Is This A Problem?

By Mary Lloyd
When things aren’t going the way you planned, don’t assume it’s a bad thing. If you can stay open to what’s happening instead of what you thought should happen, life often has some exciting new offerings.

Everybody is nodding their heads, right? It sounds so logical. But let’s be honest. It’s not typically how we react. When things aren’t going the way we want, we do one of two things—try to get them back on track or complain.

This is also normal. Humans are wired to be masters of their own lives. Even newborns make noise in an attempt to get what they need. However, there is a big difference between what we really need and what we’ve decided we’re supposed to get.

No, I’m not going to tackle the concept of entitlements with this—though we do need to start looking at that as a culture. What I’m asking you to think about is this automatic rejection reaction that comes when things go off the path you chose for whatever you are trying to get done.

Sometimes, the alternative that pops up is much better than the strategy you’ve been focused on. Sometimes the new situation can give you enough of a change in perspective that you recognize the original idea was not what you needed in the first place. Sometimes, what develops in spite of your best laid plan is just plain more fun.

You will never know if you keep your “plan blinders” on and insist on getting things back in your chosen groove.

A lot of things we call problems are not. They are changes. We dwell too much on the idea that we need to “fix” whatever isn’t what we had in mind.

As an alternative to asking “What do I do about this problem?” maybe we should be asking ourselves “What does this change?” If it’s just the way you decided things were going to get done, tell your ego to take a nap and see where things could go using the new scenario. “Problems” like an unexpected pregnancy, an adult child returning to live with you, or even the loss of a job are often the source of considerable joy and revitalization.

So….is it a problem? Is someone or something going to be harmed if the change persists? (e.g. a flooded basement is a problem). Is what’s changed going to keep what needs to happen for occurring or is it just a different way of getting there? (A road washout can be either of these things, but missing the chance to go to a class you wanted is almost always the latter.) Does the change in situation create real difficulty or is it, at the worst, an inconvenience?

Becoming more selective about what we see as a problem has some wonderful advantages. Problems are stress producers. Having fewer of them means less stress over all.
Recognizing changes in direction as opportunities instead expands your world, too. Even something as simple as having to take a different street because of road construction can make you aware of things you didn’t know before. Maybe you discover a yoga studio offering just what you’ve been looking for. Or a quilting store advertising beginner lessons. Maybe it’s a park just waiting for you to explore it.

This idea that everything should go the way we want—and have already decided—is more counterproductive than it looks at first glance. There is so much more to life than what we know. Insisting on limiting what comes to what you can imagine means you miss out on all the options and opportunities that you’ve not yet had the chance to learn about.

Instead of focusing on “How do I fix this problem?” when plans start to unravel, learn to ask “What do I have to lose by seeing how this might unfold a different way?” Seeing everything you didn’t get to decide as a “problem” makes life less interesting—and a whole lot less fun.


Mary Lloyd

Mary Lloyd specializes in resources to better use talent over 50. She’s the author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. For more, see her website at

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