Embrace an Obstacle

What was your initial reaction to the title of this post? Most of us dislike obstacles. They are challenges to overcome, bypass, or remove. Surely not something to be thankful for or “embrace.” That must be a typo, right? Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle is the Way offers a different perspective. I will share a personal story along these lines.


For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic created a number of obstacles at work and in life that people had never encountered before. About two weeks into the lockdowns, I shared my prediction with a coworker that this was going to be our new normal for at least the next 18 months. He looked at me like I was crazy. But my background in the areas of medicine, research, and human behavior told me otherwise. So while many people began going through the motions of telework in hopes that their lives would return to “normal” again very soon, I focused on how to spring into action based on current reality.


First, I ensured my teammates all had laptops with VPN and cameras enabled prior our work from home mandate. Our military organization had done very little telework up to this point, so I knew that receiving tech support was about to get more difficult logistically. I also anticipated some people may be at a loss for what to do initially, so I thought about projects that we had been putting off that we could work on from home. One of our units had been asking for some testing norms, which we never seemed to get around to in the midst of our the other initiatives and services we had been providing them. So our team divided up the data entry work and created the testing norms in less than two months. People ended up thanking me later, as it helped add a little structure to their initial days of working from home in addition to creating a useful product for our unit members.


Additionally, I focused on how we would continue our mission, which in our team’s case was to support the resiliency and professional development of our unit members and leaders in the organization. First, we requested and received permission for a couple of us to get placed on mission essential status in order to continue providing some on-site support, as many unit members had jobs that precluded them from teleworking. But how would we support others who were largely working from home? Thankfully, I had recently finished my initial executive and personal coaching training with the College of Executive Coaching, and recalled the instructors talking about how more coaches were starting to provide their services remotely. So, that is what we did – offered virtual executive (and eventually personal) coaching services. One of the units we supported at the time was more than halfway across the country. Prior to the pandemic, I flew out to touch base with a handful of them only about one week per quarter. Once we started offering virtual coaching services, our team was able to provide consultation and coaching support for those unit members on a more consistent basis, forging deeper working relationships with approximately two dozen leaders in that location. Over time, our coaching services moved toward a hybrid model, ultimately providing professional development to over 1,000 leaders within three years.


What is an obstacle that you might choose to embrace in your work or life right now?