Nobody likes that perpetually cheerful doofus with his silver linings and his glass that always seems to magically go from half full to brimming over with bullsh!t optimism.  That guy pisses everyone off.  In the words of Big Cat: “F*ck that guy!”

That’s not the guy you want when things go wrong.  Instead, next time life plunks down a roadblock on your highway to happiness, I want you to channel the stoic pragmatist.  You don’t need to be joyful for the obstacle now blocking your lane.  By all means, curse it, kick it and give it the finger.  For sure you’re not going to feel grateful for it (yet).  But it’s there now and no one’s going to come move it for you just because you plunk yourself down in the road to kick and shriek and throw a tantrum over it (though that trick worked pretty well first few years of your life, didn’t it?).

Railing about reality or wishing things were the way you want them to be is energy wasted without effect.  It’s like performing 8 foot wall balls to a 10 foot target: no rep, no rep, no rep.  Lots of effort, no pay off.  And maybe your life is easy with a vast surplus of time and energy to throw uselessly around but I just can’t afford it.  Getting through each day takes every drop of energy I have so I’m going to be frugal with where and how I expend it.

When I was much younger I remembering complaining in Judo about strong arm tactics my opponents used to block my throws.  My buddy Peter, always much wiser than me, pointed out that straight arms were arm lock opportunities.  It was an a-ha moment that transformed my Judo understanding and practice forever.  No one ever accused Pete of optimism, he wasn’t looking on the bright side, Pete was a crafty, blood thirsty opportunist on the Judo mats.  Where I saw an obstacle to the technique I wanted to perform, he saw an opportunity to quickly and decisively win the fight.  It seems so obvious after the fact.  These things usually do.

Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius first wrote about the obstacle being the way when his campaign in Germania became bogged down by adversity.  Many great thinkers over the centuries have heeded these words in order to transform trials into triumph.

The Christian version is to remind you that God’s plan for you is greater than your plan for you.  And I believe this is true.  But this smacks of optimism and is particularly annoying when the lemonade you made from life’s lemons doesn’t offer up quite the same buzz as the wine you were planning to make before those grapes went sour.

So, you don’t have to enjoy that lemonade but just maybe the vitamin C it provides cures your scurvy, God’s imposed prohibition affords you the opportunity to sober up and the coin you make selling lemonade on the roadside allows the wealthier, sober version of future you to grow a better batch of grapes next summer when the weather is more conducive to grape growing.

If you want it badly enough, you will find a way to turn every obstacle to your purpose though the road to realization may be bumpier and more winding than you wished.   As Randy Pausch pointed out in his Last Lecture, “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. Remember brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their dreams.”

I’m not suggesting you look forward to set backs or be happy about them when they inevitably occur.  I’m suggesting you cultivate a mindset of utilizing obstacles as stepping stones that launch you forward instead of holding you back.  Develop the practice of looking for the opportunity in each hardship as it arises.  This is a mental skill that, like exercise, gets stronger with practice.  Don’t make it about silver linings, make it about practical acceptance of reality as it is rather than how you wish it was.

The better you get at this, the better results you’ll produce in your life and the less stopped you will be until you discover that you are truly unstoppable because every obstacle placed in your path becomes just a key to your next level progress.  Now, get your head in the right place and go, get after it!