Choosing your problems

I love solving problems. In fact, this has been my job for many years now.

First as a graphic designer, I had to solve problems. For example, designers are given a brief, to deliver a given message, to a given audience visually. This problem is solved by both understanding the message and its meaning and understanding the context of the audience. Finally, finding the best language the convey that message within that context using visual communication.

Now as a software engineer, I also have to solve problems. When given a task to bring something to the users, I have to use software architecture and coding best practices to solve the specific problems, so that they are also effective solutions that can be build upon long-term.

Both are very creative processes, because the creative process is essentially a problem solving process. To be creative is to find new solutions to problems that you face.

In fact, as humans we all solve problems daily, as part of our jobs or simply existence. The most basic being having sustenance and a roof above us. All our jobs ultimately solve a problem for something or someone.

Nevertheless, problems being intrinsic to our existence we still spend a lot of time being enraged by problems and hating them. The reason is that there are different types of problems. There are the problems we choose to work on and solve and there are the problems that seemingly arrive out our doorstep unannounced and hold their finger on the doorbell endlessly, screaming in our faces.

Handling your problems

As people, we will always be concerned and dealing with problems, forever. There is no escaping that. And still, a lot of us live and hope to avoid all and any problems. When, however, a problem pops up in front of us, since we live in the hope to never see one it frustrates us and leads to a whole array of negative emotions.

There is a different way – you can choose your problems. “But what… how… I don’t want to have problems!” you say. Re-read the above paragraph please 🙂

Once you accept problems will always be there, then you can remove the emotional part of handling them (or reduce it at least). When I encounter a problem, normally the first question I ask myself is “Is there anything I can do about this?”. If the answer is “No”, then I can accept it and hope that someone else who can contribute positively to the situation will do so. Anything else I do will, not make a difference and would be a wasted effort, so I might as well spend that effort on problems I can, and should choose to solve.

Accepting the consequences of problems you cannot solve is critical to being empowered to work on the problems you can solve. Often, for one reason or another we are paralysed and indecisive because we try and hope to solve something that has no solution (as far as we are concerned).

“Many people delay taking action because they hope to avoid suffering. They keep searching for a path that won’t involve tradeoffs.

But some form of suffering is always inevitable. The process of taking action is the process of choosing your pain.”

Piyush Kamal

How to choose your problems

Choosing your problems is empowering because it allows you to shape your life. It simply means to choose what you put your focus and energy on, to proactively solve a problem you know will come.

For example, financial security and independence does not just fall at your feet. Maybe in some cases, but mostly not. So you can choose early on to work on saving, investing, proactively managing your finances to get to the best possible place you can long-term. The alternative is to live blind to the whole problem until it hits you when there’s little you can do about it.

The same is when you have health problems. Some of us a born with them and we have no choice. But we can accept what we have and proactively do the best we can with it to avoid it getting worse, to maximise the quality of life we already have.

A lot about choosing and solving a problem comes from defining the problem correctly in the first place. This is no trivial thing, because in order to define a problem correctly and asking the right questions, you need to understand the problem (and also know it exists in the first place). So by simply trying to understand a problem, you are already on your way to solving it.

Choosing problems proactively also means that we remove the short-sightedness and adopt the long-term perspective. And being proactive now about our long-term problems (and potential such) can give a sense of peace and relief, or at least much more so than not doing it and getting the proverbial “slap in the face” later on.

Choosing your problems also helps you understand what you care about, what’s important in your life and what your values are. Because those will define which problems matter to you, and which ones you want to work on.


Problems are a vital part of life, they will always be around us and we will always face them. By being proactive and choosing which problems to solve we can develop a deeper understanding about our values, we can create a larger sense of peace and feel empowered. It is not an easy thing to do, but it can be liberating and grow us.

I recommend reading the article titled “The surprising power of choosing your problems“.

Do you choose your problems or do you feel like they always come round and surprise you when you least expect them? Do you have ways that you deal with difficult problems?

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