Is the glass half full or half empty? And does it even matter?
In a recent Freakonomics podcast episode, reposted from No Stupid Questions, Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth discussed the topic of toxic positivity. My takeaway from that conversation is that the glass is half full and half empty. What you’re experiencing as a challenge could be a challenge and an opportunity.
While I can get stressed about new challenges, I don’t necessarily identify this stress as being a bad thing. I enjoy working on projects or tasks where I have to stretch a little bit. What helps me is being able to take a break to regroup, recharge, take care of any pain points, maybe get some help, and then revisit the challenging task. I can give a simple example of this that I think extends wells from the physical to the mental.
Stretching to Change a Light Bulb
Earlier this week, the light bulb blew out in my bathroom. I have two ladders, and would usually pull out the longer one (which I find a bit scary to get on when I am home alone). Noticing that the ceiling in the bathroom is a bit shorter than in other rooms (I’ve only lived here for 8 years), I decided to test if the shorter ladder would work.
I had to stretch as far as my arms could go to reach the light cover. It has three screws that needed to be removed fully. Unscrew each screw, clean the light fixture, change the light bulb. So far so good. Next came reattaching the cover of the light fixture. I partially screwed the first screw. My shoulder started to hurt. I partially screwed a second screw. My side joined my right shoulder in protest. Could I use my left hand for screwing instead? Not efficiently. Could I take a break to shake out my arms/shoulder? Nope, everything would come crashing down. I had to partially attach the third screw before I could release the cover. Finally, I could give my body a break, recover, and get ready for the final push to secure the light cover. Had there been someone else around, I would have asked for help.
Mental Challenges are Harder to Overcome
Mental challenges can be a bit harder to overcome but the algorithm/pattern is the same. Here are the steps:
- Start with what you know how to or can easily figure out what to do.
- Start strong by making progress with those easy, smaller tasks.
- Take a break when you run out of resources or are not sure what to do next.
- Get necessary resources to complete the next step. Overwhelmed by the next step? Consider breaking it down into a smaller task, reframing the task, or get someone to help you over the hump.
- Continue the last two steps until you’ve accomplished your goal or have decided, with intention, to pursue a new challenge or opportunity.
I’ve approached many challenges in that way, from changing countries to changing jobs. I use this process with projects at work as well. The danger is languishing at step 4, stewing in your own limitations rather than learning or getting help to make progress.
A Career Change Challenge
When I decided to switch my career from teaching, I had no idea what to do next. Sticking with what I knew, I started doing some training for teachers at schools and working in copy editing/proofreading. I wasn’t sure what to do next as a self-employed person in the education space. The more I researched, the more it looked like I would have to develop a bunch of skills and that it would be an uphill battle to get schools and teachers to pay for my services. It would have been easy for me to get stuck here, spinning my wheels but I decided to reframe the task.
Instead of switching careers in the education space, what if I considered my strengths and interests. What if the task was not “Get hired by schools to help teachers with technology” but rather “Find a job that suits me in terms of interests and desired lifestyle?” This reframe allowed me to narrow my focus in job hunting. The tasks then became:
- Identity interests
- List skills from teaching that translate to other careers
- Ldentify careers related to skills and interests
- Explore other careers that I could study to gain access to within 1 year
- Apply for 2 jobs a day
For me, it’s important to make sure that my tasks involve not just research, but action as well. I think that action opens up opportunities and clarifies options in a way that thinking alone cannot.
How do you approach challenges? Is there a specific example that comes to mind?
Other Posts in the Series
The daily prompt for January 15, for the Bloganuary challenge, was “write about a challenge you faced and overcame.” I’m using the prompts to get me posting on this blog (almost) every day and approach them flexibly. You can still join the challenge.
1 comment on “Is it a Challenge or an Opportunity?”
Very well written. Whenever I find there is a big task, doing a small one helps in completing the bigger one.