You Are the Problem; You Are the Opportunity


“OMG it has been a week, hasn’t it?!?”, my client Brandon wrote in an email earlier this month. I had sick kid trouble a day or two before and he was working through car trouble the day of his message. I smiled when I saw his words in my inbox – they summed up the whole mess perfectly. It had been a week…

As I muddled through my day yesterday, I unconsciously started thinking about it in terms of Brandon’s artful descriptor. It had been a day for sure. One where I had decided the world was against me. No one was doing life right and I was paying the price for their ineptitude.

One of my client’s misunderstood me and took something small and innocent that I wrote and blew it way out of proportion. This in turn upset some of her direct reports who got emotional and defensive and took that out on me. They sent me into a tizzy making me write and send some emails that were dead on but would probably be taken out of context and used against me. And don’t get me started about my kids.

Despite my best efforts to raise them right, it became apparent that they were not only selfish but lazy too. I could continue with the school’s slow-as-molasses assistant and my friend’s seating preference at lunch, but you see it right? Understandably, by the time I clawed my way over the finish line I was left depleted, baffled, and wondering, “What was everyone’s problem, and what the heck did a good girl like myself do to deserve all their drama?” Again, like Brandon wisely coined, it had been a day, but for none of the reasons I thought.

Like always, the type of day it had been was 100% on me.

My client’s interpretation was accurate, her direct reports’ reaction was appropriate, the emails were indelicate, and my kids were being normal. There was a problem though, that’s for sure. But the problem was me and I had done plenty. I had chosen my words badly, I had created undeserved tumult, I had written the emails and I was being an unreasonable and demanding mom.

But here is the cool thing. Yesterday also opened a doorway to opportunity, and that opportunity is all mine too. If I am the problem, then I get to be the solution. If someone else is the problem, there isn’t a darn thing I can do about it. I am at their mercy, waiting for them to address the issue, and until they do life will continue to go in every direction but the one I want.

As you know, I am a religious atheist. And like any good religious atheist, there is this prayer that I recently have been considering deeply, the Mi Shebeirach. I heard it for probably the millionth time when I was with my kids this past weekend at Sunday school. Funny how you can listen to something your entire life and never really hear it. But for some reason on this Sunday, it got to me. The entire prayer is short and well worth reading, but the words that landed with me are, “Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.” Notice it’s neither “help others find the courage to make their lives a blessing” nor “help others find the courage to make our lives a blessing.” The prayer is about us and the work we need to do in our own lives.

Typical and a little bit annoying. It is always about us. Always. We need to be mindful of this as people. And we need to be mindful of this as leaders. It is never about your employee’s deficiencies; it is always about whether you have the chops to connect with them. It is never about the investors not understanding you. It is about you not speaking understandably. It’s not about the problematic coworkers who don’t do their share, it’s not about people misunderstanding your genius, it’s not about the consultant who doesn’t know what he is talking about. Well, as you know, I can continue, but you see it right?

That reality, that you are the problem, is a scary thing to lean into. But it is exciting too because then you are the opportunity.

You have what it takes to reach every single person that works for you and inspire them to do their best. You have everything you need to speak in a way that investors are fanning dollars at you from the palms of their hands. As the Mi Shebeirach says, if we only can find the courage, then we can be a blessing, and it is only by acting as a blessing that all the outcomes we all so desperately desire can be ours.

The first act of courage is to take that finger we so often point straight ahead, outward, and turn it 180° so that it is square at our chest with our fingertip snuggly against our heart. If we truly don’t want to have a day or a week, or any of the multitudes of things that vex us then we must have the courage to do something about our own behaviors.