Get good at finding the true barriers to getting what you want

I have been derailed for the last year by a fungus growing on my foot. I’ve actually had the fungus since my days as a volleyball player. All that time, and the few years after, I was uninsured, and I only went to the doctor if I felt my life was at risk.

So I learned to live with the fungus—you know, how you have something that is sort of private and you don’t do anything about it and then it becomes normal to you and there is no one talking about it to you to tell you how you’re crazy? So I just sort of got used to my fungus.

Until Madison. Until this winter, which has been colder and snowier than Alaska. In Madison my fungus got pretty crusty and yellow. I told myself that I would go to the doctor, but it didn’t happen. I told myself it’s a miracle that I pack school lunches and make an 8am meeting, so trying to get to a doctor would be laughable.

But this is not really about my fungus. The point is that we create so many excuses for ourselves not to do what we should be doing. I know you are thinking: “Right. So Penelope should have gone to the doctor.”

But you know what? It would not have changed my life to go to the doctor, so who cares? It was not contagious (my husband—who I am trying to train myself to call my ex-husband—did not get it in fifteen years), and it was not dangerous (no discolored, draining infections or swollen, bloody messes or any of the other stuff you may have thought of when you read fungus, if you have a mind that has a predilection for gross).

Here’s the big problem though: I kept not going to yoga all year because I didn’t want to have gross feet in yoga. The kind of yoga I do is Ashtanga, (and I love Ashtanga so much that I am including links to very short videos here and here.) I have been doing it for ten years and if I just do it for four days in a row, it changes me. I am happier, calmer, lighter on my feet, and more patient with the world.

But I wasn’t doing it. I told myself I didn’t want the teacher to see my fungus. I told myself I’d do yoga when I fixed my fungus. And I told myself I’d fix my fungus when I got my mornings under control and could take time to go to the doctor.

How lame is that? I kept that excuse chain together for one whole year. I can see how, in hindsight: I told myself the barrier to yoga was my fungus. But it wasn’t really my fungus, it was going to the doctor. But it wasn’t really going to the doctor, it was my workload. But it wasn’t really my workload, it was my perceived workload, because when I found out at the last minute that the kindergarten sing-a-long for parents was at 9am, I went. Regardless of workload.

So what’s the one smart thing I did? I told myself that the fungus was a stupid reason not to go to yoga. And I went to yoga. And I tried to hide my gross foot from my teacher. And then, in one pose he had to pull my foot around my back to my hand, and I didn’t even notice the pain because I was consumed with the thought that he was touching my foot. There is no way he missed the fungus. It’s not subtle. But he didn’t care.

And then I realized that I had created a totally artificial barrier to getting what I wanted: The yoga. I realized that the best way for me to get what I want the next time is to write out the chain reaction: I can’t do what I want because of X. And I can’t do X because of Y. And I can’t do Y because of Z. And then examine it—I am sure that somewhere in there is a weak link—somewhere in there is something that I can actually do, and then I am free to get what I want.

Posted in No image, Productivity
52 comments on “Get good at finding the true barriers to getting what you want
  1. tamar says:

    I am thrilled to be reading about toenail fungus. My favorite new topic and a 3-year-old condition that only last week I started to have treated. How? The only way … under the care of a dermatologist (at least, this is the Israeli health system) who prescribes (if you are a good specimen aside from the fungus), strong meds daily over a four-month course. The catch? Blood tests every three weeks to check possible harm to your liver. And, only an 85 percent cure rate. And not cheapest stuff (even here, with heavenly national insurance for those eligible). GET THEE TO A DOC!

  2. John says:

    You know… I’m all for free speech. But if this is how you come up with material to write about… please search deeper. Try harder. This is disgusting. This is personal. This is too much information.

  3. Kelvin says:

    I agree with what you said. It was a good lesson. Sometimes we need to dig deeper for the real reason.

    As for the fungus, it’s still a good idea to get it treated. Overcoming the embarrassment is one thing, but having someone else touch it is another. Fungus is contagious and your foot fungus might just become the teacher’s hand fungus. Do watch out for that.

  4. Recruiting Animal says:

    My dad recently had some surface skin cancer due to exposure to the sun. The doctor gave him some medicine that he warned would make it look much worse before it got better. He was right. My father stopped going to the pool and shower in his condo because he didn’t want to scare the other people with the big sores. Then, suddenly, they dried up and he was pretty happy that he could go to the pool again. Moral: hey, go to the doctor.

    * * * * * * * *

    Okay! Okay! I should have included at the end of the post that I am also going to a dermatologist. I am. I am very sick of having the fungus. Still, I appreciate everyone’s concern.


  5. Mark W. says:

    Your last paragraph in this post regarding writing down on a piece of paper the ‘chain reaction’ reminded me of making a list. Once you get all your thoughts and how you deal with an event (fungus in this case) down on paper it makes it easier to examine the situation and how best to proceed.

  6. Matt Bingham says:

    Artificial barriers based on ones own perceptions of another’s reaction. How true is this. How many times have we not done something because of what our boss may think or how they may react. It’s a defining moment when you realize that your barrier was nothing more than a mental block. We all do this…when asking for a raise, when asking for more exciting work, or when asking for a certain perk; We all think that we can’t ask because of this, and we can’t do this because of that…and in reality it’s all because we are afraid to ask.

  7. Dan Schawbel says:

    Good transparency and honesty here. I think a lot of people can understand what you went through and that we in fact have these barriers that prevent us from doing certain activities.

    I think another example of this type of “fear” is that fear to engage in social activities, especially the ones where you confront the opposite sex. I say this because a lot of people are unwilling to put themself in a situation, where they may be rejected. This fear prevents them from possible opportunities.

    This is yet another reason why I feel personal branding empowers the individual to take ownership of their life, not just a career.

  8. Jenny says:

    I think the key to why you are a great writer and lesson-teacher is the fact that you will lead an article with “I have a fungus on my foot”. That is the kind of bravery that must be listened to for the point it makes, we are all grown-ups who can get over the image it projects. Well, most of us anyway, apparently not all.

  9. Mark says:

    I agree with Mark W's comment. A lot of the time, I can't figure out how to properly solve a problem without identifying the appropriate source. With past trials and tribulations, like this article – €“ I have found that the real cause isn't always what you initially presume.

    Friday's comment follows along with this article. Maybe I haven't identified the root of my problem. You asked why not switch to a more rewarding and accommodating field? Well – to me, a position that I would absolutely love and would be completely rewarding IS in my field. I feel that in a little time, whether it be to pay the dues or to continue with a higher degree, I will be able to get said position. But the derivation of my problem is that I love my field, and may have to put up with the established order.

    P.S. Sorry to hear about your awkward situation! A bit of a clichéd banality, but "Do the ends justify the means?"

  10. Mikeachim says:

    I suspect writing about the fungus is another way of dealing with it, head-on. :) Good for you.

    As much as I hate to sound like some kind of Edward de Bono wannabe, I agree, it’s important to recognise where there’s an obstruction, an inner voice playing “yes, but…” game. And then challenge it. And find it’s like a wall in one of those traditional Japanese houses.

    But how do we get self-programmed like this in the first place? Where does it start?
    Where did it start with you, in this case? Was it a financial block (the lack of medical insurance back then)?

  11. Shefaly says:

    Penelope, yes, I have a predilection for gross. But I did read the article.

    The simple thing that works for me is asking myself ‘why’ 7 times. With this sort of root-cause analysis, I have the answers by the time the 5th ‘why’ is being asked. This tool is commonly used in root cause analysis by a range of professionals to establish causality (and contributory factors will emerge as ancillary answers) and to enable decision making.


  12. Aaron says:

    I’m waiting for the part where you go to the doctor and get some stupid medicine to take care of your disgusting foot fungus. Seriously, it’s probably like one pill you take for a week.

  13. Arlene says:

    I know this chain of thinking oh-so-well: “I can’t do X because Y isn’t resolved so I can plan for Z.”

    And we really know, deep in our hearts, that it’s 25% actual overwork and 75% rationalization. Somehow we get past it, though it usually takes way too long.

    Good luck with that dermatologist. You’ll tell us how the treatment’s going, won’t you?

  14. Ed Borden says:

    I have to tell you, I guarantee the Yoga instructor cared when he had to get all up in your business with the fungus! He probably just didn’t know what to do at that exact moment. Let’s get the fungus taken care of asap :)

  15. Joselle Palacios says:

    Wow. What a powerful exercise. I wrote out 3 excuse chains on stuff that’s been eating away at me. This really helps cut through the bs. Everything at the heart of the excuse for me is about fear, not about actual external “uncontrollable” things. Thank you so much.

  16. Joselle Palacios says:

    PS: For all the people saying “Ewww! Get rid of the fungus ASAP,” please know that it’s not always that easy. My mom has had a problem with foot fungus for years and has tried dozens of remedies to no avail. So really, if there were a magic pill or cream, PT and others would have easily gotten rid of it when the fungus first made its appearance.

  17. lizriz says:

    This is just what I needed to read today, and first out of the blog reader, too. I’m totally printing this out and keeping it in my calendar, and I’m going to really give some thought to where I might have artificial barriers.

    Dude, what is with people like John saying, “This is personal. This is too much information.” This is a blog, dude. Go read a newspaper if you don’t want to read personal writing.

  18. t h rive says:

    I can’t remember what the name of the book is but my brother gave my dad a book for Xmas on a Man’s Battle With Nail Fungus (as my dad has battled for too long) as a comparison with life’s hardships. Very interesting topic (hint of sarcasm), BUT as you can see many analogies can come out of it.

    Soon I think I’ll write a post on Forest Management as it is related to Bum Pimples.

  19. Robyn McIntyre says:

    I’m bookmarking this post in diigo because – regardless of the gross factor – it contains a great tip on overcoming self-imposed limitations (i.e, writing out the chain). I found it personally useful (and will try it today!) as well as a great tool to pass on to others.

  20. Liz says:

    Couldn’t you wear socks to yoga?

  21. Muneerah says:

    Thanks, Penelope. I’m doing the exact same unexamined thought chain right now in a couple of areas and this is just what I needed to read.

  22. Muneerah says:

    BTW, thanks for the video links. Ashtanga looks incredible! I’m a hugh Bikram fan, but I must try this.

  23. MamaBird/SurelyYouNest says:

    I so love this look at the “excuse chains” we all set up. Thanks for sharing. Need to go bust up a few of those myself!

  24. murph says:

    I hate yoga, and I’m not much of a fan of careerism – but I cheer for your having recognized a self-imposed barrier. And I’d thank you for bringing that story to others.

    We all have our barriers. Hearing how someone else beats one of theirs helps us chip away at our lot.


  25. Debra K says:

    I think you are brave for what you said. For people to truly identify with one another, it needs to be personal. And you made an interesting point. It’s important to see the reasons for why we do things. Try to link it to the appropriate reason. As for the fungus, I can understand why most people would think it is gross. But it also shows how personal you are and this is why I think people like you. All of your readers have problems (it’s human nature) and you are showing that you have problems, too. Just because you have a book published, a popular blog, you’re nice looking, etc. you show that you have problems just like anyone else. And everyone has things about them which they aren’t too happy about. Especially once you reach the age of 30, lots of things seem to fall apart with marriages but in our bodies as well. I think you’re brave. And no matter what you write, there will be people who like it and always people you don’t. It’s the law of social

  26. holly says:

    Confession: I have a problem completing any of those nagging little necessary tasks that common folk call “life.” For example, my inspection sticker on my car expired in January. I have not found the time to get it renewed (I made one attempt when getting my oil changed, but they didn’t do inspections). I imagine it will have to be forced, much like your fungus, but by much tougher means than a yoga instructor – a police officer with a ticket book.

    A friend of mine always says we’ll do something when the situation becomes painful enough. I believe that of anything – whether it’s a bad marriage, a foot fungus or an expired inspection sticker. You got tired of hiding your fungus. When I get tired of cringing every time I pass a police officer, I’ll spend a precious 4 hours waiting to have my car inspected.

    * * * * * *

    Thanks for this comment, Holly. I have the same problem with stuff like the sticker. And I wonder why people don’t talk about problems like this more. There is so much stuff to do in order to get through life — all that little, administrative stuff. Like overdue library books and the wrong name on one’s mailbox. I always feel like I am the only person overwhelmed with the amount of this sort of stuff that needs doing. I like that you confess to having an outdated sticker. You make me feel normal.


  27. MJ says:

    Just use your own mat and disinfect, disinfect, disinfect!

    Otherwise good advice.

  28. Jim C says:

    I am not an M.D., and I don’t play one on television either. But I have worked with M.D.’s.

    There is a topical antiseptic that is death on fungus and harmless to people. For some reason the medical profession doesn’t use it much any more, at least not dermatologists.

    It is called “Milton solution” in the medical literature, but scientists call it “sodium hypochlorite solution,” and you probably know it as chlorine bleach.

    The old-fashioned medical treatment for skin fungus is as follows: You need the standard chlorine bleach product, not the thickened stuff, and not the bleach with added fragrance. Dilute the standard 5% bleach product 200 to 1 with tap water. (That’s about a teaspoon of bleach per quart of water.) If you buy the more concentrated “Ultra” bleach, cut it about 250 to 1. Soak your foot in the diluted solution for ten minutes or so. Repeat this once a day for a week. Your fungus will probably clear up completely.

    But don’t take the medical opinion of a geochemist! Ask your doctor (your internist, not the dermatologist) for an opinion about Milton solution and see what she or he says.

    This is not a folk remedy. I had a look at bleach’s therapeutic properties about 25 years ago when I was working as an analytical chemist (on loan from my company) with a hospital burn center. Bathing burn patients twice a day in a dilute bleach solution increased the survival rate — a lot. Then I read some papers on the subject in medical journals. Amazing stuff.

  29. SaraH says:

    A pleasure to read about the fungus amungus.
    I’ve been reading your blog a couple weeks now – and want to thank you for making your advice an enjoyable read for reading’s sake in addition to practicality’s sake.

  30. Rhona says:

    You are so right about the setting of priorities. I have found the only way I prioritise some activities (primarily exercise which destresses me and stops me turning into a blob) is to set a goal. If I enter myself for a triathlon I will panic so much about drowning that I will find time for exercise three times a week (and yoga to stretch out all the muscles I am developing).

    Its too easy to fail to make time for important activites which are nurturing outside of work. Then being too tired from work so watching TV every night, making no time for a life outside of work. Then all that happens is you get depressed and stressed cos all that happens is TV and work.

  31. RecruiterGuy says:

    Not a shabby way to realize that you’re making excuses for excuses for excuses… It’s sort of like having a plan to make a plan – I think I just found today’s blog topic. :-)

    I tried to write down a list of short term goals that I’ve put off and then work through the chain of excuses but every third one was “Penelope has a fungus left over from volleyball days.”

    I’ve got to get over the visual, for sure.
    (great post, Penelope)

  32. Fern Green says:

    Try some tea tree oil for that fungus! It works like a champ.

  33. Lauren says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Please see some natural remedies for fungus at:

    * * * * *
    Thank you. I love a useful comment. I love the range of knowledge that appears in the comments section…


  34. J says:

    This is a great post, and I’m positive it wil help so many people (like me) get to the root of why we procrastinate, don’t meet our goals, don’t have the life we want. It seems small (and yes, it is wrapped in a fungus) but the implications are huge. You can’t solve the problem if you don’t know what problem is the ‘right’ one to solve. Thanks Penelope.

  35. Danny says:

    LOL, I love you Penelope, ya kook! Foot Fungus, lol. Haha, only you can turn that topic into a lesson.


  36. Jessi says:

    There are a lot of people out there that take care of others and other things that they think are more important than themselves. I happen to be one of those people. But from time to time I feel guilty for neglecting ME. Take care of you. You’d be suprised how good it makes you feel!

  37. david burns says:

    try putting honey on it at night. or even during the day. put a sock over the foot to keep the honey off the bed. works on most skin conditions.

  38. Maggie says:

    Love this post–not only because I think the chain reaction thing is so true and you propose a great solution to breaking the cycle, but also because I can totally relate about the fungus. I have had fungus in two of my toenails since I was 15 and stood in a puddle of water all summer washing dishes at Swenson’s. It started as athlete’s foot then got into the nails and has been there ever since–both nails are thick and gross and painful and just nasty. I am exactly like you with the procrastinating–I have even gone so far as going to the dermatologist and getting the prescription (it’s called Lamasil) but am too lazy to get it filled–let alone go back for the monthly blood tests.

    Meanwhile, my toes itch, shoes kill, I am too embarrassed to get pedicures, the toenails sometimes just fall off and that’s its own mess, etc.

    The beautiful thing is–and this is not really in keeping with your point–after 25 years one of the nails just cured itself. The nail is normal now. Not a good message for me because I am the worst when it comes to postponing things–drivers license renewal, library books, overdue bills, etc–unfortunately I don’t think the if you wait long enough it will just go away approach applies to most things in life. But of course now I’m dragging my feet going to get the medicine yet again because I’m hoping the remaining fungus toe will also cure itself.

  39. Jonathan E. says:

    Great April Fool’s Day post, Penelope! Keep it up!

  40. Mark says:

    Very funny. I have to think of something to gross some people out with. Maybe I can post on how my dog threw up right in front of my computer yesterday. Yeah that one ought to get em!

  41. Neil C says:

    I had the same problem when I was a college swimmer & also coached swimming to kids during the summers & everyone said it was disgusting. My response was “I’d rather by ugly from the toenails down then the toenails up” Eventually the Dr. gave me Lamisil pills which pretty much solved it. Insurance will not likely pay for it & it is extremely expensive. It will only be painful if you do not cut the toenail regularly & it gets in grown.

    The best cheap solution is to use OTC Lamasil ointment 2X per day for 2 weeks to keep it from getting any worse & spreading to other toes. This will also make it look better as long as you trim that toenail back as far as you can & cover it up with a band-aid when neccesary.

    In some cases when you are self conscious about something sometimes the best thing to do is just point it out & make a self-deprecating joke. I spilled a drink on myself one time during an important lunch & told the client “I forgot my bib but maybe the waitress will let me get a sipee cup & order a grilled cheese sandwich off the kids menu”. This really broke some tension & lightened things up.

    Penelope-one of things that keeps me reading your blog is your willingness to share some embarassing things in an attempt to point out ways to improve yourself through self analysis.

  42. Katy says:

    “you know, how you have something that is sort of private and you don't do anything about it and then it becomes normal to you and there is no one talking about it to you to tell you how you're crazy?”

    That quote is why I love this blog. Thank you .

    Also, I have a crazy toenail. It got knocked off in a fight with my brother when I was little, and it’s grown back like three times since. Each time it looks weirder.

  43. Katy says:

    (Just while we’re in TMI mode).

  44. Kristina Summers says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank You!

    I too tend to create barriers to what I relly want that in hindsight are pretty often ridiculous. Sometimes it takes an equally ridiculous posting (the foot situation not Brazen Careerist)to really shine the light on my own excuses!

    Great post, please keep us updated on the status of your feet!!

  45. rebecca says:

    toe fungus sucks :( as mentioned before, there is medication you can take (Lamasil) but it’s pretty powerful stuff. My doc said the price just went down to $120/month which isn’t too bad (previously it was 300/month). insurance won’t cover because it’s ‘cosmetic’.

    I went the all natural route. Fungus hates light and air so I wore sandals for 6 months straight. My nails are finally starting to look normal. yay!

    don’t feel bad about yoga – lots of people have toe fungus – we just don’t talk about it. And it can always be worse – at least you didn’t fart in your intructor’s face! har har.

  46. Andrea says:

    Ugh. I feel like if I could see the barriers, I wouldn’t have them. Like, if I could find my contacts, I wouldn’t need to wear ’em…Care to expand on that?

    Yoga probably would help with that I reckon. Get some serious tapas going and burn away all that illusion.

    Mmmm…fungus. I have plantars warts. I love how yoga teachers grab feet unflinchingly…that explains why I always feel a little in love with them afterwards.

  47. Amy says:

    THAT is a fabulous post. FABULOUS!

    Thank you.

  48. Dale says:

    This advice is ideal for those of us who procrastinate looking for a new job out of fear of the new. It applies to mundane situations as well as the important issues in life.

    Identify why you do or do not do something by asking why – €“ until you've either answered the question or you realize the answers you are getting are not synchronous with the current state.
    After this exercise, you either perpetuate your current behavior because there is not enough pain to elicit a change, or because you actually like the current state, or you find the courage to change the situation.
    Good post Penny.

  49. Hsiung K says:

    Thank you for the useful tip about bleach, MJ. I’d actually tried it when my Athlete’s foot symptom got so intense even with a layer of strong anti-fungal cream. I diluted bleach into a pail of water and soaked my foot. The itch did stop. I stumbled upon the insight because I originally planned on using Detol, a commercial concentrated antiseptic. As a teacher, I reasoned bleach is just as much of an antiseptic as Detol, so I tried bleach, and it worked. Then I remembered back to First Aid class in college where the lecturer actually advocated simple bleach solution, simple hand soap and water as effective ways to counteract harmful bacteria. Of course, she did not say it could alleviate itching from fungal infection. Therefore, I’ve tried this, and this simple technique works!

  50. Teri says:

    This reminds me of the concept of ‘ready, fire, aim’ or ‘just do it’. Advertising catch phrases that work ….I am just like you Penelope (In fact I am your number one fan, and all the way from Australia). I’m trying to learn not to invent too many critical tasks. I just like lists, I guess, when it would be so much easier to just fly over the little jobs and just do it.