Overcoming Difficult Life Obstacles: 5 Lessons from My First Two Life Chapters

Published on
August 17, 2023


I am in the third significant chapter of my life. My first was my childhood and young adult life, including Marine Corps and National Guard enlistments; my second was the season after my first military stint, completing a college degree, being in unhealthy church environments, getting married and having children, going to seminary, and beginning my time in active Christian ministry (including a return to active military duty as a Navy Chaplain).

My current (third) season of life comes after three career iterations, watching our children leave the nest and launch into flourishing adult lives and retirement from twenty-one years of active military service.

If my previous two life seasons taught me any lessons, this is it: life is unpredictable, and obstacles are an inevitable part of the journey. I’ve faced several challenges in my personal and professional life during my first two life seasons. However, I have learned that setbacks are not failures but opportunities for growth and transformation. In what follows, I’ll share five keys to overcoming life difficulties from my journey.

Acknowledge Your Emotions

Overcoming obstacles first requires acknowledging and accepting your emotions. Feeling angry, frustrated, and disappointed is natural when things are unplanned. Suppressing your feelings will only make the situation worse. Instead, allow yourself to feel the emotions and healthily express them. Talk to a friend, family member, or therapist if needed.

It is important to note that there is no “right” way to feel when facing a setback. Everyone responds to adversity differently, and you must honor your emotions and respect your process. What is important is that you don’t ignore or suppress your feelings. Acknowledge the emotions, permit yourself to feel them, and seek support if needed. This can help you process the feelings and move forward.

Reframe Your Mindset

Setbacks can be debilitating if you let them. However, reframing your mindset and seeing setbacks as opportunities for growth is essential. Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of the situation, focus on the lessons learned and the opportunities that lie ahead. A positive mindset can help you overcome the challenge and emerge stronger.

This is easier said than done but is crucial to overcoming difficult circumstances. Reframing your self-talk and your narrative about the situation can be helpful. Instead of seeing the challenge as a failure, work to see it as a temporary obstacle. Focus on your progress and the progress you can still make despite the setback. By shifting your mindset, you can transform the circumstance into an opportunity for growth and change.

Take Action

After acknowledging your emotions and reframing your mindset, it is time to take action. Set realistic goals and create a plan to achieve them. Break down the goals into smaller, achievable steps, and celebrate the progress you make along the way. Taking action will give you a sense of control and help you move forward.

Remember taking action doesn’t necessarily mean taking significant, drastic steps. It can be as simple as making a to-do list, reaching out to a mentor or friend for advice, or researching new opportunities. The key is to take small steps that move you forward and celebrate the progress you make. This can help you feel more in control of the situation and give you a sense of purpose and direction.

Seek Support

Many obstacles cannot be overcome alone. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who will encourage and motivate you. Support can come in many forms, from a listening ear to practical help with daily tasks.

It isn’t easy to reach out for help, especially if you are used to being self-reliant. However, seeking support can be a powerful way to help you cope with a setback's emotional and practical aspects. Whether talking to a friend, seeking guidance from a mentor, or working with a therapist, many resources are available to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Learn from the Experience

Finally, it is essential to learn from the setback experience. Reflect on what went wrong and what you could have done differently. Use the lessons learned to avoid similar setbacks in the future. Taking the time to reflect and learn from the experience can help you grow and become more resilient.

Learning from stumbling blocks can be a humbling experience, but it can also be a source of strength. By reflecting on what went wrong, you can identify areas for improvement and make changes to your approach in the future. This can help you avoid similar hindrances in the future and can help you grow and become more resilient.


Obstacles are a part of life but do not have to define us. By acknowledging our emotions, reframing our mindset, taking action, seeking support, and learning from the experience, we can overcome life difficulties and emerge stronger. Setbacks are not failures but opportunities for growth and transformation.

The obstacle is the way (Ryan Holiday).
I’d love to walk alongside you on your journey of self-leadership and overcoming the obstacles in your life. You should be living your best life.
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