Solving The 84th Problem

December 1, 2013

Can you recall an ‘aha’ moment that created a real difference in your life or leadership?

I’d like to share one I had 2 weeks ago. Doing research for my last coaching moment I happened upon a parable. This simple story packs a punch. Here’s an edited version of The 84th Problem:

A former well-to-do farmer travels to meet the wise teacher Buddha, seeking solutions for the many problems he’s facing in life. He starts by describing problems he’s having with his wife. When he finishes his outpouring of marital woes the Buddha responds by saying, ‘I cannot help you.’

The farmer moves on to explain a myriad of problems related to his work. The Buddha  responds, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you with any of those problems.’

So the farmer continues on with his problems concerning his children. The Buddha tells him, ‘I cannot help you with those problems either.’

The farmer is confused.  What do you mean you can’t help me?

‘Everyone has problems. In fact everyone has 83 problems,’ the Buddha answered. ‘You solve one now and then, but another one quickly replaces it.’

The Buddha’s response frustrates the farmer.  ‘What kind of teaching is that? Is there nothing you can do to help me?

‘I can help you with the 84th problem.’ Buddha answers.

 The anxious farmer asks, ‘What’s the 84th problem?’

The Buddha responds, ‘It’s the problem of not wanting any problems.’

I felt almost immediate relief.

Of course I understand that life has ongoing problems. But since childhood, I have unconsciously believed in a faulty, self-created deductive reasoning process that goes something like this:

  1. Life and work present problems.
  2. I can use intelligence, learning and effort to solve those problems.
  3. By applying increasingly better problem solving skills over time, I will ultimately end up with fewer problems.

I’m not alone in this kind of thinking.  How often have you heard someone say,  ‘as soon as we get through this project…after this year winds down…once I deal with that…if we could just fix this’…The implications are that he/she will have one less problem to deal with or that problems at a future point will certainly be smaller, fewer, or more manageable.

Discovering The 84th Problem as my biggest problem freed me.

I was tested this morning when my first draft for this coaching moment disappeared from my iPad notes. None of the help forums offered a fix that worked for me. My first reaction was ‘I don’t need another problem right now’ (like there’s ever a good time for another problem).  Then I chose to reassess my reaction and regard this problem as just one of my 83. I thought ‘ I must have solved one or two along the way making room for this new one.’ So I smiled at the opportunity to see whether my new insight had legs.  I decided to cheerfully welcome this new problem as a chance to practice working on The 84th Problem. It felt great.      

Thinking that my life or success was about whittling down the 83 problems to 65 or 44 was unconsciously dragging me down. I can now make better use of that wasted energy. 

Aha’ moments are amazing gifts. They’re like an update or reset button for our outdated beliefs and perspectives. From them, we can create new practices that enrich our lives and elevate our leadership.

Happy Monday!

Warmest regards,

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