It was at the office of my 401K manager the other day that I read the following quote on a day calendar: “Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off his goal” — E. Joseph Crossman.
For someone who complains an awful lot about how many obstacles in her life unnecessarily keep her from completing most if not all of her goals, I took those words to heart, pondering them as I drove the rest of my commute to work. In considering his words I imagined a person traveling by foot along a pathway lined with large boulders but who easily avoided each one by never allowing her focus to fall away from the large landmark ahead. What kind of superpower would this person have to have to avoid obstacles she could not see simply because she knew her destination?
When I used to drive an hour to work from where my husband and I lived before we found our house, I had a very real landmark like that, which every day announced the culmination of my journey — Signal Knob in Strasburg, Virginia, a mountain peak that I could see from forty miles away in Pine Grove on Route 7. Each day from my journey’s start, I could see where I needed to go.
The only problem is, once you descend that mountain from Loudoun County into Clarke, you can’t see Signal Knob anymore — not for another thirty miles. Keeping my eyes on the goal only works for so long; at some point, I need to watch the road I’m on — how else am I supposed to avoid those obstacles that would trip me up if I had my eyes on the sun or the stars or a GPS or whatever else might guide me toward Signal Knob without a road?
Crossman’s quote initially seemed like a straight-forward statement of positivity: No obstacle is too great to uproot a goal firmly planted in one’s determination to succeed. Compared to the great mountain of a goal in the distance, any puny obstacle seems even less of a problem, as long as the traveler maintains that objectivity.
But Crossman’s quote might have another meaning: How can you reach your goal if you don’t pay attention to how you’re going to get there? Traveling from Round Hill southeast to Signal Knob, I first have to go east on 7 before I can go south on I-81, but Crossman’s literal translation would have me take a straight-shot through the Shenandoah River, over fields, through the woods, over Route 50, through a state forest, across Route 66, and over more farmland to arrive at Signal Knob a day and a half later, weather beaten and ragged from a journey that would have been much more practical if I’d payed more attention to those obstacles he so easily dismisses as unnessary to one’s consideration.
And after all, if obstacles are so easily avoided by keeping one’s eyes on the goal, then can we really call them obstacles?
But, of course, Crossman was speaking metaphorically when he talked of obstacles. Challenges like day jobs and family obligations and personal tragedies and questions of one’s self-worth are more the sort of problems that distract people from their real goals in life, and these obstacles are not as grounded as a boulder on a mountain pathway or a river to be traversed. Having a definitive goal makes the sort of obstacles that crop up in life much easier to manage, and not having a goal makes combating life’s challenges the one and only goal. How many of us live day to day simply trying to make it through all of our difficulties, with no greater purpose, with no hope that tomorrow will be any different or better than today was?
So make that goal, if only so that you have something to shoot for each day. Seeing Signal Knob from the beginning of my drive each day was one of my favorite parts of that drive because I felt like it was my connection from start to finish. I had the end in sight; all I needed was to make it there. But a goal isn’t enough; having a goal won’t get you there because the goal isn’t always in sight. You still need a step-by-step plan, a route, a pickax for crashing through those obstacles that will crop up along your journey, so that when the goal isn’t so clear, you still can make it through. And anyway, how worthwhile would a journey be without obstacles?