What is your attitude toward obstacles?

I was all excited to tell my friend and lawyer Kyle Durand that I was finally exercising on a regular basis, taking early morning walks in the neighborhood.

“That’s so cool!” he said.

Then I asked “So, what are you doing for fun these days?”

“Oh, I am preparing to run the 350 mile Iditarod trail in Alaska in the middle of winter.”

You read that right, not “go on a sled pulled by dogs,” but “run.” As in “One foot in front of the other while pulling your own camping supplies behind you in the frozen tundra. For 350 miles.”

The funny thing is that Kyle’s news came as no surprise. He had already run a double marathon in Durban, South Africa, competed in Ironmans, and biked from Canada to Mexico, just to pass the time. He was an American Ninja Warrior, for goodness sakes.

Kyle runs towards obstacles like my dogs run toward my husband when he has a plate of hamburgers.

It seems like the more difficult, the more extreme conditions, and, let’s admit it, the more insane the challenge, the more quickly Kyle runs to it.

His attitude toward obstacles has helped him so much in his career as a Navy Commander, entrepreneur and tax attorney.

And now it helps him in his new business guiding people to their inner grit at Intrepid Race.

As someone who has benefitted greatly from his enthusiasm for tackling challenges, I have been reflecting on the importance of attitudes and behaviors toward obstacles when building a business.

Give me the blueprint

When starting a business, or going through a significant phase of growth, our first thought is “I have to know the steps to accomplish this.” or “What is the formula?”

We all want the blueprint.

If someone has done it before, it can be done again, right?

Well, theoretically.

What happens when things go wrong?

Success can only be attained if you have a clear, consistent and humble approach to overcoming obstacles.

Otherwise, you find yourself tapping out in despair every time your plans fail.

“I did what I was supposed to do! I sent 20 emails to conference organizers, pitching my talk. They all rejected me. I am deluding myself to think this strategy will ever work.”

“That product promotion always works! This time I sent it out, and no one bought it. No one! I am sunk, what’s going to happen to my business?”

“I took this job, thinking it was the perfect fit. Now I realize that my manager is a nightmare, and I am stuck inside this dysfunctional organization.”

We have been socialized to seek instant results and gratification. Just read through a stream of promotions for business solutions.

“Write your book in two days!”

“Launch your 6 figure business in a weekend!”

“Lose 15 pounds in 15 days!”

No one wants to hear the truth:

“Learn an amazing blueprint in 2 days! Then go try to implement it, and find it doesn’t work at all the first time! Eat copious amounts of Swedish Fish! Complain to your friends on Facebook! Stare at a screen for hours on end! Watch 3 Seasons of House of Cards on Netflix. Finally get it together and try something else! Have moderate success after a few months! Fail again! Recover, and finally begin to see some traction!”

Not as catchy, is it?

I actually like the truth better. Growing a strong, stable business is a long game. It is slow food vs. fast food. It is looking at the formidable challenge of starting and growing a business with enthusiasm.

A lot of our destructive creative patterns come from trying to stuff down the fear and disappointment when things don’t work right the first time.

They rarely do!

Settle into the experience.

What is your attitude toward obstacles in your life and business?

Susan Baier and I are working on a groundbreaking study that examines the many attitudes that small business owners have about obstacles. Here are some examples:

  1. FEAR (“I’m afraid this will ruin my business.”)
  2. EXCITEMENT (“I can figure out a way to solve this!”)
  3. OVERWHELM (“I just don’t think I can handle any more problems.”)
  4. ISOLATION (“I wish I didn’t have to handle everything by myself!”)
  5. FRUSTRATION (“Again?!? I seem to take one step forward, and two steps back.”)
  6. EMBARRASSMENT (“I hope no one finds out that my business is struggling like this.”)
  7. INSUFFICIENCY (“I must not be a very good business owner if my business is struggling with this.”)
  8. AVOIDANCE (“I just can’t deal with this today. Maybe tomorrow.”)
  9. PERSECUTION (“Why does this kind of thing always happen to me?”)
  10. JEALOUSY/RESENTMENT (“Why doesn’t that person ever have problems like this?”)
  11. REGRET (“I should never have decided to do this.”)
  12. DETERMINATION (“Well, it’s not great but I’ll just have to roll up my sleeves and figure it out.”)
  13. RESIGNATION/DEFEAT (“There’s nothing I can do.”)
  14. ENTITLEMENT (“I don’t deserve to have this kind of problem.”)

Which ones hit home for you?

At different stages in my business, my default responses to obstacles have been AVOIDANCE and FRUSTRATION.

What are yours?

Awareness of your attitudes toward obstacles is the first step in creating effective habits and realistic work plans.

Can attitudes change?

You can respect that way you are naturally wired, and change your attitude toward obstacles.

I have worked really hard these last six months with my coach Mark Otto to examine and change my attitudes toward obstacles. I have been amazed at the results, finding so much more satisfaction in the creative process, as well as business progress and strategic focus.

Here are some of the ways I have experimented with attitude shifts:

  • Blocking out time every day (early morning for me at 4:30am 3 days a week) to work on the business. I am astounded at how much this helps)
  • A clear plan that includes strategic priorities. Mark and I spent a lot of time laying out my 5 year goals, and breaking them down into 90 day action plans. My execution has not been perfect, but it is vastly improved from past patterns of just shooting from the hip.
  • Consistent exercise. This is morning walks for now, but I will be adding yoga and/or cardio kickboxing soon.
  • Morning and evening meditation. We have done this as a family for 2 weeks, and all of us feel more rested, focused and accomplished. We do it for a short period of time (5 minutes) together, followed by some deep breathing. It is also a lovely way to connect silently as a family.
  • Visualization. At the beginning of my day, I visualize what I am going to accomplish. I see obstacles appearing, and I see myself stepping through them.
  • Great team. I have surrounded myself with a great team that helps balance my wild and unpredictable creative tendencies. Mastermind partners Susan Baier and Chris Lee, bff Desiree Adaway, business strategist Jessica Steward, operational genius Yolanda Facio , business coach Mark Otto, lawyer and CPA Kyle Durand and Cynthia Durand and family Darryl, Josh and Angie are my anchors. I rely on all of them to call me on my crap (they ALL do this very well!) and celebrate my wins.
  • More fun. I don’t have trouble working a lot. I have not been doing such a good job at having fun. So I have John Legend and Bruno Mars concerts on my calendar. I have been practicing what Shonda Rhimes advises in her great book The Year of Yes: saying yes to playing with the kids as soon as they ask. I have danced outside with Angie, gotten crushed in Monopoly with Josh, and laughed outside with Darryl. I am hosting and participating more artistic and creative events at K’é.

All about the obstacles

Susan Baier and I will be conducting an academically valid, deep dive study into the attitudes of small business owners toward obstacles.  I will share the survey link at the beginning of June and would LOVE to have massive participation by my community.

Once we get the results and start the analysis (likely August), we are going to spend the next 4 years in a full on learning laboratory, finding ways to understand, shift and overcome small business obstacles. I am wildly excited about this, and will invite your broad and enthusiastic participation (both locally and globally).

My goal is to help each of us be a little more like Kyle.

When you see a challenge — get excited about running toward it.

Find your version of joy at a 350 mile run through the Alaskan tundra.

Update: We successfully completed the survey and here are the results! Check out this interactive Tableau data visualization.

Reader Interactions


  1. kirsten Bridge says

    I love this, Pam! I tend to embrace adventure more than most. And I would add the “I’m too tired ” obstacle (probably your overwhelm).
    I have had a bit toonmich adventure over last decade (or more) – something I never thought I would say when I was 20. And yet- I wonder what Kyle would say. I am soaking this blog in alongside son other personal reflection of late. What if another intl move is my 350 mile winter trek? How can I prepare a little each day in my inner world as well as outer? And what will I do to prepare for obstacle?
    Love this and you!

  2. Toni Bodenhamer says

    I often teach people how to ask for Sponsorships or fundraise, and one key concept is that “no” doesn’t mean “no” (therefore it’s not ‘rejection’). I always tell this true story — that I try to remember when I come face to face with an obstacle .

    As I was heading out the door to take the too-young-to-drive teenage son somewhere, his older teen sister made a request I could not accommodate. She expressed her disappointment with full teen fury. And we departed. In the car, my son said “may I ask a question about what just happened? I don’t understand it.” I said OK.

    He said: All that noise. It was because you said ‘no’?
    I said: Well, pretty much, yes.
    He said: Hmmmm. That must mean she thinks ‘no’ means ‘no’.
    Sseing an opportunity to parental education, I said: And what do you think ‘no’ means?
    He thought for a moment and finally said: I don’t know. I guess I’ve always just seen ‘no’ as kind of a speed bump.

    And while that attitude did present a few challenges to the parent — I admire the attitude to this day. Today he’s a a dad with a daughter of his own and I can only hope he is passing on that attitude, partly because I think is it beneficial to anyone in the long run, and partly, yes, because all us Grandmas want want a little revenge.

    • Regine Albrecht says

      I do like your story, Toni, considering a ‘no’ as a speed bump and not a final word. This story reminded me of some ‘definitions’ I came across a while. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who invented it, but I like it so much that I wrote it in my notebook to have it handy whenever I need to read it. Here it goes:

      If you FAIL, never give up, because FAIL stands for First Attempt in Learning.
      END is not the end, in fact it means Effort Never Dies. And last but not least…
      If you get a NO as an answer, remember NO stands for Next Opportunity.

      I like this attitude and am working on getting better at it myself.

      I used to dwell on the injustice of the world, threw a pity party and felt stuck as soon as a serious problem arose. It took me quite a while to start thinking about a possible solution or way forward. I have to thank my husband who always reminded me that I am wasting a lot of time by doing this instead of investing my energy in the problem solving process. I didn’t always appreciate his comments, in fact, I found them annoying and inconsiderate most of the time. Until I felt ready to listen or better doing. Instead of getting mad at him and complaining about the injustice of the world, I looked for a solution. No pity party, no dwelling on what had happened (one can’t change it anyway). And it was pretty amazing how quickly I felt better just because I was looking forward and getting the obstacle (or speed bump as Toni called it) out of the way.

  3. Lawrence Fox says

    A mixture of Excitment, Avoidance (because I am a PRO at procrastination) and Determination. Very rarely Resignation/Defeat.

    I guess it’s because I’ve always believed that life is a journey and the distance travelled and the skills/knowledge acquired along the way is just as important as the destination–which I probably won’t finally arrive at until it’s time to put me under the ground .

    If I don’t grok it today, there’s always tomorrow or the day after when I can get more excited to do it.

    I know that there’s just som much to learn and a limited time in which to do it. It’s funny, but I just had a telephone call with my brother–who’s recently taken on a new job at the insistence of a client who told him “I KNOW you can do this for me”, but in area where he has no knowledge or experience. He told me “It’s strange becoming the oldest member of the team, with the least amount of experience” but that it’s an amazing, challenging time for him.

    It’s how I’ve always felt.

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