A large Buffalo standing in the middle of a road
A large Buffalo standing in the middle of a road
#creativity, #understandingobstacles

Embracing Obstacles: Understanding Their Role in the Creative Process

Paul Kiernan

In today’s blog, I will discuss obstacles. They are inevitable, and yet, maybe avoiding them is the wrong choice. Let’s take a look and see.

When my mother died, I was crushed.

It's as simple as that. She died. I was crushed, and I didn’t know how to move on. Although I don’t play an instrument and cannot carry a tune in a bucket, I have always been moved by music and stunned by a lovely lyric. I have found comfort, peace, and support in songs in times of deep sorrow or extreme joy.

When Mom was gone, I struggled to move forward. I couldn’t find the song. I couldn't move forward, and oddly, I couldn’t cry. Part of that was the fact that I grew up in a time when men didn’t cry, when showing emotion was unmanly and forbidden. So, I continued to search my usual emotional outlets for relief, and it wasn’t coming. There was an obstacle holding me back.

One day, late in the evening, I was listening to one of our greatest songwriters, Paul Simon’s new album The Rhythm of the Saints, and in his song The Cool, Cool River, these lyrics rang out:

“And sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears.”

It all fell away in that moment: the rules about being a man and the social mores around showing emotion. I crawled into my bed and cried—a long, long time.

What does this have to do with marketing, design, copywriting? Indirectly, everything. You see, there are times when we are faced with obstacles, and in our trying to circumnavigate them, we lose the fact that the obstacle might be part of the process. Instead of looking for ways around or over, we need to embrace, accept, and listen to what the obstacle is telling us. We may have the wrong obstacle in mind. For me, being able to grieve meant that I first had to shake off years of social norms and decades of dealing with emotional situations outside of myself and hear that sometimes, even music cannot substitute for tears.

In today’s blog, I will discuss obstacles. They are inevitable, and yet, maybe avoiding them is the wrong choice. Let’s take a look and see.


In the pursuit of any goal or endeavor, obstacles are inevitable companions. Whether we're striving for personal growth, professional success, or creative fulfillment, challenges often arise unexpectedly, testing our resolve and determination. While obstacles may initially seem daunting and discouraging, they play a crucial role in shaping our journey and ultimately contribute to our growth and development. In this article, we'll explore the concept that sometimes the obstacle is indeed part of the process, shedding light on how obstacles can serve as catalysts for innovation, resilience, and personal transformation.

“And sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears.”
Paul Simon
A fisted hand covered in blood raised against a white wall

The Nature of Obstacles

Obstacles come in various forms, ranging from external barriers such as financial constraints, time limitations, and technological hurdles to internal challenges like self-doubt, fear of failure, and perfectionism. Regardless of their origin, obstacles have a common tendency to disrupt our plans and unsettle our sense of progress. They often compel us to reassess our strategies, rethink our approaches, and summon our creativity to navigate through adversity.

Embracing Resistance

While it may be tempting to perceive obstacles as unwelcome adversaries to be avoided at all costs, embracing resistance can offer a different perspective. Instead of viewing obstacles as impediments to success, we can reframe them as opportunities for growth and learning. Just as weightlifters build muscle through resistance training, individuals can cultivate strength and resilience by confronting challenges head-on.

Embracing obstacles requires a shift in mindset—a willingness to embrace discomfort, uncertainty, and setbacks as integral parts of the journey. Rather than succumbing to frustration or despair in the face of obstacles, we can choose to adopt a proactive and resilient stance. By reframing obstacles as temporary roadblocks rather than insurmountable barriers, we empower ourselves to persevere and push forward despite adversity.

Learning from Setbacks

Obstacles often serve as valuable teachers, imparting lessons that can inform our future endeavors. Each setback provides an opportunity for reflection and refinement, allowing us to identify areas for improvement and develop new strategies for overcoming challenges. By approaching obstacles with a growth-oriented mindset, we can extract wisdom from adversity and emerge stronger and more resilient than before.

Moreover, setbacks offer valuable insights into our own strengths and limitations. They reveal areas where we may need to cultivate additional skills, seek support from others, or adjust our expectations. By embracing the learning opportunities inherent in obstacles, we can leverage adversity to propel ourselves toward greater success and fulfillment.

Cultivating Creativity

In the face of adversity, creativity often emerges as a powerful ally. When confronted with obstacles, individuals are compelled to think outside the box, explore alternative solutions, and tap into their innate resourcefulness. As the saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention,"—and obstacles have a remarkable ability to catalyze innovation and ingenuity.

Creative problem-solving thrives in environments characterized by constraints and limitations. When conventional approaches prove ineffective, individuals are motivated to experiment, improvise, and innovate in order to overcome obstacles. In this way, obstacles stimulate divergent thinking and foster a spirit of experimentation, ultimately leading to breakthroughs and discoveries that might not have been possible otherwise.

Moreover, the process of grappling with obstacles can spark new ideas, insights, and perspectives. As individuals wrestle with challenges and confront unexpected hurdles, they gain a deeper understanding of their work and themselves. Obstacles compel individuals to question assumptions, challenge preconceptions, and explore uncharted territory, ultimately enriching their creative process and expanding the boundaries of what is possible.

A small tree growing the vast expanse of a yellow sand desert

Building Resilience

Perhaps most importantly, obstacles serve as crucibles for resilience—the ability to bounce back from adversity and emerge stronger than before. Just as a tree's roots grow deeper and stronger in response to strong winds, individuals can cultivate resilience through the trials and tribulations they encounter along their journey.

Resilience is not simply about enduring hardship; it's about harnessing adversity as a catalyst for growth and transformation. When faced with obstacles, resilient individuals exhibit a remarkable capacity to adapt, persevere, and thrive. Rather than allowing setbacks to derail their progress, they view challenges as opportunities to test their mettle and cultivate their inner strength.

Moreover, resilience is a skill that can be developed and nurtured over time. By embracing obstacles with courage and conviction, individuals can build resilience muscles that enable them to weather life's storms with grace and fortitude. Through resilience, individuals not only survive adversity but emerge from it with newfound wisdom, resilience, and a renewed sense of purpose.

Summing Up

So, a grown son weeping for his dead mother might not help you land your next account, but it may help you realize there is more beneath the surface, more to explore and examine. What is holding you back from what you want could be the answer to getting that.

In the journey of life, obstacles are not roadblocks to be feared or avoided; they are opportunities for growth, learning, and transformation. By embracing obstacles with courage, creativity, and resilience, individuals can navigate through adversity and emerge stronger and more resilient than before. Rather than viewing obstacles as insurmountable barriers, we can choose to see them as integral parts of the process—a necessary and inevitable aspect of the journey toward success and fulfillment. So, the next time you encounter an obstacle on your path, remember sometimes the obstacle is indeed part of the process.