I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.-Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being
I take great pride in being a problem solver. A helper.
I enjoy the puzzle like quality of problem solving and the sort of “high” that comes from seeing a problem resolved and the happiness it brings not only to myself, but to others. Over the years, besides working through my own personal problem arsenal, I have solved literally hundreds of problems for individuals, groups, companies and organizations I have been associated with. My track record of success is pretty darn good and so it’s not a stretch to say that I am one of those “go to” people when the junk hits the fan.
But as I entered my 50’s, I noticed that some of the shine was starting to wear off the challenge of tackling problems day in and day out. At first, it was nothing more than a little irritation or a few bouts of indigestion.
Take a few Tums and move on.
But after my cancer diagnosis and especially during my treatment, I found that tackling any problems, outside my own set of health issues, set off a vicious cycle of anxiousness in me that left me feeling so tired I could barely function some days. The joy of problem solving was gone!
I talked to my physician. “Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer treatment and that can lead to a level of depression that can compound that fatigue.” In other words what I was feeling was totally normal and expected.
But I wasn’t buying that explanation. Something else was going on with me. Yes, I did understand that cancer fatigue was real and I was experiencing it, but I was also feeling more blessed and positive about a lot of things in life since my diagnosis. The little things. In fact, I was feeling so blessed that the idea for starting this positivity blog bloomed and I began to take pictures and write, engaging my inner muse in a way I had only dreamed about pre-cancer. The only thing that seemed to rob me of energy was solving problems…something I used to love.
So, what the heck was happening to me?
Recently a friend, (who is also a terrific problem solver) and I were discussing the fact that a program at our church was not going to happen this year because a critical volunteer had dropped out and a replacement wasn’t readily available on the horizon.
“You and me, we are “The Fixers”, she said, “And, I guess we can’t always “fix things”, can we? “
I remember I stood there rather stunned that she had recognized this “Super Hero” label in herself and more importantly, in me.
You see the dictionary definition of Problem Solving says this:
A thinker who focuses on the problem as stated and tries to find a solution.Merriam-Websters Dictionary
Notice it says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING…NADA…ZIP…ZERO about implementing the solution to the problem.
That’s where I got off track. Somehow, I moved from being a joyous problem solver to embracing being “The Fixer”, the implementer, if you will, of the solution, all day, all the time.
And there-in lies the reason WHY I WAS SO TIRED!!!
Why had I let my life as a successful “problem solver” morph into that of a tired, overworked, “problem fixer?”
A negative in my “positivity tool kit”.
Upon reflection, I think it was a combination of a lot of things: I’m good at team building to solve problems and people know it, so I get asked all the time to help in some pretty dire situations; I’m willing to take on tough problems and stick with it until a solution can be found; and I’m not afraid to do battle with people (who are unreasonable, egotistical, lacking empathy and tact) to achieve a solution.
All of this can be quite stressful, especially if it’s a daily thing.
But I think the biggest reason problem solving has become such a tiresome chore for me, is that I lost sight of the fact that just because I can provide a reasonable solution to a problem, doesn’t mean that I AM the right person to implement it.
I do not have to be “The Fixer!”
You might be thinking, why not just say “no?”
That’s a valid point! I agree, many times I should have said no. But it’s also true that we live in a culture today that values one stop shopping, in business and in pleasure. How quickly we can get from point A to point Z has morphed problem solving and problem resolution into a single mouse click.
Maybe I got caught up in that mindset.
But let’s face it, sometimes a single click isn’t that satisfying. Sometimes our skill set is better suited to only certain aspects of problem resolution.
In layman terms that translates to:
I know I am not. When I think about problem solving, what excites me about it is that I love being the catalog; the wealth of ideas and possibilities that others can peruse, take bits and pieces from and make it their own.
That brings me happiness. It brings others happiness too and that’s important for me not to forget, but to make clear to those I agree to help.
Sure, I can implement solutions, but I’m happiest when I’m number two or even in the shadows. When I’m the person behind the scenes engaging others to take a solution and implement it into action.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t step up in life. Stepping up is as much a part of me, as problem solving, especially with something I’m passionate about.
But I know I need to be more comfortable putting out the “stop sign” without fear and taking back control of my own narrative when my plate is full. Fighting cancer seems just as good a time as any. But really it doesn’t have to be that dramatic. When it stops being fun, it’s time to stop!
Just as not every problem is mine to solve;
Every solution is not mine to implement!
Sometimes we all need to put “The Fixer” on ice for a while, including me!
Maybe you are feeling the same way? I encourage you to take the time to think about whether your current approach to “problem solving” has evolved into something that is leading you down a road to negativity and unhappiness. And I can assure you, that if you choose to put “The Fixer” on ice for a while, you can trust that it’s going to be o.k.
The wonderful thing about ice is that it melts; so, when it’s time to jump back in and become “The Fixer” again, opportunities will be there.
They always are for talented people like you and me.
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