What’s a very big problem? When your entire life becomes a problem.
It’s just life. Sometimes it’s smooth sailing, the kind you could do while falling asleep. Sometimes it’s raging through the unknown with the strength of ten humans and unworldly confidence. And sometimes you’re completely alone in the dark, hanging onto the edge of the cliff, barely aware of anything other than the progressive pain of your muscles tearing and the ridiculous flicker of hope that just won’t go away.
Entrepreneurship is picking a problem. Fixing it can become your life.
With entrepreneurship, it’s so important to have a firm grasp of your goals with regard to scale. You can select to have a lifestyle business, and to make no more money than required to get by. Or, you can go bigger, thereby making the problem bigger, and devote more of your life to it.
Whatever your ambitions, problems can hit you from every direction, and before you know it, you’ve slid into a situation where your entire life has become a problem.
Health issues hit you or your family out of nowhere, and you find yourself burning gigawatts of brainpower negotiating with medical staff and health insurance providers so that you can keep going on. Your living situation spirals into uncertainty, and you find yourself thinking about whether to fire or sue the superintendent, the real estate agent, the attorney, and the contractor.
You spend an hour at your bank trying to prove your own identity.
But the hardest problem of all is relationships.
Isn’t all of the above about relationships?
What happens when love enters the picture? Love so deeply tied to your identity, that you look in the mirror and you wonder if you will exit out of the chaos as the same person?
Will you ever be the person you imagined you’d grow up to be when you were a kid? When you read stacks of paperbacks, fell in love with heroes and heroines, and dreamt that you would be like them when you grew up -- did you have any idea what that really entailed?
I can’t go further. Yes, I can. But how?
It happens to all of us, from time to time. Our entire lives become a problem. This past week, it was my turn.
I figured out how to fix everything because I have a thought process that I use to solve problems, big and small, and it works.
Here it is, boiled down to a three step process:
Put distance between yourself and the situation
The rule of thumb is to get far enough to see the big picture as clearly as possible. As in real life, the bigger the object, the further the distance required to see the entire thing.
Day to day, zooming out to 99% to 97% suffices. It only requires a few seconds or a few minutes to solve a small problem accurately. Tamp down emotions, breathe, take a quick inventory of all of the factors at play, and solve before speaking. It’s so simple, and amazingly effective.
For bigger problems, you might want to zoom out to around 80% to 20%. This probably happens in my life a couple of times a week. Sometimes I need 20 minutes to think. Sometimes I need 20 hours so that I can sleep on it. Occasionally, I need to move things around in my schedule.
And then there are the big problems that take years to solve.
That’s just the way it is -- it can take years to get all the pieces in the right places. However, if you are able to solve these problems, they have the potential to become lifetime achievements.
Many businesses fall under this category -- if they do not fail, they often take years to reach the breakeven point. Along the way, life happens. Problems of all shapes and sizes sail in with no regard for schedules.
If your entire life suddenly becomes one big problem, whether it’s because of one big problem or several smaller ones hitting you all at once, you could be at risk of spiraling out of control and losing everything. This has only happened to me a couple times.
The process of fixing it starts with zooming out to 3% to 1%. For me, that meant turning off my phone and disappearing for a while. Seriously.
Don’t be arrogant. Given that you make the proper arrangements, everyone will be able to live without you for a couple of days. But if your entire life has become a problem and people keep draining the resources that you need to solve it, you might not be able to live with yourself.
In summary, detach from the situation so that you can view the problem, or mass of problems, in their entirety.
Remove your identity from the equation
The reason why it is so important to put distance between yourself and the problem is because it is absolutely required for you to be able to remove your identity from the equation.
What’s that you say? Remove my identity from of the equation? How do I do that when it’s MY entire life that has become a problem?
Actually, you need to understand that you are the least important part of everything that is happening around you.
Your feelings affect how you see the situation. They don’t affect the situations themselves. They don’t define your options. And they don’t affect long-term consequences.
It’s very hard not to be self-centered. Our entire existence depends on us being self-centered to some degree. But when you are fixing very big problems, you have to lose your natural, self-centered perspective in order to correct them as perfectly as you can.
As with most things, the more you practice, the easier it gets.
Remove yourself, and you open the door to becoming infinitely more intelligent.
Solve for an outcome that is both desirable and possible
Now that we are released from the limitations of short-range perspective and natural egotism, we are free to take a mathematical approach.
Think in decision trees. Be creative, and you will be able to offer creative and effective solutions to the world. Let go of idealism and estimate probabilities. Sketch out long-term outcomes.
Here is where your humanity, your identity, and your idealism will come back into play. Select a pathway that leads to a desired outcome and that you are likely to be able to see through from beginning to end. Arrange the steps using short-term perspective, and distribute them into your plans, reserving room to adapt to uncertainty.
Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Keep in mind that in general, the bigger the problem, the longer it will take to fix. If you only need to zoom out to 99%, then the problem will probably be fixed by the end of the day. If you need to zoom out to less than 1% for a single problem, expect to invest years, or a lifetime.
Most of us will come to a point in our lives when problems overwhelm us, whether we are faced with the task of solving countless little problems at once or one big problem -- the problem of a lifetime.
I’ve shown you how I fix problems. Please share any additional thoughts or suggestions that you may have in the comments.