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Moving Mountains/Magical Choices For Empowering Your Life's Journey
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Chapter 6
By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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How To Navigate The Universal
Obstacles In Your Path -

Obstacles offer sufficient proof that
everything can be taken from a man
but one thing: The last of his freedoms--to
choose one’s attitude in any given set of
circumstances, to choose one’s own way.         
-Viktor Frankl

A woman I saw years ago in a hospital emergency room opened my eyes to the connection between the universal obstacles in our life’s journey and personal empowerment.

When I first laid eyes on her she looked terrible. She was a homeless woman who had been in an accident with a car. From what I understood, it was a clash of wills. The car was moving in one direction, she was walking in another--she lost.

We started to talk while she sat on a metal table with wheels on it. She wore a hospital gown.

"Who are you, the shrink?” she asked.

“I guess so, but I’m really here because I’m in school.”

"Then let me educate you,” she said without pausing. “How old do you think I am?”

“I don’t know,” I said and guessed young. “Sixty?”


“You look older than thirty-nine.”

“Kid, I been beat up, I been beat down. And I drank so much, I didn’t feel any of it. I look like this because I took every drug I could take and found ways to make the pain most people never dreamed of go away. But I don’t do that no more. Do you know why?”

“No.” I said.

“A dress I found.”

“A dress stopped all of that?”

“Yep, I was sick of being torn up on the streets, and I thought it was the answer to all of my problems when I saw it. Hell from that minute, I walked down the street all summer wearing that real pretty sun dress with big flowers on it. The flowers on that dress made me feel pretty. Then one day I found a straw hat with flowers on that too. So I wore that hat.

“But one day the dress got a bad stain on it. Real bad. People said “Change clothes!” Hell, people tried to gimmee clothes.

“But, I remembered how pretty the flowers had looked before, so I kept wearing the dress. I thought to myself, ‘some people wear stains on the outside, some people wear them on the inside. I ain’t gonna give up the only thing to make me feel good about myself in ten years because of one lousy stain.’”

“Did it work?” I asked.

“Well, I didn’t take it off for a long time. Then one day I took the dress off for about an hour. I won’t tell you why. But, what do you know?   I didn’t feel any different without it. So I stopped wearing that dirty old dress right then and there.”

“I don't think I understand...” I said.

“Then listen carefully Mr. Student. It’s because I finally realized that any time you look for something outside of yourself to make you happy, it lets you down.” 

"You got all of that from a sun dress?” I asked.


I left there that day and never saw her again. But on that day, I became a wiser student from that one encounter. You see, she made me understand the folly of my ways.

As I reflected upon our conversation later in the day, I decided I needed to learn for myself what my new friend had learned from her experience with her sun dress.

I went home that night and pulled out a notebook. I wrote down twelve questions in the notebook. I spent the next two days searching myself for the answer to those questions.

To this day, whenever I feel as if I am wrestling with something in my life, I pull out a notebook, write down those very same questions and start writing--just the way I did for the first time on that memorable day.

1.)  What is the sun dress at this point in my life?

2.)  What is the power I am giving to the sun dress in my life?   

3.)  What am I hoping the sun dress will fix in my life?

4.)  Why am I turning to the sun dress to fix whatever is challenging me, rather than turning to myself?

5.)  What resources do I have inside me that are more effective and more permanent solutions than a sun dress?

6.)  Why am I afraid to use my resources rather than cling to a dirty sun dress?

7.)  Why am I choosing to stay stuck with this sun dress rather than get on with my journey?

8.)  What lesson is the conflict between holding on and letting go trying to teach me?

9.)  What does it mean to me to let go of the sun dress?

10.) What am I afraid of losing if I let go of   the sun dress?

11.) What do I stand to gain by letting go of the sun dress?

12.) What is my discomfort with feeling sad about losing my sun dress?

I cannot begin to tell you what a difference that exercise has made in my life! And I can’t tell you how many notebooks I have filled up over the years trying to answer those same twelve questions anytime I have had to get unstuck in my life.


I am going to spend some time reviewing with you the universal obstacles and some possible ways to better understand how those obstacles appear in your life. There is no right or wrong way to review this section. But take your time as you do go through this section because there are many buried treasures in here for you to discover about yourself. I highly recommend you take a minimum of eight weeks to work through this part of the chapter.

The only valuable learning that can come from this chapter is through experimenting with these tips  in your life. Knowing the information in this chapter is helpful, even necessary, but it is not sufficient to just know the material in this chapter. Tackle these tips one at a time. You can continue reading the book without completing this chapter. In fact, continuing to read the book will enhance the experiments you do in this chapter.

We all become paralyzed with fear as we embark on our journey. What we fear the most is loss--loss of love, loss of security, and loss of self.

I refer to this as the Law of Impermanence. We all would like to believe life is about collecting things we can hold onto and possess. Jobs. Marriages. Freedom. Identity. Prestige. Popularity. Friendships. Houses. Youth. Wisdom. Good Health. Cars. Careers. You name it. We believe that if we have it in our lives, we must be able to own it, possess it, and control it. And the simple explanation is, we are frightened to death of experiencing the pain of losing it.

But the reality is that we all really are only renting our way through life. What we have today we must necessarily learn to let go of at some point in our life. Learning to enjoy what we have while we have it, and letting it go when its time is up, is the most incredible way to live your life. It also is the most painful way to live your life.

We kid ourselves into believing we don’t have to go through the pain of loss. But loss goes on with or without our permission. We can freeze our lives to minimize how much we stand to lose, but that requires us to live a life of deprivation.

So many of us are afraid to love, are afraid to go after our dreams, are afraid to invest in ourselves for the fear of one day having to say good-bye to it.

It is this fear that lives at the core of who we are that creates the underlying tension in all of our quests. The fear of loss is the yin to the yang of what you want. This fear is the quicksand we all get stuck in on our life’s journey. These fears are the internal earthquakes we all experience as we navigate our lives around the universal obstacles.

Our fear of dreaming and hoping clouds our vision of what our life can be. Without a vision our journey is as directionless as a ship without a rudder.

Now you may be thinking at this moment, “Steve, you are a master of the obvious!” I understand that sentiment, but let’s look a little closer at the subtlety of this obstacle.

It is obvious you can’t get anywhere unless you know where you are going. But think about this for a moment. Are you headed toward something or away from something? Is the path you are on at this point in your life taking you to where you want to be, or taking you away from where you don’t want to be?

There is a huge difference. The better part of my day is spent helping people master the difference. So many of the people I meet know the direction they want their life to take--and that’s away. Away from the fear, away from the pain, away from the shame and disappointments in their life.

But they seldom have a vision of where they would like to be in their life. They only know where they don’t want to be. And the paradox is the more they run from their pain and fears, the further they get from the answers they are seeking.

The empowered person gives birth to their journey by creating a vision for what their life can be.

So what is it for you? Are you running from where you are in your life or are you running to what you want your life to be?

Take time and figure that out. Sit down and create a vision for yourself. Think for a moment about your life right now. Imagine the things you would be most happy reaching. Your goal may be finding a man or woman to be your life partner. It may be doing something that makes you happy. Maybe it’s becoming someone you really want to be. Imagine now that you have three magic wishes to use to reach those goals. What would you wish for?

Let’s try something. I want you to stop reading for a just a minute and think about your own personal goals. Think seriously about your personal goals. What’s your first goal? Write it down in the space below and refer to it when you need focus or strength.


Our fear leads us to look outside of ourselves for solutions that only live within ourselves.

Self-doubt, lack of confidence, fear of failure, confusion, shame. Pick one or pick ‘em all. This is the source of the emotional tornado that rocks us when we attempt to bring all we have longed for into our lives.

When confronted with the choice of standing on your own two feet or handing responsibility for your emotional well-being to somebody or something else, what do you choose?

Do you look to yourself or to others for the solutions to your life challenges?

Do you look to yourself or to others for strength, courage, and soothing?

Do you look to yourself for the creativity to formulate your life, or do you give that power to others?

Do the answers to your questions come from you or from others?

The obstacle is fear. The obstacle is self-doubt. The obstacle is believing you can effectively live your life grounded in the solutions of others. The obstacle is believing you can turn to drugs, alcohol, shopping, sex, and/or relationships to distract you effectively enough from the fear that is within.

The solution is discovering how to tap the enormous amount of dormant potential that lies within you.

The empowered person looks within themself to discover the path that leads to their own personal journey.

So how about it? Do you believe something lives inside you that can propel you beyond your own self-imposed limits?

Do you believe you can reclaim the parts of your life you have given away to others, those parts you have given away to your fears, those parts you have given away to frustration and discouragement?

Look back for a moment at one of your original goals you identified above. Take the goal or goals in which you identified the fears you have in pursuing those goals.

List the ways you have given your power away rather than looking to yourself to accomplish what you set out to do.

Now take your time with this one. This is important and I suspect you have been hiding from the answer for a long time. In fact, don’t be surprised if you have to come back to this more than once. But believe me, the discovery will be worth the effort.

List the unused resources you possess, that live within you. All you need to do is awaken them and implement them in your plan of action.

Fear of change inhibits our ability to start our journey.

So, once you’ve chosen a direction for your life, you Just Do It. Right? Well, not by my way of thinking. If you could easily Just Do It, no one would have to be encouraged. They would Just Be Doing It.  

Quick answers and sound-bite slogans sometimes have a strange effect in undermining peoples’ efforts. Making change sound simple can bring on paralysis in someone who is not accustomed to changing. Change is never as simple as Just Doing It, it is a conscious decision to take action.

So once we are at the starting blocks, what keeps us from jumping out to a quick start? Again, it may seem obvious, but I cannot tell you how many people look at me and say, “I am not the least bit afraid.”

But it’s quite simple. Fear freezes us in our place. And until you acknowledge your fears, you will continually trip over them. You can act as if you’re not afraid. But I have never seen anyone successfully ignore their fears and just throw blind caution to the wind.

So, my question to you is, what frightens you whenever you try to do something with your life? More importantly, how do those fears keep your feet nailed to the ground whenever you try to get out of the starting blocks?

One of the ways we get out of the starting blocks is by learning to risk as we reach for what we want and let go of the comfort of things we no longer need. One of my friends had been on the verge of divorce. And then one night he called me in tears from a pay phone in downtown Chicago. “What’s wrong?” I said.

"My marriage has been over for a long time but tonight I decided to leave the house forever. I know I don’t want to be married, but leaving my house and leaving the idea of having a wife is so hard,” he said.

Fear always slows us down, but it doesn’t have to keep you down.

The empowered person embarks on their journey in spite of their fears, instead of waiting for their fears to go away.

Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? How many of you live by that credo. Are you just a procrastinator or does your fear create obstacles in the guise of procrastination?

You have just written down things you believe are important for you to have in your life. Pick one of those for this next exercise. It doesn’t matter which one -- whatever you feel most comfortable with. Once you’ve picked it, write it down on the first line below.

After you have written down one thing, pause for a moment, close your eyes, and think about what I am about to ask you. What are your fears about creating these things in your life?

Now close your eyes and just pay attention to what images and thoughts float to the surface. After a few moments open your eyes and write down your fears.

Now, that wasn’t so bad. So let’s go to the second part. Take what you just wrote down and think about the following question. How do those fears appear in your life? Forgetfulness? Procrastination? Excessive eating or drinking? Serial short-term relationships? Take some time and see if you can make a connection between the fear and the man-made obstacle.

The last part of this exercise may be the hardest part, but it is also the most productive part. Who can support you as you try to bring the things that you listed above into your life? Support is the most important part of empowerment.

But, don’t run off and tell your dreams to just anybody. Make sure it is someone you trust. Make sure it is somebody who believes in you. Make sure it is somebody who is invested in your growth -- not threatened by your growth.

Your dreams are your own personal jewels. Share them with somebody who has the capacity to appreciate them and respect them the way you do.

After you have finished with one of your dreams, be sure you go through these steps again with the other goals you have created for yourself as you feel comfortable doing them.

The fear of the unknown chains us to the prison of what is familiar.

The familiar is the most tempting seductress of all time. We seek out its comfort whenever we are hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. We are attracted to the simplicity of simply doing what we have done repeatedly before. We are romanced by the idea that relief lies in routine and habit.

Whenever I ask someone how they understand how their relapse occurred, how they have strayed from whatever path they have chosen for themselves, they respond the same every time: “I don’t know, it just seemed the easiest thing to do at the time.”

And I say the same thing everytime, “I believe you believe it was easier, but what I believe is it was what was most familiar for you. As much as you are hurting right now, it doesn’t appear to have been any easier for you this way.”

The empowered person chooses to let go of the familiar for the promise of the unknown.

The beginning of a habit is like spinning a small thread. Everytime we repeat the habit, we strengthen the strand, until it becomes a great cable that supports our burdens. But we can’t create new habits until we start to let go of old familiar habits.

What are the familiar things in your life you choose to keep turning to when you are trying to bring growth into your life?

How does the familiar soothe you in the short term but hold you back in the long-term?

Who is part of your support system? Who can you turn to when you become overwhelmed by the process of growth? Who can you lean on when you  choose not to turn to the familiar ways of coping with feeling overwhelmed?

Our fear of experiencing the losses of what we want to leave behind blocks us from becoming what we want to become.

I talked earlier in the chapter about the grip our fear of loss holds on our lives. It creates caution where spontaneity is necessary. It creates jealousy where fellowship is necessary. It creates pettiness where cooperation is necessary.

This is the one obstacle I see so many people trip over time and time again. Although every aspect of empowering your life is fraught with pain and self-doubt, there is no area of personal growth so charged with pain as this obstacle right here. It is so paradoxical because logically we believe we are headed for a more rewarding way of life. And you are. But in order for you to get there, you must shed some old familiar parts of your life.

For any of us to grow, we will have to leave parts of who we are behind. That may include friends, family members, careers, relationships -- even the very way we think about ourselves. We will have to leave behind ways we have defined ourselves, as well as the ways we wanted others to think of ourselves.

This is all very threatening for us to go through by ourselves. As we leave behind the familiar, we are confronted with the darkness of the unknown. We are confronted with the terror of being disconnected from our past.

That is why support is an important ingredient  for any plan of action geared toward growth. The losses you will experience are necessary teachers for your future journey, but they is not things you have to endure all alone.

But most of all, loss just causes grief, pain, and suffering. And those experiences are as every bit a part of the human experience as love, joy, and happiness are.

You may not like it. However, it is difficult to move on unless you move through the grief you have pushed away your whole life. And you need to accept the grief that goes with the growth you are trying to bring into your life today, as well.

Allowing yourself to experience your losses as they happen allows you to feel like a whole human being. And that’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.

The empowered person moves his journey forward by greiving what he has lost in order to keep what he stands to gain.

The most effective way to work through the feelings of loss is to find someone who you can safely talk to about your experiences. As well, keep a record of your thoughts and feelings either with a tape recorder and/or a written journal.

Explore the feelings you are experiencing about the losses in your life. Explore how you can obtain comfort and support from your support system. Examine how your life has changed for the better by the passing of the events in your life.

I mentioned a friend of mine who went through a divorce. Weeks after those calls of crisis when he left the house and took those big first steps, my friend and I sat down to talk again.

"How are you doing?” I asked.

“Better,” he said. “I started going out and playing ball with the guys on the weekends. And I think I am going to see a clinical psychologist for a while. Also, I can see the day coming when I will meet new people.”

He looked up at me and smiled as he said, “Steve, I need to move on and build a life for myself.”

My friend did not arrive at the place he was at by wishing it so, or by asking others to make his life better for him. He endured many hardships along the way. He has many more he will encounter as he pushes forward.

But I know with the basic plan I have just laid out for you, you can confront the challenges in your life well-equipped. I hope you find this plan as useful for you as it has been for me and thousands of other people just like you and me.



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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