3 Questions to Transform Problems into Opportunities

I learned the coolest thing last week… and then with a three-minute fact check learned it wasn’t true. The thing? The Mandarin symbol for “crisis” is not a combination of the words “danger” and “opportunity.” That was built on wishful thinking of the Pollyanna-inclined like myself.

Still, it’s a sticky bit of misinformation because there’s a kernel of truth to the idea: Where there is danger in the form of a problem or conflict, there are inevitably opportunities to learn and grow, if we can release our panic and desire to control for long enough to get curious.

It’s a tough shift to make. We have a lot of wiring that wants us out of discomfort – out of the line of fire – as quickly and easily as possible, and that often means losing the opportunity to learn or, worse yet, the opportunity to choose a meaningful, responsive course of action rather than a reactionary, bandaid on a bullet wound approach.

Here are three questions to help you along the way:

  1. What do I control/what do I not control about this issue?

I have a tattoo on my right forearm that includes the acronym for “it is what it is.” Far from the battle mew of the apathetic this saying has become, I chose this indelible reminder after I realized for the umpteenth time that I was making myself batty trying to control things that were absolutely out of my control, which also meant wasting energy I could have been putting toward that wee little sliver of life where I do have control.

Places where most of us waste energy trying to control outside of our ability:

  • The fact that any given issue or problem exists at all.
  • Other people’s behaviors or reactions.
  • Outcomes.
  1. What responsibility do I have in creating this issue? In solving it?

For most of us, blame is our go-to escape hatch in the midst of discomfort. Most of us will spend an incredible amount of energy trying to prove to ourselves and others that it is our spouse/partner/coworker/boss/whoever who is causing discord rather than accepting that there are almost zero one-sided stories out there.

Even in cases where another person is being truly aggressive or blatantly problematic, we might be making a contribution by:

  • Failing to draw or defend our boundaries.
  • Communicating without clarity or directness.
  • Engaging the wishful thinking that problems will resolve themselves or will be resolved by some sort of deus ex machina.
  1. What might I learn from this issue?

Mind you, I’m not an everything happens for a reason kind of person. Instead, I’m a life inevitably includes challenges and I can wallow in the challenge or look for some kind of benefit or value kind of person.

In addition to specifics about our relationships or work cultures, challenges can offer the opportunity to learn things like:

  • How to communicate more effectively.
  • Useful info about where our own triggers and spaces for healing lie.
  • The difference between where we thought our boundaries were versus where they actually are.

You’re allowed to kick rocks when challenges arise; these things are frustrating! Learning to accept them as inevitable and reframe them into something actionable and even useful, though, is where we step more fully into our own power and possibility.


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