My family and I just returned from a week at the beach.  We’ve been going to Orange Beach, AL, for years and I still can’t get comfortable with the fact that I’m going to Alabama for vacation.  No offense to any of my readers from Alabama.  It’s a fine state, just not the first place that comes to mind when you think of great beach vacations.

In fact, I’ve caught myself telling people I’m going to Florida for vacation instead of Alabama.  Just something a little more cool about the sound of it.

You never quite know what you’re going to get when you go to the gulf coast.  We’ve endured tropical storms, rough surf, jellyfish so plentiful you couldn’t go in the water, sharks, etc.

One of the things I enjoy is the constant change of the coastline from tides and the never-ending barrage of waves crashing against the sand.  In the morning, you may have deep water near the beach and shallow water a little further out.  In the afternoon, it may be a shallow, smooth, sandy bottom for 50 yards or more into the gulf.

One morning as I took the kids into the water, I had the opportunity to observe my two daughters encounter, and conquer, something we all deal with on a daily basis.

You see, this particular morning, the ocean had carved a steep descent from where our chairs were located to the water. It was maybe 4 feet deep.   In fact, once you hit the water, you had another couple of feet to descend until the bottom leveled out.  Once you got maybe ten feet out into the water, it was only a couple of feet deep.  But those first few steps were huge.  It even caused me to be a little off-balance.

My girls were very hesitant to get in the water.  From the top of the beach, it looked like a huge, scary drop into the water to my 5 and 8 year olds.  In fact, their first attempt at walking down the steep slope caused them to suddenly get the urge to build a sand castle from the safety of the beach.

However, I was already safely down the slope and knew that the water was shallow once you got past the initial off-balance walk into it.

Sensing a bit of a teaching moment, I spent the next 5 minutes explaining that the first part was very hard, but once you got past that, the water was great — perfect depth, perfect temperature, etc.  Oh sure, there will still be obstacles – seaweed, shells, maybe the odd jellyfish – but they weren’t nearly as bad as taking those first tentative steps.  And once you’re in — you don’t have to go back through the first part again.

But what about later when you had to climb back up the hill?  See, the ocean was already re-shaping the shore line and smoothing out the decline so it wasn’t so steep.

Ultimately, they made it into the water and both girls agreed that it was worth the climb down the hill to get into the water.  In fact, I had a hard time getting them to take a break that morning because the water was so great.

See, in life so many of us stop at the beginning when the going gets hard.  You’ve made all the preparations – which don’t really cost you much in the way of emotions.  But when you encounter the first trial, the first reaction is to reverse course and quit.  I’ve done this many times myself.

What we don’t realize is that if we would just push through the temporary difficulties to the other side, we’ll find that success was closer than we thought.  There will still be problems – those never go away – but they won’t seem so insurmountable as that first obstacle.

Why does this happen?  I think most people are scared to take a risk, so they artificially turn small difficulties into huge mountains to climb.  My daughters thought the drop-off was ten feet when it really was much less.  In fact, if you prepared yourself for the drop-off, it was really pretty easy to navigate.

So, how do you know when the difficulty you are facing is merely a small obstacle versus a major issue that should make you re-consider?

Ultimately, only you can answer that question.  However, I try to look at obstacles objectively and determine:

  • How big is it?  Is this really fear making me feel this way?
  • How long will it last?
  • What will it take to overcome?  Often, if you take a step back, the path around the obstacle becomes clear.

I have no idea if my little teaching moment with my daughters stuck with them, but I know it did for me.

Image credit: Vince Pettacio

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