Overcoming Obstacles to Success

No matter what your gender or ethnic heritage, you can succeed in business--if you turn your obstacles into opportunities.

Q: As minority woman in business, I've faced some pretty tough obstacles that other entrepreneurs aren't up against. Even though I know there are many organizations and resources that offer support, what I really want to know is, how do I maneuver around the obstacles I face on a daily basis?

A: You are 100 percent correct when you say that you face some pretty tough challenges, and that makes you a survivor! But if I could encourage you to change one thing about your attitude, it would be this: Stop thinking of your obstacles as obstacles, and start thinking of them as invaluable opportunities to grow, gain insight and act creatively in each situation.

Perhaps you remember MacGyver, the top-rated 1980s TV show. The title character was, to say the least, extremely creative and freakishly resourceful. In every episode, he would find himself in a dangerous and impossible situation, yet he would always come out of it alive, unscathed and the hero of many. Trapped in an underground steel-encased hidden corridor, all MacGyver needed was a leather belt, a shoelace and a credit card to free himself. (I may have missed a few details, but you get the idea.)

As a minority and a woman (twice blessed!) entrepreneur facing many challenges--or, better still, opportunities--you need to engage your creativity at every chance you get. The success that will come your way will change the dynamic of your business and, in fact, attract new business to you with less effort on your part. The work is focused more on you and what you can do rather than on the perceived problems and what they do to you. This is not to minimize the very real challenges that you face--rather, it's a productive way to change how you perceive and approach those challenges. Here are some examples of how you can engage creativity in order to turn that sow's ear into a lovely silk purse.

First and foremost, the most important thing you can do is think. That may sound strange, but the most important thing about thinking is not what you're thinking but how you are thinking. If you're thinking negative thoughts about yourself, then you're putting up internal roadblocks and blocking yourself from being creative. Some of the typical internal roadblocks are:

  1. I'm not a creative person.
  2. They'll never go for the idea anyway because I'm [fill in the blank].
  3. If I make a mistake, I'll look foolish.
  4. It's too radical. They're not ready for it.
  5. It's too much trouble to change people's minds.
  6. I can't cut through the red tape.
  7. Good ideas; wrong person.
  8. I know they're going to go with my competitor--she's [fill in the blank].
  9. I tried that before, but....
  10. They'll never pay me what I'm worth.

Everything you see on the above list is not an issue with another person or an outside force; it's an issue with you and how you think of yourself.

Now imagine turning each and every one of these obstacles into opportunities. What would that look like? You'll begin to tell yourself, "I'm learning how to be more creative, and I can collaborate with a resource who complements me." The power of your own suggestion is more powerful than 300 compliments from others!

After you start to think differently about your own capabilities and values, you can start to work on the issue at hand. First, look very carefully at the illogical. Don't force a situation if you really don't have the skill set necessary to complete a project. Understand your assets, but also understand your weaknesses.

When you are the right fit for a project, remember that one of the best things about being an entrepreneur is that you're allowed to break the rules. That's right. Be impractical, embrace ambiguity and identify alternatives. Help your prospects, bank, contractors or employees look for and then see more than one right answer. In A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative, author Roger Von Oech writes about how important it is to use the extraordinary to your advantage--meaning, if the obstacle/opportunity seems impossible, impractical, too risky, unfair, culturally taboo or politically incorrect, think about how you can use this to your advantage to turn the thinking of others around.

On the flip side, don't ever discount what's ordinary about the challenges you're facing. It may be as simple as offering a quicker, faster or more cost-effective alternative or solution that turns your problem into your prospects' solution. (In the words of Thomas Edison, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.")

Finally, as I said earlier, there is no discounting the very real obstacles that minority women face in the world of entrepreneurship. I'm a firm believer that faith, in partnership with creative problem-solving (or creative problem-solving fueled by faith), is really the only way to overcome obstacles. Money can't buy it, power can't buy it, and status can't buy it. Decide that you will not allow obstacles to dictate your success. Instead, let your desire to succeed decide how your future business will flourish.

Robert L. Wallaceis the founder of EntreTeach LLC, a new Web portal designed to foster the development of minority and women entrepreneurs. He is also the founder and chairman of The BiTH Group Inc., an IT consulting firm that provides services in management consulting, telecommunications, PC support and integration, and document imaging services.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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