Turning Obstacles into Opportunities


“One of the secrets of life is to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks” (Jack Penn)

The first time I read this quote, I knew I had to file it in my mind under “Remember This, Or Else!” I’m pretty sure the quote punched me so forcefully in the gut because I’m bad at doing what it prescribes: turning obstacles into opportunities.

I’m currently working on a young adult novel partially set in 1840s Nauvoo, Illinois, right before the Latter-day Saints continued their trek west. The Saints only stayed in Nauvoo seven years before enemies of the church drove them out, but what a fascinating period in church history.

I didn’t really know much about the history of Nauvoo to start out with, but I absolutely had no clue the citizens of Nauvoo considered constructing a ship canal right down the middle of Main Street!* The Des Moines Rapids hindered traffic down the Mississippi River, and cutting a canal across the peninsula would help ships avoid the rapids and provide power for Nauvoo’s mills and machines. A brilliant scheme!

The dreams of a canal, however, were quickly squashed when the surveyors realized that a solid bed of limestone blocked the north end of the cut.

And so another great idea bites the dust. How disappointing, maybe even depressing, for the residents of Nauvoo. Why do we even bother thinking up solutions to our problems if they’re never going to work out, anyway? We should just admit life stinks and stop pretending we can improve our lot in life.

Luckily, the residents of Nauvoo didn’t reason this way.

Instead of shaking their fists at the sky, they used the limestone – which made the canal an impossibility – to build the Nauvoo temple.

Talk about turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones!

The plans we make and the roads we take may lead us head-first into a giant lump of rock. And the question becomes:

Are we going to bang our heads against that rock, or use it to build something extraordinary?

*See George W. Given’s book “In Old Nauvoo: Everyday Life in the City of Joseph.”

Any experiences with turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones?