#2 Barriers On the Path

The Six Barriers

If we successfully get past the three “guardians of the threshold” (the indictment, fear of loss/unknown, and the specter of incompetence), there is a common set of six other barriers to action that we encounter on the path.  Just like the three guardians, these barriers are normal and natural and need to be addressed directly in order to get past them.  

  1. Competing Priorities
  2. Dealing with Frustration, Ineffectiveness or Failure
  3. A Challenge to Our Identity
  4. A Challenge to Our Relationships
  5. Being Too Visible
  6. The Effort Required – Wearing Out

“Do not judge me by my successes.  Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
– Nelson Mandela

How to Get Past the Six Natural Barriers

The key is to (a) acknowledge that the barriers are a natural part of the challenge; and (b) face them directly and go past them.  


1. Competing Priorities

Life is not simple, and we all have to make choices about what we prioritize and where we invest our time and attention.  We face “big” complex issues, such as climate change, terrorism, immigration, the polarization of society, homelessness, food security, politics and elections.  We also face normal personal issues such as does my family have housing, food, healthcare, educational opportunities, physical safety?  Is my job and career safe?  

Passing this Barrier.  Accept that you can’t put 100% into every priority.  Assuming that one priority is countering racism, determine which actions fit the investment you can make.  


2. Dealing with Frustration, Ineffectiveness, or Failure

There is no way for us to take significant action to counter racism without some missteps, setbacks, disappointments, and failures.  Because we care, setbacks will hurt, but they are part of the journey, particularly this journey.  Racism has been built into the fabric of America for 450 years, so the path out of it isn’t going to be straight, known, or without problems.

Passing this Barrier.  Understanding that these tough experiences are normal and natural and part of the path to success can help.  It is in confronting setbacks and disappointments that we develop perseverance and resilience, which are key to life in general. 


3. A Challenge to Our Identity

There are two aspects to this barrier.  First, some actions, like contributing financially, might not lead us to see ourselves differently.  However, other actions, like being an advocate or challenging people or organizations, can feel “not like me.”  

Second, as we engage and act, we can come to see ourselves differently and some of that awareness can be unsettling.  We may not like everything about “us” that we discover, but the fear of what we might discover will usually be bigger than reality. 

Passing this Barrier.  In the first instance, this is mostly a matter of taking a fresh look at ourselves and getting used to “the new me.”  We just keep going and get used to new aspects of how we see ourselves.

The second case is a bit different.  Having the courage to go ahead and act in spite of the natural concern is at the heart of getting past this barrier.  Accepting the gaps without giving them too much energy is also important.  

The energy needs to go into continuing to grow and develop, not feel bad about what’s missing.  One way to do that is to ask, “If I continue down this path and look at myself in a year, what will I see?”


“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

Anais Nin


4. A Challenge to Our Relationships

This is often one of the most powerful and common barriers.  If we step out and are visible countering racism, we naturally risk losing some relationships with people who do not accept – or are uncomfortable with our actions.  Sometimes the relationship just changes.  But we can also be rejected or simply shunned by some of our peer group – actively or passively.

Passing this Barrier.  In getting past most of these barriers there is, unfortunately, some degree of an inescapable requirement to simply, “just suck it up and get on with it.”  

In some, perhaps many, cases we can prevent or mitigate the negative impact.  We might do that by addressing the issue directly with the person who is moving away or likely to sever the relationship.  This can be surprisingly effective as it opens the possibility of changing the relationship vs. simply losing it.   We can also make new connections, which does not prevent the possible losses, but adds new richness.  


“When people walk away from you, let them go. Your destiny is

never tied to anyone who leaves you and it doesn’t mean they are bad people.

It just means that their part in your story is over.”



5. Being Too Visible

This can be a surprising barrier.  There are actions that we can take to counter racism that do not require being particularly visible, but many will require being visible – essentially saying, “This is me.”  

Passing this Barrier The strategy is simply to acknowledge the challenge, confront it directly, and get support from others – some of whom might be facing the same barrier.  Over time this barrier tends to shrink.    


6. The Effort Required – Wearing Out

Most of us feel like we are fully committed to our lives now.  The demands to build and maintain a family, career, social network, health, and just day to day living takes a lot of attention and energy.  Countering racism in significant ways will add to those demands – and the path is an extended one.  

Passing this Barrier.  This is another case where going right at the barrier is effective.  We may find that we have more capacity for investing time and energy than we think.  We may be able to organize our lives to free up capacity.  And we might be willing to let some things go in order to commit to countering racism (sacrifice is giving up something for something of greater value).  

Maintaining or renewing energy on the path is also critical because energy will be expended.  This will probably vary quite a bit from person to person.  It can include drawing energy from the vision being pursued, being connected to others, daily activities that generate energy (eating well, exercise, meditation, hobbies, etc.), places of renewal, celebrating progress and interim goals, etc.  There are a surprising number of energy sources if we pay attention.   


“May the force be with you.”