4 Obstacles to Starting and Completing Challenging Projects

Fear not the obstacles in your path.
– The blind seer, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

I just finished one of several big projects I’ve been working on lately. It was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, and several times throughout the project, I could easily see why most of us:

  • Don’t take on big challenges at all,
  • Procrastinate when needing to deal with big challenges, or
  • Quit halfway through them.

There are tons of obstacles that get in the way and make starting and completing big projects or challenges very hard to do.

Obstacle #1: Fear

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, fear (of success and failure, of ticking people off, of looking stupid, etc.) is debilitating. A lot of times, it’s easier to just keep our heads down, avoid eye contact, and not raise our hands (even when we know the answer). We ask ourselves:

  • “What if it doesn’t work?”
  • “What if it gets me fired?”
  • “What if I do this, spend a lot of time/money/energy, and it gets me nowhere?”

Fear is always going to be present, but nine times out of ten, the thing we fear doesn’t even eventuate. Yet we still let it hold us back, even though we know it’s not likely to occur.

Obstacle #2: Avoidance

More often than not, we know what we need to do, yet we make excuses about why we can’t or haven’t made progress. Maybe we need to get that new marketing strategy off the ground, maybe we need to start that new business, or maybe we need to write that e-book. Whatever the case, we don’t get it done or don’t even get it started and instead say things, like:

  • “I would have started it, but I’ve just been so busy at home.”
  • “I’ve been meaning to finish that, but I’ve been swamped lately.”
  • “I got sick, then the kids were off a week, then my in-laws came to visit, and I just haven’t had the time.”

We convince ourselves that our complete avoidance of getting things done is caused by legitimate delays and distractions, because they are legitimate. The question is, how badly do we want to complete that big project/challenge? For example, how much do we really want to get our businesses off the ground, or how much do we really want to see them succeed?

Obstacle #3: Motivation (Or Lack of It)

I think a lot of times, we say we want something because maybe we should want it (or think we should want it).  Maybe we say, “I want my business to make more money,” but in reality, we’re pretty comfortable where we are, and even if we’re not completely comfortable, the discomfort is not so overwhelming to make us want to put out the extra effort to effect change in our situation.

If there is no real motivation to do something, we have to admit it, own it, and say, “I don’t even want that,” and so, it’s not necessary to put out all that effort to complete some arbitrary project or challenge. If we can’t at least get to the place where we can accept our lack of motivation, then there’s this feeling of obligation or guilt that constantly nags at us.

Obstacle #4: No Map

Sometimes we’d do what we needed to do, if only we knew where to start or how to get it done. Especially in business, there are times when we walk around clueless and have to figure things out as we go, and that leads back to the first obstacle. If we don’t know what we’re doing, how can we get people to believe in us, and how do we avoid looking stupid when people figure out that we don’t know what we’re doing?

Seth Godin talks about working without a map in his book “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?“, and discusses about how we have to be OK with working without a map and just get used to not knowing our way around. If there was a map, everyone else would be following it, and then the journey and destination would probably not be as worthwhile.

It can be hard to take on big projects and challenges and even harder to actually complete them, but by identifying the root cause of our hesitation or procrastination, we’ll be much more likely to tackle those big challenges and get things done.

What are some of the biggest obstacles that hold you back when it comes to big projects and challenges?

Photo by Flickr user The U.S. Army, licensed under CC 2.0