What Problems Do You Want?

Sep 7, 2020 21:20 · 1338 words · 7 minute read


This is the first time in the history of this blog that I’ve probably gone off piste, and have not stuck to “the techie stuff”. I’ve pondered writing this post for some time, given it’s provocative content.

However, I think it’s important to be truthful to your own values, even if negativity may come your way. It’s been written through the lens of my life experience, what I’ve observed to be successful and is meant to trigger thought and discussion.

As I’ve stated previously, I’ve always been committed to lifelong learning whether it be new technlogies, philosophies or points of view. Hopefully this introduction allows you to consume the information from the right standpoint.

Finally, as always, everything written here are my own thoughts, and not those of my employer.

The problem with problems

In modern Western culture, we are exposed from a young age to the notion of “happy ever after”. Most stories, books, films and TV shows follow a standard narrative and typically align with this.

Whether intentional or not, it conditions us to believing if we “just do x or to solve problem y”, everything will be fine and our problems will be solved. However, any of us who have been on Earth for quite some time will realise that even if we solve problem y, another new problem will appear.

To emphasise this, there is a common conception that if you earn extra money, then all your problems will be solved. If that were truly the case, why do the richest people in the world still have problems to deal with? Some common examples of their problem may be people asking for money, increased public scruitiny or not enough leisure time. Frequently, the worlds richest people lament lack of time spent with loved ones or fractured relationships with their kinship.

No-one has no problems, just different ones.

This view can seem pessimistic, but upon realisation that you will never have no problems, you can pursue a life where expectations and reality are more closely aligned. And by accepting whether you are rich or poor, underweight or overweight, materialistic or minimalistic, all come with their own problems.

At this point you are probably thinking, “Great so you’re telling me that I’m doomed for a life of problems either way?”. Well, some problems might be more desirable to you than others.

You’re already deciding what problems you want to solve

Most people unconsciously solve hundreds of problems every day. Setting an alarm clock (making sure you get to work on time), eating breakfast (fuelling body with energy), dressing for the day (fitting in with cultural norms by wearing clothes in public) are all examples of choosing problems to be solved.

However, until you read that last sentence, it probably didn’t dawn on you that you are doing this every day to solve those problems.

You have consciously or unconsciously decided that the alternative problems of being late for work, dying of starvation or being ostracised for behaving inappropriately are problems that you are not acceptable to you.

Proactive and conscious problem solving

What does budgeting, Google Maps and shopping lists have in common?

These are examples of people taking a proactive and conscious approach to problem solving. Instead of running out of money (budget), wasting an inordinate amount of time (Google Maps) or not having all the ingredients to prepare a meal (shopping lists), these conscious methods are selected as the solution to those problems.

So what does this all mean and why should I care?

By using largely trivial examples, I’m demonstrating that we all pick our problems. Whether consciously or not, we weigh up which of the problems are more appealing, and modify our behaviours and actions to align with our approach.

This means that when we have more impactful problems presented in our lives, we have the ability to pick what problems we want to solve. Embracing this mindset allows you to take ownership over your career and work life. This double edged also means that you need to take accountability for how you got to this point, be it negative or positive.

A tale of two people

Let’s take an example, with two people; Person A and Person B. They both work in the same job, at the same company and have been in that job for five years. They both feel like they have stagnated and want to gain a promotion, either internally or externally at another company.

Person A

Let’s start with Person A

They have weighed up the situation at hand and there are five options:

  1. Try to get promotion at current job, ask line manager
  2. Try to get promotion for another employer (involves updating CV, searching and applying for jobs).
  3. Try to get promotion for another employer by investing in new skills, making yourself more marketable to the job market.
  4. Pursue options 1 to 3.
  5. Maintain status quo.

They have decided that whilst Options 2 and 3 might work, it was going to bring more problems such as more effort and the fear of being rejected by other companies.

As a result, they chose Option 1. This results in speaking to their manager infrequently about how well they have done their current job, and that they deserve a promotion for recognition for their good service. The manager has said “to leave it with me”, but this goes on for several months, with a lot of talk, but no action for Person A. Person A is feeling exasperated and feels out of options at this point. Person A “can’t understand why this is happening to them, after all they’ve done for the company”.

Person B

Let’s go to Person B.

They have also weighed up the situation at hand and they have the same five options as well:

  1. Try to get promotion at current job, ask line manager
  2. Try to get promotion for another employer (involves updating CV, searching and applying for jobs).
  3. Try to get promotion for another employer by investing in new skills, making yourself more marketable to the job market.
  4. Pursue options 1 to 3.
  5. Maintain status quo.

As well as choosing Option 1, Person B spends a greater amount of time analysing Option 2 and 3. Even though these options will cause additional problems (considerable amount of work, high amount of discomfort, extra curricular demands), the problem of maintaining the status quo is no longer a problem they want to have.

They also accept that their promotion is their problem and by having more control and accountability over the success of the solution to that problem, will most likely lead to a better outcome. After weighing all the options, Person B has decided to pursue Option 4.

They pursue the line manager and receive a similar response to Person A. However, by taking a more conscious and concerted approach, they manage to upskill in one other key area and gain a promotion at another company.

Both Person A and Person B had the same problem, however Person B took a more conscious and proactive problem solving mindset. Additionally, they were honest and accountable with themselves that changing their situation was going to require some change on their behalf.

Wrapping up

So are you telling me to just leave my job if I am not getting where I want to go?

Far from it, all I’m suggesting is that by making more proactive, conscious and considered decisions every day will lead to you having better problems to solve. Ultimately, what you want to achieve out of life is up to you. Avoiding problems or not acknowledging that they are always present will cause a misalignment with reality, where “happily ever after” simply doesn’t happen.

Having a proactive bias is hard work, highly accountable and causes discomfort. It does come with long-term benefits to a sustainable career and life. You have a choice on what problems you want to solve, so exercise that right and take control of your trajectory.

Well, at least that’s my opinion!