I’ve been lucky. Without much effort, for much of my life, I’ve ridden the wave of my advantages; often unaware of the obstacles building up, below the surface. OK, so I have made some great choices, and done some good work, but so many of the external markers of success have been gifted to me, through genetics, class and geography, that I have been/am often lazy. The simple power of questioning how one deals with obstacles has raised some interesting questions for me, not least on how I take advice.
I’ve been told by clients that I can get the heart of a problem quickly and turn them to advantages through action. When I reflected on this with Doug, it became clear that I do this well for others, but not so well for myself.
Reading this well written, balanced and accessible book has been an extremely useful challenge to some of my most established behaviours. Not least my tendency to turn obstacles into defensive walls that I can protect my ignorance/insecurity behind. Perhaps a result of being bullied at school, this habit means that I reflexively talk myself down. I am often able to talk myself out of more positive action, and tend to feel happier clanging up against my obstacles.
So, when I read a book like The Obstacle is the Way, I find myself forced to ask why I don’t turn my situation (often MUCH better than I think, and privileged !) to my advantage. It did this by offering learning around simple headings (see the excellent summary list in this Lifehacker review/post)
So, why wasn’t it an easy read? Having pulled out of a tricky time (that is a euphemism, by the way!) I do struggle with the need to place the change in terms of material success throughout the book.
There is a trope in most books that find themselves in both the ‘Self Help’ and ‘Business’ sections; that ‘reflection’ on a ‘problem’, followed by ‘action’ + ‘inspiration’ leads to ‘success’. It is a very compelling vision, and one that reads so well, as it imagines us (the reader) as the hero/ine – as modelled in the hero’s journey, monomyth, we know so well.
Like so many ‘advice’ books, the authors seek to make their arguments more compelling because of all the figures from history and celebrity littered across the book. I found this approach familiar, too pat, too easy, too deterministic.These sorts of narrative bother me – but that could be because I don’t want to make it easy for myself.. but have, perhaps gone too far, and made it too hard!
So – I am going to embrace this book and the lessons within it. Even if I don’t buy into the post-hoc fallacy, I can chose to use the structure within it to help me do good work for myself, as well as others.
I’d hugely recommend Doug Belshaw as a critical friend for other freelancers out there – and Doug can be found here. If you’d like to talk about the edtech services I offer, there is more info here and please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org