More To That

An illustrated, long-form blog that delves deeper into the things that make us who we are.

Thankfully, Life Is Full of Problems

Every morning begins with a shining sun, signifying the start of a new day.

But on this particular morning, you’re oddly inspired by the beams of light slapping your face, and you wake up with a sense of purpose.

You tell yourself that this is your chance to press the reset button – to live this day in a way that aligns with the things that matter most. This day is full of possibility, and it will bring you that much closer to a life of fulfillment.

You get into your car to start the day, proclaiming that this new life starts now.

Only to see that minutes later, you find yourself here:

Minutes become hours, and after an excruciating amount of time in traffic, you finally arrive at the office, only to see this:

You take a much-needed break in the afternoon to eat at your favorite restaurant, only to discover this:

And when you finally get back home to relax, you find out that once again, nothing in your house wants to work:

As you wind down for the day, you tell yourself that this kind of bullshit keeps happening to you. Whenever you want to make some positive changes to your Box of Daily Experience, these emotional weights just seem to pile on top of you, preventing anything good from happening.

In everyday English, these “emotional weights” are commonly referred to as problems. We have a lot of them, and they tend to vary in size.

Most problems are lightweight – a bunch of small stuff that you just have to get done.

Other problems are middleweight – more pressing things that need to be resolved with a sense of urgency.

And some problems are heavyweight – big, daunting things that can color your field of vision for days and months to come.

The problems you have will be a mix of these sizes, and they tend to appear in different ways as well. Some problems come out of nowhere to smack you in the face, but other times, they just ride around on your back, dragging you down with every step you take.

The last thing you want is to be overtaken by these weights, so instinctively, you begin to kick them off by solving them.

You make daily to-do lists to get rid of the lightweight ones.

You stop procrastinating and get your act together to throw off the middleweight ones.

You set habits and routines so you can chip away at solving the heavyweights.

You are in a perpetual state of solving problems, and in the haze of it all, sometimes you dream of this end-state goal:

That’s right. The ultimate dream. A life with no problems whatsoever.

Even though this is impossible to achieve, let’s just say – for the sake of argument – that you’ve attained it.

This is how life would look like within days, if not hours:

Funnily enough, a life without problems would be a huge problem in itself. After all, what is existence without the need to solve for challenges?

There would be nothing to work on, for work is nothing more than a series of problems that require interesting solutions.

There would be nothing to learn, for learning is about solving a continuous set of challenges with focused thought.

There would be no close friendships, for friendship is built through empathy, patience, and vulnerability – three things that are challenging to understand and maneuver through.

The goal here is not to remove all your problems. Rather, it’s to upgrade the quality of your existing problems so they become ones worth solving.

This perspective shift applies to all problems, but is most applicable to the significant ones – the heavyweights.

If the quality of your heavyweight problems is low, then they feel burdensome and unrewarding. When your heavyweight problems are devoid of purpose or energy, they just feel like stupid shit you have to deal with to get on with existence.

But if you’re able to upgrade the quality of these problems, an interesting flip happens. Rather than having these problems weigh you down…

… they could instead be used to lift you up.

In other words, you can have the strength of your problems work for you, not against you. Since life is nothing more than a string of solving problems (which, remember, is a good thing), it’s important to make these challenges worthwhile ones to go through.

There are many places where this kind of flip is applicable, but let’s start with a familiar one: work.

Work is such a poignant example because your paycheck is contingent upon your ability to solve problems. In fact, that’s the only reason you’re there. You are hired into a role (or paid to run your own business) solely because of your capacity to solve other people’s shit.

The question then becomes, “Am I challenged and stimulated by the problems I am here to solve?” If the consistent answer to that is no, then the idea of work as a whole becomes an unbearable heavyweight problem. Not only do you hate the dull issues you’re being asked to solve at your job, you start hating the entire concept of work in general.

But work in itself is not a problem. It’s one of the most important things you’ll ever do in life, and is the primary venue where your skills and capabilities will be applied.

If you care about the issues you’re solving with your job/business/craft, then they become invigorating and exciting problems to have. They will give you a great reason to wake up everyday, and will keep your mind sharp in the process.

If you want your career to be a problem worth solving, you’ll have to upgrade the type of work you’re doing to fit your curiosities. Whether it’s through a side hustle or an entirely new job, work can become a source of great purpose, rather than a cause for indifference.

This is just one example of a perspective shift in action. Another area is in our close relationships.

Being close to someone doesn’t necessarily mean that all is well. Parental and sibling relationships can be notoriously difficult, and sometimes one fuck-up is all it takes to cause family members to stop talking to one another for years.

If you’re in this situation, I have news for you. You have a low-quality heavyweight problem.

Unless the person committed a truly unforgivable offense, the decision to deny a family member’s existence is not a problem worth having. It’s a tiresome emotional weight, and one that continuously lurks in the background. It will rear its ugly head whenever you have to consider who comes to family gatherings, who is included in text message threads, who said what about whom, etc.

This is a meaningless problem, so it must be upgraded.

A more worthwhile problem would be to figure out how you two could put your differences aside, and how you could hang out with one another again.

This is a big challenge, but one full of wisdom. It will teach you how to be a more sympathetic, more understanding, and more capable human being. Trying to solve this high-quality problem will yield life lessons that the lower-quality one will never be able to provide.

Aim to have problems that need to be solved with level-headed composure, not ones that are solved with infantile tantrums.

Resentment is for amateurs, compassion is for the pros.

No matter how huge any problem seems, I’m convinced it can be upgraded. Whole cities have turned events of tragedy into galvanizing symbols of purpose. Individuals have awakened to news of severe illness, only to see their families turn it into an opportunity for enduring hope and love.

There are so many more examples of heavyweight problems that can be addressed, and I won’t go through them here. What’s important is that you take inventory of what yours are, and be determined to shift your perspective of them.

So far we’ve focused most of our attention on the heavyweight problems, as they are the most consequential. However, there are two other categories of problems we haven’t quite addressed, but should.

Ah, the lightweight and middleweight problems. These guys are everywhere, correct?

Yes, it sucks to sit in traffic, it sucks to get a parking ticket, it sucks to be skipped over for your bonus this year, it sucks that your partner is upset with you, and it sucks that you saw that one guy wearing socks with sandals again.

Even though the lightweight and middleweight problems are smaller in magnitude, they are greater in quantity, and occur with enough frequency to make us feel overwhelmed.

But when these types of problems occur, ask yourself this one question:

Are these problems really that big of a deal?

Notice that I didn’t ask if they felt like a big deal. They will always feel pressing because they’re happening to the subjective you, and that’s unavoidable (until you learn how to be on the right side of thought). Rather, the question is if they indeed are a big deal, which is something you can ask if you jump out of your own head for a moment to see the bigger picture.

I don’t want to sound trite, but here’s the truth. You are probably not experiencing starvation, are not bedridden by incurable disease, and are not living in a country torn apart by war. If you were, then these would be problems that set the boundaries for how you could live your life.

The light- and middleweight problems you have don’t set any boundaries on your aspirations; they’re just nuisances that require your periodic attention. And most importantly, they are nuisances born out of luxury, not desperation.

Having to figure out when you’re going to pick up the kids from daycare can be stressful. But hey, you have healthy children. Isn’t that fucking amazing? And they’re safe in a daycare center, not roaming around in a war zone. And sure, the traffic sucks, but very shortly, they will be sitting in your car with you, with huge smiles on their faces, just beaming to tell you about their day.

These are beautiful problems to have. Not only are they ones worth solving, they are ones that are worthy of gratitude.

When you zoom out far enough, you’ll realize that lightweight and middleweight problems are pretty easy to solve, and they aren’t all that bad. So when they arise, just remember that with a little bit of patience and attention, they will soon become distant memories of the past.

Tying everything together, the framework to solving problems is quite simple:

(1) Upgrade your heavyweight problems so they work for you, and

(2) Realize that everything else isn’t a big deal.

Having problems is a natural constant of life, and feeling overwhelmed is a symptom of forgetting this very fact. Without these challenges, life would cease to have meaning, nor would it be any fun.

So enjoy your problems, and cherish the ones you are fortunate enough to have.


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For more posts on living out a meaningful existence:

The Meaning of Life Is Absurd

The Finality of Everything

For a post on someone who was famous for working his way through all kinds of problems:

Socrates: The Badass Godfather of Uncertainty

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