Nobody sets out in their life to fail, get hurt by others or get ill, go bankrupt, take on massive debt, take punches from the world until they die. But when these things inevitably happen – sometimes in a row – it can completely take the wind out of your sails. It can be tough to get back up and keep going when everything seems to be stacking up against you. We have the choice to see the tests as something necessary to improve our lives or otherwise as needless misery. Most of us grow up setting long-term goals and hearing that quite anything is possible. Then, we encounter more and more resistance as we age – from competition at an ever higher level – and from “circumstances.”
At every level, starting with your college, you are striving for the top 10% (or better). For grad school, then top jobs, it’s always the top 10% of that old 10%. That’s how survival of the fittest works, we’re told. Except that fitness is but one small factor in the battle to swim through the darkness to the mythical and distant island of “success.” Intelligence and pure hard work are critical but over-rated. So is luck. That’s why A students end up working for C students often. Grit is the key ingredient for those that “make” it to the top of any field. Work long enough on any problem and you’ll make some headway, often quite a lot. Even if not the smartest, wisest or the fastest worker, you’ll outlast, outwork and ultimately outperform the smarter, wiser, faster folks.
A Russian saying puts it best. “The slower you go, the farther you’ll get.” Those with true grit have generally overcome some combination of big childhood traumas, failures in their business and in family and personal setbacks. Yet they have persevered because they felt that life was worth continuing, that all the challenges were there for some big purpose well beyond themselves.
In my own life, I grew up in a single-parent home, then emigrated here from Soviet Russia, put myself through college and then law school, managed to survive New York despite Recession, unemployment, massive debt and setbacks in my business and a lot of mini-traumas on the way. Yet, here I am, much stronger than before, more focused, healthier, and wiser than before – and more accomplished.
What worked for me was an over-riding sense that difficulties come and go, always for good, for growth. A discipline to get through certain problems to the end and also knowing when just to let go. A wealth of patience and a boundless curiosity. Knowing my place and mission in this world and always seeking to improve and change for better – for my own sake and my family’s.
These are the detailed strategies I’ve used to weather through great challenges and come out ahead:
1. Get a grip on life.
Stop just surviving and learn to thrive. This is the first step in overcoming obstacles in life. Until you learn to value your life in a way that lifts your spirits and fills you with hope, you will always be bogged down by the crushing traumas that life throws your way. By shifting your focus away from the painful to the positive, you will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and start moving towards it. Feeling a sense of purpose in your life, having a goal to strive for, and developing faith in your own abilities can help you overcome disappointment and fear.
2. Value your time above everything else.
Your time is your most precious resource and is always diminishing. Until you learn to value your time above all, friends, family and everyone you meet could easily manipulate you (on purpose or not, it doesn’t matter) into spending your precious time on useless conversations, behaviors, habits, etc. Once you set limits and acknowledge the obvious bad habits in yourself and others to engage in useless conversations – or any activity that does not progress your life, you’ll find your time serves you better. This will help you become more productive and successful in whatever field you choose to pursue.
3. Create good habits and get rid of bad ones.
Keep a consistent (and consistently healthy) daily regimen. This is a really basic, but under-appreciated point, especially for young invincibles. A solid and consistent daily regimen will keep you in one piece through the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs.
4. Take good care of your mind.
Find a highly recommended therapist or mental health counselor to help you work through and throw away all the baggage from childhood that’s holding you back from seeing yourself in a healthy way and moving forward with life and succeeding. By prioritizing your mental health, you will be able to overcome the obstacles that life throws your way, without letting them affect your mental wellbeing.
5. Eliminate negativity from your life as much as you can, day in and day out.
Be relentlessly positive, even while remaining a realist and pragmatist. This means removing people that put you down, shower you with jealousy, envy, and unproductive or unhealthy habits. Minimize the time you spend listening to depressing music or watching depressing movies. Manipulate your mood for the better with music that lifts you up and keeps you moving forward.
6. Develop a negotiation mindset in all your dealings with people.
Practice negotiating to get value for your money or when shopping – where you have nothing to lose. Research, understand, and internalize your true value to employers, business partners, landlords and all others you deal with. Be confident in your capabilities and set your limits when you go in to negotiate. Come in with concrete and measurable facts about what you’ve done, on what budget and time frame, how much money and time you’ve saved the team and company. Practice with a coach or a no-holds-barred friend beforehand.
By following these steps, you can overcome the obstacles that life throws your way without giving up hope. Remember, it’s not the obstacles themselves that define you, but how you deal with them. With a little grit and determination, you can weather any storm and come out on top.