Pick Your Obstacles

Before I even entered the Thai massage place, I already saw a sign in the window: “This is a professional business.” Stuck to the front counter in bold letters, there were more reminders: “We do not offer any sexual services.” Even in the massage room itself, more warnings on the door: “Do not ask for sexual treatments.”

On the one hand, I found it sad that people offering a health service rich in cultural tradition need to fight prejudice so badly. 10,000 kilometers away from their home, and yet the stereotype of “massages with happy endings” still haunts them.

On the other hand, this is the obstacle they chose, and now, they must overcome it. Are big signs the only way? If no signs didn’t work, what about repositioning the business? Perhaps a more high-end look would eliminate dubious customers. Maybe a more drastic move is necessary. What if they offered a different kind of massage? Remove the Thai branding altogether?

In Germany, many Vietnamese people used to operate “Chinese” restaurants before more diverse Asian cuisine became a thing. Was that ideal? No. But it made their lives easier and their businesses more profitable. In some cases, it even allowed them to survive until original Vietnamese cuisine became a hit with German folks.

In life but especially in business, you are picking your obstacles based on the kind of operation you run. There’ll always be certain problems baked into any industry, market, and locale. The only question is which one do you want to have? Some problems are better than others, if only because you are better suited to address them.

Even if you are somewhat locked in, say because you’ve trained to be a massage therapist for years, you always have room to navigate. You’re not a cardboard cutout — and you are always choosing. How flexible are you willing to be in how you present your skills? Would you take ghostwriting over no writing? Can you put your identity on the back-burner until your cash savings are in the green? These are tough but necessary questions.

You won’t always know which hurdles you’ll encounter before you start, but if you realize you’re fighting windmills on a daily basis, the rational — albeit sometimes hardest — thing to do is change. Pick your obstacles wisely.