How to See the Opportunity in Problems

Written by on September 11, 2015 in Adaptability with 47 Comments

How to See the Opportunity in ProblemsLet’s be honest, most of us view problems as annoying distractions, hurdles that disrupt our comfort, demand our attention and prevent us from moving forward, even if only for a little while.

The fact is we spend our lives solving problems – in the workplace or at home – problems of all shapes and sizes surround us. But problems do have one thing going for them; we may not always recognize or appreciate it, but each one presents an opportunity for growth.

And here’s something you may not have considered before … underneath it all many problems are actually the same, they just look different on the outside because of the people, labels, and external circumstances.

So taking that into consideration, what if the greatest learning opportunity of all is to identify and take control of the core issues behind the problems that stare you in the face every day?

The Greatest Opportunity in Problems

I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much. ~Mother Teresa

This quote from Mother Teresa has always been a favorite of mine and I think it fits well here because isn’t that the way we all feel from time to time when we’re faced with what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle?

We may not like it, but I believe on some level we all understand that challenges are a necessary part of growth. It’s easy to feel confident when things are going well, but it’s in the way we respond to our problems that provide us with the greatest opportunity to learn who we really are and to reach our full potential.

Opportunity may be a powerful enabler but we must first find our way to a level of self-awareness where we can see through the surface problem and identify the underlying issue(s) and that begins by answering the following question.

What is the real problem?

The problem you’re dealing with may seem obvious, but let’s list a few examples to show you why this needs to be your starting point.

  • You’re annoyed because your sister has a habit of showing up without calling to drop off her kids for you to watch, assuming you won’t say no because you’ve always come through before.
  • You’re irked because a friend has once again volunteered you to serve on a school committee without asking first.
  • You’re frustrated because whenever you try to take time for yourself someone has a problem you need to stop and solve and it seems no one appreciates all the hard work you do for them.

From the outside, this may look like three separate problems, but the reality is they are the same problem with different players and disguises. The real problem – and opportunity – is a lack of healthy personal boundaries.

Boundaries are not about putting up walls or pushing people away. They are based on your values and priorities and represent your statement to the world about the circumstances and behaviors that are acceptable in your life. You will be amazed at the number of problems that will disappear when you accept the opportunity and take responsibility for setting healthy personal boundaries!

Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do. ~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
The Most Common Core Problem

Let’s cut to the chase and look at what may be the most common core issue of all. One that once it’s recognized and confronted not only has the potential for enormous growth but to solve many associated problems in the process: FEAR

  • Fear of confrontation.
  • Fear of testing yourself.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Fear of uncertainty, vulnerability, the unknown, and on and on …

We often fail to recognize it, but many situations only become problems because we avoid facing them out of fear. We avoid having difficult conversations with people, even though they are the source of our problems because we fear confrontation. We avoid reaching for opportunities to achieve our full potential because we fear testing ourselves, and it’s less painful to just live with the problems and dull ache associated with the unrealized dream than face failure.

When it comes to fear the single most important lesson we need to learn is that it will never, ever, entirely go away. But the opportunity here is that we can learn to control our fear and prevent it from holding us back. I’d like to share with you now a short video clip from Think Big of actor Edward Norton talking about challenging yourself and learning to overcome the obstacle of fear.


Even though we’ve only looked at two potential core issues I think you can see that very often a single stumbling block can be the source of many of the problems you face on a daily basis.

Fundamentally what we’re talking about is trading the “quick fix” for a long-term solution to problems.  Doing the work to look at your problems on a deeper level takes longer initially, but in the long run learning to identify these core issues will not only mean fewer problems but has the potential to become your greatest opportunity for growth and increased life satisfaction.

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.

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  1. Tim

    The quote from Mother Theresa is a classic and captures perfectly how we all feel at times. As for Fear I could go on about that for a while since we seem to live in a world where fear dictates the moral compass; the problem is that fear is now a tool and takes a lot of effort to thwart.
    Tim recently posted…Adventure BotswanaMy Profile

  2. Dana

    Hi Marquita,

    This post is timely for me – as I’ve had a rough day 😉

    I had actually written something similar a few years ago about adversities being obstacles or teachers. I had also written extensively about how we are the observers of our lives in addition to being participants.

    Remembering this in the face of adversities/problems and deliberately deciding which role to play – observer or character (ego/participant) would play a role in whether we see the gift in the situation, or allow it to control us.

    Of course, I write these words and admit that when you are actually IN the face of these problems that it takes a lot to remember this wisdom – and then to practice it while your emotions are heavy. As you had mentioned not running away from yourself, and the value of self-awareness…I needed the reminder because quite frankly, I’m staring my own problems in the face right now – and your post was a reminder of my own advice that I so desperately need to follow.

    So thank-you for that 🙂
    Dana recently posted…I Was Over 200 Pounds…My Personal Weight Loss StoryMy Profile

    • I’m so glad you found value in the article Dana. I use a little different terminology – passenger or driver – but the analogy is the same, and it’s an important one to embrace. I think we can all benefit from a reminder from time to time, this is one of the reasons I am such an avid reader. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story and contribute to the conversation!

  3. I’ve never heard that Mother Teresa quote before. That’s one of the realest things that I’ve ever read.
    Jason Butler recently posted…The Life of an Uber DriverMy Profile

  4. Susan Cooper

    Gosh, I could write a book on “Fear.” That one emotion can control so many of our life decisions. Just when I think I’ve overcome my ability to let fear control my life, “WAM”, there it is front and center in my decision making. Not letting it dictate our my life’s choices is not easy bit it can be done. I’m still working on it. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted…Beringer Winery and Wines: #WineMy Profile

    • You’ve perfectly illustrated the point about how fear never really goes away Susan. We can learn to manage fear, but it will always be there. In fact, the more we work to grow the more we can be assured fear will make that journey with us as we continue to experience new things. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation.

  5. Already sent this off to a friend…what a great post about our personal boundaries and about believing in ourselves. I think we can feel in the core of us when we are on the right track and when we are not–to heck with the naysayers!

    Will revisit this blog again.
    Rose M Griffith recently posted…There’s No Place Like…Red Lodge, MontanaMy Profile

    • Yes, we can Rose, if we’re willing to listen and embrace our emotions. Unfortunately many people numb themselves to this which is one reason why some will spend a lifetime trying to figure out their meaning in life, when in fact it is up to each of us to bring meaning to our own lives. Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation!

  6. William Rusho

    I think it is natural to fear, even in business and solving problems. The major thing about fear is it naturally instilled into us, it is part of evolution. There are two solutions to fear, you flee, or you fight. As a problem solver you must either run from it, or find the strength to face and fight it. The first step always is understanding that you have it, and I think you addressed this perfectly in your post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Glad you found value in the article William, and you are so right about the first step being recognizing the problem. Sadly, many people will do almost anything to keep from having to spend time with their own thoughts and emotions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the conversation.

  7. Patricia Weber

    Great post Marquita. It’s a funny thing as a business coach that I’ve learned. I can more easily drill down to the common issues of fear with clients, but I need my own coach to help me with mine!

    And I’m right with Mother Teresa on what she says about God. Thanks for sharing that quote.
    Patricia Weber recently posted…Coping More Easily With Loss And Grief As An IntrovertMy Profile

    • Yes, well doctor heal thyself, huh? 🙂 Seriously, I know exactly what you mean and I think that’s why I’m so passionate about journaling because I’ve busted myself on more than a few occasions for not following my own advice. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Your’e so right Marquita. Fear is an instinct we haven’t mastered. We misinterpret fear’s warnings by rationalizing thata a potentially dangerous situation is safe. And we’ll turn a completely safe situation into a war zone. We’re afraid of fear and discomfort. People will say, “It’s natural”. The physical symptoms of arousal are natural but how we interpret those symptoms stems from our thoughts and beliefs. I don’t think most people even know what they’re feeling when they’re afraid, it’s just being”afraid”. They’re even too afraid too talk about being afraid. I’ve heard clients say, “It makes me too nervous to even think about it”. Before taking on the monster know as fear, people need to be able to acknowledge, accept and manage feelings if discomfort.
    pamela chollet recently posted…How To Raise Your Preschooler’s Inner Self-Esteem | behaviorMy Profile

  9. Meredith

    I do think that if you take most problems back to their foundation, what you will find is fear. At least I know that’s true for me, and that’s actually a big part of my blog post for the week. Perfect timing!
    Meredith recently posted…Surviving Creativity: Setting PrioritiesMy Profile

    • I believe you’re right about that Meredith. For example personal boundaries may be distinct in the issues involved, but the reason most people fail to do the work to set boundaries is fear. Fear of confrontation, fear of being disliked or not fitting in, etc. Mustering the courage to face our fears is one of the bravest things we can ever do, and it will change your life in ways you’ll never dream possible until you begin the journey!

  10. Sabrina Quairoli

    I love the quotes. I agree. We tend to get annoyed by the same things over and over again. If only we would stop and stop placing blame and really ask ourselves, “what is really bothering us about this situation?” Maybe it will help us resolve the issue. That’s for sharing. Always a pleasure to read.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Great Comeback Lines Every Parent NeedsMy Profile

  11. Jeri

    Fear has controlled so many of my life decisions. Even when asserting I would never live a life of quiet desperation in my early twenties, I ended up living that way. I’m more awake now than ever, and realizing I am getting better at combating fear and not letting it dictate too many of my life’s choices.
    Jeri recently posted…10 Tips for Making an Audio Book by Rick PipitoMy Profile

  12. Arleen

    Great article. I have learned that setting boundaries is one of the best decisions that I have come to accept. Gone are the days that I sit there wondering if what ill the effects going to have when I set the boundaries. What I have found interesting if others are aware that you have those boundaries, they will respect them. I often to hear from people “I like you”. I will ask why and the comment is, ‘because with you I know where I stand”. People like boundaries. There is no guessing games.
    Arleen recently posted…An Emerging Target Market: The Pet Industry!My Profile

    • I hear you Arleen and I’m also a big fan of healthy boundaries. Sadly, a lot of people do struggle with this so after several request I’m finally introducing an online course on setting boundaries in a couple of weeks. Should be interesting. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

  13. Julie Gorges

    Love the Mother Theresa quote!!! I think the example you used in setting personal boundaries to eliminate many of our problems is such a strong point. And I took your advice about facing our fears to heart. Decisions based on fear are never good ones, as I’ve learned in the past. As usual, loved your sage advice.
    Julie Gorges recently posted…Menopause MusicMy Profile

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Julie, and you are so right about the problem of decisions based on fear. Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation, and especially for your kind words. -)

  14. Dave

    Too often, we seem to find the problem in opportunities instead of the opportunity in problems.

    I remember reading a book by Susan Jeffers many years back, and your wonderful article has reaffirmed the message that fear will never disappear. That’s why it’s important to feel the fear associated with any decision that’s important to us, and then do it anyway.
    Dave recently posted…DeceptionMy Profile

  15. Donna Merrill

    Hi Marquita,

    I love that quote by Mother Theresa…I’m a fan of hers!
    It is so true when you mentioned that underneath many problems it can be the same thing that just looks different.

    I see by your examples of the different scenarios I have a problem with confrontation. Hmmm I have to work on that one.

    Tanks for enlightening me today.

    Donna Merrill recently posted…Promoting Your Blog Just Got EasierMy Profile

  16. Erica says:

    I’ve never heard that Mother Theresa quote before but it is phenomenal. I love what you say about addressing core issues. I think that needs to be talked about more. Because if we are constantly reacting to something, without taking the time to identify what it is, it can really hold us back in life. I see that a lot in my own practice. People will come to me desperate for help, but will run away even before we get started. And I’m sure I have similar issues with my own struggles. It is important to be aware, or you really give up control over your own life and your aspirations.
    Erica recently posted…Healing a Negative Body ImageMy Profile

    • I can certainly relate to what you said about how your clients run away before you really get started. Most people really are hoping for a quick fix and as soon as they experience discomfort they run the other direction. I see it all the time and one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn was to bless those people on their way because they are the only ones who can change that behavior. Thanks for contributing to the conversation Erica!

  17. Phoenicia

    The Mother Theresa quote – wow!

    Living in fear can be ever so crippling. Constantly fearful of what others may do/think/say. This is no way to live – we deserve better!

    Years ago I seriously struggled with confronting others but I promised myself I would do it scared, shivering, sweating. I have never regretted it.

    • Well said Phoenicia. What I’ve learned is that age old advice about taking one small step at a time definitely applies to overcoming all types of fear. I used to be so afraid of heights that it was more like a phobia, but I hated feeling that way so I set out to intentionally lean into it by progressively getting used to heights a little at a time and today there are very few occasions when I experience that tug of fear so I’m living proof fear can be overcome if you are willing to face it.

  18. Beth Niebuhr

    I love Mother Teresa’s quote. I decided long ago to stop caring about what people think I should do. It’s a waste of my time and I have my own things that I want to accomplish. People often think that’s selfish but so be it!
    Beth Niebuhr recently posted…Networking for WomenMy Profile

  19. Dan Ewah

    Hi Marquita,

    You are right, every problem carries a see with which to solve the problem.

    The more challenges you encounter, the more you positioning your self to be better equipped as you’d have gaines experience.

    Thanks for the awesome post.

    Dan Ewah recently posted…Training and Developing a Global WorkforceMy Profile

  20. As usual, I love this post! Basically, it really ALL comes down to personal responsibility, right? Setting boundaries and actually looking at long-term outcomes start and end with us! I think fear of confrontation is what I see most, though not in myself! LOL But I often think that the person I have just seen demonstrate such has no idea that they are kicking that can down the road and wonder if they will ever ever see that? Many never do!
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted…THANK YOU…WHERE’S THE JUSTICE?My Profile

    • You are SO right about how many will never see the core issues behind their problems – and that is a choice. One of the hardest things for me when I was coaching was getting to the point of letting a client go because they just would not do the work to help themselves. The most valuable lesson I learned from living with an alcoholic was that nothing you can do to ‘fix’ them – they have to be the one to make the choices and do the work.

  21. Lenie

    Hi Marquita – I love the Mother Theresa quote. I think we’ve all been in that position at one time or another. There are two main points I appreciated:
    Looking at the three ‘different’ problems that actually are the same problem three times over – the lack of healthy personal boundaries.
    and second, trading the “quick fix” for a long-term solution to problems. We often just look for the easy, quick way out which doesn’t solve the problem, just sort of hides it for awhile.
    Lenie recently posted…Fridge Review: Choices and FeaturesMy Profile

  22. Jennifer Smith

    Dear Marquita

    I love your insights and practical approach to emotional resilience and I always enjoy reading your blog. Quick fixes won’t usually work for long and it is always worth investing lots of time in our emotional health. Love and light! Jennifer
    Jennifer Smith recently posted…Magical livingMy Profile

  23. Stella Chiu

    Hi, Marquita
    I can related to the Mother Teresa’s quote. Sometimes I feel so many things coming together that it is hard to handle it all. You are right, it is our own fault that we did not take the courage to handle them properly.
    Fear is the big obstacle for everybody. But we can’t escape that by running away.
    thanks for the post
    – Stella
    Stella Chiu recently posted…Keep Cancers Away by Eliminating 8 items in Your HomeMy Profile

    • Glad you found value in the article Stella. I do think it’s important not to beat ourselves up for previous missteps, but rather to focus on the lesson learned and not repeating those mistakes. That’s the way we grow and it’s the best way to make peace with our past. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Suzie Cheel

    I love the Mother Teresa quote and I understand this issue as I know I do allow fear to stop me and i was taken back many years as I read this when a university lecturer gave me The Cinderella Complex to read. Mine always goes back to fear of failure- getting better as I let go of the perfection. The video is a great reminder thank you xxoo
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…What’s Your Color For The Week?My Profile

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