you learn from it?
  • How can your pain be used for a purpose, that in some way can help others?
  • What vision do you have that would use your pain to serve others?

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