A Coaching Power Tool By Michele Steele-Jordan, Leadership/Life Coach, UNITED STATES
Understand the True Meaning of Opportunity vs. Obstacle
I am yet to find one human who has not experienced an obstacle. Obstacles come in many forms and degrees of difficulty, whether it’s a flat tire on your way to work, a broken shoe heel on date night, an illness, injury, loss of a loved one, financial setback, a bad relationship, a natural disaster, or a major world crisis like a pandemic. The fact is, there will be obstacles! “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity”- Albert Einstein. The question becomes, “What do you do when you experience an obstacle?”
In the pursuit of success and happiness, one must find the opportunity in every obstacle to achieve the level of fulfillment desired, according to the wise words penned by Einstein. It is necessary to understand the true meaning of the words to apply this principle.
The Differences Between Opportunity vs. Obstacle
An opportunity is a favorable situation for a positive outcome. – your dictionary .com
A situation in which it is possible to do something you want to do.
An appropriate or favorable time or occasion. Situation or condition favorable for the attainment of a goal.(www.dictionary.com)
According to dictionary.com, an obstacle is defined as an obstruction, hindrance, an impediment that interferes with or prevents action or progress. Something that stands in the way or holds up progress. It is also considered a difficulty or problem preventing you from achieving something; an object you must remove or go around. (www.dictionary.com)
The way one views their experiences, or the world is influenced by the lens through which they look. When situations are viewed through the obstacle lens, it results in a negative perspective, typically full of blame and resentment. This is a disempowering state. However, if one views life experiences through the opportunity lens it ignites hope and generates a positive and empowering outlook. The shift from obstacle to opportunity requires resilience and courage. It’s the choice between pessimism and optimism. The benefits of the opportunity mindset and positive thinking are endless. It promotes mental and physical stamina, reduces stress, and stimulates energy to solve problems. Research completed by psychologists Michael Scheier and Charles Carver in the 1900s found that positive thinking is connected to the expectations that people hold about what is possible. This is necessary to determine the actions people will take when they are faced with difficult situations. They found that it is likely that the expectations of outcomes had influenced what they did about the situations. “People who see desired outcomes as attainable continue to strive for those outcomes, even when progress is slow or difficult. When people see outcomes as unattainable, they withdraw their efforts and disengage from their goals.” (Scheier & Carver, On the Power of Positive Thinking: The Benefits of Being Optimistic.Feb.1, 1999) This thinking supports the theory that having an opportunity orientation versus an obstacle orientation provides more favorable outcomes for the achievement of success and happiness.
Individuals and corporations that responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic as an opportunity rather than an obstacle survived its wrath and bounced back even stronger than before its onslaught despite the major negative impact on society. Many individuals who were furloughed from jobs they have had for years, took the opportunity to take online classes, learn a new skill, and repositioned themselves and their goals for bigger and better things. What could have been a major setback became a catapult to better work-life balance, higher earnings, and personal growth for some. A plethora of companies experienced the loss of customers, revenue, and staffing. These companies who viewed the situation through the opportunity lens were able to change the trajectory for the future by shifting strategies, business goals, and ways of working. Results included doing more with less, new technology, more sustainable practices, better governance, and stewardship. A testament to the famous quote “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change”-Dr. Wayne Dyer. Those that clung to the obstacles’ perspective, folded under the pressure with no outlook for a comeback.
Clients come to coaching to explore solutions to a problem or challenge they are facing. They seek an environment to freely express their thoughts and emotions. They want to aspire, dream and work towards a desired goal or outcome with the support of a coach. When clients are stuck in the Obstacle path, the coach must partner with the Client to shift to the Opportunity path.
Opportunity vs. Obstacle Scenario
Think about a time when a situation did not work out as you anticipated. What were the circumstances? What challenges did you face? How did it make you feel? And what did you do about it?
Respond to these questions considering the following scenario:
Single mom Sandi is taking her teenage daughter Mandy on a trip to California. Sandi has been working long hours and Mandy has been spending more time with her dad. The relationship is a bit strained, and Sandi wants to build their relationship before Mandy goes off to college in the next two years. Flight, hotel, and excursions were booked as soon as Sandi got approval for her time off work. Sandi is super excited about the trip to spend some much-needed time with Mandy. The day before the big day, Sandi received notification from the airline that flights were canceled due to a major staffing shortage due to the pandemic and they were no rebooking options until the following week. Funds were reimbursed, and Sandi desperately checked other airlines, but flights were already booked. Sandi spiraled into a barrel of disappointment, “How could this happen to her after all the sacrifices she made to make this happen?” she felt hopeless as her tears began to flow. What would she tell Mandy, who was looking forward to spending time with her mom? Another promise made to her daughter once again fell short. Mandy’s negative emotions swelled into Mount Everest, she thought to herself, nothing ever goes smoothly for her, she had to fight for everything. Other people had things so much easier, and life seemed to go so well for others. Why can’t things go well for her; failed marriage, troublesome parenting, difficult job, always trying to prove herself in her career?
Sandi was stuck in the Obstacle course. How can Sandi reframe her perspective and turn this situation around into an opportunity?
Shifting from Obstacle to Opportunity
Identifying how both orientations may manifest is important to make the needed shift.
The client stuck in the Obstacle course will harbor feelings of negativity, regret, discouragement, and blame. They often exhibit a lack of drive to push through and experience higher stress levels.
What Clients may Say:
- Why is this happening to me?
- I don’t deserve this.
- It won’t get better
- I can’t do this anymore
- Nothing ever works out for me
- It’s not going to change, so why bother?
A client who looks through the opportunity lens will embrace a positive outlook, courage, hope, and a strong desire to overcome. They will exercise resilience and the will to succeed.
What Clients may Say:
- I am facing a challenge right now
- What will I do about it?
- What can I learn from this experience?
- What are my options and resources?
- It will get better
- I can do it, I am capable
How to Shift from Obstacle to Opportunity
The first step to shifting from obstacle to opportunity is acknowledging the obstacle/challenge that exists. Frame your views on the facts and identify how you are feeling. Emotions will surface; we are only humans. Give yourself permission to feel, but deal with negative emotions promptly, and don’t let them fester. As a Coach, empathize with the client’s emotions. Identify the reasons behind the emotions. Examine the facts surrounding the situation. This will help to decipher what is real and what is not. Assumptions are counterproductive, so eliminate any assumptions through introspection and insightful questioning. A realistic view of what is possible is important. If there are things that can’t be changed, one must accept them and move on. Determine what the desired outcome is. What does the client desire? Seeing the end in view will help Clients to lean toward a more positive outlook. Positivity will fuel energy for creative thinking and problem-solving. Identify what options exist and what resources are available to succeed. The client is now ready to determine the next steps to turn the situation around. Explore learning and establish accountability to stay on the opportunity path.
Coaching Questions to Make the Shift
- What challenge will be helpful to explore?
- What emotions are coming up for you?
- What assumptions are you making?
- What do you know to be true?
- What is your desired outcome?
- How will you know you have achieved the outcome?
- What is possible now?
- What adjustment will you need to make?
- What are you learning?
- What support/resources might be helpful?
- What is necessary to stay open to the process?
- What motivates you to keep going?
- How will you celebrate your progress/success?
Shifting Perspective From Opportunity vs. Obstacle
Sandi sought the help of her Coach. The coach partnered with Sandi to shift her perspective from obstacle to opportunity. After Sandi acknowledged the predicament she was in, she identified her emotions and accepted the fact that she could not change the airline’s decision to cancel the flight. She gave herself permission to feel disappointed but with the help of the Coach focused her attention on what was possible. Her goal was to spend quality time with her daughter, Sandi explored what that would look and feel like and why this was important to her now. With that in mind, she shifted her energy to what was possible. What options did Sandi have? Sandi discovered that she could plan a staycation with her daughter and explore local attractions and outings. She could also make it a road trip and drive to California. While that may take her a day and a half to get there, the possibility of long conversations in the car and some fun stops along the way would fulfill her desire to spend quality time with her daughter. Sandi was now beaming with excitement and renewed energy to pursue these options. She looked for resources and information that would make her time with her daughter meaningful and fun. Sandi also took away some insightful learning about herself and her approach to problems or issues when they arise. She now has tools to apply to help her view of life through the opportunity lens.
- How might the outcome be different if she chose to stay stuck on the Obstacle course?
- What did Sandi gain by exploring the opportunity?
- What takeaways can you apply to a current situation?
- How can you apply these principles to your own life?
- As a coach how will you use this power tool: Opportunity vs. Obstacles?
Michael F. Scheier, Charles S. Carver (Feb 1, 1993) On the Power of Positive Thinking: The Benefits of Being Optimistic.
On the Power of Positive Thinking: The Benefits of Being Optimistic