How’s this for a premise: “If a problem isn’t actionable, it’s not a problem. It’s reality.”
Bill Burnett and Dave Evans develop this idea in their new book, Designing Your Life; How To Build a Well-lived, Joyful Life as they apply “design thinking” to making important life choices.
When you’re organized, you don’t like to waste time. And what’s a huge waste of time? Worrying – especially when you worry about stuff you can’t change. This doesn’t mean you don’t have stuff you wish you could change – a grouchy boss, a noisy neighbor, an obnoxious family member. But if you can’t change them, then they aren’t a problem – they are reality. And you can’t outsmart reality or bend it to your will. It’s still reality.
What you can do is use the challenges in your life as a stepping off point to build something better. That’s what design challenges are all about.
What can you do with the above challenges?
You can’t change your boss but maybe having a bad boss will push you to change jobs. And if your options are limited, it may help you make the decision to take a class to change career direction. It may spur you to start doing volunteer work that’s more satisfying. And it may help you take a step away from your work and treat your job as a science experiment. What can you do to out-love your boss by making everything you can better despite his grouchiness? If you can become more empathetic to why he’s so grouchy, you win even if he’s still grouchy.
And about that noisy neighbor – you can’t change her, so don’t spend time despairing or talking about her. Instead, what do you have control over? You can move. You can ignore her. You can wear earplugs. Or you can head on over and find out why she’s so noisy. Maybe she has a hearing problem. Maybe she doesn’t know you can hear her music or her yelling. Maybe her noisiness will spur you on to a really good conversation.
And that obnoxious family member? You can’t change them but you can change how much you interact with them. Or you can choose to be kind in the face of their obnoxiousness. What makes them tick? Have you ever had that conversation?
The guys who wrote this book have a sign in their office that reads: “You are here.” That’s reality. You’re here, and a lot of the world is the way it is and you can’t change it. What’s cool is that facing up to reality will make you smarter about what you can and can’t change. Knowing that can bring you peace. It can help you focus. And if it helps you craft a work-around, you may end up making the world a nicer place.
My older daughter, Samantha, got her Doctorate in Physical Therapy last weekend from Duke. Dr. Sam is moving back to Maine to start her practice. Here she is with her little brother, Joe. Sam is going to bend reality and change the world for a lot of people 🙂
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