By Scott Westerman
“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” Albert Ellis

One of my favorite Earl Nightingale maxims is, “Our rewards in life are in direct proportion to our contributions, our service.” I would propose the following corollary:

“Our success in life is proportional to the problems we can solve.”

As you grow in experience and responsibility, the number and complexity of the problems you face will increase.

This is normal.

In every business, a chief executive officer is tasked with balancing the needs of customers, shareholders and employees, while looking out over the horizon to anticipate how the business environment may change. They surround themselves with smart people who handle the mundane. Only the tough stuff makes it to their desk.

The capital that powers any enterprise comes from investors, who expect a return. The leadership team needs an operating vision and a set of guidelines (disguised as budgets and corporate policies) to provide support for the front line employees, who expect to get the tools they need to satisfy the customer.

The CEO may ultimately have to make a tough decision, but the solution to a problem can come from anyone in the chain of command. Wherever you are on the food chain, you can become that key person, someone Seth Godin calls a “Lynchpin“, who tackles a problem, contributes to an excellent solution and adds value in the process.

In time, your rewards will always reflect the value that you add.

Accepting leadership is a risky business. That’s why the pay is better. It’s also a highly competitive environment where there are fewer jobs and lots more people who want them. This is one reason why the corporate lifespan for upper level management can sometimes be dangerously short. If you accept the leadership mantle, some may ask you, “Why would you want to put yourself in the line of fire? You could get shot!”

I would always rather lead the troops into battle than get run over by a retreating horde.

The more service you provide (which, by the way,  is what leadership is all about), the more control you have over your own destiny. The same goes for problems. The more you personally engage in solving them, the more influence you’ll have on an outcome that benefits you.

Legend has it that Walt Disney welcomed every conundrum that came across his desk with, “that’s good!” When you become aware of an opportunity to improve you’re almost instantly on your way to finding a solution.

The road we travel is full of obstacles. We do our best to smooth out the bumps and fill the holes but the elements inevitably create new ones. As you grow in experience, your field of view will become broader. Your road may seem to be an unending maze of problems.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you contemplate the magnitude of challenges that might stand between you and your dreams. In fact, most  people give up at when the first problem surfaces. They will never climb high enough to get the big picture and will never have the courage to take even a tentative step in any direction. These are the people that let life happen. They wait for someone else to take action.. and usually complain about the results.

Those who make life happen embrace adversity as the fitness program it truly is. Tough times weed out the weak and reveal opportunities that can make the survivors even stronger.

Nothing worthwhile is gained without facing resistance. Like weight training, resistance is the key to building strength. So welcome each challenge as the growth opportunity it is. The more you exercise problem solving, the stronger you’ll become.