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Treasuring Problems

If you have never seen Robin Williams talk about the invention of the game of golf then you are missing out on a true work of genius. It's not only a masterpiece of comedy, but it's also a brilliant demonstration of how much people love problems. Or, more specifically it shows how much people embrace the challenge of overcoming problems.

Let's examine golf for a moment, the whole point is to knock a tiny ball into a slightly larger hole with a stick (ok, a club). This, in itself, could be a very simple task, that is if you started with the ball mere inches from the hole. With a quick tap of the club you could knock the ball in the hole record your perfect score of "1" and proceed next hole. But as any golfer will tell you, this is not how the game of golf is played.

Achievement is most commonly found surrounded by problems.

No, those first Scotsmen in their tartan kilts, understood that people get very little enjoyment from performing simple, mundane tasks. Where there is no feeling of challenge, there is no thrill of achievement.

Instead, these adventurous Scots added several elements that would make the task of hitting the ball into the hole much more difficult. They separated the ball and the hole by hundreds of yards. Then, as if that wasn't enough, they placed trees, water, and sand, between the ball and hole, to capture the ball, alter its course and ensure that there was no straight and easy path to the goal.

To be clear, they could have chosen to play the game in open fields of grass, barren of trees and water but they not only opted to play among the natural hazards, they designed them into the game itself. And thus, the game of golf was born, soon to be followed by a rise in Scottish swear words I'm sure.

The Problem With Problems

I think problems get a bad wrap. Typically, when someone hears the phrase "We have a problem." they respond with "Oh, no.", which is really the wrong response if you think about it. "We have a problem." means that a new difficulty, a new challenge, a new puzzle has presented itself. It means there is a new opportunity to overcome that challenge and emerge victorious on the other side. It is an opportunity for achievement. It's an opportunity to shine creatively, and in many cases, it's a chance to learn something new. Given that all of these potential benefits are dependent upon problems arising, you would think a more appropriate response to, "We have a problem." would be a triumphant "Yes!".

Sadly, most people take problems, difficulties, and challenges as a step backward, or worse, as a precursor to defeat. Let's be clear, how you respond to a problem is up to you. You can either focus on the problem and allow it to hold you back, or you can focus on the solution and push forward. A problem cannot beat you unless you choose to surrender to it.

The question is, how do you keep from surrendering to your problems? The answer may lie in changing your mindset to how you approach them.

Impossible vs. I'm possible

Actress Audrey Hepburn has been quoted as making the following keen yet simple observation,
Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'!
What an amazing way to approach a problem, especially one that would be considered by most to be 'impossible'.

On September 12, 1962, John F. Kennedy spoke these famous words, "We choose to go to the Moon...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

At the time, the idea of "going to the moon" was an absurdly impossible task. Not only was "going to the moon" impossible, but it was stacked on top of a pile of a hundred or more other "impossible" tasks that would have to be done first. America had barely put a man in orbit and with that speech, Kennedy promised to place American's on the surface of the moon in under 8 years.

With those words, Kennedy inspired an entire nation and kick-started America's race to the moon. He understood that great things are not accomplished on easy, well-traveled paths. In fact, I believe that the level of achievement is equally counterweighted to the level of the difficulty of the problem faced.

If you really want to change your approach to facing problems, then try considering that the idea of a task being "impossible" is temporary. The idea of riding around in a carriage without horses, flying from place to place, going to the moon, talking on phones without wires; they were all considered "impossible" at one time. Everything is impossible until it's been done.

I worked with illusionist David Copperfield for several years. This is a man that has walked through the Great Wall of China, made the Statue of Liberty disappear, and levitated across the Grand Canyon. He flies, teleports and produces things from thin air on a nightly basis. David lives by the simple saying,
Consider nothing impossible.
I've had meetings with David that began with him asking, "What's the most impossible thing you can think of?". We would make a whole list of "impossible" things then spend the next few hours discussing how they could be done. Typically, he wouldn't settle for one solution, he would somehow come up with multiple options on doing this "impossible" thing. This would be considered a pretty typical afternoon for David.

Can you imagine what our world would be like if people believed that every problem had multiple solutions, and the hard part was deciding which solution to pursue?

Problems are Puzzles

If you can convince yourself that even the most 'impossible' tasks are possible, it makes the 'difficult' problems much easier to tackle. If you find the word "problem" discouraging then try replacing it with "challenge" or even better yet, "puzzle". Instead of saying "We have a problem.", try "We have a puzzle.".  I don't suggest this to make light of problems or turn them into a "game", I propose this idea because puzzles inherently have solutions tied to them even if they're tricky to find.

Problems are Treasures

In the end, problems give us a push. They help us expand our boundaries and limitations. They inspire us to learn new things and take new steps; to achieve what has never been achieved before. With all this going for them, next time you're faced with a problem don't avoid it -- treasure it.


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