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  • Dr. Purna Bikkasani

Problems are Opportunities

In the summer of 1963, I was one lucky high school kid to have graduated. I dodged an F for attempting a math question that was framed improperly on the final exam. Even then, I required grace marks to graduate. Yet, I was audacious enough to want to go to the college. I had no money, and my parents couldn’t afford to support me financially while my brother backed off from helping because he thought I was not college material. Instead, he earnestly wished I accepted some low paying job.

I didn’t know what college was about and why I wished to attend. It was an intuitive desire but not a realistic option. My mom knew I wanted to go to college. So, she went on a hunt to get loan money for my college tuition. She looked for a loan all summer long in the village and the neighboring villages. My college tuition was the subject of discussion at daily dinner. Just a week before the deadline for the college application passed, we secured a loan from a relative. My two sisters helped me with books, supplies, and living expenses. I shared a room with another student. I lived on rice and pickles that I prepared daily that academic year yet managed to kick off a growth spurt.

I majored in biological sciences. I had no idea how to study, so I asked the next door senior student for help. His advice was for me to take down the notes on lectures and memorize. Did I memorize! I memorized chemistry notes even when I was getting a haircut. Things got tougher because I was not only memorizing science but the English vocab, grammar, and syntax. It was a tough task, but I got tougher with it. First semester results put me on top in the class. I found my way and my self-confidence.

In the final examination, I scored well and applied for veterinary medicine. Unfortunately, or fortunately, on the final hour, a state government minister snatched my seat for his nephew. My exciting prospects turned into a nightmare. I didn’t know what to do; most college admissions for the year ended already. After a desperate search, I managed to join a newly started college in Kothagudem, Khammam district to redo a Pre-university course. Further memorization in science earned me a medical college admission the following year. It was unbelievable; I never dreamt of being a doctor! I had no words to describe the overnight election of my fortunes, pride, and prestige. I became a medical doctor in a twist of fate. Lost opportunity the year before seeded greater opportunity in my career.

People encounter problems or roadblocks regularly all through life. Exploring or going after every opportunity may not be a sure shot, but some are bound to materialize. The deliberate effort, talent, hard work, competence, and good luck tip success. The Positive and proactive people look for the opportunities in the face of adversity. That is my attitude. For every problem I face, I make a point to look deep into the hidden opportunities, alternatives paths, maximizing the gains, minimizing the losses, and finally finding escape routes in unavoidable circumstances. A mindset of hope and expectation in the moment of a looming disaster optimizes the best possible outcomes.

Is the “problem” real or life’s routine? Is going to school a problem? Is learning a problem? Is finding a job a problem? Is courtship a problem? Is marriage a problem? Is unemployment a problem? Are lost opportunities a problem? Is loss of money, business, power, and control a problem? Is living a problem? They are the exciting opportunities to indulge and enjoy life. The word “problem” is a misnomer; indeed, it is a challenge to a creative success. It is the lifeline for excitement, celebration, gratification, and glory in life.

Now, why do people see and respond to the same events or situations differently? Someone’s problem becomes another’s opportunity? One’s loss is a gain to the other in a stock market. Someone is fired and another is hired. A broken relationship implants a promising new one. In the circus of life, a problem-mindset profits growth-mindset. Can you see how someone’s problem is an opportunity to others? So, in reality, all problems are challenges. The idea of challenge evokes a growth mindset–a free-associative thinking to create and innovate every opportunity whereas the notion of a “problem” instills fear, anxiety, and irrational fear in the mind. It is not what happens but how you see it that matters most. Cognitive psychology taught us switching our thoughts, words, images, and imaginations at will can foster the growth mindset.

Classify your problems:

At any given moment, take stock of all the issues and set them into the self (personal), work, business, financial, relationship, or service compartments. Then, categorize them into urgent, important, or mundane; short term or long term; trivial or life changing; overt or covert. Then, check on the consequences of each of those issues on your finances, job, and relationships etc. First, understand and clarify the depth, degree, and urgency of the issue and then prioritize your actions. Never forget to keep the end in the mind.

1. Separate emotions from the problems:

Emotions taint, entangle, and malign problems big time. People use wrong language, logic, and defense to fulfill their motivations. Human behavior is motivation and self-interests. People exercise their inner and outer minds differently. Self-motivation reins the inner mind. The outward expression is a veneer meant for public appeal. When people are upset or enraged, their Amygdala hijacks the executive mind from making a fair and balanced decision; then the mind is not amenable to the reason or logic in the moment. Counting to ten, walking away from the scene, or putting the problem on the back burner is a good practice until the executive mind is at the helm.

2. Learn to spot the opportunities:

“Raise your level of thinking above the problem creation,” says Albert Einstein “to seek smart solutions.” You have to raise a cut above or go below the level of a problem to find the solutions or seek the opportunities. No matter how tough the problem seems, opportunities prevail. You must believe and look for them in good faith. For successful people, finding opportunities comes naturally. They possess a growth mindset to be at the right place at the right time.

3. Think action:

“Things stay put until an external force acts upon it,” says Sir Isaac Newton. Our thoughts make up our beliefs and actions. Beliefs cascade physiological, psychological, and emotional flooding underlying of behavior. The action is where it all begins. Life is full of action. It is our actions, not our thoughts, that matter.

“Action begets action”: People who work more get more things done and tend to continue to get better and better. As a result, their organizational abilities and actions grow exponentially. They develop the skill for prioritizing and acting with the end in mind. This is a common character trait of most successful people. The first President of our country, George Washington, said: “It is wonderful what we can do if we were always doing it.”

“What you need to do tomorrow, do it today. What you need to do today, do it now,” is a saying by Kaber Das, an ancient Indian Saint, and Poet. Doing things on time prevents emergencies that consume greater effort and time later. Procrastination is a deadly habit that results from the lack of commitment, confidence, and self-discipline. People tend to postpone doing the difficult, painful works; they find excuses for their laziness. They cite lack of money, time, and the resources wrongly for their inaction.

Adopt a “Done Culture”: This means that as soon as you decide to undertake a task, think in your mind it is “done” and say it out loud to yourself. This establishes a positive, enjoyable action mindset. It sets the tone, tempo, and mood for action. It bypasses inertia and procrastination. I am not recommending hasty or reckless action.

4. Good work ethic builds good work habits:

“It is through our habits we get by,” says Jean-Paul Sartre.

The man is a creature of habit: All of us form work habits and tend to stick with them for life. Work habits form through instruction, role modeling, experiencing, and training during student and training days. It begins as a naive learning process; with repetition, it becomes a habit even before we know it. Some of us work harder, faster, and more efficiently than others. Inculcating effective work ethic and leadership qualities will foster good work habits. Identifying the shifting priorities, organizing proper flow, and possessing leadership qualities foster good working habits. The speed, rhythm, and style of work practiced for six weeks become a new habit. Old habits could be dismantled or replaced at will.

5. Create a growth mindset:

One’s mindset reflects his/her attitude to interpret and respond to the situations in daily life. People fall into two polar groups: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, but most people fall on a bell-shaped curve between these polar opposites. The latter group keeps an open, flexible mind to listen and learn. They are curious, creative, and work hard. They think outside the box and act on time and in the space whereas people with a fixed mindset are unwilling to listen and learn. They see the problem everywhere, give up easily and are unwilling to change and adapt.

6. To-do list:

Making a list of things to do the night before or at the beginning of a week works well for most people. Have the list handy, hang it in front of your work desk, or screen saves it on your smartphone. In the midst of busy routines, schedules, emergencies, distractions, and interruptions in a day, it is difficult to do everything on time. Our memory and attention have a short span, referring to “to do” lists helps accomplish the tasks set for the day. I find it very useful to check on the list of the items I missed doing before the end of the day. The list serves as a backup for a failed memory. Interestingly, checking and reminding can enhance digital memory, a recipe for preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

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