The “problem” is not the problem

Starting sometime last week, I found myself suddenly drop into a complete state of hopelessness, helplessness. My body hurt, my heart hurt, my mind hurt. Everything around me seemed to be working for the benefit of everyone else but me.

Somewhere in this dark period, I remember Amy Yamada quote one of her financial coaches. She said, “The ‘problem’ is not the problem.” At the time, this nugget of wisdom had little value for me.

Instead of realizing that this was a key to alleviate my suffering, I found myself thinking: “How could my low income not be the problem?” “How could this situation, or state of affairs, not be the problem?” How could this relationship not be the problem?” In my mind, I was conflating the external world (people, situations, objects) with my internal state (i.e. the emotional distress I was experiencing). And thinking that the two were of equivalent weights. 

What I hadn’t realized was that in each of those situations causing me distress, I was creating a corresponding, almost invisible or subversive, narrative that always said that I wasn’t good enough. These things were like this because I wasn’t “good enough” for them to be any different, or for me to interpret these events any differently. I hadn’t realized that she was right. The “problem” was not the problem I had identified, but instead was my thinking, the stories, I was telling myself and others about the “problem.”

The fact I was raised by a single parent is not the problem. The thoughts I tell myself about not being good enough or somehow damaged because of my upbringing is the problem. The fact I don’t earn as much money as other people I went to college with is not the problem. The thoughts that conflate my self-worth with my income are the problem. The fact I am not married, own a home, or have children at the age of 33 is not the problem. The thoughts that there must be something wrong with me because I am not there yet and falling behind are the problems.

As  I was beginning to realize, its our thoughts – or the corresponding, often unchecked sob stories of victimization, unworthiness, non-likability, non-lovability  – that are creating the “problems.”

For this week, my invitation to you is simple: Are you willing to consider that the “problem” is not the problem? That perhaps it is your thinking, and the stories you tell yourself and others, about your body, your job, your income, your health and well-being, your accomplishments or set backs that are the problem rather than the life situations themselves?

Our thoughts have an alchemical effect. In the words of Charles Sanders Pierce, our thoughts shape our desires, which guide our actions and ultimately our destinies. If this is true, and I believe it may be, can we begin to pay more attention to the seeds of happiness or sorrow that we are planting with every situation we encounter in life?