On Barriers As Obstacles, Not Walls
How can you stop what's stopping you?
This weekend I had the pleasure of listening to two accomplished women discussing barriers to sport. One was Dr. Phathokuhle Zondi, a sports physician and CEO of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, and the other was Dr. Cheri Blauwet, a sports medicine and rehab physician and gold medal Paralympian. Both women centered their talks around the physical and mental barriers that people face in sports, whether as novices or elites.
We all have barriers preventing us from getting what we want.
Dr. Zondi spoke about empowering female athletes in South Africa and the many challenges they face in terms of money, lack of support structure, and expectations for how women are supposed to look and act in South African culture. Dr. Blauwet, herself in a wheelchair, spoke about empowering people with disabilities and the many challenges they face in terms of opportunity, inclusion, and credibility as elite athletes. (As impossible as it is to believe, the US Olympic Committee only decided in September of 2018 to award equal payouts for Paralympic medals.) These talks could not have been more differently themed, yet at the end both women urged their audience to consider the same notion: that barriers are never quite as they seem to us.
We all have obstacles preventing us from getting the things we want. Sometimes physical, sometimes mental, sometimes utterly imaginary. Some came to you through no work or fault of your own, and some you built, on purpose and without hesitation. Some barriers are like Slimer with his goofy pranks, some are Dementors with their desolation, and some are Daenerys with her fire and screaming terror.
Even the most imposing problems have design flaws.
Here's the important thing. None of these scary barriers (scarriers?) retreats the way the viewer expects. Slimer ended up in a hot dog cart, Dementors turned out to be hilariously scared of ghosts, and Daenerys got stabbed by a hug. The unexpected twist is how each of these villains drops.
This unpredicted downfall is the case with your personal scary barriers too. You never defeat them the way you expect to. Whatever is preventing you from getting what you want probably isn't exactly as you perceive it. Which means the way to take it down probably isn't exactly as you perceive it either. Don't you think Voldemort would have made some design changes if he knew his Dementors could be defeated by the ghost of a freaking magpie? Right. Because even the most imposing, happiness-swallowing problems have some design flaws. If there's one thing I took from both Dr. Zondi's and Dr. Blauwet's talks, it's that exploiting the design flaws of our barriers is the key to defeating them.
You can't do anything about the barriers you're not in charge of. But what about the ones you are in charge of? It's easy to get overwhelmed by what's in front of you, even when it's within your control. Here's how to start moving past these obstacles. You have to recognize the barrier for what it is, validate it as a legitimate threat, and then forget about it. As Dr. Zondi said, "To solve any problem, you must see the barriers...and then not see them anymore."