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Three Lessons of Learning for Overcoming Challenges

By Dr. Steven Steinberg

Stewart is a 47 year-old CEO in downtown Chicago recently diagnosed with heart disease. Of course, his business is going through a rough period. If that isn't enough, his two teenage children are both having trouble at school and his wife's mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Stewart's question is, "why me?" What is the answer?

In business and life we encounter stress, suffering, loss and failure. We expect to overcome these obstacles, understand and solve our problems without any difficulties or suffering. When expectations such as these are not met, we go through the motions of life without joy, without focus, without proper communications, complaining about problems, blaming others and too stressed to create or implement solutions. This causes us to cry out "Why Me?" Does your workplace ever sound like this?

The real question being asked is: "Why do I suffer with so many problems in my work and life?" There are three lessons that can help business people to understand and overcome these challenges.

Lesson #1: Why me?  I will never know for sure: Absolute truth exists, but we cannot know it absolutely. That is the human condition, uncertainty. That uncertainty is the source of our problems. With uncertainty, we can make mistakes that cause us pain. With uncertainty, without the complete answer to life's problems, we feel pain. You have problems from uncertainty, but you also have freedom. Since you cannot know for sure, you have freedom of choice. You can choose an ordinary or an extraordinary response in any situation. What will be your extraordinary response to your conditions? Will you focus on the pain of problems or the freedom of choice? If you focus on the freedom of choice you are ready to move on to lesson #2. Remember, lesson #1 is why me? I will never know for sure.

Lesson #2: Why me? I don't care-I want to know anyway:  To be perfectly human is to know imperfectly. Responsibility is the ability to respond extraordinarily in the face of uncertainty. Your job is to continue your quest for knowledge knowing that you can never know for sure. You must then act upon your learning. Your responsibility is to search for truth and do the right thing. Rabbi Tarfon has said, "It’s not up to you to finish the job, but you are not free from doing some of the work." Responsibility is the name of the human game. So, lesson #1-why me? I will never know for sure. Lesson #2-why me? I want to know anyway. What do I want to know?

Lesson #3: Why me? I Want to Know My Purpose: Why do you exist? What is your purpose in life? Searching and finding your purpose is the key that opens the door to success in business and life. When you search for purpose there are two possible answers to life's problems and challenges.

The ordinary answer to the question "why me?" is: "because___."

You fill in the blank with blame. If you can blame, you are not responsible. Blame turns you into a victim. Blame looks backwards. To look forward, to solve problems, to see your purpose being met, you must change your answer to the extraordinary answer.

The extraordinary answer to the question "why me?" is: "So That___!"

You fill in the blank with some powerful purpose, some overriding value or some meaningful solution to the problems of your business or your life. Freedom, responsibility and purpose are the values that we learn from the three lessons.

The key point of the three lessons is that in life you can chose to focus on problems or purpose. Focusing on problems causes pain and suffering. However, when you focus on purpose then:

The Power of Purpose Overrides the Pain of Problems!  The power of purpose, your "So That___!" overrides the pain of your problems. You must discover your "So That___!" Purpose is the flipside of problems. Without problems you would have no purpose. Problems, obstacle and challenges exist So That we can solve them!  That is why we are in the business of life, to serve others by solving their problems. They, in turn, serve us by solving our problems. Together, we can overcome any challenge.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when trying to overcome challenges:

  • Lesson #1 focuses on freedom. While you cannot choose your conditions, you are entirely free to choose your response to those conditions. Don't focus on the challenge itself; instead focus on your choices regarding how to fix the problem. Have a future focus.

  • Lesson #2 focuses on responsibility. There are two parts to responsibility. The first is the ability to respond. I am free to respond even in the presence of uncertainty. The second part is that I am free to choose a positive ethical and moral response. Responsibility implies acting as one ought to act.

  • Lesson #3 focuses on purpose. Each of us was put here with some special-purpose. What music were you put here to make? Make sure that when it is time to leave this world you do not go with most of your music still in you. You can create an extraordinary business. Do not focus on how hard it is to play your music. Focus instead on the success and happiness your music can bring you.

  • In business and in life you must choose between blame and responsibility. Overcoming challenges begins by accepting responsibility. Blaming makes one feel better in that moment. You feel entitled to a life and a business without any suffering. This focus on feelings, on rights without responsibilities, and on past causes never leads to success and inner peace. The only path to overcoming challenges is to change our focus from what caused the problem to how to solve the problem.

The three lessons of learning are one of many tools that can help you understand and overcome challenges while transforming your work and life from ordinary to extraordinary. Freedom, responsibility and purpose are the values that emerge from the three lessons of learning. Using those values we can transform our work and our lives from an ordinary place where we are overwhelmed by challenges and problems into an extraordinary place of success and happiness.

Read other articles and learn more about Steven Steinberg.

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