Several years ago, I was having a really rough day at the office. It seemed everything that could go wrong was going wrong—at the worst possible time.
I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson then, and one of my biggest authors was threatening to leave. I had a major position I couldn’t seem to fill, despite numerous interviews. And several of our customers were upset over what I had thought was a minor policy change.
“When will it ever end?” I thought.
About that time my colleague Mark Schoenwald sent me a quote from Max Lucado’s book, Great Day Every Day. Max quoted management consultant Robert Updegraff:
You ought to be glad for the troubles on your job because they provide about half your income. If it were not for the things that go wrong, the difficult people with whom you deal, and the problems of your working day, someone could be found to handle your job for half of what you are being paid. So start looking for more troubles. Learn to handle them cheerfully and with good judgment, as opportunities rather than irritations, and you will find yourself getting ahead at a surprising rate. For there are plenty of big jobs waiting for people who are not afraid of troubles.
Mark had no idea what kind of day I was having when he sent this, but his email could not have been better timed.
I was guilty of the faulty logic that says, “If I’m in the right job, I won’t have any problems.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, as I look back over my career, I can see four upsides to the problems I’ve faced in my work. I bet these are true for most of us.
- Problems can signal existing success. Most of us accept the fact that failure brings problems. But sometimes we are surprised that success does too. Achieving success doesn’t mean our problems disappear. It means we get different challenges that correlate to our achievements. How so? There’s usually a link between the complexity of our challenges and the level of our responsibility. Chances are good the bigger your problems, the greater success you have and are already experiencing.
Problems spur greater success. Solving problems stretches us personally and professionally. Without problems, there aren’t opportunities. And without opportunities, we can’t grow, be given more responsibility, or make more money. In fact, if you ever find yourself in a job without problems, you should immediately start looking for another one. It’s a sure sign you’re stuck.
Problems engender confidence. This is one of the key reasons Navy SEALs endure the most grueling training imaginable. “[Y]ou can’t learn the confidence adversity teaches you in a classroom or from a book,” SEAL Alden Mills says, “you learn it from experience….” Only when we see ourselves overcoming problems do we gain the confidence to know we can do it again.
Problems expand our understanding. When we’ve faced challenges, we know what it’s like. And we can apply that knowledge to others—a critical skill for leaders to develop. A leader who’s overcome significant problems will know what she can expect from her team. And she’ll know how to help them reach their goals.
I don’t know I’d go as far as Updegraff. Most of the time, we don’t need to “start looking for more troubles.” Welcoming them is enough. The truth is problems are inevitable. And they can be beneficial to us if we appreciate how they contribute to our success, rather than resent them when they arise.