The Value of Obstacles

For most of my life, I had goals and would get irritated by obstacles that got in my way. I heard a wonderful quote the other day, but don’t recall the original source. The quote went something like this:

Having obstacles in your life is a sign you aren’t settling for what life gives you, but are getting out of life what you want.

In other words, a life without any obstacles is arguably a life lived passively. You take whatever comes your way. While there is certainly enormous value in expressing gratitude for what you do get out of life (this is one of the keys to happiness by the way), it is still worth striving for what YOU want out of YOUR life.

So my question for you to think about today is:

Do you have enough obstacles in your life?

If not, are you striving for what you want out of life? If yes, be grateful as it's a sign you are striving for what you want out of life. You might not get what you want, but if you don’t try at all you are guaranteed to not get what you want.

Here’s another way to look at it.

Using the logical construct of cause vs. effect, there are two ways to view the world:

  • The world is the cause, and you are its effect.
  • You are the cause, and the world is the effect.

Here’s my second and final question for today:

Which paradigm are you viewing your life and the world through?


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31 comments… add one
  • Simon Sep 2, 2014, 9:00 am

    The obstacles are important to develop the charachter of anybody. they make us feel alive but also strive and fight to overcome them.

  • abhi Sep 2, 2014, 9:12 am

    Thank you for writing. Each and everyday from micro to macro problems I face obstacles, some are very easy to get by but some take a lot of effort, specially when they come in the form of ‘people’. Now, I view success and failure as binomial distribution with a very low ‘p'(prob of success). Some strategies from your blog can help to increase ‘p’ . I try to improve my N.

    Kind Regards

  • Pallavi Ahuja Sep 2, 2014, 9:14 am

    Hi Victor,

    I certainly agree with you that a life without obstacles is a life live passively. Whatever you want from life you do not get it without fighting for it. I have been struggling since my college days for even a small thing I want out of my life. I am an IIT(Indian Institute of Technology) graduate. Even qualifying IIT-JEE was full of obstacles. I had to convince my parents that I want to write IIT-JEE. Even today in my professional life I am facing a lot of obstacles to achieve the success. And somewhere I am grateful to God for these obstacles because they have made me so strong within.Also, I have learnt that if you really want something out of your life, you have to put in your best facing all obstacles. You just cant sit back and relax. That way you will definitely not going to get what you want.

    I believe that you are the cause and world is the effect. Whatever you do, somewhere or the other,it influences others and it shows its effect on this world.

  • Ryan Yu Sep 2, 2014, 9:22 am

    Obstacle is my stepstone to success. Period.

  • Nick Bluhm Sep 2, 2014, 9:39 am

    Randy Pausch, a Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon, gave a lecture (which has since been published as a book) in his final months before he passed away prematurely due to cancer. A quote from one part of his lecture, in which he tried repeatedly to join the Disney Imagineering lab, has stayed with me through the years:

    “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

    • Victor Cheng Sep 4, 2014, 8:47 am


      What a great quote from the Last Lecture. Thanks for sharing.


  • Lal Sep 2, 2014, 9:51 am

    I have a narrow view on life at the moment – a Masters I’m 5 months away from finishing. I just got smashed on an assignment and got the lowest grade I’ve got so far in this course.

    It’s all frustrating – and these are all obstacles. I’m not convinced this Masters is taking me anywhere – apart throwing good money. But, as Steve Jobs said, you can only connect the dots looking backwards. So, as much as I can’t see it now, I realise looking back that the Masters maybe eventually give me a skill or a perspective on life that I otherwise wouldn’t have.

  • Amit Sep 2, 2014, 11:09 am

    Hi Victor,
    Actually, I never thought like the way you put it. But it actually it gives me different perspective for thinking for my current hassles for doing an MBA and career in Strategy Consulting.

    Thanks very much for the thought!

  • Todd Sep 2, 2014, 11:13 am

    One of my former Zen teachers had an expression, “protoplasm tends to inertia.” There is always a proper balance of irritation necessary for the organism to stimulate growth.

    The hard part is maintaining that sweet spot between stress and relaxation.

    • Victor Cheng Sep 4, 2014, 8:49 am


      “The hard part is maintaining that sweet spot between stress and relaxation.”

      So true!


  • Vitaly Sep 2, 2014, 11:30 am

    Hello All,

    I would combine Victor’s questions..It is both.. I find it difficult to separate cause-effect relationships. I subscribe to a worlds view that we affect the world and then adapt to changes..It becomes an infinite change, i.e. evolution…

  • Martin Chocholousek Sep 2, 2014, 11:42 am

    I would rather use the word challenges. I perceive obstacles as something that usually exists independently on my actions or as a negative result of them. Therefore in case of too many obstacles I think I am doing something wrong and I need to sit back and think about a different approach. Of course when an obstacles occurs it requires courage to overcome.

    I am looking for challenges in my life. Challenges push me forward. I am not looking for obstacles because I perceive them as counterprodcutive (like going head against a wall). But if they occur I will not evade them and try to overcome them.

  • Francisco Sep 2, 2014, 11:52 am

    Although is very admirable and even romantic to strive for success and fight for what you believe for in a globalized and overwhelming new world order – the reality is as follow:
    “The haves vs. the have-nots”

    Those who have the resources (connections, elite credentials,and of course money) can without a doubt, believe that they are the cause and the world is the effect. They can switch back and forward and make miracles or make a living hell this world.

    Those who are “the have nots”, they can just try their best. If things work out, wont last forever, cause they can not beat the system after all. However, if they do (beat the system some how), they become part of the “haves”, and then they forget where they came from.

    Without trying to make the system more fair from a comfortable position by fighting to erase the obstacles, where the world is the cause and the human being the effect, the underdogs only exit would be eventually a social revolution for good.

  • Farooq Sep 2, 2014, 12:03 pm

    My worldview is a combination of both paradigms. From birth until starting college, my life was mostly dictated by parents and society, and in that sense the world (externality) was the cause and I was the effect. Since taking charge of my own life, through self-education and introspection, I now hold myself accountable for decisions, goals and outcomes, and so now I am the cause and what I produce and measure as a result of actions is the world.

  • Dennis Sep 2, 2014, 12:06 pm

    Obstacles is also a great way to validate your goals. Sometimes we strive for something and lets assume we get it – there are one of two things that can happen:

    1. Its everything that we had imagined and we feel good about getting there.
    2. Its not what we had imagined and we feel like we wasted a ton of time and resources for something that wasn’t worthwhile and something that we didn’t quite want in the first place.

    Obstacles is a great way to self reflect and make sure that the second eventuality doesn’t happen to us.

    • Victor Cheng Sep 4, 2014, 8:51 am


      Very insightful. Great point.


  • Karen Sep 2, 2014, 12:46 pm

    Thanks Victor for sharing your insights on obstacles. This greatly helped me confirm the path I am walking is the path I have chosen and I will continue to walk. Surely there are times I doubt myself if I can make it till the end and just want to quit and settle for what’s given. But quotes like you shared are great help for me to continue striving for what I want – very much appreciated.

  • Obinna Obiukwu Sep 2, 2014, 12:54 pm

    This, right here, is the voice of truth.

  • Akhilesh Sep 2, 2014, 2:30 pm

    hi all,

    I believe that “I am the cause, and the world is the effect!” because i am responsible for the choices that I have made which have resulted in what I am today and how I look around. I have had and still have enough obstacles to take care and cross which indeed makes me feel my heart beat. Just a piece for advice to everyone… Just hang in there success is right next! 🙂

    good luck

  • Volha Sep 3, 2014, 12:29 am

    The biggest obstacle in my life is ….myself.
    My self-doubts, reflexive thoughts, my timidness, my fears. All of my life I have been fighting with myself, and to be honest, I am still not fully a master of myself.
    Inner insecurities and wanders of ordinary mind are the most powerful obstacles. Whatever outside world is preparing for you to experience – does look like an obstacle if your inner insecurities are dominant.
    My goal is to obtain that pure inner freedom from any insecurities. I believe this would release an immense amount of energy for my ballistic progress as professional and as individual.
    Sometimes it is very useful to keep asking yourself – who am I? Just try to keep providing answers until you are lost.
    OK, I am Volha. But this is just a name given to me, it’s not me. My previous school, jobs, bank details, my degrees and achievements – are just attributes, and still not me. My convictions, religion, hobbies – are also attributes, but still not me. My future plans, schedules, travelling, buying properties – do not really exist at the moment.
    My body and genetics – are also attributes, still not really me. All those attributes keep changing, so, me 20 years ago it not the same me now. However, I am absolutely sure I do exist. So, who am I?
    The more or less clear answer to that would be – you are what you are experiencing at the moment.
    Once I surrender myself to the experience, any kind of experience – good or bad, painful or pleasant, hard, uncomfortable, impossible, any – then I can see no obstacles.
    Failure would be also an experience. A victory – is an experience.
    I try to set my goals not as final destinations. Because when you reach your destination, you feel emptied. What’s next? I try to set my goals as a direction for number of experiences, which I am prepared to surrender to.

    • Francisco Sep 3, 2014, 9:51 am

      Hello Volha, your opinion is very thoughtful and valid.

    • Victor Cheng Sep 4, 2014, 8:54 am


      I think for most people, myself include, their biggest obstacle is themselves. You are certainly not alone. It is a very interesting journey indeed.


  • Kat Sep 3, 2014, 3:32 am

    It’s a very good article and I would like to make an addition.

    When thinking about obstacles, we often think about problems to overcome to achieve our personal goals. But it’s not always that simple. I was watching a 28-year old friend die of cancer recently. In his life, that was an obstacle and he even went that far as to look for happiness in his suffering and faith.

    Sometimes, there are obstacles to face and ‘fight’, but some must be accepted and dealt with in a very different way.

    I understood much more about dealing with unbearable obstacles after I read books by Victor Frankl. Highly recommend.

    • Victor Cheng Sep 4, 2014, 8:55 am


      Thanks for the contribution. Good point.


    • Kaedon Oct 1, 2014, 6:29 pm

      Thanks for indutorcing a little rationality into this debate.

  • Krzysztof Sep 3, 2014, 6:29 am

    I read somewhere “obstacles are what prepare you for success”. My interpretation – just make sure you are climbing the right mountain and embrace obstacles as what trains you to get to the top. And I guess obstacles might also indicate you are climbing the wrong mountain – the trick is to recognise the difference.

    • Victor Cheng Sep 4, 2014, 8:56 am



      Sometimes the obstacles is just that an obstacle. Other times it is feedback. Actually, it’s always feedback. The trick is to figure which way to interpret it.


  • Emese Sep 3, 2014, 7:46 am

    Hey Everyone,

    I am trying to get to the point from a global perspective.

    From the point of the universe, I think that there is no cause and no effect. The happenings all around us act like a chain together that has no ending and no beginning. We are not capable of understanding this phenomenon as our capacity is limited.

    Best wishes,

  • Chauncey Nartey Sep 3, 2014, 9:30 am

    Two great questions, Victor.

    Steve Jobs famously answered the 2nd question, noting that”…everything around you called life was made up by people no smarter than you,” or to use your language, “you are the cause, and the world is the effect.”

    Of course, in reality, the relationship between the world and us is reciprocal; we impact the world, which in turn, impacts us.

    On the first question (do you have enough obstacles), I love the analogy of working out in a gym.

    In the same way that resistance (or lifting heavy weights) works to build muscle through a cycle of “tear and repair,” the resistance of life is what builds emotional muscles. As Tony Robbins says, “the universe gives us problems because they help us sculpt our character.”

  • Ikenna Sep 3, 2014, 10:33 am

    Reminds me of a quote: “Character is not made up of sunshine and rainbows…like steel; it is forged in the fire, between the hammer and the anvil”

    I believe that instinctively, we know that we need and should pursue obstacles in our lives. A survey of myths, stories and pop culture from across the world would demonstrate this. The heroes we tend to idolize and admire are the people who have faced and overcame obstacles; and emerged, stronger and wiser from their struggles.

    This also reminds me of a scene from the matrix – in a conversation between Neo and Agent Smith where Agent Smith stated that the first matrix was built to be heavenly but people would accept that version of the matrix and kept on waking up.

  • Ivan Sep 4, 2014, 2:36 am

    But what if the source of obstacles is not you trying to get more out of your life? That’s excactly when the life might knock you down.

    Other things I have never even considered as obstacles as they just little steps one needs to take to achieve something.

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