“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”Charles Beard, historian

Do the obstacles you face fascinate you? Do they draw your interest to understand them more deeply? Do they motivate you to find solutions? Do you use them as springboards to success?

Most people don’t have such positive reactions to obstacles. “Fascinating” wouldn’t be the first word that comes to mind. “Annoying,” “aggravating,” or “agitating” might be more common. “Why me?” they wail. They try to swat smaller obstacles away like flies. Larger obstacles become excuses for inaction.

Why would I invite you to see obstacles as “fascinating”? Fascination makes obstacles less personal. They become an object of observation rather than obsession.

More fundamentally, fascination leads to breakthrough opportunities. Here’s an example. In the early 1980s, Bill Porter bemoaned why he had to go through a stockbroker to place a trade when he wanted to take charge of his investing and do it himself. Instead of wallowing in frustration, he became fascinated by the technological and regulatory hurdles to doing stock trades directly through a personal computer. From this fascination, we built the company that became E*Trade and originated online trading.

I’ve seen examples of other successful entrepreneurs whose innovations came from embracing obstacles and their fascination with why they exist and how they can turn them into opportunities. They range from Steve Jobs trying to build a computer to use to founders of Starbucks looking to have a cup of coffee in an inviting place.

So, what can you do to capitalize on obstacles? Here are some easy steps.

1. Observe the obstacles you face. Do others face them? Is there a real need to overcome them and a demand for a solution?

2. Shift your frame of mind. Replace “if’s,” “when’s,” or “buts” with “ands.”
For example, let’s say you want someone to declutter and organize your workspace, but you don’t want the hassle of an employee. Instead of saying, “I want an organized and workspace, but I don’t have someone to do it,” you rephrase it as “I want that productive workspace, and I don’t have someone to do it. How fascinating! What can I do to apply my talent and resources to find a solution?”

3. Become fascinated by the obstacles you face. Where do they show up? What causes them? What assumptions about them give them power? Are all of the “can’t do’s” real or just the status of things?

4. Team up with others to explore solutions. Check out currently available solutions. Brainstorm possibilities.

5. Keep perspective. Be fascinated but avoid becoming obsessed. Obsession robs us of a balanced point of view. Instead, check your assumptions about the number of people who have the need you’ve identified and their willingness to pay for a solution.

Even if you don’t make a business out of the obstacles that fascinate you, your shift in mindset will make the obstacles loom less large. They will become like the moguls you enjoy in skiing or the rocks in mountain biking or a challenging crossword puzzle. You will set yourself free, which only you and your mindset can do.