I thought this was an interesting concept to ponder. When we think about it, so much of our time at work can involve trying to solve problems and so much of our personal lives can involve dealing with problems. So what if we considered them helpful rather than unhelpful? What would that mean? Would it really make sense or would it just be classed as mere positive psychology? If you’re open to the idea that problems are not just problematic - that there may be some other possibilities, take a look at this post.
Problems make you grow
This may not be something that you want to hear if you're really struggling with a big challenge at the moment, but let’s face it, if you decide to do something about your problems, they make you grow and develop. If you continue as you are, the problems persist and you never get past them. The best ways you can get past them or deal with them better, is to grow as person or to develop your skills and abilities. Then, once you have found a way past or around the problems, you can guide others to do the same thing and you can also have a formula for doing it yourself in the future. So the next time you come up against something that you know is going to really challenge you, try thinking to yourself, “Now I’ve an opportunity to learn something new”. If this idea is still not sitting well with you, please continue reading.
Could problems really be opportunities?
This is a very common concept in business that many of us don’t consider in our personal lives. In business, a lot of entrepreneurs love when people have problems, the more people the better! Why? Because then they can come up with a solution and sell it to consumers at a profit! Entrepreneurs take advantage of problems - they love them! For example, if a government starts taxing people for water, some entrepreneurs find ways to help people harness rain water so that they save money on tax.
Couldn’t we do that personally? Finding opportunities in problems is an idea echoed by Mark Pollock in his TED Talk. He is paralysed and blind - clearly a man who has suffered a lot in his life, but he still manages to have a strong and resilient attitude towards his challenges. He works closely with teams of scientists to try and develop technology that will help physically disabled people move more easily in the future. In one word - inspirational.
"I’m not excited by the problems, I’m excited by the possibilities."
- Mark Pollock
What about a problem like losing weight? Or not?
Of course, this is a real struggle for many people. But then there are also others who face the same problem, but they find many ways to lose weight and keep it off. This provides them with an opportunity to show others how to do the same and to even make a business out of it. Furthermore, the process of losing weight gives them the possibility of meeting new people, making new friends or new business contacts, joining different clubs, going to dance classes or attending nutrition seminars etc. Alternatively, I think there is a very interesting example of an Irish Lady named Vicky Mooney who struggled with her weight all her life and then went on to open Ireland's first plus-size modelling agency. She went from seeing her weight only as a problem to seeing it as an opportunity. What a fantastic way of turning a health problem into a business!
What about losing a job?
I was recently at the Fingal Enterprise Awards for businesses and one of the stories from a start-up business was about a lady named Christine Carolan, who started her business after being let go from a multinational company that she worked for at the time. Now, she is running her own business and selling her products to an international market. She has also been featured in the national media on multiple occasions. And she did all of that while looking after two young children. Pretty impressive. So it seems that losing her job was a great opportunity for her. See more about Christine here.
What about losing a job and being unemployed?
This is certainly an unfortunate situation for some people. Of course, not everyone is going to be able to start a business and not everyone is going to be able to find a job quickly. So, what then? Well, while this is a difficult situation, it is also an opportunity to use the extra time available to learn new skills, develop new abilities or perhaps retrain and change careers altogether. Many people have re-entered university to enhance their abilities, but for those who can’t afford it, there are a wonderful range of high quality third level courses now being offered for free online. The barriers to third level education aren’t the same as they were before. I’m not saying that this is an ideal situation, I’m saying that it can still become time well spent.
Alcoholics causing disturbance in the park
Last year it was reported that Amsterdam had some problems with alcoholics. “This group of chronic alcoholics was causing a nuisance in Amsterdam’s Oosterpark: fights, noise, disagreeable comments to women". But the government had a novel solution. The alcoholics were paid in beer to clean the park. This meant that they would no longer cause trouble or litter beer cans because they were the ones cleaning. Furthermore, they were also able to make a contribution to the community. While there are always people who will disagree with this solution or any solution, the alcoholics themselves felt that it was a good idea, “Lots of us haven’t had any structure in our lives for years, we just don’t know what it is, and so this is good for us”. And so did some of the locals, "They’re doing something useful instead of hanging out in the park”. Although this isn't a perfect solution, at least it has more benefits to the alcoholics themselves and to the local community than the previous situation.
Realise that problems can be progress
This is the way Thomas Edison created the lightbulb. He understood that he had to fail a lot if he was ever going to make progress with the lightbulb. So he didn’t see the problems as failures, he saw them as progress. He famously said that “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Interesting thought. If we thought like that, wouldn’t it mean that even ‘failures’ would be a form of success because they are steps towards progress?
Finally, I hope that this has been an interesting read. The video of Mark Pollock is in the link below and is well worth a watch. Obviously I can’t cover every type of problem imaginable here but I wanted to highlight the thought that perhaps there is an opportunity behind many problems and if we consider that idea - maybe we will find them. I have purposely chosen to avoid mentioning unsolvable problems because I will be writing about them in a later blog post.
If you would like to speak to someone about a personal, work or relationship problem, please feel free to contact me for one-to-one sessions.
We will always have problems - but how we choose to interpret them will influence the quality of our future.
Thanks for reading. Ronan.
Pollock, M. (2014, July). Mark Pollock: Expect problems as we explore possibilities, Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rMYfiRNT7g
AFP, (2013) 'Amsterdam pays alcoholics in beer to clean streets’, The Journal, November. Available at: http://www.thejournal.ie/amsterdam-street-sweepers-alcoholic-1182318-Nov2013/ [Accessed 18 10 2014].
Drohan, F. (2014) 'Vicki Mooney: I lost 14 stone and opened Ireland's first plus size modelling agency', The Independent, October. Available at: http://www.independent.ie/style/fashion/fashion-news/vicki-mooney-i-lost-14-stone-and-opened-irelands-first-plus-size-modelling-agency-30357754.html [Accessed 18 10 2014].