“You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” Albert Einstein, Ph.D.
Our grandson Philip is helping Carol (his grandmother and my wife) to get our home prepared for the family gathering for Christmas. One task involves changing the little light bulbs that are inside the huge outside globes. Simple enough, right? When Philip asks Carol how to get inside the housing that contains these tiny bulbs, her answer is delivered with full confidence – it appears she has performed this task many times before. This is the beginning of Philip’s problems.
Unscrewing the lamp case from the top turns out to be a bad decision. From the top, there is no entry to the small light bulbs inside the glass casing. Making matters worse, the heavy lamp structure becomes a little precarious with the electrical wires now bearing all the weight. Philip has no choice but to hold the p up and screw the top back in place. But, the wires do not want to cooperate. He is literally stuck when I arrive on the scene. Inwardly, I can’t help but smile a little as I see what is unfolding. I tell Philip that I am glad this project is his and not the one my wife has assigned to me. I am pretty sure that Philip does not share my personal enjoyment of this moment.
Have you ever started a project that seemed easy in the beginning but became more complicated with each step? Philip has a complete mess. The lamp is high above his head and needs to be held because of a possible outcome worse than the nightmare he now is living. Frustration is escalating . . .
‘Nana’ (the affectionate name our grandchildren call Carol) does not have an answer. This revelation would have been nice to know in the beginning. Philip soon regrets calling his dad for a solution. Listening to a parent lecture on what should have been done (when the feasibility of success becomes too late) is not a favorite conversation for a 20-year old.
Larry, Philip’s father and my son-in-law, comes to the rescue. It is fortunate that, despite multiple challenges, Larry has substantial experience in changing a variety of light bulbs which he has gleaned, in part, through owning rental homes. His helpfulness leads to success. Problem is solved. Afterwards, he and I engage in conversation about his solution and Philip’s frustration.
I love the conversation that often follows these experiences. A deeper dive into what I call life lessons may be the result. If you were to extract something from this particular story, what lessons and principles would you select? Would they include the following?
Knowledge is important
Evaluate properly any advice
If we were sharing this story – for the purposes of teaching a life lesson with the young people within our circle of relationships, all of these principles could be highlighted as important for success. As adults, we probably have used other similar experiences to validate the principles we teach. One of the essential ways to educate others on what is really important is through the colorful, emotional and defining stories of our lives. Our best teaching moments occur when we share our stories.
Most of us can agree on the teachings derived from this light bulb story. We have used these themes in the past in other tales. But, the most important lesson in this story is actually hidden. It is not our first perception – in part because it represents the one principle that is toughest to teach, the toughest to live, and to integrate fully with our lives. We struggle with the one principle that is crucial for success in life. What every organization and family most want to find is a someone who possesses this principle.
Figure it out. Solve it. Don’t give up!
‘Hey, it is only light bulbs,’ is the argument. Insignificant. Don’t get your dandruff up over such a small issue. True. But tomorrow, it’s a car engine or this month’s rent. Or, choosing to tell the truth when a lie seems more convenient. Later, it’s a decision that will impact many lives.
And, finally, it’s the most difficult challenge we will ever experience. It involves a relationship. Relationships can be a little messy, but, still are key to our lives. We are faced with a simple question, like Philip faces with the lamp bulb crisis. When we are in a mess, our current choice is not working out, and when we need to make another decision: What do we do next?
When an important relationship is suffering, when communication is not as simple as screwing that bulb back in, when listening seems unlikely, that is when we most need to know that it is possible to figure it out. Because we have been here before. Like, Larry, who has changed many light bulbs in the past, increasing his level of experience and knowledge, he does not give up on the light bulb project. He knows he can succeed. In the most important moments in our lives, will we give up?
What have you given up on? Thrown in the towel? Is it a special project or goal? A diet or exercise goal that has resulted in failure many times in the past. Maybe, you have a complete mess and hanging in the balance, like those electrical wires, are other important people. When we are hanging on for dear life, how do we proceed? What is next?
We should follow Larry’s example. Go back and look at your past experience in solving life’s puzzles. Look to your own knowledge. Yes, get help like Philip did. In this case, it was his father. What are fathers for if not to help their kids? A great choice in this example.
As adults, we would pass on a great enduring legacy if we simply taught our kids to embrace the mindset, the success principle of ‘figuring it out,’ and getting help when needed. Do not give up on the project or goal. Figure it out. Solve it.
Future employers love to hire employees who believe it is their job to resolve issues – who embrace challenges. All highly successful organizations, at the cornerstone of their existence, have problem solvers. Organizations cannot succeed in this world, with the current volume and speed of challenges, without people who solve issues. It’s a core strength for success, or, conversely, a core weakness for failure.
Families love members who can effectively help in familial relationships that are deteriorating. They look up to the person who digs in and helps to make things better. Someone who can talk it out. Who can listen and communicate. Where is that person when a family needs him the most? Where is that problem solver? Are you that person? Should you be that person?
What about the most important goal in your life? The one you have yet to achieve? The one you most want to accomplish. Will you figure it out? When?
Coach Paul Bryant, highly revered and successful Alabama head football coach, believed that football could teach players valuable life lessons. He liked to use the analogy of when your opponent is on the five-yard line and has four downs to cross the goal line to win the game. He said that is easy. To play your best when the game is on the line is easy. Later in life, when the rent is due, your spouse has run away and you have kids to feed is when it is hard. What are you going to do then? In the critical moments of your life, will you know how to succeed? Have you embraced the principle of ‘figuring it out?’ Hopefully, in numerous less crucial events, in the day-to-day small moments, you have done just that – over and over until it is a core habit, you have figured it out.
Start small. Use every challenge as a potential lesson. Convert small problems to solutions. Build problem solving experience into your life. Seek help when you most need it. At every juncture, allow life to teach you. Our stories are the gold in our goldmine. They provide endless solutions for future challenges. They provide a light for our path, a gift received now to be opened in the future.
Figure it out. In small issues. Figure it out. In bigger ways, like keeping your opponent on the five-yard line out of the end zone. Figure it out. Like replacing the light bulbs after creating a mess. Figure it out. Like . . .
When life presents a challenge,
I will figure it out.
I will succeed.