A life problem is a generic term that I use to describe issues that confront us on a daily basis. The problem of how to pay the bills, the problems of marriage and career and so on. Life problems are those that arise in our day to day lives that demand attention and simply will not go away until they are solved. These are the issues of life, the pressing matters, the things we find to be a problem in our lives. Such problems are not given to easy answers and we might well think of them as a mess. Not every problem we have is a mess. Most of the time the problems we find in our day to day lives require little thought to fix but the matters of life (life problems) do require a lot more work. These kinds of things have many possible answers, no real clear solution and are often a matter of perspective more so than some uncontrollable circumstance.
Have you ever noticed how some things you do never seem to change no matter what it is you seem to do? What about the way in which you deal with people at work or how you talk to your children? These problems are the ones that matter yet when we look at them the world is full of conventional wisdom or “common sense” but most of that is of little value. People use sayings like, ‘Well that’s just the way it is.’ A risk averse person will often look at any given situation and say something like, ‘better than devil you know than you don’t.’ As conventional wisdom this is very sound but in life that’s of no use. Life involves risk. The greatest of the greatest always took risks.
Another one of my personal favourites is this one: ‘Ignore it and it will go away.’ It some cases this may be true. However, I have found in most cases if I ignore an issue it will become a bigger problem later on. There is a balance to be struck between proactively seeking an answer and laziness and that will be discussed later. One key point to note here is that problems do not exist as real things, like the sun, moon and stars. They exist in the conceptualisation of our hearts and minds. To understand this you will need to read on. For now, be content with this definition of a life problem: A situation in a person’s life that they think is troubling, worrisome and panic worthy.
Problems like this can be best thought of as a roll of movie film stock. Each picture on that strip of film is just another frame and so shows a different part of the
bigger picture for us to understand. This big picture shows us the way in which things interrelate and how the harmony or disharmony of it present itself to us. Life
problems are those that surround us and confront us with their complexity and interrelationships and quite often they befuddle us with more answers than questions.
Solving Life Problems?
Take as example the life problem of depression. Depression is caused by a variety of things, some known and some unknown that operate in the minds and hearts of human
beings. To say that all problems of depression can be reduced down to simple explanations is less than helpful. For example, not having enough money to pay the rent
makes me depressed because I feel as if I cannot provide for my family. I have been faced with this in recent times and a virtual carnival of emotions and random thoughts
go off in you that make you feel inadequate. Really though what makes me depressed is the idea that I am inadequate because I have linked the idea of my personal worth
to getting money to pay the rent. People around me reinforce it through the words of their mouth and the intentions they have toward me. I believe what they say… instead
of forming a better picture of myself which in essence stops the reason for the problem to occur.
Here is another example from my life. Recently my daughter became sick. So sick in fact that she stopped eating for three days. During this time I went through a roller coaster of emotions all the way from panic to full blown fear. I was making the situation worse because my fear and lack of restrain was obvious. After a time I settled down my emotions by thinking different thoughts about the situation. I used my faith and said to my daughter,’you are getting better all the time…’. I quoted scriptures to her and got her involved and guess that. She didn’t improve overnight but not more than a day later it was all over. The point is: my panic and fear created the problem. By changing my perspective slowly and surely I was able to see things differently.
Recognising things that won’t change
A friend of mine recently spoke to me about not being able to get a job in the academic profession he was in. Constantly he would complain, “I can never get a
permanent job – these just won’t let me in.” My response to him at first was one of sympathy – it must have been the system working against him. It was a conspiracy. Then one day a job came up that we could both apply for. We both applied. He didn’t even get an interview and I got that job. Yet he had more papers, more experience and was clearly more senior than me in that field. What was the difference? I studied an old job advertisement and I noticed it came with a warning “Must be enrolled in a PhD.” An opportunity came up for me to apply for a PhD so I took it and got in. Then I started looking for work and as this opportunity came up I applied as did my colleague. The key difference? He wasn’t enrolled in a PhD. The ad declared this clearly but he thought that they would make an exception for him (as I did for years).
Talking to those in the organization in question and speaking with other professionals I learned that they won’t employ someone who isn’t enrolled in a PhD. As a matter of fact if all the people that applied weren’t enrolled the job remains unfilled despite the fact that the need for the position continues. This changed my opinion on doing a PhD. They would rather leave a position unfilled? I had better do all I can to apply for that position so I better enrol in a PhD. He didn’t get that interview because he kept waiting for them to come to him. A job is nothing more than your employer hiring you to fix a problem they have. They need someone to do something, you get paid to do it and if you are good enough (according to their criteria) you should get promoted (if that’s what you want). What I recognised (not being able to control the academic standards) got me in a position where I could give a good interview and be hired – his understanding of the exact same thing worked in the opposite way. I have no doubt that if my friend had developed life skills (in this case learning and managing relationships) he would have pounded on that door until they let him in. As I understand it almost three years later – he is still floating from contract to contract – unable to land full time work. Now I am not a better person than he is, I have just taken my time to
develop my life skills to the extent where I can use them to help me instead of hindering me.
Now my colleague managed not to learn a simple fact. If the criteria says PhD enrolment required – then it’s likely they aren’t going to hire someone who isn’t – no matter how good you think you are. On the other hand – go and speak to people – build relationships with key individuals and learn what it takes to get that kind of job. This kind of skill is essential to managing life better, it’s not optional, and if you want to be successful you must submit yourself to a process of learning which at times is very stressful. In my situation I kept thinking do I really want to get a PhD? Do I really want to be an academic? Who cares if people call me doctor or not? On the other hand, what about the long term security of family?
Academic institutions in this age require a PhD before they are really serious about paying you so I had better get one. Did it cost me? Yes it did, my sanity mainly! My supervisor told me that doing a PhD is like banging your head up against a wall for three years until the wall disappears. A lot of this ‘head banging’ you will read on this website but more than this I hope you see yourself in it and learn from it.
Recognising things you can change
I once applied for a job and went to the interview deathly afraid that I wasn’t going to get the job. It showed when I got in there! So much so that they didn’t even
give me a call back after the job had been filled in. That was a terrible feeling! Since then, I use positive confessions and set my mind on the scriptures to help me.
Now does that always work? No. But what it does is allow me to focus my thoughts on something else so that I am not so nervous. Being positive during times like that
helps me to remained balanced and focused as I sweat it out in the job interview.
There are other things that we can change. We can question our own limiting beliefs. Think about the amount of times you have said, ‘it can’t be done’ when you knew in your eart that there was a chance it could be done. Remember all God needs is our faith and everything is possible from there. I have this saying which I think sums up what I am saying here: ‘People don’t have problems… people are the problem.’ More to come on that topic later. How can a problem exist if there are people around to make it real? We can change these things. We can change our attitude over a period of time by learning to refocus our thoughts on positive things. We can change our life by attaching positive or negative emotions to experiences we have had. With God’s help we can become whole, active and successful people as we learn to listen to his voice and follow his desires for us. These things are completely within our grasp to do. By reading the word of God we can get faith and by keeping healthy positive people around us… we can become like them.
So it’s not all one way street with life problems. There are things we can do and things that are God’s business. Some people I meet are struck with a paralysis: I can’t do anything because I might get in God’s way or even worse hey reason themselves out of tackling the problem. ‘Oh it’s too big,’ or ‘I can’t do it’ … remember whatever you believe… good or bad is what you will think is possible or isn’t possible. That which we can control we do with God’s help and that which we can’t control is 100% God’s problem. We need to carefully recognise which is which in our lives and take appropriate action!
Life problem ‘solving’
We need to move away from this idea that problems are solved. Somethings they are re-solved… agreed upon and we reach the stage were we decide to live with it. Other times they are (dis)solved if we think of it in the same manner as the problem solving experts (like Russell Ackoff) do. However in life things can only really dissolve when the problem ceases to be there. How can this be? How can life problems dissolve? Well a lot of the times they dissolve as we allow our conception of them to change. Will you start doing this today? How about your wife or husband? Instead of grumbling about them under your breath why not start enjoying their qualities and ignoring their faults. Why should you overlook someone’s faults? Because you have so many of your own. We expect God to overlook our faults to love us… why not overlook someone else’s and learn to love them? I am not talking about every situation because remember there are things we cannot control. Certainly, we cannot control other people and yes they may leave you or worse. Still we can control what we do to a certain extent. With God’s help we can control how we feel and over time learn to master ourselves to react to such people in a positive way.
Recently I watched a person very close to me whose marriage fell completely apart. They are now divorced and in my opinion it was the best thing for that situation. That does not mean it’s the best for yours. Are you in an abusive relationship? Then ‘solving’ your problem begins with you seeing a qualified counselor and getting out. There are no excuses for violence. None. There are so many life problems that are simply expectations that were never met. Why not change what you expected? Maybe you are unreasonable to expect anything from anyone because you are not perfect? The most simple definition of a problem I ever heard was when our expectations do not match what is really happening to us. I think there is merit in that simple definition. If you changed what you expected do you think that your circumstances would change? No. Jesus told us to expect the things we ask from God to come to pass before we see them. Why did he do that? I think it was because we expect things to happen based on deep down ideas and pictures about ourselves. All Jesus was really saying was … why not expect God to do something great for you and begin to talk about it before it even happens?
Life problems are people made and people sustained. We have a part we play. There are things we cannot control and what we need to do is focus on what our part is and leave the rest in God’s capable hands. The only real way to handle life problems is to learn how to shift perspectives but that is another article for another day. In the mean time start looking at how you make this problem real. Start asking yourself what can I control and what I can’t. Do your part and I am sure the rest will follow.