“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown
We all have problems, don’t we? There isn’t a single person on this planet who doesn’t have one, even if they’re the Buddhist monk living their life peacefully. Everyone has something to overcome.
There’s nothing wrong with having a problem. Life would be pretty dull if they weren’t around, and we’d never learn anything new or grow from our mistakes.
Sometimes, though, we create problems that have no real foundations. These are the ones that can cause us the most suffering because it seems like they’re unsolvable.
I’m thinking a lot about problems at the moment because having one is integral to writing a good plot in a story. If my main character doesn’t have an obstacle, then what is she going to overcome? What will she achieve despite it? What’s going to make her act? Nothing. She’ll wander about aimlessly on the page and there won’t be any story.
However, I can’t just throw any old problem at her because it has to be tangible, plausible, and something that can be realized and tackled. Having abstract problems in this novel will lead to the story being incoherent and useless.
But isn’t this the same type of thing we face in our own lives? Aren’t the problems that seem unsolvable, the ones that make life seem senseless, the problems that mean that our own stories lead nowhere?
When looking at the trials we face, I reckon we should start looking at what is more concrete rather than focusing on abstract ideas that we can’t readily approach and deal with.
Let’s work out an example: you’ve heard that your boss might circulate an email naming a date for a bunch of unknown people to be laid off due to economic circumstances. It’s hearsay, but it sounds plausible given the economy.
The abstract part of this problem is whether this email exists or not, either now or in the future. You could get easily get caught up worrying about whether it will go out and whether or not you’ll be on it. But neither of those things are things you can control. Stress arises when we can’t let go of this notion that we can’t control what is unknown to us.
The other abstract thing about this problem is that you don’t know who’s going to be let go, if any at all. It might not be you. If you are named, this could be a blessing in disguise: more time with family, a chance to try something new, to volunteer while you’re looking for work or an opportunity to turn your dream into a reality.
But this is all abstract! We don’t know if any of this is true since nothing concrete has happened yet. It’s all stress arising from a potential problem that hasn’t actually happened yet. It’s just plain not to possible to overcome a problem that doesn’t yet exist, and yet we spend a lot of time trying to do this very thing.
The concrete part of this problem is that yes, the economy is in a mess. People are losing their jobs. We’re all having to downsize our lives and be more frugal with the money that we have.
This is a real problem that we can tackle by cutting back on our expenses, creating a savings pot for when things do get tough, keeping an open mind about employment, creating less waste, and, quite importantly, getting back in touch with our family, friends, and environment. They’re real, and when abstract things like money and position have failed us, those real things are always going to be there.
I think more than half the problems we face are the abstract type. The way to deal with this, as I’ve found while plotting my novel, is to write these problems down and break them apart.
Look at the things that are real and can be interacted with through our actions and choices. If they can’t be interacted with, then don’t sweat because they don’t matter.
Work on the things that you know you can act on and you’ll find that not only can you overcome them but that your “story” will moved forward.