Last month, I was about to catch a flight at the Guatemala City airport when I noticed that my passport and US permanent residency card was missing. As you can imagine, losing all my travel documents in a foreign country during a work trip (and to rub salt in the wound, on the same day that the volcano was erupting) was a completely stressful and unwelcomed situation.
Life is constantly surprising us with obstacles – there’s not much we can do about that. What we can do, however, is optimize how we deal with those challenges when they do come along.
A lot of people’s natural inclination during terribly chaotic situations is to panic and despair. But, that only makes things worse. Obstacles are not meant to paralyze us, rather, they should be seen as opportunities for growth.
This is especially true when it comes to entrepreneurship. As an online business owner and full-time traveler, I constantly find myself in situations that feel completely out of my control. I can’t name how many delayed flights, crappy Wi-Fi connections, and missed contractor deadlines I’ve had to deal with. In the end, the best way to move through difficulties is to roll up my sleeves, work through the solution step by step, and learn from the experience so that I become better equipped to handle future challenges.
I share three tips for transforming any obstacle you may face in life and business into an advantage:
1. Keep your energy positive.
When things get tough, it’s important to stay as positive and good-humored as possible. Your emotions directly affect your thinking – freaking out will muddle your mind and make it more difficult to look for solutions.
Think of it this way: a problem is here and you have to deal with it. Would you rather do it feeling good or stressed out?
Obstacles are unavoidable. But, it’s better to spend your days working through them from a positive state of mind than to affect your well-being by feeling terrible for however long the obstacle lasts.
Remember that you’re allowed to enjoy the journey. It’s absolutely okay to struggle, and to smile while you’re doing so. The entire time I was dealing with my lost documents, I was cracking jokes and laughing at the absurdity of the situation (I mean, I have never lost my passport in my 27 years of excessive travel and I did so while stuck in one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America when the volcano was erupting. What are the odds?). There is little use holding onto negative feelings that don’t serve us.
By staying positive, you can approach obstacles with a clear mind, curiosity, and lack of judgment. You’ll be able to find a solution more quickly and feel good in the process.
2. Graciously ask for help.
Do not be afraid to ask for help and more importantly, be gracious to everyone regardless of whether they are the cause or solution to your obstacle.
Taking your frustration out on those around you will only result in disgruntled employees, spouses, and friends. Your difficult situation is probably not their fault – and even if it is, you don’t want anyone feeling resistant towards helping you solve it.
When I was at the embassy applying for a new passport, the security guard warned me that getting a passport that same day was “nearly impossible.” Despite my agitation, I was kind to the worker at the counter. I received a new passport less than six hours later, and he literally told me it was because I was one of the few people who showed up with a friendly, nondemanding attitude. That day, people went out of their way to help me: a Guatemalan family who saw me struggling at the airport drove me to the embassy, my Uber driver spent the morning driving me around and charged me a fraction of what he could have for his service, and my friends went above and beyond to support me through the process.
You are as strong as your support system, so make sure you’re creating an environment where the right people want to help you. Even when you’re the one who needs help, do whatever is within your power to meet people halfway. For example, when I need my contractors to meet urgent deadlines, I always ask them what they need from me to get the job done quickly.
When you ask nicely, you’ll get the help you need, and perhaps even make some friends along the way.
3. Become ruthlessly solutions-oriented.
Most problems have more than one solution, and the more we train ourselves to actively look for them, the quicker we become at finding them.
Make an obstacle more manageable by breaking it down into steps. For example, my obstacle was being stuck at an airport without any documentation and a pressing need to exit the country. The first clear step was to get to the embassy and apply for an emergency passport. The second step was to book a plane to Canada (since I couldn’t return to the U.S. without a permanent residency card) and exit Guatemala. The third step was to visit the American embassy in Canada, and so on.
When you break down obstacles into bite-sized steps, the situation doesn’t feel as overwhelming anymore. It becomes a matter of following protocol. This approach has tremendously helped me scale and run my business: for example, rather than panic that a project isn’t launching on time, I direct my focus on what steps need to be taken to get it up and running as soon as possible. Ruthlessly train yourself to look for solutions, and that is what you will find.
While you can’t avoid obstacles, you can transform them into opportunities to become more resilient, skilled, and resourceful. You get to face who you really are during your toughest moments – do you want to be somebody who gets knocked out, or emerges stronger on the other side?
Originally published on: Forbes