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Problems… plenty of them

First of the four ‘noble truths’ that Buddha taught was that Life is suffering.

Life is difficult.

It is indeed a noble truth. Noble truth as once we come to accept and truly understand it then life may not be difficult. The key is accepting because once it is accepted then the fact that life is suffering no longer matters.

Every life, human or not, has problems, pain, suffering. Every life has a reality. Every person experiences these realities, willingly or unwillingly, joyfully or grudgingly. The realities of life will show up even though you may chose to look the other way. The problems will remain even if you my chose to ignore them.

I have always been a very reluctant reader. I never liked to read. I wasn’t fond of books at all. This was for the first twenty three years of my life. My parents whom I grew up with on the other hand are extremely fond of reading. There were books all over the place at home. I constantly always felt as if reading needed some skill, some amount of patience and some super maturity that I just didn’t have. I concluded in my head that not everyone can be fond of reading. I am just not meant for this. I don’t have the concentration needed for this stuff.

Then one fine day, I saw my neighbor sitting under a very pleasant winter Sun in his garden and reading what I remember as the thickest book I ever saw. As I was walking past his front gate, I told him, “I can never manage doing that. Reading and that too this big a book.” In hindsight my neighbor that day made one of the best remarks he could have. He said, “That’s only because you don’t take the time.”

I walked past his house. I didn’t like hearing that. Could it be that, that was all. That it was only because I didn’t make the time that I didn’t read. All my realities around reading were plain lies. The following week on my birthday this neighbour of mine gifted a book on marketing to me. It wasn’t big. The written note on the book said - “That’s only because you don’t take the time.”

That evening I decided to test the truth of this statement. I made time. I read all night and finished the damn book. Whoa!! Am a reader and I was thrilled.

So were all the assumptions I made in my head – incorrect. I genuinely didn’t read because I chose to spend my time on other stuff that was at the time more important to me. What is important to note about this story is that after reading the book, I realized and I knew that not reading is a choice that I may exercise. I also understood that I am not some defective thing who isn’t matured enough or lacks patience or don’t have a skill.

And I now know and accept and understand that anyone who isn’t mentally defective (really) can solve any problem if they take the time. In reality though, forget taking the time, most of us do nothing about problems.

I was engaged in coaching a very senior a manager in a very well known Bank. The brief that was given to me that this guy is one of their brightest talents but keeps moving from one job to another. He doesn’t stay put and see things to the end. I instantly knew even before meeting the guy that he didn’t believe in solving problems.

A few sessions and meeting later I came to realize that my friend doesn’t have a very happy relationship with his wife. There are certain things he doesn’t like about the way they are with each other. He’s been married seven years, not liking these things for the last five, yet, he wouldn’t talk to his wife about them. When I asked him on how he deals with all of this – He told me that he’s just built a parallel life - “I remain busy at work, I have taken on a lot to do, I go socialize with colleagues and reach home in time to say Goodnight. We do spend some time over the weekend. Now obviously when that is all the time that you will spend together, there is a quite understanding to not talk about problems or fight away the time.”

When I confronted him with his self destructive habits he said, “I just thought that talking about this will be a bigger hassle. It might make it worse. Somewhere I also believed this is about time. That in time I will out grow these dislikes. They will just go away.”

Problems DO NOT go away. They remain. They brew. They slowly but surely attack growth and development of the self.

My friend didn’t still confront his problems. He believed, so truly did that things will pass and become good. He had lots to do. He also had similar work patterns. The moment the problem take on more to do, perform somewhere so the other one disappears. Going got tough for him at work. It wasn’t humanly possible to deliver on all that he had accepted. One fine day, as was expected, it reached breaking point. He gave up. He quit his job. He started his own business. He told me I rather do what I can be in control of. He invested all his money in a restaurant. I advised him to not put all his eggs in one basket before he has sorted himself out. Things will pan out the same way as long as we think the same.

Coaching was dropped. The business started. Eleven months later I received a call from him requesting me if I can ask the bank to consider giving him his job back. When I asked him what happened, he said “three to four months back I knew I was running out of cash but I couldn’t believe I’ll totally run out of it. I just believed that the sales will pick up. The marketing of the restaurant just didn’t work. I can get an investor but.. the situation is just too urgent.”

He had of course ignored his problem, yet again. He did slowly realize that the problem that he really needs to solve is the problem of ignoring problems. Till then nothing can help – not the greatest of business plans, not the greatest of senior management banking jobs – even with any amount of coaching assistance.

The problem of ignoring problems, is unfortunately, in some way or the other a part of all of us. Confronting problems is painful, very painful and very uncomfortable. No one likes to confront a problem before we need to or are forced to. Why put aside the comfort of status quo for an experience of pain? How silly is that? Why do it?

So we choose to persist with the known suffering, which by the way isn’t really suffering because it is known. We choose it over an unpleasant period of confrontation that may lead to a better future. Obviously the ‘better future’ is not known so it doesn’t seem necessary. It’s justified in that tiny little thing called brain.

It may seem to appear that this banker friend is some psychotic, immature person. I can tell you he is not. He is very intelligent. This immaturity exists in all of us.

I just read a quote in Fortune magazine by a president of one of the largest multinational companies. He said that the single biggest problem in any organization is that most of its management and executives will sit looking at problems, staring it in the face, doing nothing, as if these problems will go away if we stared long enough. He was not referring to immature, psychotic people. He was referring to very bright, disciplined people who hold positions and responsibilities far higher than you and me.

I have seen parents do this too. Not solve problems related to their children for long periods of time under the pretext – “ he or she will grow out of it.”… Managers will do it about their people – “he will learn with experience. It will happen.” …

You see, we do it to ourselves and so to others as well. The problems don’t go away. No child will grow out of it. No executive will learn on his own. No problem will suddenly disappear with a magic wand. I wish it did but No, it wouldn’t. Problems need to be solved. If it affects you in any way, it’s your problem. If its your problem, YOU need to solve it.

THE ONLY WAY TO SOLVE A PROBLEM IS TO SOLVE IT. This basically means we have to take responsibility. “This is my problem and I will solve it.” We can also keep saying that this problem is because of parent, friend, child, marriage, teacher, upbringing, society, circumstances and so its not my responsibility. Yes, even that will be true. The bigger truth though will be that the problem persists. No one else will be solving it irrespective of who you have held responsible.

The extent to which people –you, me – will go to avoid problems physiologically and psychologically is very - I don’t know which word to use here – sad or ridiculous.


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