Don’t Look At The Obstacles

Truth be told, I’m not a very good cyclist. I’m too timid  and I’m not a natural athlete. I don’t cycle to enjoy the sensation of being at one with the open road. I cycle because I like to take my exercise sitting down.

My bete noire is one of these things…

On summer mornings I take my route past the River Lea, and there are several of these gates. I have to slow down and waddle round on tip toes, pelvic bone hovering above the saddle, whilst impatient cyclists wait for me to be done and out of their way. I hate that I can’t cycle round these gates. I feel like the child who cycled into every single orange bollard on her Cycling Proficiency Test. I feel pathetic.

One day this week, I approached the gates with my usual trepidation, expecting to fail for the -enth time. But as I came closer, a voice went through my head: Don’t Look At The Obstacles. I kept my gaze on the empty square of air beyond the gate – the place I wanted to be. And I got around!

Now, that particular gate is my friend. Five times out of ten, I can just about get round that one. But there’s always the second one – the one with the overgrown brambles that restrict my room for manoeuvre. That’s the one that always whips my ass. But I kept the same thought in my head. Don’t Look At The Obstacles. And I made it round that one, too!

I hope it’s not too much of a stretched analogy to compare this to sewing. It’s easy to feel restricted. A long day in the office, the bobbin that refuses to co-operate, the occasional downright failure of a make. Occasional? Who am I kidding? I think that for every success, I add a failure to my scoreboard. The yin and yang of sewing.

But the key is to keep swimming – or keep sewing. Clear your head, don’t look at the obstacles, take it one step at a time. It’s all about the journey…

Any tips on how to keep going when times are challenging?

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39 Responses to Don’t Look At The Obstacles

  1. orange says:

    Cute post Karen! well done!

  2. symondezyn says:

    I like this philosophy! If we get too bogged down by the obstacles we may not be able to see the clear path ahead! 🙂 When times are challenging I am glad of my obstinate stubbornness, because I will continue to bash at it until I find a way through…. I may not come out unscathed (let’s face it, I’m covered in proverbial war wounds!) but I always make it through somehow, and (I hope!!) a little better for it ^__^

  3. i find singing my frustrations out in an operatic voice can help. no, really! “why do you vex me, oh bobbin of doom…”. if nothing else, it makes me smile, which is always preferable to angry sewing.

  4. Molly says:

    If its any consolation, I failed my Cycling Proficiency test! I officially cannot ride a push-bike (I did eventually learn to ride a motorbike, but that success can only be attributed to my instructor who absolutely refused to have a student who couldn’t learn, tarnish his record!)

  5. Sam says:

    What a great mindset for tackling a daunting task! I often find that “just get on with it” helps too. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve built a task (either stitching related or work related) up in my head to be huge, enormous, insurmountable and when I’ve actually come to do it, found myself thinking, “well what was the fuss all about”. Just getting on with it gets the agony of the build up out of the way, and even if it is hard or horrible, at least you haven’t spent hours worrying about it.

  6. Jill Barrett says:

    Can’t ride a bike, but love the analogy. Wise words and thoughts. Just a thought. Why don’t you make that second gate easier and bring your secateurs ? Or if you haven’t any, your old and less than precious sewing scissors ? I’m all for making things as easy as possible when you can. Gives you more energy for the harder bits you have no influence over. And you are so right to see it as an analogy for life. It’s all a mind game to me. It’s so much about having confidence. Things seem to flow so much better if you expect them to. Can I also say good on you for noticing and celebrating your success and progress ! That’s the way to go ! Great post.

  7. Of course I need to know, what is a cycling proficiency test? do you have to have a license as a kid to ride a bike in the UK?

    • lloubb says:

      Yes, more info please 🙂 🙂

      • Ha, ha! I don’t know if they still have them, but at junior school (say, 10 years old) we’d train for and take a cycling proficiency test. I think we received a little metal badge. It was/is a way of getting kids competent and road aware on their push bikes. I was woefully bad. It was the first time in my life that I realized I’d been allowed to pass something because the testers felt sorry for me. Not a good feeling!

  8. Anne says:

    love this post!!! I love that philosophy, nothing is beyond you its just how long it takes to get there…and as my gran use to say “its not how you start the race, its how you finish…”

  9. Jo B says:

    Freaked out at the site of you with no helmet. That warrants a fine over here. Keep safe.

  10. charlotte says:

    I know what you mean! I kept a little picture on my blog that states mindful sewing, a bit like my yoga and meditation. And it works too. x x x

  11. MariaDenmark says:

    I think you are very brave for cycling in London. I have been cycling the streets of Copenhagen since I was 8 – but we have bike lanes, so really, it’s not that dangerous.
    But whenever I’m in London I’m in complete awe over people cycling in between the cars. I would just freak out, I’m afraid (also, of course it adds to my horror, that I in spite of many visits still can’t get my head to look the right way when crossing the street….

  12. annie says:

    Well, I was out of the bed last week at 2 am. Obsessing over some corners that weren’t coming together properly. Decided that my obstacle was a refusal to unsew. I did that from 2 until about 3:30 then went back to bed and sound sleep. Just have to identify them sometimes and get past them.

  13. Alisa says:

    Great insight, great post! Long time reader first time commenter.

  14. Marcy says:

    Love this. I was trying to learn to snowboard and there are deep pits around the bases of the trees. If you focus on the pits, it’s like a tractor beam that pulls your right down and in! If you focus on the goal (the empty space where you won’t crash) it is so much easier.

    I think I’m at the two fails to every success in sewing, but with lovely blogs like yours I stay inspired and keep at it.

    Kind of a tangent, but I really enjoy blogs where people don’t already know it all. I used to exercise with a computer personal trainer, who always did every move perfectly and without breaking a sweat and I did not like her one bit. My husband recently worked out with Tony Horton of P90X who is huffing, puffing, sweating, and sometimes struggling and I think it makes a world of difference. Not that you’d catch me doing P90X any time soon.

    All that to say, thanks for blogging about your sewing journey, for sharing the new things you learn, and for sharing your struggles. It’s the best sort of encouragement to know we’re all in this together.

  15. irononmaiden says:

    Love this idea. I’m going to use it to make the most of those little bits of time between obligations that normally get wasted because “oh, I’ve only got 15 minutes.”

  16. anne says:

    hi, karen!
    if a project gets to the point where it’s more agony than pleasure, it is OK to fold it up and leave it for a few weeks. when you come back to it, you’ll have more perspective.–anne

  17. Tania says:

    Hi Karen,
    What a great post, I have had many sewing failures and they knock my confidence around a bit and I often find it hard to bounce back. It’s helps to know that the sewers that I idolise via their blogs experience the same sewing disasters sometimes. Tania

  18. Juliet says:

    Genius! I’ve been weighed down with a big, new, responsibility-laden job and it’s affected my sewing. I have the room set up and everything, but can I get in there? I think you’re right, my job’s been my obstacle for a lot of my sewing, including photos for my finished makes. So what if there’s only 5 minutes of sunlight left, it’s still 5 minutes of sunlight!

  19. Helen Made says:

    Great post Karen – I think I’m up there with you with one failure to every success, but knowing that I’ll eventually end up with a garment that fits perfectly, in a fabric I love really helps me keep going! As for those gates – I hate them too! They’re a nightmare sometimes.

  20. Lizzie says:

    Loving the analogy, I’m having a bit of a cycle wobble at the moment after falling off my bike in a spectacular way in front of quite a lot of people yesterday and grazing my knee(I felt a bit like a five year old). I was definetly a bit nervous this morning and it made more likely to wobble – need to get the confidence back, I’ll try your method on the way home x

  21. I share a household with two rabid cyclists and am not a cyclist myself (yes, I can; no, I don’t). It’s nice to know there are others out there who are also not terribly confident. You’re one up on me, though, because you actually do it (cycle, I mean).

    And, yes, sometimes a break from a frustrating project helps you to reacquire your perspective, to focus on that space beyond. (That sounds wise but I’m not very good at actually doing it and I think part of that is that I rarely give myself enough time for such reflection; if I’m sewing, it’s often because I want something 10 minutes ago.)

  22. Shari says:

    “Clear your head, don’t look at the obstacles, take it one step at a time” I’m posting that on our family bulletin board today. Our family is going through an extremely difficult time and this will be reminder to all of us. Sewing helps me clear my head, even now, and even though I’m only doing small bits at a time. Grateful to you that this post came up on this particular day.

  23. obstinate stubbornness; Me too I refuse to give up! Sometimes that means I have to force myself to go where my heart doesn’t want to but my head knows its always worth it. (My 4th attempt at NL6515) Here’s a great poem a local (Australian) bank is using on tv ATM. It’s about changing Can’t to Can. I think it’s really clever and I’ve been using it to teach My Teen Boy that He Can.
    I’ve thought for ages that you are brave cycling in London. Well done for turning your can’t into can.

  24. Bold Sewist says:

    I love this! So true of so much in life – it’s very easy to see all the things that make a particular goal very difficult but a much more joyful journey when we just go with them and keep the eyes on the prize 🙂

  25. Elisabeth says:

    I used to be so much better at following this sort of philosophy when I was younger; I had a very “why not!” attitude toward challenging situations and ideas. Somewhere along the line I lost my way. Perhaps I tried and failed at one too many things? In any case, I love what you’ve written here and when I think back to the time when I had my previous “why not” attitude I realize that I was a lot less anxious and a great deal happier then than I am now. I think it’s time to try to recapture that can-do mentality and teaching myself to not focus on the obstacles is a great way to start.

  26. Kay says:

    you make me think!!

    I just learn to drive a car and my instructor kept telling me, don’t look at the car that’s parked on the side, see the road on the left where you want to go… IF you keep looking at the car parked in the front, then yes, your car will definitely go and hit that… Keep your eyes ‘where you want to go’…

    Now that you put it into perspective, it totally makes sense. It does work in other parts of life as well. Thank you!!!

  27. aleah says:

    Very good insights and analogy! If it makes you feel better, I cycle a lot (I ride a fancy road bike for excercise and I commute to work on a vintage road bike with a rack) and I’m also super uncomfortable going around posts, gates, cars, anything. I end up dismounting and walking way more than I’d like while other riders cruise through any obstacle with ease… But I will have to try your method! A wise former colleague of mine who teaches acting always tells his students not to “spin in the obstacle” during a scene, because a character who is actively persuing their goals is most interesting to an audience and keeps the drama/story in motion. I never thought to apply that idea to sewing (or cycling), but it makes sense – thanks for pointing it out!

  28. Janice says:

    I’m not a natural athlete either. I was a nerd in high school, and always last to be picked on teams during gym. Somehow I found martial arts though, and I ended up really liking it, despite the fact that I still struggle with it sometimes. Just keep with it, and don’t give up!

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