Overcoming Obstacles

Eat your vegetables! Climb that hill! Go train at the gym! 

You know it's good for you. But taking that first bite of that broccoli head can be really tough. You look at that spinach and it just hurts your taste buds. As you can tell, I'm not vegetarian... furthest from it. 

But after a bite of that spinach. It's okay. It's bearable. Now it's part of your morning smoothie. Like climbing hills, the first one is hard but the others that come after it? Eh, not so hard. You've done it before already. I have the eating habits of an eight-year-old so you may not be able to relate here. 

So what's another common obstacle people tend to experience? 

Your environment at birth. 

That proverbial, "I can't do XYZ because I wasn't born with money" or "That person can do ABC because they were born wealthy".

The way I see it. It's a mindset issue. It's a mindset issue of believing you can't win with the current hands you've been dealt. It's the lack of belief in your own abilities to achieve whatever you want. It's also being too afraid to even take any of the risks that could make meaningful change in your life. Why else would you make excuses and anchor the rationale for your inability to achieve XYZ to someone else's living environment?

Humans suck at predicting. So even forecasting your own inability to do something will most likely be wrong. Just up to you to prove it wrong of course.

Humans also love looking at the short term. It honestly has gotten much worse with people wanting things faster. You want a book? BAM, Amazon Prime got it to you in 1 day. You want the whole season of a show? BAM Netflix got you covered. You want to see your parents in another city? BAM, Apple Facetime.  

We constantly want things to go faster and also expect things to go faster. So how would this affect our view on our ability to overcome obstacles like not being born into riches?

It'll exaggerate the difference. All you'll see is what you have now compared to what Richie Rich has with the thought of "Ugh, I can't do all the things he's doing now, or in the next 6 months." 

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years
— Bill Gates

In this case, you will overestimate how difficult and unachievable something will be in one year.

What has to happen is we need to switch our mindset to play the patient, long-term investment game. A long-term investment in yourself. It's about slowly climbing that hill of <input reason here> (i.e. money, gender, sex, race, IQ level, parental connections> you believe is an obstacle. Once you commit yourself to climbing that hill and reaching the top you'll have developed a new mindset that will let you achieve more with less resistance. 

Let me tell you a story. 

I still revert to this moment in time when I find myself faced with obstacles. Every month or so, in my high school, we had to complete a 4km run from our school to the nearby Van Dusen Garden. 

Short, out-of-shape and lacking most forms of general athleticism this wasn't an easy task for my 14/15 year-old self. I'd say it's during these young teens where the athletic kids and the non-athletic are easily distinguished. It just seems like you're either born with athletic talent or you're not. 

I sucked at running. The prior year, my average run time was 25 minutes. Well enough to put me among the bottom half of the class. Maybe even last 10 at times. I think playing hockey may have limited me from being among the last 5. Thank god. 

Running 4kms was hard enough but the course literally included a steep hill I had to climb. This hill got us, the slow folk. This is where I felt the athletic and the unathletic were segregated. The good runners continued up the hill. No problem. I'd run too, then eventually start walking within a few meters. Huffing and puffing with cramps in my stomach letting me know how unfit I was. 

The hill became a nice excuse to walk, to stop the pain from running. I remember telling myself even if I'd jogged my walking pace would only be a tad slower. So, I trudged up the hill, as I manufactured an element of shame and embarrassment. I'm sure no one would've cared or noticed me. But back then it was still my long walk of shame.

So what did I do? I trained. The nerd in me even thought of a strategy to running. My theory was that if I'd be able to jog up the hill without walking I'd be able to shave minutes off my time. Felt like a genius. "Don't walk but jog? Oh, no fucking way?! Yeah, great strategy!" 

Alas, easier said than done. I first needed to build up the endurance to first gain the ability to jog continuously without having cramps beating up my stomach.

Every night I hamster-wheeled on the elliptical for 20 minutes. No set goals. Just said I'd do it for 20 minutes everyday. FYI, this wasn't fun.  I'm sure I could've trained smarter, but the importance was that I had started, and I was doing it everyday. 

The time for the run had eventually come. I tried to keep the same pace throughout. Not getting overly excited. We soon hit up the hill slopes. I continued my pace. As I trudged on the hill I jogged past some earlier victims. They'd stopped around the quarter mark and started walking. It was getting harder as I passed halfway, and I could see the leaders disappearing as they turned right at the end of the hill. My body would be screaming at me to start walking and oh man that would've been nice. 

But this time it was going to be different. My jogging pace had slowed to something more of a speed walk. But I didn't stop jogging. The idea was to just not walk. Continue jogging. I'd keep my head down because the energy used to even look up the hill seemed wasteful. I had jogged more than I had ever before at this point. 

After what felt like an eternity I made the turn at the end of the hill for the final leg back to the school. It was bizarre. I felt so much faster. It honestly felt so easy. 

Cutting the long story short, I made it in at 20 minutes and something seconds. I never stopped exercising after that and eventually cut my 4km run time to the 13-14 minute window by my senior year. And yes, by then I had run past most of my friends who were considered "more athletic than me". Oh, and because I got addicted to getting stronger I went on to break two world records in powerlifting and win the junior world championship in my early 20s. Funny how it all starts from being one of the least athletic kids in my class. 

Okay, story done. So what?

Well, every obstacle I see is like that hill. Everyone will face a series of obstacles in their lives. Some more than others. Some hills will be longer and harder. But the way I see it, the ability to overcome each one prepares you to overcome the next. You've done it before. You have the momentum, so you have the mental confidence to do it again. In fact, any obstacle smaller than what you first experienced won't even feel like an obstacle to you. A single hill is never the same hill to those who climb it. 

It's a choice to walk instead of jog up the hill. It's also a choice to go back down after walking up halfway. 

If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan your mission properly
— David Hackworth, Military Journalist & Former US Army Colonel

Life starts unfair to everyone in all perspectives. Just know that overcoming each and every obstacle will put you so far ahead of those who had advantages over you if you just keep on going. In the long run, the person who overcame 25 obstacles is going to trump the person born into that same spot. 

Look at the graphic below:

Overcome Hills.png

Person A: Wasn't born into a wealthy family, no family connection at high places, not of favourable gender or skin colour

Person A (PA) has an obstacle to climb that Person B (PB) doesn't have to. PA has to work hard to get to that same place. PA can just bitch about it and not climb the hill and always be somewhere below PB. Or PA can climb the hill. It's hard of course. But now when on the same playing field as PB, PA is faster. PA has momentum. 

PB has never had to climb an obstacle before. Having only been on a flat road PB hasn't learned how to exert the amount of energy required to climb a hill. PB hasn't developed the perseverance and discipline needed to climb an obstacle yet. PA though is faster and once another obstacle appears only has to exert a little more energy.

Now on the same plane as Person C (PC), PA is even more faster and leaves PC behind as PA dashes to the next obstacle.

PA, PB, PC are all individuals born into various circumstances. 

Yet, PA will most likely go on to achieve greater feats than those who were born into more advantageous situations. You see, it's the nature of competition. Competitive advantages will erode over time when you stop growing. Just like how a business's competitive moat constantly widens or shrinks, so does your personal advantage. If someone was born with a nice advantage but never spent arduous time growing it, then when someone like PA comes along to challenge them they will not know what to do and eventually see what advantage they had shrunk. 

If you are born poor it’s not your mistake, but if you die poor it’s your mistake
— Bill Gates

Everything you do is a choice. Most of the readers of this article live in a society where they had the choice to read this article after having chosen to surf the web. Not taking a risk is a choice. Don't blame your financial or societal situation. Sitting there and mopping about it is a choice. Not doing anything to overcome it is a choice. The few who have decided to be the controllers of their own fate climb obstacles. They've chosen to take the path of resistance. To overcome it and emerge stronger than they were before. 

-people who naturally keep the weight off no matter what don’t need to exercise or watch their diet in order to stay trim. There can’t be many of them who would go out of their way to take these troublesome measures when they don’t need to. Which is why, in many cases, their physical strength deteriorates as they age. If you don’t exercise, your muscles will naturally weaken, as will your bones. Some of my readers may be the kind of people who easily gain weight, but the only way to understand what’s really fair is to take a long-range view of things
— Haruki Murakami, Novelist and Runner

To take on such large obstacles, one must be able to look long-term. It's hard. But if you look long-term, you know any advantage someone had over you will erode over time. Because those with advantages get fat and lazy. For someone like you who has been fighting in the trenches for decades, they become easy targets. It's a process. A journey of getting your hands and feet dirty as you climb over each hill and pick yourself up after each fall. 

Soon, you won't even want to stop. It'll get highly addicting. You'll see how easily you blow-by everyone else who has never had a struggle in their lives. The numerous excuses people of comfort throw at you will seem foreign to you. In my opinion, this should be the path for everyone. We all have obstacles. They all seem large and don't seem conquerable to us. At times like that just remember that Viktor Frankl survived 4 separate concentration camps during the holocaust, and yes one of them was Auschwitz. So yeah, our obstacles look like pebbles to the mountain of an obstacle Frankl had to overcome to survive. 

With that perspective, I hope you've chosen to climb your proverbial hill. Hope to see you at the top.