Recently, I saw a friend for the first time in a couple of years. We caught up over coffee, and I realized I was telling her the same kinds of stories about my life as I had in a totally different period, two years ago. I lived in a different place, had a different job, but the issues I faced were more or less identical.
My problems tend to revolve around finances. I'm passionate about my work, but writing and supporting the causes close to my heart has never paid the bills. I've started numerous businesses. I've lived and worked in three different countries. No matter what I'm doing, the financial difficulties creep back up.
In discussing this with friends, I’ve learned I’m not alone. They might not struggle with money, but to find the perfect home. In relationships, we tend to have the same fights over and over, with slight changes, year upon year.
Now, I don't think there's a version of life in which we are not struggling with something daily. I do think that a productive, progressive life involves conquering the challenges the universe sends our way, and always being ready to embrace and learn from the next one. Here are four reasons we might face the same challenges over and over, and strategies to harness them for your own personal growth.
1. We're too close to the problem to think strategically.
Tell me the problems in your business, your marriage, or your relationship with your kids and I bet I can offer you some pretty savvy solutions. It's easier to see a solution when the problem isn't your own. That's why people hire me as a consultant: to fix problems in other people's companies or ventures. I have an outside perspective.
When it comes to solving the simple problem of money in my own life, I’ve been blocked. The answer may be simply to get someone with an outside perspective to help me find a solution.
2. We need to be challenged.
Humans thrive with the right amount of challenge and stimulation. Too much challenge becomes stressful, which is both emotionally and physically detrimental. Conversely, too little challenge can also have a negative impact on us. Eustress — a type of stress that feels motivating rather than daunting — actually helps us achieve our goals.
The trick to harnessing this phenomenon is learning to recognize when our internal scale tips from eustress to distress, and then pulling back the reigns on worry and anxiety before they take over.
3. Conquering obstacles makes us better people.
What would happen if my money problems were magically solved? I guarantee I would come up with a slew of other troubles to focus on. What's the point of a challenge-free life? From the simple daily issues of how to stay healthy in body, mind, and spirit to the world-shattering ones like poverty, hunger, and abuse, experiencing and overcoming challenges is an essential element in the human experience. Many spiritual teachers would suggest that it is the reason we’re here.
The challenge ceases to become productive when I become too focused on it to even see the possibility of a solution. So, I’m resolving to remove the obsessive fixation which keeps me frozen in fear, relax into the problem, and create space for a solution.
4. Problems are opportunities in disguise.
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. How many of the greatest innovations in history were created to solve a problem? We have more insight than anyone on how to solve the problems in our own lives. The challenge is to step outside ourselves long enough to recognize the patterns we’re stuck in, and find a way to break the cycle.
For me, this starts with an attitude adjustment. If I stress about money, I’m closed off to the solution which could be waiting right around the corner. The energy of focusing on a problem is very different than the energy of focusing on a solution: one is fearful, while the other is hopeful.
We are all storytellers. When we talk about our problems, we’re weaving a story that confirms our reality. Hearing myself repeat that story to my friend made me realize it was getting old. So, I’m challenging myself to tell a new story, and change the course of my life. That’s one challenge I don’t mind keeping around.