A while back, I read and wrote a review of Jon Acuff’s book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. Sort of an anti-Getting Stuff Done book, he focuses on finishing the thousands of things we all start that never get off the ground. The whole book was worth the read, but he spent one chapter on an idea that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since. He calls it the “noble obstacle,” and ever since I read that chapter, I’ve noticed it more and more in my own life. The idea is that we stop short of finishing certain goals that we might have because we’re scared, but we justify it with these “noble obstacles,” or made-up reasons that we obviously can’t continue making progress. For example, we stop waking up early to work out because obviously then we’d be tired at work, and then our productivity would suffer, and then we’d lose out on promotions, or get fired. Instead, we sleep in, we crash on the couch after work, and nothing really changes. Rinse and repeat for 60-some years, and you end up with the life full of regrets that 20-year-old you promised yourself you’d avoid.
“A hiding place is an activity you focus on instead of your goal. A noble obstacle is a virtuous-sounding reason for not working toward a finish. Both are toxic to your ability to finish.” – Jon Acuff, Finish
Sometimes, I feel like Jon Acuff wrote this chapter specifically for me. I do it all. the. time. I “can’t” teach myself how to write code because I can’t find a 100% clear path from knowing nothing to being a gazillionaire app developer. I “can’t” work toward certifications for my job because they’re expensive and not necessary right this moment. I “can’t” get off my lazy butt and do something about my health because… well, we already touched on that one.
Along with noble obstacles, I like to overprepare for goals before I even start them. I’ve been wanting to learn how to code for a long time, but I’ve been putting it off because I don’t know where to start, and the prospect of just doing it terrifies me. I can’t start doing any of this until I have an app to keep track of my progress and remind me every day what to do, a notebook to work out of and a pen that makes my notes look cool, a regimented video course to follow with reading material to supplement it, an iPad or computer powerful enough to handle all these “Hello World” programs I’ll be cranking out, a distribution and marketing plan for my million-dollar app ideas, a– you know, maybe it’s easier to just go check Facebook for the hundredth time. I’ll deal with all that tomorrow.
“‘Until’ is a hurdle you throw up on your track until the lane is so clogged you couldn’t possibly get started today. Look at all those obstacles. Today’s not the best day to go.” – Jon Acuff, Finish
I think it’s time to quit listening to the world, which tells me that if it’s not perfect right away, it’s not worth doing. I think it’s time to realize that I’m going to botch some of my goals, sometimes royally, as I work towards finishing them, but that’s okay because of the wonderful gift of “next time.” I think it’s time to call out my noble obstacles for what they are and cross some things off that ever-growing to-do list.