A Problem to Solve or a Path to Walk?

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Does anyone remember when the Rubik’s Cube became a big thing in the early 80’s? The world went wild with the challenge of solving the 3 dimensional puzzle. Well, at least it seemed like it to me. At first, it was all about solving one side. Then, the problem turned two sides and so on. Finally, if you were able to figure out how to get all sides, the challenge of the puzzle evolved to how quickly you could solve it.

Recently, our household was assaulted by the old nemesis we call the “stomach flu” – that quaint little illness that causes your stomach and intestinal tract to react violently. Though it has left me alone for many years, I recognized it immediately upon its return and prepared for what I knew was going to be a rough ride. The symptoms were intense for about 7 hours and then slowly began to subside.

As I became increasingly uncomfortable, I tried numerous things to alleviate my pain and discomfort: a heating pad, hot showers, warm baths, various remedies to alleviate muscle cramping from dehydration, different positions to try and avoid more painful reactions. At one point along the way, I remember thinking about all of the different things I might try to fix the situation. Suddenly, it occurred to me that there was no “fixing” it, I just had to let it run its course. All I could do was endure.

We approach so many things in life in the same way. The curve balls thrown our way, the issues dropped in our laps, the complex equations of our most challenging situations, all get thrown into our bucket of problems to be solved; collections of brokenness to be fixed. We’ve convinced ourselves that anything painful, not easy, risky, or even moderately uncomfortable is unacceptable and must be fixed.

Often, we get impatient with the barriers to our progress or with the ongoing discomfort and demand rapid resolution. Our brains turn to the short cut, quick fix, or pill that will alleviate the symptoms – or more ideally, remove the issue altogether. What happens when we don’t get the fast fix? Often, we become frustrated, disappointed, depressed, melancholy, or hopeless.

I totally get it. Who wants to endure suffering when they can avoid it with a fix? Nobody does. Suffering and struggle are difficult and unpleasant. Alas, much of what we face through our lives does not have a “fix,” it must be endured.

Of course, the challenges go beyond our health. I was recently doing some planning for 2022 and was considering strategy options within our company. As I considered several pathways, the question came to my mind: do we have a problem with an approach or do we need to give it more time and continue walking the path? The challenge becomes more acute as we frequently realize that there is likely no “right” answer. As much as I want to fix it, make it right, remove the grit, or find perfection, I have to realize that time, effort, and perseverance are probably as close I’ll ever get to a “right” answer.

We really need to change our relationship with difficulty and struggle. I’m not talking about some kind of masochistic stoicism but surrender of a different sort. We need to recognize that we are being formed through the struggle and discomfort. Whether it’s learning something new, working to solve a problem, coping with sickness or loss, or willing ourself to be patient and endure as something runs its course. Accepting the suffering as necessary and transitory are foundational to finding hope and the strength needed to push through.

Perseverance is really the choice to believe that you will move beyond the all-consuming struggle of this moment. Resilience is doing it again and again and again.

How do we discern a problem to be solved versus a path to be walked? First, remember that we’re always walking the path. Our lives are a series of journeys to various destinations. All require perseverance and patience. All present struggle and opportunity. All also hold problems to be solved in addition to discomforts to be endured. No matter where we are, we’re always going to try to solve the challenges we face and alleviate the pain wherever we can. The choice we face is in how we hope and what happens to us when we realize that we will not fix the issue but must push past it. Possibly at great cost.

The Rubik’s Cube puzzle in all of this is how you choose to hope when the difficulties eventually come. How can you find hope in the darkest hour? What do you choose to believe about yourself and this world when you find yourself laid low? What do you truly control when you’ve hit bottom or face an intractable problem?

Curiously, fixing the issues comes down to control and we really only control ourselves and the choices we make. Where we choose to focus. What we choose to believe. How we choose to live. Who we choose to be. In the end, the biggest puzzle we have to solve is the one of our own mind. The stomach flu will eventually find us and it will occasionally resolve with the right medicine. The rest will depend on how we resolve to endure to the brighter side that always awaits.

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