The other night on Instagram Live, I was asked an interesting question by a good friend, Trent Shelton.
“Dean, what’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in your life?”
I spent a good amount of time thinking about it. I’ve been broke. I lack a college education because I never had enough money to pay for one. My parents divorced and got back together multiple times during my childhood. I have dyslexia. I later went through my own divorce. I’ve made mistakes in my career. The list goes on — as it does for all of us.
But which of all these challenges, I wondered, was the most difficult to overcome?
Eventually, I came to a surprising answer: none.
The biggest obstacle I’ve ever had to overcome in my life has actually been my own perspective — the lies I used to tell myself about why I wasn’t achieving my dreams.
In fact, that’s the biggest obstacle all of us face: our own perspective. It’s the most dangerous thing standing between you and the life you want to live.
Here’s how to overcome it.
Use your obstacles as fuel rather than allowing them to become anchors
Here’s the thing about your perspective: you’re in control over it.
The best way to overcome your obstacles, then, is to convince yourself that they’re not actually scary, depressing, or limiting roadblocks designed to keep you down. Instead, they’re sources of energy and fuel you can use for inspiration. In this sense, we should want to confront obstacles because they’ll give us the inspiration we need to improve and be better versions of ourselves.
Of course, making that kind of mental switch is difficult to do. It’s difficult recognizing, in the moment, when your perspective is working against you — let alone flipping it on its head to make it work for you.
You can start, though, by listening for when that little voice in your head says, “If only that didn’t happen, I’d be so successful…”
It’s that self-pity, that victimization, which holds us back and gives the obstacles we face their paralyzing power. You must combat it. That starts with recognizing it for what it is. Only then can you use it as fuel. Consider the daughter who grows up with an alcoholic father, and later in life resolves to never drink. That’s using adversity as fuel to overcome the problem.
If you really want to overcome obstacles, you have to prove your fears and “if only’s” are a lie
The truth about the challenges you face in your life is they’re only as strong as you allow them to be. That any one obstacle could be strong enough to completely ruin you is, itself, a lie.
So are self-pitying statements like, “If only this hadn’t happened, I could have done X.”
The key to overcoming your obstacles, then, is identifying those stories and those excuses as lies. And lies, as it happens, are much easier to combat than things we perceive as absolute truths.
You’re in control of the story of your life
For example, think about John Paul DeJoria. He didn’t graduate high school. He had dyslexia. He got his girlfriend pregnant at a young age and made a living selling encyclopedias door-to-door. When his baby turned 21 months, his wife left him. Three months later, he and his daughter were homeless.
Later that same year, he came up with a new way of selling hair products. He went on to create Vidal Sassoon. Later, he created Patron tequila, which is now the best-known tequila on the planet. He’s one of the richest men in the world.
Or, consider another story. For this now well-known man, his teachers in high school told him he would never amount to anything. He was known as the dumbest kid in school. He dropped out in ninth grade.
Now, he’s one of the richest men on the planet. His name is Richard Branson.
Both of these men could have accepted suboptimal stories for their lives. They could have cowered before the obstacles they encountered, believed the lies, and given in to something lesser. But they didn’t. They took control of their perspective, used their obstacles as inspiration, and in turn became the authors of much different, more inspiring stories.
I know in my life, as soon as I made the conscious effort to flip the script on the stories I was telling myself, I became the me I am today — enthusiastic and inspired and confident.
Sure, it’s harder to do this — to combat the lies; to use your obstacles as fuel — but it’s worth it.
Forecast out five years from now. Do you really want to be telling yourself the same story you’re telling yourself today? The one that hints at all the things you could be doing, if only things had gone differently?
This article was originally published on Quora.