“The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only outgrown.” ~ Carl Jung
Most of us believe that if we have problems, there must be something terribly wrong, if not with the problematic person or situation, then perhaps with life in general. Or maybe we think the reason we have problems is because we’re hopelessly flawed. It must be something in our past, maybe family patterns. To make matters worse, nearly everyone harbors a dearly-held belief that “if only” I had that person, that job, fame, respect, money, love, (fill in the blank) – if only things were different, if only I were different – then things would be great. I wouldn’t have any more problems.
Think of someone you admire. Someone like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa. Perhaps Nelson Mandela or Gandhi come to mind. Maybe it’s someone you know personally. Now ask yourself, do you think this person ever had problems?
Uh huh. I thought so.
Do you suppose the reason we admire such people is because of their courage in the face of serious challenges?
Unlike most of us, instead of avoiding problems, the people we tend to admire walked right toward them. And not just little ones either. They took on big problems like racism, imperialism, and providing loving care for the poor and dying. The scientists who developed the space program had lots of problems, as did Edison struggling to invent the electric light bulb. So do mothers, fathers, husbands and wives, teachers, and heroic people from every walk of life. Anybody who ever created anything worthwhile did so by embracing problems, not by running away from them. Once you understand this, you’ll agree that having problems isn’t the problem. The problem with problems is our resistance toward ever having them.
“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” ~ Mohandas Gandhi
I’m going to let you in on three big little secrets about problems:
There is no situation in life that’s problem-free.
The first time I realized this it was very freeing. I was shocked, both at the truth of it but even more at how long I had labored under the infantile wish to reach the “promised land of no problems.” To be honest I still sometimes dream of that promised land, but I no longer believe in it. Nor do I believe it would truly be desirable even if I could have it. Here’s why…
The problem with most problems is that they aren’t very interesting.
I’m not saying your problems are trivial, but compared to most people, icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Gandhi took on some very complex and interesting problems. You’ve probably heard the cliche about how the Chinese character for “crisis” also means “opportunity.” It’s true. If you want an interesting life, take on some interesting problems. They don’t have to be big ones, or even important ones. Just interesting ones.
Want some inspiration? Check out Chris Guillebeau’s self-challenge to visit every country in the world within the next 2 years. Oh, and he’s just thrown in a 50 state book tour of the US just to make it interesting. Read Leo Babauta’s story over at zenhabits.net. Check out what Tammy & Logan are up to over at RowdyKittens where you can learn how to live without a car. Or how Far Beyond the Stars’ Everett Bogue is building a thriving business and lives an excellent life with only 100 possessions. Imagine that!
When you stop wasting energy on trying to avoid problems, you’ll automatically feel better.
In fact you’ll free up tons of energy to deal with interesting problems you choose to embrace. When you understand that problems are a normal part of living, you’ll be far less likely to mope around and may start enjoying the tasks at hand, even when they are difficult. You might even learn to smile in the face of adversity. That in itself would be a contribution to the greater good.
“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” ~ Mother Teresa
Problems help move us forward
I enjoy looking up the original meanings of words. I find it interesting that the word “problem” is derived from the Greek, meaning literally “something thrown forward.” Maybe the Greeks meant to indicate an obstacle, but I prefer to believe they knew that problems are the force that throws us forward. Instead of holding us back, our problems are designed to help us grow. I really like that idea.
Here are the modern definitions of “problem” according to Webster:
1.a. a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution
1. b. a proposition in mathematics or physics stating something to be done (italics mine)
2. a. an intricate, unsettled question
2. b. a source of perplexity or vexation (This is my least favorite, so I’m glad it’s last.)
Synonym see MYSTERY.
I love that it says the synonym for problem is mystery.
The dictionary doesn’t get much better than that.