Your Biggest Obstacle to Success

by Alli Polin on September 10, 2013

Leaders get out of their own way and have a willingness to take the first step on the path to success

I love working with people to create and increase their success (which more often than not actually translates into fulfillment, happiness, play and joy in their life.)  When people pick up the phone and give me a call it often starts with a gut feeling that there is something more, something missing.  After they pour their heart, passion and past failures out on the table, I’m inevitably asked:  “OK.  So, now what do I need to do?”  They want me to tell them the 3, 5, 17 magic steps that will transport them from the chair they’re sitting in to a verified success.

Are you like my clients?  Ready to make the leap to something more and want the secret formula?  Here it is:

The biggest obstacle to your success… drum roll please… is getting started.  It’s that simple.

Here’s a snapshot of a recent conversation:

Client: I’m been thinking about starting something new that I’m really excited about – I can hardly sleep since my head is spinning with plans.

Alli: That’s awesome!  Tell me about it.

(Client gives Alli the scoop)

Client:  But I’m not going to do it now.  It’s not the right time since things are too busy.

What?  So excited.  So much passion.  Can hardly sleep.  Still a no-go?  

I can read between the lines, you know, and what do I hear loud and clear?  Fear, doubt, your saboteur – call it what you will, but I know Client, it’s not you talking.

You VS the Saboteur

Imagine that you have a saboteur, like a gremlin, that sits on your shoulder, whispering all the reasons why you can’t, you’re not enough or you will fail in your ear.  The voice of the saboteur may actually be joined by your friends, family, or co-workers too, like a chorus of naysayers.  It’s hard to hear your own inner-knower when the volume on the negativity is turned to max.

Break the Frame Action:

Kick the saboteur to the curb.  Acknowledge that it’s keeping you in place of “less than” and tell your saboteur that it’s time to get packing.  It may feel silly for a moment but i’s empowering and it works. You can’t kick your friends, family and co-workers out as easily but by letting go of the persistent voice of doubt inside of you, it clears the way to hear and act on the more positive, supportive messages that will fuel you on the path to success.

Procrastination Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Symptom

Keeping busy with anything and everything other than what will move you closer to your goal is a symptom of your fear and of your stuck-ness.  It hides these truths:  1) Busy and productive are not one and the same.  2) Working hard and focusing on what matters most are vastly different.  Bottom line, procrastination stops you from having the time that you need to intentionally move things forward.

important continuum

Break the Frame Action:

Let’s get tactical: find five minutes, grab a blank piece of paper and get comfortable in quiet place.  Draw the following four quadrant model on your paper (see image) and get ready to map your to-do list.  Before you decide where to write each task, ask yourself: Q 1: Is this really important or is it just one of the many things I’d like to get done?  Q 2: Am I really the only one that can / should tackle this task?  Really?  After five minutes it should be clear where you should be spending most of your time (top left) and least of your time (bottom right).  Post this chart in your office as a reminder to close Facebook and get cracking on the top left (where your great, important, new venture should be listed).

Don’t Let Not Now Translate to Not Ever

Success requires a leap out of the comfort zone into uncharted territory.  However, not every leap has to be extreme and not every idea that you have has to be all or nothing.  There are many stories of people with an idea that got started small.  They stared risk in the eye and took action anyway.  Mr. Nordstrom didn’t dream of creating Nordstrom department stores when he opened his first shoe store.  Michael Dell ran his business from his dorm room! Mattel?  In a garage with scraps from their original business; picture framing!  If you envision creating a multi-billion dollar enterprise someday, that’s awesome and a BIG, OVERWHELMING, REALLY CHALLENGING task. Don’t let big, scary or difficult become impossible. 

Break the Frame Action:

What’s one thing you can do today to get one step closer to your dream?  I realize that you see the 150 steps and beyond but truly ask yourself what’s first and focus there.  In fact, we’re much more likely to take action when we tell someone what we plan to do.  Take this challenge: Tell someone in the next 48 hours what your dream is and the one thing you’re going to do first to get there.  Open a business, get promoted, lead a new initiative at work, become the PTA President – whatever it is.  Ready to confide in a friend?  Pick up the phone, fire up the email or set a coffee date asap.  Prefer to tell a stranger?  Email me.  Want to tell the world?  Tell us in the comments below.

Success starts with just one step – the first. ~ Alli Polin (Click to Tweet)

The first step is the scariest step because it’s marching into the unknown.  Good news, any path you walk, or leap, you don’t have to go it alone; change happens through relationships.  Build your team of people who will push, pull and encourage you to turn your “not-nows” into “I can.” 

Is now the time for you to make the leap?  For coaching, speaking or consulting, Let’s Connect!

(Photo credit)

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Chery Gegelman September 10, 2013 at 6:11 am

Alli – GREAT POST! I love this: “Procrastination Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Symptom!”


Alli Polin September 10, 2013 at 6:46 am

Thanks, Chery! It’s true! Yes, procrastination is A problem but not THE problem. We’ve got to get at what’s underneath and keeping us stuck to truly make progress. Still, there is no better way to build momentum than taking a step!


Tim Esco September 10, 2013 at 6:37 am

Very succinctly put. So many great points.


Alli Polin September 10, 2013 at 6:43 am

Many thanks, Tim! Appreciate your feedback and hope you’ll come back again!


Terri Klass September 10, 2013 at 7:40 am

I love your focus, Alli, on taking the first step. I remember the overwhelming feeling I felt when I decided that I needed a website. I didn’t know where to start. So I reached out to an acquaintance who recently created her site. I met her for coffee and we just talked.
I think connecting and engaging with others is a perfect beginning and one that is probably comfortable for most of us.
Explore with a buddy.
Thanks Alli and great post about making the leap!


Alli Polin September 10, 2013 at 9:04 am

Right on, Terri! When we engage with others, and tap into our relationships, it’s definitely a fantastic way to start our journey. The buddy system works!

Many thanks, Terri!


Cynthia Bazin September 10, 2013 at 7:43 am

Super inspirational post Alli! If we don’t go for it in life now, the reality is we may never do it. I really think the accountability piece is key. Letting people know your intentions really positively pushes you to follow-through! I will be sharing with all my communities!


Alli Polin September 10, 2013 at 9:07 am

That’s it! For many of us, it’s a now or never moment. We tell ourselves that putting it off is temporary… until the kids are out of college, until my Options vest, until I get promoted… Yikes.

I agree, accountability makes a huge difference not only for giving us a safe place to put our intention out there but also for building our team of supporters that truly believe we can and will make it happen!


LaRae Quy September 10, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Love how you encourage people to take that first step: Tell someone in the next 48 hours what your dream is and the one thing you’re going to do first to get there. Somehow when we share it, we also break it down into bite-size chunks. It forces our mind to begin prioritizing…otherwise how would we ever get this important message out? I’ve found that if I then move from a close friend to a more extended circle of acquaintances, my message tightens up. I have sorted through the extraneous stuff and am able to get to the nugget quicker. Moving closer to our dream…what a journey!


Alli Polin September 12, 2013 at 9:28 am

I’ve had a very similar experience. With my close friends, I’ve allowed myself to share the idea while I was still finding the words to make it my own and getting clear for myself too. The wider the circle, the tighter the message.

It’s so important to tell people our intentions because they can be our partner in accountability. It’s our responsibility to see it through but knowing that others care and are cheering us on can be inspiring!

Thanks, LaRae!


Jon Mertz September 11, 2013 at 7:38 am

It all begins by taking a step forward… key thing to remember! It won’t always be easy, but it is always necessary. It is about growth, and it is about using all of our talents. Great message, Alli.


Alli Polin September 12, 2013 at 9:21 am

I agree, Jon. It is most definitely about growth. If we fall into the trap of thinking we need to read more, study more, observe more we’ll never be able to integrate and test all that we already know. It’s just one step but it can feel like a really, really big one!


Michelle Mazur September 11, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Loved this Alli! In light of my new adventure, I hate to say it but there is NEVER a right time to take the risk, make the leap and do what you’re truly passionate about.


Alli Polin September 12, 2013 at 9:20 am

Seriously! If we wait for the absolute right moment, what happens if we blink and we miss it? NOW is time!



Lolly Daskal September 11, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Love this post!

Nothing great in life happens in stagnation.

I agree with a full heart on; Success requires a leap
Yes it does. Like everything in our lives when it comes to FEART
it takes a LEAP to get us out of our comfort zone!

LOVE your work. Looking forward to more amazing thoughts.


Alli Polin September 12, 2013 at 9:46 am

Thank you for your support and friendship! Leaps become so much easier when we know that others truly, with their whole heart, believe that we can. It inspires us to believe in ourselves too.

The first step…



Alice Chan September 15, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Chiming in a little late here, Alli, but it doesn’t lessen my appreciation of the timeless advice you offered here. You’re so right on in terms of how much we psych ourselves out of our dreams by seeing the whole mountain to move, instead of the stones we can move one at a time. Getting started with the next step and having someone share our enthusiasm and lovingly hold us accountable does go a long way. Thanks again, Alli!


Alli Polin September 17, 2013 at 8:10 am

Great metaphor, Alice! Yes! We do psych ourselves out instead of taking each step with trust and faith that the next step will indeed be there for us. Thanks so much, Alice!


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