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How to Turn Obstacles Into Opportunities
June 11, 2020

Let’s face it. The year 2020 has been kind of horrible. And if it hasn’t, you’re one of the lucky ones. We have been faced with challenges and obstacles that no one could’ve ever predicted.

But when I sat down to write my first blog about how we can take the struggles from 2020 and turn them into opportunities for ourselves, I realized that this ideology stretched far wider than the present.

I began to reminisce over some of my earliest memories and the obstacles that once seemed to be the end-all of my dreams. Those same bumps in the road, led me to where I am today and taught me life lessons that I’ll share in this blog.

I want to be clear that this is not meant to be a tell-all about my life. But rather, how I took life’s obstacles and with perseverance, learned to see those failures as the creation of the timeline of my life.

Lesson 1: Have a glass-half full mentality.

In my formable years, I wrestled on a team that was one of the best in New York. Being on that team gave me such a sense of price and belonging. I remember before matches we would walk out to the Queens song, ‘We are the Champions.’ It was quite a spectacle and I was at an all-time high.

But, my junior year of college, I tore my ACL and had to have knee surgery and just like that, my wrestling career was over.

You can imagine how devastating this would be as a college athlete. I was crushed. But life went on and in June of 1990, I graduated with a degree in Public Relations with no potential job offers in sight.

I grew up with a blue-collar-work-ethic, so although I started my job search later than my college advisors advised, I was ready to work hard to find the job that would kickstart my professional career.

What I didn’t expect was that I would be entering the job market during a recession. So now, not only was I up against other new grads, I was also competing with tenured employees that were now without jobs as well.

As a young man in his early 20’s, I had a lot of questions about what a recession was, when it would end and how it would affect me. I remember being frustrated by the current events and the outlook I was faced with.

That same summer I visited my 80-year-old grandmother in Pittsburgh who was 17 during the 1929 great recession. She put a lot into perspective that summer and helped me realize that having an optimistic outlook can directly impact your life’s direction.

If you tell yourself you can’t do something or choose to quit because of whatever reason, you won’t accomplish anything. Pretty obvious, right?

Instead, take a look at the positives and think about things with a “Glass-half-full” mentality. You’ll begin to see things differently and more than likely, find new ways to reach your goals or even make new ones.

Lesson 2: Detours can be good.

Throughout college and after graduation, I knew that I wanted to find a job working in the PR Department of a large organization or agency.

Unfortunately for me, the recession caused most organizations to make cuts in their Marketing and Communications Departments.

After seeing what was happening in the job market, I knew I needed to re-evaluate what my career looked like which led to me detouring and exploring sales opportunities. I would have never thought this diversion from the plan I created would be a note on my timeline that led me to where I am today.

I’ll say it again. Detours can be good. Some of the best ideas came from people who faced challenges that led them down a different route. Those detours were meant to get to you where you’re going.

If you’ve come to a roadblock in your life, whether it’s personal or professional, the choice you make will be a domino effect to all the future events to come. Take a step back and allow yourself to react methodically and creatively.

solution for business problem or break through to success concept.

Lesson 3: Know your strengths and have the confidence to use them.

I have a passion for working with teams. Fortunately, I worked for a manager that saw and recognized that passion recommended me to be his replacement to lead the Sales Team.

When I heard this, I immediately thought, “I am not ready for this.” I knew I would work hard and loved working and leading people, but I couldn’t fathom that I had enough experience for my coworkers to take me seriously as their boss. However, his reassurance and belief in my foundation and skill sets resulted in my confidence to accept the position.

And just like that I felt I had made it. I was finally in a big role as the manager of a large team, even without a formal education around leadership.

Why am I telling you this?

Because oftentimes, especially in the tech industry, our advancements are limited by education or experience — even when we possess the strengths and skills to make us great candidates. Use those strengths. You’ll be surprised the weight they will carry over education or experience.

Lesson 4: Focus on your weaknesses and lean in.

By 2008, I was looking to broaden my experience and gain more knowledge into the finance and operations side of business. The company I worked for did not have opportunities for me in that area, so I ventured out right in time to face the head winds of the housing bubble, as well as the capital and financial markets melt down. Yet again, not a great time for me to be on the job market.

Fortunately, I was able to find an opportunity working on the operations side of the business. While a great opportunity, it also uncovered my weaknesses and allowed for me to focus on improving them.

So often we are told to hide our weaknesses or refrain from putting ourselves in situations where they are exposed. Instead, we should accept those opportunities with arms wide open; choosing to look at them as learning opportunities to make ourselves better. Without that chance, we can never fully reach our potential.

Sure, your strengths will continue to get stronger and you may be able to overcompensate with those, but imagine what you could accomplish if your weaknesses also became stronger.

Lesson 5: It takes a team.

I just finished watching ESPN’s, ‘The Last Dance.’ Although many want to debate it, my opinion is that Michael Jordan is the greatest athlete of my generation and many more to come. The documentary did a great job focusing on not only Michael Jordan, but also obstacles the team faced and the gritty aspect of creating a world-class organization.

Their message, while specific to the Chicago Bulls, got me thinking.

This same idea can be carried over into our lives — both personal and professional. While it certainly helps, one incredibly talented person on the team doesn’t automatically mean success. It takes more than one allstar to have great teams and create a dynasty. It also takes a great leader and teammates that know their role and offer an extended support system (operationally and at home).

Understanding that one person can’t be successful on their own is vital. Eventually, at some point along the way, we all need a team to rely on. Where you have weaknesses, others have strengths. Remember that. Live by that. You will get so much farther with a team than on your own.

Lesson 6: Bumps in the road will always occur.

There will be other moments in time where we think ‘this is the big one.’ It could be a personal challenge, or it could be something outside of your control. As I’ve shared with you throughout this blog, I’ve certainly had my share of bumps. And when things didn’t go as I had planned, it was hard to accept that.

Bottom line, you either let the adversity define you or you will look deeper in the mirror for the answer. What are the moments that make up your timeline? Have you allowed them to define you or have you used them for inspiration to take you to your next adventure?

Lesson 7: Uncertainties should be looked at as opportunities.

This year my family and I have been excited about my son’s upcoming graduation. In fact, we joked that he would be a part of the only class in history that could say they have 20/20 vision into the future (dad joke, I know). Ironically, there was no way any of us could’ve seen this coming.

COVID-19 completely disrupted the economy and the plans of college graduates entering the workforce. Just like how I began my job search during a recession, today’s grads are also now facing a lot of uncertainties.

Instead of choosing to wallow in possible failures and roadblocks, take these events and turn them into an opportunity to reevaluate career goals. Take pause and reflect on paths you may have never considered going down before.

As an example, there remains high demand for technology jobs. Statistically speaking, you probably did not attend school for information technology, however that doesn’t mean it’s too late to pursue a career in technology.

At SkillStorm, we provide free online courses to college graduates nationally to gain today’s most in-demand skills. Once our students complete a course or two, SkillStorm will offer them an interview to be hired (yes, hired) and enter a three-month immersive graduate training program that will fast track their career.

I hope we can help you with your next adventure.


An innovation and opportunity accelerator, SkillStorm is the surging force behind the transformation of today’s tech workforce.

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