Why You Want to Be a Problem Solving Genius

I once had a mentor who was a very successful entrepreneur. After quickly building his first company to $100 million in sales, he lost it in less than a year to bankruptcy. He then started a second company, which after 20 years he sold for more than the annual revenue of his first venture.
One day, I was complaining about the number of challenges in my business. He stopped me cold with this sentence:

“You know, being an entrepreneur is a series of solving problems.”

He went on: “Sometimes there are good problems—you’ve had an influx of new clients and have to figure out how to service them. Sometimes there are bad problems—you’re running low on cash and can’t make payroll. But there are ALWAYS problems.”

That advice changed my attitude and my life because the truth of what he told me applies to both entrepreneurship AND reinvention:

If you want to be successful, you must be willing to solve the problems that are a part of this journey.

You’ll face many obstacles in your reinvention from the starting block to the finish line of your goal. There are both “good” problems (A new opportunity came in! Is it a fit?) and “bad” problems (I’m running out of money! What should I do?).

Resisting problems (aka complaining about them, like I did) drains energy. You get stuck in a loop that short-circuits your progress. The easiest way to break that cycle is to decide that it’s FUN to solve problems.

In other words, set an intention to become a problem-solving genius.

Here are four steps to help you make that shift and how to put them into practice:

Step 1: Ask yourself whether the problem is external or internal.

Sometimes, what seems to be an external problem is, in fact, a mindset issue.

A prospective client once came to me about needing to find a new job, but she wasn’t getting any traction in her search. But as we delved into the details, a more pressing problem came up—she needed to move in three months, and she didn’t know where she would go.

Figuring out the move would create more time for her career switch, but she didn’t want to look at that problem.

Not wanting to deal with a problem means you’re having an internal issue with mindset.
To take action, write a list of the problems you face in moving forward with your reinvention. Getting it out of your head helps you see why you’re stuck or unhappy and unable to make progress. Most of your issues will likely fall into three categories: lack of resources (e.g., money, contacts, or knowledge), lack of time, and lack of opportunity.

Step 2: Notice your excuses.

When asked about her move, this potential client came out with a list of excuses, like “It’s hard for me” and “I don’t have a lot of options.”

As I explain in Law 3 of my book, The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention, excuses block you from moving into problem-solving mode. You won’t make progress until you’re willing to give them up.

It’s really tough to be objective about when we’ve fallen into the trap of excuse-making. So survey your friends who are successful in their fields and ask them to tell you the excuses they hear you making all the time. Make a list of your most-used excuses and ask yourself: What would my life look like if I let these go?

Step 3: Be willing to brainstorm ideas.

When we’re stuck in excuses, we think our problems are unique. Wrong!

Every problem you have is a problem that someone else has solved. If another person has done it, so can you.
Dropping your excuses forces you to get creative. To generate ideas, pick your top four problems and strategize solutions for them. If you need help priming your mind, a great book on the mechanics of brainstorming is How to Get Ideas by Jack Foster.

Step 4: Solve the next problem in front of you.

Do you spend time thinking about potential issues you might run into down the road, even though they’re not on the horizon today? If so, I call this the “What will I wear to the Oscars?” conversation. Until you’ve been invited, it’s not a real problem.

So stay in the game you’re playing today and focus on solving the challenges in front of you. Pick one strategy from your brainstorming list and take action to put it into motion.

It’s true that often just as you resolve one problem, another pops up, and that can sometimes feel disheartening. But when you decide to be a problem-solver, you can handle it because you are solution-oriented.

You move from “Why me?” into “I will figure it out.”

Remember that challenges are what keep things interesting—in games and in life. They engage us and help us grow, which is the most reliable path to reaching your goals.

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