Five Ways to Make a Problem an Opportunity

I recently went to a women’s event with an inspiring speaker.  There were some great lessons I learned that I wanted to share with you…Inspiration point

The event was sponsored and hosted by Soul at Work.  According to their website, Soul at Work helps cultivate, connect and inspire “strong women to lead in their own terms and create more Soul at Work.” Organizer, Michelle Gonzalez, hosts events with inspiring speakers who simply share their story.  Michelle then helps the audience pick out themes that are interesting, challenging or inspiring. Each theme is created into the form of a question and then placed at each table to promote discussions by attendees.   The speaker that night was Navyn Salem of Edesia, Global Nutrition Solutions .  The mission of this non-profit  mission is to decrease malnutrition and it’s long term effects in children.  Her quest started in Tanzania but continues to expand.plumpynut

How Navyn accomplished her goal is a very interesting and inspiring story.  She is married with 4 kids (which in itself can be admirable). She also had a dream that she was able to make a reality. She was able to create a program in Tanzania, Africa that helps malnourished children.  You can imagine the immense task of raising funds and starting a program in another country. But she did it and she also was asked to create a factory in RI to create the product that helps malnourished children called Plumpy’nut®. 

While there are many lessons to be learned from her journey, one thing I readily noticed was Navyn’s attitude. She actually gets excited when there is a problem. She loves the challenge.  This is a very different perspective than some of us may have when our very big efforts lead to very big setbacks.   So my question is, “How do you make a problem an opportunity and not just a set back?”  Here’s what I learned from her story but I’d also love to hear your answer to this question.

What do I love in this?  Navyn looked for what she loved and followed her passion.  Sometimes solving the biggest problems starts with focusing on one small part that is deeply connected to your passion. In Navyn’s case, when she first visited Tanzania she could have become overwhelmed by all the help that was needed. Instead, she clarified what her passion was ( kids) and started to find a way to help from there. 

Hooray I don’t know this! That means I can learn something!  As I previously indicated, Navyn gets excited when there’s a road block. She loves a challenge and knows she will learn from it. I try to teach my kids that too.  There’s always going to be in life some homework or some problem in general that they get frustrated with.  We try to re-frame a problem in our house and in a joking manner say “That’s exciting, that means you get to learn something new!”.  Ok, it doesn’t always work with my kids. But I also get them laughing by referring to a silly movie called “Meet the Robinsons” which has the same message.  There’s a focus in that movie on an excitement of learning and not giving up when you fail, just “keep moving forward.”

Confidence in a skill VSSuccess Image confidence in your ability to learn. Navyn did not initially have the skills she needed to accomplish all she needed to accomplish.  She could have stopped there and said, “I don’t know enough to do this”. But she didn’t say that. She realized that while she didn’t have confidence in her skills yet, she DID have confidence in her ability to learn.  How often do we not try something because we don’t think we know enough? 

Let go of your ego. Sometimes you don’t have the time to learn everything. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Navyn started the project herself but now has a team of people who each have a different background. She pools their knowledge and expertise together to trouble shoot problems and accomplish their goals.  

Sometimes a setback is an opportunity in disguise. While we’re talking about egos, Navyn shared an interesting story where she didn’t let her ego get the best of her. As a result, things worked out better than she imagined.  Navyn had the exciting experience of having her non-profit written up by a well known newspaper.  However,  she went from big excitement to a big disappointment.  In response to her article, someone prominent in her field wrote a derogatory article challenging her and her non-profit.  This was someone whose books she had read and been inspired by.   Imagine having one of your role models publicly put you and your project down.  Some people might have written an angry response from their hurt or let themselves feel beaten down. However, Navyn let it sit and gave herself some time to process before responding.  Realizing  that the author misunderstood some things,  Navyn  wrote a respectful letter back to him.  She  truthfully indicated how she had been inspired by him to start her non-profit.  She also clarified her message (that the reporter had altered) and shared some quotes from his own books to support her points.  The author quickly apologized!  He also wanted to meet her and offered his help with her project.  What looked initially like a roadblock turned into a new pathway.

Ultimately, Navyn’s story was a great reminder to me to not limit my goals and dreams to who I think I am or what I think I can do.  I just need to focus on where I want to go and learn how to get there.  I’m sure along the way I’ll need to remind myself that problems are just ways to challenge us to learn and grow.  Sometimes those problems are even opportunities in disguise. At the very least, they are opportunities to learn.

What do you think? How do you make a problem an opportunity and not just a set back? Have you had times where a problem turned into an opportunity?  Or, do you find it difficult to see problems as anything but barriers?

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