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The Gift of Challenges and Problems


“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”

Theodore Rubin

Challenge: A stimulating or interesting task or problem

Problem: A question raised for consideration or solution; an unsettled question; a source of perplexity or vexation

The only people who don’t have problems are no longer living.

Most of us at some time have wished that life was easier. In reality, life was not designed for such grand expectations.

Think about it. When we go to see experts—about our car, our health, and everything in between—we value the experts’ ability to solve our problems.

What would you think of those experts if they made comments like these?

  • That’s too challenging for me.
  • This will take some work! I only work on easy problems.
  • Sorry, I prefer challenges where I don’t have to think too much.

Our confidence in them would be marginal at best—and we certainly would avoid them in future.

So, if we expect others to solve problems, shouldn’t we be able to solve problems ourselves?

The greater our ability to solve problems, the more valuable our contributions become. And, the more complex the problem, the higher the value of the person who solves it.

How do you look at your problems? Are you in the group that whines or the group that is thankful for all the challenges that life sets before them?

I have little patience for individuals who complain about all their problems because, outside of confirming what the problem is, that approach has no upside. Whining does not fix anything; it merely increases the mental stress around the challenge.

Challenges must be embraced as a gift. Why? They teach you to develop the skills and the character to deal with the issues at hand and the problems that you will encounter in the future.

For example: You are a manager about to hire for a new position at your company.

  • One candidate has led a sheltered life; all his problems were handled by others around him. He’s a nice person but, when confronted with a challenge, he freezes and is usually unable to help solve it. Thus, he avoids or hands off most challenges to other people.
  • A second candidate is less educated but has excellent problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. She embraces a problem as an opportunity and usually comes up with several options to help resolve the situation.

Which person would youprefer to have in your organization?

Look in the mirror and ask yourself these questions.

    1. Do I see problems as burdens that must be avoided, at all costs?
    2. Do I embrace challenges as opportunities that can build value and help me feel vital?

Great leaders are great problem-solvers. In essence, they get paid to remove obstacles. If you expect to fulfill a leadership position—paid or volunteer—you must accept that troubleshooting is an essential part of the work. Success in leadership is as much about mindset as it is about capability. If you can’t tolerate doing battle with problems—your ability to focus on solutions, stay calm, and command credibility from others will be significantly reduced.

On the other hand, if you believe that dealing with challenges is fundamental to the business of life, then dealing with problems will not take you out—emotionally or mentally.

That said, we do need to acknowledge that each of us has a different capacity level when it comes to handling problems. Some have roles that are always concerned with problem-solving. An air traffic controller is an example. The success rate for training for that job is very low. Why? With the high level of problem-solving skills critical to that role, few people can keep a cool head.

  • First, let’s acknowledge that challenges are here to stay.
  • Second, you have your own unique capacity to problem-solve.

Confidence, experience, and skills can highly influence the level of challenges you can handle.

We all face challenges; there’s nothing unique there. What is unique is the way we approach our challenges.

Be thankful for them because, when you have no problems, you’re no longer living.

“Having a dream is what keeps you alive. Overcoming the challenges makes life worth living.”

Mary Tyler Moore

Action Steps

The Gift of Challenges and Problems

1. Only those who are no longer here are free from problems.

2. How do you see problems—gift or burden?

3. What would others say about you? Do you whine about your challenges or embrace them?

4. What do you think of others who always complain about their problems?

5. What can you do to improve (if required) your thinking about accepting your problems as valuable teachers?

6. The more you are able to embrace challenges and problem-solve, the greater contribution you can make. How can you increase your contribution?

7. All leadership requires dealing with challenges.

8. Even though we want to embrace challenges as opportunities, we have our limits. Are you aware of yours? Start to be aware of your limits.

9. Encourage others to see that problems are here for us to solve.

10. Knowing yourself – meaning your self-awareness levels are critical to your ability to handle stress and the pressure of challenges. Know your Personal Style, Values and Stress Levels with these assessments – the results will help you with your challenges.

11. As you increase your ability to respond to what the world will throw at you, pay attention to the increased value you create by being solution-focused.

Until next time, keep Living On Purpose.

Ken Keis



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