By Joy Haney
“This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4).
Obstacles have been and always will be part of the structure of life. An obstacle can be defined as a barrier, blockage, difficulty, or hindrance. It is something in the way of progress: a hurdle to be jumped over or cleared. Instead of a stumbling block, an obstacle can become a stepping-stone to greater things, as noted by the following great educator:
No matter how poor you are, how black you are, or how obscure your present position, each one should remember there is a chance for him, and the more difficulties he has to overcome, the greater can be his success. – BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
A goal is the guiding force of life. When one is knocked down by opposition or overwhelmed by barriers and difficulties, a vision problem ensues. The eyes that looked ahead and focused on a goal have now shifted to the obstacle; they lose sight of the greater purpose and, if one is not careful, drown in the lesser condition. The objectives or aspirations have not changed. They are still out there, doing their best to beckon to those who lose heart. During this time it is important to remember that the goal must be greater than the obstacle.
Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.
— HENRY FORD (1863-1947) Developer of the mass-produced “Model T” automobile He pioneered the use of assembly-line methods.
When one resolves that nothing can stop him from reaching his goal, somehow the barriers, one by one, are dissolved before the resolute force of an individual’s will. If in the storm of life one can hang on to the reason for the storm, all will be well. Purposes, goals, and aspirations will definitely bring hindrances and difficulties. That is all part of life, but they should not be allowed to put out the fire of an idea. Let them be used only as fuel to succeed.
Obstacles cannot crush me; every obstacle yields to stern resolve.
Obstacles can defeat a lesser person, or it can make one stronger. If there were never any pressures or difficulties, there would never be growth. The challenging things cause people to develop and to expand. The mind is stretched during difficulty; whereas, a mind that never encounters a storm becomes soft and restricted.
You never will be the person you can be if pressure, tension, and discipline are taken out of your life. — JAMES G. BILKEY
It does not matter the obstacle; what matters is the resolve of the one facing the obstacle. Difficulties should be earmarked as challenges or something to be conquered and overcome. Life’s circumstances can make one feel trampled upon, but the strong just keep fighting back until they win.
Some minds seem almost to create themselves, springing up under every disadvantage and working their solitary but irresistible way through a thousand obstacles. — WASHINGTON IRVING (1783-1859) American author and diplomat
Irving was the first American writer to gain fame in other nations, as well as at home. He went to England in 1815 to run the Liverpool branch of the family hardware business but could not save it when the whole firm failed. Thereupon, with the encouragement of Walter Scott, Irving turned definitely to literature. His stories and essays reflect his genuine charm, sense of humor, and pleasant disposition. His more famous works were Rip van Winkle, Ichabod Crane, and Oliver Goldsmith. He was the last of eleven children. He loved poetry and books of travel but disliked school and left it when he was sixteen.
He returned to New York in 1933 and wrote about the American West. Irving established himself at his estate, Sunnyside, near Tarrytown, New York, until he was sent to Madrid as American minister to Spain (1842-1846). Once more at Sunnyside, he wrote a biography of Goldsmith (1849) and labored at his biography of George Washington (five volumes) (1855-1859), which he completed just before his death.
Irving’s failure at keeping the family-owned business afloat was a turning point in his career. He refused to let life stomp on him and quickly turned to the calling of his life: writing, and at that he succeeded.
It is not the discouragement or the temporary setbacks that are most important; more importantly is the successful overcoming of the things that bring discouragement. Some people have more to overcome than others. It is a strange fact that sometimes those who have more ability are inclined to lean on that ability and not reach their potential; whereas on the other hand, those with less ability, work harder until they surpass those who had it easy. They are the true winners: those who have overcome much and succeeded.
I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. — BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
One who overcame much was Helen Keller. Anne Sullivan shares the following incident from the life of Helen, which demonstrates her ability to overcome obstacles that were in the way of her success.
Not long ago I tried to show her how to build a tower with her blocks. As the design was somewhat complicated, the slightest jar made the structure fall. After a time I became discouraged, and told her I was afraid she could not make it stand, but that I would build it for her but she did not approve of this plan. She was determined to build the tower herself and for nearly three hours she worked away, patiently gathering up the blocks whenever they fell, and beginning over again, until at last her perseverance was crowned with success. The tower stood complete in every part.
Oftentimes the very things that cause people to stop and think, the troubles that will not go away, or the adverse situations are the factors that bring out the best in them. It is the thing that causes one to reach into the inner consciousness and draw out something that was hidden by more comfortable times.
Adversity is the midwife of genius. — NAPOLEON (1769-1821) Emperor of France (1804-15)
Everyone chooses how he or she reacts to adversity. The negative options are to rebel or to feel sorry for self. To rebel against something that is unchangeable is a fight that is never won. It is the duty of the individual to see what can be changed and to work at changing it. Adversity should be a challenge to overcome all odds and to gain victory over defeat. There is nothing that can stand in the way of someone with a will to overcome, except of course, God! To achieve “in spite of” is heralded as a great success.
Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere. Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world — making the most of one’s best. — HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK (1878-1969) Clergyman and author
It would take many books to contain all the stories of those who have prevailed and attained even when it seemed an impossibility to do so. Several are listed below who belong in those books:
- Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was a hopeless invalid, unable to stand without the aid of a cruel brace, but became a famous English poet. He was deformed at age twelve.
- Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was a sickly, puny child with scarcely a chance for maturity. He was afflicted with asthma and many times lay choking in his father’s arms. He lived to become the twenty-sixth President of the United States of America (1901-1909).
- Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861) was a hunchback who became a famous American statesman.
- Thomas Edison (1847-1931) lost most of his hearing at about eight years of age and, though struggling with deafness his whole life, perfected the phonograph.
- John Milton (1608-1674), blind, wrote England’s greatest poem. In 1667, he published his masterpiece, Paradise Lost. After he became totally blind, he composed his Treatise on Christian doctrine, and a still more extraordinary enterprise was that of the Latin dictionary, along with Paradise Lost.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), even though crippled by infantile paralysis, became the thirty-second President of the United States (1933-1945).
- Ben orison (1573-1637) was a boy so ugly and ridiculously clothed that he was tormented by his schoolmates. I le spent his time reading to forget his misery. At eighteen he worked as a bricklayer. But he finally won the acclaim and esteem of England. He was honored by Queen Elizabeth, was decorated by King James, and was one of the most brilliant playwrights and poets England ever produced.
- Oliver Goldsmith (1731-1774) was regarded as a stupid blockhead in the village school. When he finally got a degree from college, he was the lowest on the list. He was rejected for the ministry. He tried law with the same result. He borrowed a suit of clothes to take an examination as a hospital mate, failed, and pawned his clothes. He lived in garrets, failing at everything he tried. Only one thing he wanted to do write. This he did and rose above the handicaps of illness, poverty, and obscurity to high rank among the greatest writers of all time.
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was deaf: “Though so deaf he could not hear the thunder for a token, he made music of his soul, the grandest ever spoken.”
- Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was a hunchback who became the king of Macedonia.
- Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), though crippled, became a famous English author.
- Francis Mouthelon, who was awarded the 1000-franc prize by the French society of artists for the loveliest painting in 1895, had no hands. He painted with wonderful skill by means of a wooden hand.
It is a fact that troubles often reveal heroes. It is the crisis that brings the best out in a person and often propels him to fame. People are not noted for their day-to-day existence but for the expert way they handle a storm. The winners are those who overcome problematic circumstances and refuse to be beaten by the invasion of difficulty into their lives.
Skilful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. — EPICURUS (341-270 BO Greek philosopher
Strenuous and demanding situations call for strength not used on ordinary days. The grueling moments of the trial cause the soul to be strengthened. The tough things of life only make the winners tougher. Nothing can defeat them! They merely come out better and wiser.
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. — EDWIN HUBBEL CHAPIN (1814-1880) Clergyman and orator
Enrico Caruso, the great singer, had a favorite expression: “Bisogna soffrire per essere grandi.” The words mean: “To be great, it is necessary to suffer.” After years of difficulty, Caruso achieved fame, but the man communicated more than beautiful music through his voice. A music critic once observed, “His is a voice that loves you, but not only a voice, but a sympathetic man.”
His trials gave him more sympathetic with the common people. This emotion was transferred to every listener. His singing became richer because of his suffering. His story told elsewhere in this book shares that his teacher told him he could not sing, but Caruso refused to give up his dream. It was not an easy road for him, but he was not after ease. He was following an ambition.
History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats. —B. C. FORBES
Whatever life hands someone, it is his choice to determine what he does with what has been dispensed to him. He can build, become, and triumph, or he can protest, excuse, and cave in to the pressure. “It takes a little courage and a little self-control and sonic grim determination if you want to reach a goal.””
We can throw stones, complain about them, stumble on them, climb over them, or build with them. — WILLIAM ARTHUR WARD
The choice is either to collapse or to take courage, to build or to bawl, to capitulate or to capture. Victory is there but not without a price. When all is dark and totally beyond your ability to do anything positive about a situation, that is the time to forge ahead in spite of the circumstances! It takes courage to go forward in the face of defeat, to regain honor in the face of dishonor, or to believe when everything dictates failure.
Whether you be man or woman you will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor. —JAMES L. ALLEN
Mankind was not promised easy roads and painless advances but just the opposite. Life calls for courage in the face of danger, bravery when the situation calls for cowardice, strength when weakness invites, and sheer guts when everything fails. President Theodore Roosevelt once said: “It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage that we move to better things.”
To move ahead when the deadly bullets of life are flying every which way takes nerve and valor. Those who wish to taste the sweetness of victory know that there is no place to stop until it is attained. Yes, even when the pressure is unbearable, energy is replaced with weariness, and the pain becomes excruciating, winners know to keep advancing. To vacillate is to lose.
When the morning’s freshness has been replaced by the weariness of midday, when the leg muscles quiver under the strain, the climb seems endless, and, suddenly, nothing will go quite as you wish — it is then that you must not hesitate. — DAG HAMMARSKJOLD (1905-1961)
Secretary General of the United Nations (1953-1961)
A scientist once said of Thomas A. Edison, “This poor fellow is wasting his time. Two fundamental laws of physics prove that he is attempting the impossible. The first is that there can be no light without combustion; the second is that no combustion can take place in a vacuum. Therefore, no light can be made in a vacuum.” But even in the face of these impossibilities, Edison went right ahead and perfected the incandescent electric lamp. It was Cicero that said one of the mistakes of man was, “Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.”136
“When Harvey insisted that blood flowed through the body, he was scoffed at. Pasteur’s theories of germ life were scorned. Langley’s plans for a machine which would fly without the help of a balloon were ridiculed. Even today, the man who is fiveyears ahead of his time is looked upon as being a trifle balmy. The progress of the world depends upon men with vision and the courage to make their dreams come true.”137
Courage is the power of being mastered by and possessed with an idea. — PHILLIPS BROOKS (1835-1893) American clergyman and bishop He is best remembered for his Christmas carol, “0 Little Town of Bethlehem.”
When circumstances dictate for one to retreat, that is often the time to advance! Instead of treading in fear, go forth in confidence with a dare. Dare to win and to overcome instead of feeling disenchanted and disillusioned. Rise and run into your dream with hope ablaze, reaching for that which appears out of reach.
Don’t be afraid to take big steps. You can’t cross a chasm in two small Jumps. — DAVID LLOYD GEORGE (1863-1945) English statesman
A chasm can be the void in a life, an abyss of heartache and pain that threatens to destroy. Walking in fear, looking into the dark hole of failure or despair, does not require much doing. It is the brave soul, who chooses to take the big steps toward reaching a goal, that will be lifted into a realm of fulfillment and advancement. It is not an easy thing to do, but it necessitates steadfast effort and determination to go forward when everything else screams, “Give up!”
We must not permit present problems to form a wall of bewilderment that shuts off our view of great futures. — DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
No matter what happens, how great the obstacle is, how dark the night, keep pushing forward. Triumph and victory will come, but many times they will be after a fight. Fight on; fight on no matter how hard the fight, for those who win fight on until victory comes!
I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that the highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
— THEODORE ROOSEVELT (1858-1919)
Before the triumph, during the times of struggle and hardship, often it is necessary to overcome doubts and fears. Fear paralyzes the mind and keeps one from thinking clearly. When there is fear, there are torment and self-doubt, which restrict advance. If fear is not conquered and is left to rule, it will dictate failure.
If a man harbor any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality, makes him landlord to a ghost. — LLOYD CASSEL DOUGLAS (1877-1951)
Protestant minister, famous for his best-selling novels Magnificent Obsession (1929) The Robe (1942)
Fear keeps people from moving ahead, afraid to venture forth toward new horizons. As they huddle in their safe, immobile positions, they tremble and cower even more. It is better to be on the offensive, going forward, tackling that which causes the fears, than it is to wait trembling in the shadows for the worst to happen.
Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.
One army lieutenant found a solution to his problem, as have many others through the history of time. They have found that they are never alone and that God is watching over them; therefore, their faith is in Him as they learn to follow His guidance. Those that trust in God walk unafraid knowing that He is in complete control. With Him in control, all is well, for He does all things well no matter how bad the situation is! It is simply a childlike faith in God.
My faith in God is complete, so I am unafraid. — WILLIAM G. FARROW (1982-1942)
First Lieutenant United States Army Air Corps
Proverbs 3:5-6 simply states: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” This is a promise! To be directed by God is success!
Faith in God is the cornerstone to true success. Without God, no success is lasting. “Faith always takes the first step forward. It is a soul sense, a spiritual foresight, which peers far beyond the physical eye’s vision, a courier which leads the way, opens the closed door, sees beyond the obstacles, and points to the path which the less spiritual faculties could not see.”138
Personal fears and doubts are not always what one must overcome, but there are times when it must be proven to those who are skeptical that their fears and skepticism were in vain. Some of the better-known incidents that bear this out are listed below:
- Benjamin Franklin’s mother-in-law hesitated at letting her daughter marry a printer. There were already two printing offices in the United States, and she feared that the country might not be able to support a third.139
- A six-year-old lad came home with a note from his teacher in which it was suggested that he be taken out of school, as he was “too stupid to learn.” That boy was Thomas A. Edison.
- Alfred Tennyson’s grandfather gave him ten shillings for writing the eulogy on his grandmother. Handing it to the lad, the old man said: “There, that is the first money you ever earned by your poetry, and take my word for it, it will be the last.”
- A boy was so slow to learn to talk that his parents thought him abnormal and his teachers called him a “misfit.” His classmates avoided him and seldom invited him to play with them. He failed his first college entrance exam at a college in Zurich, Switzerland. A year later he tried again. In time he became world famous as a scientist. His name: Albert Einstein.
The main thing is for each individual to have convictions that he or she follows no matter what the climate around that one may be. There will always be those who do not believe. There will always be fears and doubts, but those who go forward bravely in spite of the fears and doubts are the true winners. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “To do right at all times, in all places, and under all conditions, may take courage, but it pays, for the world is always looking for moral heroes to fill its high places.’, 140 One of those heroes was General Douglas MacArthur.
Moral courage is the courage of one’s convictions, the courage to see things through. The world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave. Its the age-old struggle — the roar of the crowd on one side and the voice of your conscience on the other. — DOUGLAS MAC ARTHUR (1880-1964)141 Famous American general of World War II
One of the most amazing stories of sheer courage in the face of tremendous odds is that of Nancy Merki. Stricken with polio at ten, she was condemned to wear heavy braces and later crutches. Yet in four years she became a swimming champion who told President Roosevelt, when he asked her how she had become the youngest champ despite infantile paralysis: “Well, I guess I just kept trying, Mr. President.”
Her parents had taken her to a man named Jack Cody, swimming coach at an athletic club in Portland. It took a year to teach her to swim the length of the pool, but she was determined. Finally the coach realized that this young girl was not only interested in swimming as a means of restoring her health and the use of her limbs, but she wanted to be a champion. Four years after her paralytic attack, she came in third at a meet in Santa Barbara, California. At the age of nineteen, she changed her style of swimming and emerged from the meet as national champion. She just kept trying. Her handicaps, fears, and even the doubts of others did not hold her back. Obstacles that would have stopped many only spurred Nancy on to victory!
Upon the wreckage of thy yesterday
Design the structure of tomorrow.
Lay strong cornerstones of purpose, and prepare Great blocks of wisdom cut from past despair Shape mighty pillars of resolve,
To set deep in the tear-wet mortar of regret. Believe in God — in thine own self believe
All thou hast hoped for thou shalt yet achieve.
- ELLA WHEELER WILCOX142
Difficulties are absolutely nothing to the man who knows that he is on the mission on which God has sent him. They are only opportunities for him to show his power; problems to manifest his skill in their solution; thunderclouds on which to paint the frescoes of his unrealized tenderness.
- F. B. MEYER143
If you’ll simply go after that thing that you want,
With all your capacity,
Strength and sagacity,
Faith, hope and confidence, stern pertinacity,
If neither cold poverty, famished and gaunt,
Nor sickness nor pain
Of body and brain
Can turn you away from the thing that you want,
If dogged and grim you besiege and beset it,
You’ll get it.
- BERTON BRALEY144
The above article, “Learn to Overcome Obstacles” is written by Joy Haney. The article was excerpted from the twelfth chapter of Haney’s book Seeds for Success.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.